Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G review: Finally, a foldable worth buying

Given the calamitous launch of the original Samsung Galaxy Fold in 2019, as well as the flawed Motorola Razr, which arrived last year, the new Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G has a tough job to prove that this futuristic form factor is finally ready to go mainstream.

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Things are already off to a good start, however. With a price that just about dips below four figures, it might still be a bit out of reach for many but, with its long list of upgrades, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G is a clear indication that folding phones aren’t going away anytime soon. Say it quietly, but this might be the first one that’s worth buying.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G review: What you need to know

While the Note was sorely absent at Samsung’s “Galaxy Unpacked” event on 11 August – with not even a faint whiff of a new model – it’s clear that with the third-gen Flip (and to some extent the Fold), Samsung is trying its best to push the foldable category a little bit closer into more affordable territories.

Upgrades for this year’s model mostly come from the design side of things. Alongside the larger, pricier Fold 3, the Flip 3 is the first fully waterproof foldable with an IPX8 rating. It also has a more scratch-resistant folding screen and a new hard-wearing metal frame and hinge.

The 6.7in, FHD+ main screen now supports a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz, and the phone’s cover display is 4x larger than before, too. The Z Flip’s ageing Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 chipset has also been replaced by the Snapdragon 888, and it comes with 8GB of RAM and a choice of either 128GB or 256GB of storage.

Unlike the Fold 3, the Flip 3 has only two rear cameras and these are exactly the same as last year. A 12MP, f/1.8 main camera sits below a 12MP, f/2.2 ultrawide lens with a 123-degree field of view, while a 10MP, f/2.4 selfie camera can be found on the inside. This is embedded in a centrally placed hole-punch notch.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G review: Price and competition

As for the price, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G starts at £949 for the 128GB model, which is a huge saving of £350 compared to last year’s version. Admittedly, the 2020 Flip came with double the base storage (256GB) but this new low price is still an absolute steal. And besides, if you did want 256GB of space, then this will only cost you £50 more (£999).

If you’d rather spread the cost over the course of a 24-month contract, then prices at Carphone Warehouse start at around £43 per month with an upfront cost of £130 and 100GB of monthly data. This particular contract has a total lifetime cost of £1,162 which, by comparison, is actually slightly cheaper than the starting price of an iPhone 12 Pro contract with half the monthly data (£1,250).

On that note, while there are plenty of “regular” non-folding alternatives such as the iPhone 12 Pro (£999), the upcoming Sony Xperia 5 III (£899) and Samsung’s own Galaxy S21 Plus (£999) to pick and choose from, there isn’t a whole lot in terms of foldable competition.

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G is the obvious rival, although its flip-to-open tablet form factor offers a slightly different proposition and it costs a hefty £1,599. There’s also the 2020 Motorola Razr, but with weaker specs, a much higher price (£1,399) and a less-impressive design, it doesn’t come close to the Samsung Galaxy Flip 3.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G review: Design and key features

Design-wise, the design philosophy of the Flip 3 5G remains the same as its predecessors. Folded, it’s half the size of a normal phone and you only get access to the big internal screen when you flip it open.

The big change this time around is that it has IPX8-rated waterproofing. This means it should survive being submerged in water for up to 30mins up to a depth of 1.5m; it still doesn’t have any rated protection against dust particles, however, and the setup warning leaves you in no doubt about this, stating that “exposure to small particles such as sand may cause damage”.

That’s not the only upgrade in the durability department, either. Like the Fold 3, this year’s Flip has a new protective film applied to the inner screen which, according to Samsung, makes it 80% more scratch-resistant than last year’s version. The cover screen is significantly stronger as well, protected by a layer of Gorilla Glass Victus.

Not only that but the metal frame and hinge on both of Samsung’s newest foldables are built with a new material, too, called “Armour Aluminium”. According to the marketing puff, this boosts durability by 10% over the previous model. Finally, the Flip 3 5G comes in a dizzying array of colour options: Phantom Black, Green, Lavender, Cream, White, Pink and Grey – the latter three models available exclusively on Samsung’s website.

What’s it like to use, then? I’ve tested both of Samsung’s newest foldables now, and I’m much more on board with the Flip 3’s more pocketable form factor. When folded in half, the phone takes on a square aspect ratio that helps it fit neatly into small pockets or handbags, and a small “cover screen” on the outside means you can quickly glance at notifications without having to open it.

Despite the rather unusual long-tall 22:9 aspect ratio, the Z Flip 3 functions just as well as any regular smartphone when unfolded. It’s slim – measuring just 6.9mm – and it fits nicely in one hand as well. However, despite the durability improvements, the inner screen does still feel soft under the finger, and it might not look as pristine a few months down the line after a few accidental fingernail scrapes.

The Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G’s side-mounted power button, which also doubles as a fingerprint sensor, is easy to reach and I particularly like the floating dock on the side of the screen, which can be used to quickly access a list of pre-selected apps.

The best part of the folding mechanism, however, is that you can aggressively hang up on phone calls just by closing it, just like in the good old days.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G review: Inner and cover displays

The Flip 3’s inner screen is the same size and resolution as last year’s model, give or take the odd pixel: it’s a 6.7in FHD+ (2,640 x 1,080) display and has a pixel density of 426ppi. This year, however, Samsung is calling it “Dynamic AMOLED 2X”, which refers to its new ability to support refresh rates of up to 120Hz.

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That’s not the only display upgrade, either. The front cover AMOLED screen has been beefed up as well, increasing in size from 1.1in on last year’s model to 1.9in on the Z Flip 3. It’s four times larger and can display up to four notifications on-screen at once with an option to scroll down for more. It’s used to prompt you to use the fingerprint reader when paying via Samsung Pay and you can also tinker with quick access settings such as screen brightness.

You can display widgets on the cover screen, too, including weather information, step count and music playback buttons via Spotify and Samsung Music. And, if you wear a Galaxy Watch 4 or Watch 4 Classic, the Flip 3’s cover screen can be customised to match your chosen watch face.

Open it up and the Z Flip 3’s inner screen is pretty good, although colour accuracy is a little wayward. Brightness reaches a high of 567cd/m2 in day-to-day use with the auto setting engaged and peaks at a dazzling 998cd/m2 when playing back HDR material. Contrast is effectively perfect, of course.

The only slight smudge on the Z Flip 3’s otherwise sparklingly clean bill of health is that colour accuracy isn’t quite up with the best. Testing the “Natural” profile, which I found to be the most colour accurate, the average Delta E hit only 2.37; the best smartphone displays approach a score of 1 or below.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G review: Performance and battery life

Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 888 processor powers the phone and this is accompanied by 8GB of RAM and a choice of either 128GB or 256GB of UFS 3.1 storage. The Flip 3 5G supports just one nano-SIM and an eSIM, and it has dual 1,650mAh batteries with a total capacity of 3,300mAh.

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Overall performance is expectedly rapid. Not only does the GeekBench 5 graph below show that the Flip 3 5G’s speeds are among the very best in the business but, in everyday use, everything from opening apps to navigating menus feels super-fluid and blisteringly responsive, with the high-refresh 120Hz display adding a sprinkling of extra gloss.

The same can be said about the Flip 3 5G’s gaming capabilities. It scored an average frame rate of 105fps in the GFXBench Manhattan 3 on-screen test – no easy feat – and using it to play a variety of games, from Call of Duty: Mobile to Genshin Impact and Arlo’s Adventure, and they all looked and played smoothly.

Sadly, unlike its bigger brother, the Z Flip 3 5G failed to hit the high notes when it came to battery life. In our video rundown test (with the display calibrated to a preset brightness and flight mode engaged while playing a looped video until the battery gauge hits zero) the Z Flip 3 5G lasted 15hrs 54mins before kicking the bucket. The Fold 3 5G lasted for two-and-a-half hours more and even the iPhone 12 Pro has it beat.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G review: Cameras

There aren’t any changes at all when it comes to the Z Flip 3 5G’s camera offering. It still incorporates a pair of 12MP cameras on the front cover, with one being an ultrawide unit with a 123-degree field of view. Unfold the Flip and the selfie camera is a simple 10MP affair, embedded in a central hole-punch notch.

That’s a fairly humdrum-looking specifications but the Z Flip 3 5G’s cameras turn out to be not bad at all. All the shots I’ve taken with the main camera have been great, for the most part, with an abundance of detail, subdued saturation and a good amount of contrast in both good light and bad. It even manages to beat the iPhone 12 Pro in some cases, particularly when it comes to landscapes captured as the sun is setting.

The ultrawide camera is a bit less impressive, with a noticeable drop in detail and a touch of pesky lens flare in some instances. I would have much preferred a 2x telephoto camera instead, since wide-angle cameras are a bit too niche for my tastes – especially when the results don’t look anywhere near as good as if you used the main camera instead.

The phone’s selfie camera is fine but facial features looked a bit too soft to my eyes, even when the beautification effects slider was set to its lowest point. You’ll get better portraits if you just use the main 12MP rear camera instead. All you’ve got to do is pop the Z Fold 3 on a table (or just hold it), fold it at a right angle and you can then enable a live preview on the cover screen, raise your hand and the phone will take a picture after a three-second timer. Easy.

As for video, you have the option to record in 4K at 60fps fully stabilised, with regular 1080p and 30fps shooting modes available as well. The footage looked nice and smooth in my tests, there was plenty of detail, and objects were brought into focus in the blink of an eye.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G review: Verdict

After a few too many stumbles along the way, we’re finally in a position where buying a folding phone isn’t a daft, money-wasting decision. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G is precisely what we’ve been waiting for, ever since we first caught a glimpse of Samsung’s flexible displays all those years ago. It’s a top-end foldable flagship with very few compromises and a price that is attainable instead of unreachable. What more could you possibly want?

Indeed, the iPhone 12 Pro costs the same amount and while, admittedly, it comes with its own list of positives, it seems to lack inspiration next to the exciting, forward-looking Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G. The folding future might still be taking its first steps, but this is one smartphone that will take some beating on the road ahead.

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