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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G review: A step above

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
1,599
inc VAT

The Galaxy Note might be a no-show, but the revamped Z Fold 3 5G is more than worthy of taking its place

Pros 
New durable design
Substantial UI improvements
Likeable (and unique) form factor
Cons 
Still expensive
Inner screen feels quite delicate
Cameras aren’t anything special
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The original Galaxy Fold didn’t have the best start in life. Plagued with design failings, it wasn’t exactly the shining example of a folding future Samsung initially hoped it would be. But the South Korean firm didn’t give up, and since 2019 we’ve been treated to a redesigned version and a reasonably successful sequel just before the pandemic hit.

With this year’s Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G, it’s clear that Samsung finally has a renewed confidence in its high-priced foldable flagship. It’s the first time Samsung has been brave enough to send out review units (in the UK at least), so clearly there’s a good chance that it won’t just fall apart in my hands. Right?

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

Launching alongside a fresh pair of Galaxy Watch 4 wearables, as well as the new and improved Galaxy Buds 2, this year’s Fold has received a fresh lick of paint, both in terms of overall design and with regards to the phone’s bespoke tablet/smartphone hybrid UI.

The key thing to note is that the Fold 3 5G is finally waterproof (with an IPX8 rating), and it’s far more durable as well. Incorporating a handful of must-have improvements, such as a stronger inner screen, redesigned hinge and hard-wearing “Armour Aluminium” frame, the Fold 3 5G might finally be the first clumsy-proof foldable.

Elsewhere, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G is powered by the Snapdragon 888 chipset, along with a healthy 12GB dollop of RAM and a choice of either 256GB or 512GB of UFS 3.1 storage. Both the cover screen and tablet-like inner display have a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz – with S Pen stylus support – and it’s also the first-ever Samsung phone to incorporate an under-display selfie camera.

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

Despite all of these improvements, the Z Fold 3 somehow costs slightly less than its predecessor. There’s a huge emphasis on the word “slightly”, in this instance, since it’s still the priciest handheld you can currently buy. But a saving is still a saving, no matter how small it might be.

The Fold 3 now starts at £1,599, which is £100 cheaper than the previous version. This is for the 128GB model, of course, so if you’re hoping for more storage – it doesn’t have a microSD card slot – then be prepared to pay an extra £100 (£1,699).

If you’d rather avoid paying that amount of money up front, then I’m afraid contract prices aren’t much easier on the wallet, either. As of writing this review (a week before release), Carphone Warehouse currently lists the Z Fold 3 5G as starting from around £85 a month. Wowzers.

At least Samsung is generous enough to bundle a year’s worth of Samsung Care+ coverage with every purchase, as long as you buy one via Samsung.com. This is a no-fuss warranty service that covers accidental damage (including liquid ingress and screen breakages), and you also have the option to replace the battery as well.

Samsung also launched the dinky Flip 3, and this foldable is much better value for money. With prices starting at £949 for the 128GB model, and £999 for 256GB, the Flip 3 costs £651 less than the “cheapest” Fold 3. While it’s a slightly different proposition – with its retro flip-to-open clamshell design – you can’t really argue with the price.

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

Described as Samsung’s “toughest foldable yet”, the Z Fold 3 5G finally has an IPX8 water resistance rating, which means it should survive a dunk in the wet stuff for up to 30 minutes up to a depth of 1.5m. In order to achieve this, Samsung says that it has applied water-resistant coatings to internal components, as well as adding rubber seals and customising the wiring of the phone’s “Hideaway Hinge”.

Alongside the Flip 3, this means that the Z Fold 3 is the first foldable flagship capable of keeping liquids at bay. However, it’s still worth mentioning that both phones lack any official ingress protection against dust and small particles (denoted by the X in IPX8), so you might want to keep it away from the beach.

As for other design changes, a new, stronger, protective film has been applied to the Fold 3’s main screen, as well as a slightly redesigned layer structure that, Samsung says, has improved display durability by 80%. It still feels worryingly delicate, however, and I would recommend keeping the phone closed as much as possible in order to reduce the risk of scratching it.

The metal frame and hinge are built with a new material, too – Samsung calls it “Armour Aluminium” – and it’s apparently 10% tougher than last year’s model. The cover screen and rear glass panel also sit behind a protective layer of Gorilla Glass Victus (replacing the Gorilla Glass 5 on last year’s phone).

Despite the hard-wearing design changes, the Z Fold 3 is actually slightly lighter and thinner than the previous model. Tipping the scales at a reduced 271g, and measuring just 6.4mm thin when unfolded, this year’s Fold is significantly more portable than the last. The phone comes in a choice of three colours: Phantom Black, Phantom Silver and Phantom Green, and they all have a slightly different matte finish.

You probably haven’t spotted it, but the Z Fold 3’s tablet screen features an under-display selfie camera, too. The 4MP (f/1.8) camera is positioned in the same location – the top-right corner in portrait orientation – except it now doesn’t obstruct your view. The thickness of the top, bottom and side bezels has also been reduced.

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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G review: S Pen

As I mentioned earlier, the Z Fold 3 supports Samsung’s S Pen stylus for the very first time, which is a bit of a coincidence since a new Galaxy Note was sorely absent at the unveiling. It seems the rumours were true, and Samsung has quietly discontinued (or at least paused) the Note line, with the Z Fold 3 taking its place as Samsung’s main work/productivity handheld.

READ NEXT: The best smartphones of the year (so far)

There are two S Pen options on offer, too. The first is the S Pen Fold Edition (£44), which is made exclusively for the Z Fold 3 and supports Samsung’s Air Commands, as well as being able to take pictures remotely with a simple click of the button at the top. Unlike the Note, however, this stylus doesn’t simply slot into a hole in the corner of the handset, and can only be attached via a specially designed cover case (also sold separately).

The other stylus is called the S Pen Pro (£99), and this is a more general-purpose pointer that can be used across Samsung’s other devices such as the Galaxy Book Go and Galaxy Tab lineup, switching between them on the fly with a press of a button. The S Pen Pro is much larger and thicker than the other one, but it supports Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) connectivity and can be location-tracked via Samsung SmartThings.

Sadly, I didn’t receive either stylus with my review unit, but Samsung tells me that both S Pens come with a handful of new features, including the ability to write handwritten phrases in the web browser’s search bar (converting to typed text). You can also post-edit text in the notes app, either by crossing out individual letters and words, removing unwanted spaces with hand-drawn joining lines or adding extra bits of text with simple arrows.

Another example Samsung demonstrated during a video briefing is that while you’re watching YouTube in flex mode (with the screen partially opened at a 90-degree angle), the video plays at the top, but you can take notes in the bottom portion. This is accessed with a double tap at the bottom of the screen while the S Pen button is pressed, and can also be used during video and conference calls.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G review: Dual displays

The size and resolution of the Z Fold 3’s internal display (7.6in, 2,208 x 1,768) hasn’t changed, although it now supports a maximum refresh rate of up to 120Hz. Of course, just like Samsung’s other flagships, this is simply an adaptive setting rather than a toggle, which means that the screen refresh will vary depending on the app.

Quality-wise, the inner screen is pretty darn good. With two colour modes to choose from, I found that the Natural setting was the most colour accurate, with an average Delta E of 2.57, an sRGB colour gamut coverage of 91.7% and a total volume of 93.3%.

HDR video and games looked absolutely astonishing. The display’s brightness peaked at a dazzling 1,089cd/m² according to my X-rite display colorimeter; it really is a treat for the eyes, although the square aspect ratio does produce black borders at the top and bottom of the screen when viewing regular 16:9 or 21:9 content.

The Fold 3’s front cover screen also supports 120Hz, and it’s the same size as before (6.2in). The resolution has seen a very slight change, however: 2,268 x 832 compared to last year’s 2,260 x 816.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G review: UI and software

There’s plenty to talk about on the software side of things as well. Samsung has vastly improved the Z Fold’s multitasking abilities, with a split-view overhaul (you can adjust the size of the windows within apps) and the option to enable a static taskbar that functions similarly to a Windows PC or Mac.

Samsung has also partnered with Microsoft for a more fold-friendly Office suite of apps. Microsoft Word, for instance, can now be used in a two-page mode (like reading a book), which also allows you to open and edit two documents simultaneously.

Other quality of life improvements include an enhanced large-screen-friendly interface, which incorporates changes such as being able to display more thumbnails when scrolling through YouTube subscriptions. It’s also much easier to use with one hand, with app settings now accessible from the side of the screen, displayed as small icons. You can enable floating widgets, too, like starting a timer in the clock app and placing it on top of a recipe you’re following in a web browser.

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

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset replaces the ageing Snapdragon 865 of the previous model, but the Z Fold 3 still comes with 12GB of RAM and a choice of either 256GB or 512GB of UFS 3.1 storage. There’s also space for two nano SIM cards (with eSIM support as well), and it uses dual 2,200mAh batteries (4,400mAh typical) to keep things ticking along.

With specs like that, it’s no surprise to anyone that the Fold 3 5G’s performance is stonkingly good. With speeds sitting among the best, the Fold 3 5G’s Snapdragon 888 reached a single-core processing result of 1,127 in the Geekbench 5 test, with a score of 3,584 in multicore.

Numbers as high as those pretty much guarantee a faultless experience for years to come. It boots and unlocks in the blink of an eye, and the buttery smooth 120Hz refresh adds an extra layer of fluidity that few phones can match. Social feeds, web pages and maps – anything that pans or scrolls – fly around with the smoothness of a curling stone whizzing across ice.

READ NEXT: Best phone battery life

Another benefit of a high refresh panel is that the Fold 3 5G can handle higher frame rates in games that support it. In the GFXBench Manhattan 3 test, the Fold’s inner screen reached an average frame rate of 72fps. I played a variety of games, including Asphalt 9, Alto’s Adventure and Genshin Impact, and they all ran flawlessly. You can also set it up so that the game (and any app, really) continues on the cover screen when you close the phone.

I’m very happy with the Fold 3 5G’s battery life, too. I ran our usual video rundown test on the phone’s internal screen, and the Fold 3 5G lasted for 18hrs 23mins before kicking the bucket. With stamina like that, you should be able to binge both seasons of The Mandalorian on a single charge, provided you download every episode and turn off data connections.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G review: Cameras

Camera-wise, aside from the under-display selfie snapper, you’ll also be able to use a 12MP (f/1.8) rear camera, which is partnered with both a 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide camera and a 12MP (f/2.4) telephoto unit with 2x optical zoom. The primary and zoom cameras benefit from optical image stabilisation (OIS), and the cover camera uses a single 10MP (f/2.2) sensor without OIS.

READ NEXT: Best phone camera

That’s an awful lot of cameras at your fingertips, but it’s just a shame that none of them does anything particularly special. Don’t get me wrong, the Z Fold 3 5G is capable of taking some truly lovely pictures (as my camera samples below show). It’s just that the camera offering isn’t anywhere near as exciting as those high-megapixel-count and super zoom sensors commonly found on other high-priced flagships, such as the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

How do these cameras perform? Well, they’re very good but not the best I’ve come across. The iPhone 12 Pro’s images ever so slightly edged it in almost every side-by-side shoot-out, since the Z Fold 3’s pictures generally looked a bit too overprocessed for my liking and the iPhone managed to capture a touch more detail.

Images captured using the Z Fold 3’s 2x zoom stretch out a bit of a lead, however. There’s plenty of detail, lots of contrast, and zoomed images looked more colourful, vivid and true to life. It’s also worth noting that, like the Galaxy S21, you can zoom digitally up to 10x magnification.

The under-display selfie camera, which sits behind the phone’s inner screen, doesn’t suffer quite as badly from a washed-out-looking image as some of the others do, but the overall image quality isn’t going to blow you away, either.

That being said, Samsung has done a bang-up job when it comes to the camera software. If you partially unfold the phone – at a 90-degree angle – you can choose to place the phone on a table or another flat surface to line up your shots. You also get a live preview in this mode (on the inner and cover screen), as well as an updated camera roll whenever you press the shutter button.

Finally, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G can record fully stabilised video at up to 4K resolution at 60fps. My test footage of the Thames looked crisp and judder-free, and it was quick to focus as well.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G review: Verdict

Clearly, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G is a phone that’s overflowing with positives. Not only is it something to admire, but it’s immediately obvious that Samsung has taken on feedback from previous versions, and it’s been rewarded with one of the most well-rounded foldables we’ve seen to date.

As such, if you’re convinced that the folding form factor is the way smartphones are inevitably headed, and you want to get in on the action before anyone else, then there’s no doubt that this is the phone to get.

The big question, however, is whether Samsung has done enough to get more of these in the pockets of the non-enthusiast, average consumer. Despite the slight reduction, the starting price is still well out of reach for most people, so those of us that aren’t blessed with bulging wallets will have to make do with regular, non-foldy smartphones for at least a little while longer.

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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G specifications
ProcessorOcta-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 (1x2.84GHz, 3x2.42GHz, 4x1.8GHz)
RAM12GB
Screen size6.2in (cover), 7.6in (inner)
Screen resolution2,268 x 832 (cover), 2,208 x 1,768 (inner)
Pixel density390 (cover), 374 (inner)
Screen typeDynamic AMOLED 2X
Screen refresh rate120Hz
Front camera10MP (f/2.2) cover, 4MP (f/1.8) inner
Rear camera12MP (f/1.8). 12MP (f/2.4) 2x telephoto, 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide
FlashLED
Dust and water resistanceIPX8
3.5mm headphone jackNo
Wireless chargingYes (11W)
USB connection typeUSB-C
Storage options256GB; 512GB
Memory card slot (supplied)No
Wi-FiWi-Fi 6e
Bluetooth5.2
NFCYes
Cellular data5G, 4G
Dual SIMYes (Nano & eSIM)
Dimensions (WDH)158 x 128 x 6.4mm (unfolded), 158 x 67 x 16mm (folded)
Weight271g
Operating systemAndroid 11 (One UI 3.5)
Battery size4,400mAh

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