The flip phone is back, and it’s bringing a screen as big as the biggest phones out there. Is there more to the Galaxy Z Flip 3?
While big phones are big, the idea of carrying around a large phone isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. You can fit more technology in overall and a larger, clearer screen, but some might prefer the feel of a compact phone, even if they are getting hard to find.
We suspect that’s partly what inspired the release of the iPhone 12 Mini last year, with Apple producing a phone that was about as capable as its larger phone, the iPhone 12.
But what if you yearn for something smaller again?
Foldable technology might hold the key to what you’re after, offering a large display that can fold up into something much, much smaller. It’s an idea Samsung has been toying with and Motorola alongside it, but in the past year or so, we’ve seen more out of the makers of the Galaxy than any other smartphone brand on the subject.
First, there was the Galaxy Z Flip, and not long after, the Flip 5G. We’re technically at version three now, and so Samsung is delivering a newer take with the Galaxy Z Flip 3. Can it save your pocket from the biggest phones in the world?
Appearing a little like the modern incarnation of the classic flip phone, Samsung has taken a paintbrush and tried to make something a like different in the Galaxy Z Flip 3.
The idea is a little firmer than the first take, appearing in the Galaxy Z Flip last April, and then a 5G variant a few months later. We loved that phone, mind you, having reviews the Flip 5G earlier this year, so we’re naturally excited about this new model.
While some of the hardware has changed, so too has the design, with a slick two-tone approach in the colour scheme, our Galaxy Z Flip 3 review model sporting a cream colour and a black section for the rear screen, which on this model is big and usable, almost as much as the massive screen on the inside. It’s a look that screams retro, but still looks plenty pleasing, and is accented by the flat edges on the side.
None of the curved edges that look like a UFO, the Flip 3 sports a look a little reminiscent of the iPhone 12, but even more compact with a hinge in the middle. That hinge is a block of aluminium 17.1mm thick proudly declaring this is a “Samsung” phone, making a bit of a dent on your pocket, but the moment you unfold it, you’ll get a 6.9mm thin phone to work with.
It’s almost like you were given a modern phone with flat edges and was handed it folded in half. In fact, that’s exactly what it is.
Inside that modern flip phone, you’ll find technology more like a flagship of today, because that’s also what this is.
There’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip paired with 8GB RAM and either 128 or 256GB storage, with no way of expanding it, so pick carefully.
The Flip 3 is an Android 11 phone with Samsung’s One UI over the top, and all the usual high-end fix-ins are here, including 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax WiFi (also known as WiFi 6), Bluetooth 5.1, GPS, Near-Field Communication (NFC) for Google Pay, and support for both 4G and 5G out of the box. Samsung notes this phone technically supports Sub-6 and mmWave, but we have no way of testing the mmWave option or any way of knowing whether the Aussie version comes equipped, as mmWave 5G has yet to launch in Australia. For now, you get 5G on Sub 6, but that could change, and you get it over one physical nano SIM and one virtual eSIM.
There are also three cameras on this phone, with two rear cameras found on a foldable top half, offering a 12 megapixel wide angle F1.8 camera and a 12 megapixel F2.2 ultra-wide camera, while the inside sees a 10 megapixel F2.4 camera found inside the top middle of the screen.
And yes, there are those screens, which is largely the magic of this device.
Specifically, there are two: a big foldable screen on the inside and a smaller standard not-so-foldable screen on the outside.
On the inside, there’s a 6.7 inch Full HD+ (2640×1080) AMOLED “Infinity Flex” display running at 425 pixels per inch (425ppi), and capable of smooth animations supporting the 120Hz rate other flagship displays now sport.
The outside offers a different display, running at 260×512 in a 1.9 inch Super AMOLED touchscreen, with 302 pixels per inch of clarity (302ppi).
Buttons for the phone are your typical assortment, with a power button on the right edge with a fingerprint sensor hidden underneath, plus a volume rocker. There’s only one USB Type C port on the phone, there for charging and data transfer.
The battery is rated at 3300mAh in the Galaxy Z Flip 3, but supports fast charging and wireless charging. The phone is rated at IPX8, making it highly water resistant, but not dust or particle resistant at all.
Upon first glance, you might find the Flip 3 is unlike any other phone prior. That’s a half truth, partly because it’s unlike most phones. At version three (kinda!), Samsung has had some experience building a compact foldable phone, and this time, it’s brining some design panache, and one that affects usability.
While the previous model sported a one-line touch sensitive LED screen on the outside, Samsung has expanded upon that with a larger multi-line 1.9 inch AMOLED display that takes swipes and proper touches, giving you a screen not unlike what’s on a wearable, but on the outside of a phone.
It’s a touch that allows you to control small parts of the phone, such as music tracks, checking the weather, what’s on your calendar, and notifications. You can even customise that extra screen with a special animated clock face or a photo of your choosing, all from a screen that doesn’t require you to open up the phone for anything.
The moment you do open the phone, that 6.7 inch flexible plastic OLED will greet you, a big display not unlike the size of what’s in the iPhone 12 Pro Max, though this sports a fast 120Hz refresh rate and that flexible design.
Using Android with that big screen is about as easy as it ever was, helped in part because of Samsung’s One UI Android overlay, which is close to stock Android, but with little touches here and there.
You’ll also find facial recognition and a fingerprint sensor under the power button on the right edge, meaning there are two ways to unlock the phone.
Interestingly, Samsung has actually recognised that the volume button is essentially upside down when the phone is slammed shut, and so it controls the volume properly when closed. Pressing volume up when the Flip 3 is open will raise the volume, but that same direction actually becomes volume down when the phone is closed. Fortunately, Samsung worked that out and fixes the controls to work perfectly when the phone is closed.
It’s a great nod to usability, and means you’re not hampered in any remarkably ways if you choose to use this Flip phone regardless of whether it’s open or closed. Ultimately, it’s your choice, and might mean you don’t have to open the phone unnecessarily. Neat.
Armed with one of Qualcomm’s best chips for 2021, the Snapdragon 888, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is a solid little phone in the performance department, and may well be a real compact powerhouse.
While the phone is technically a 6.7 inch phone, given that it fold up into something much, much smaller, it’s basically the smallest high-end phone on the market, cutting its size in half for the pocket, and yet featuring a stunningly high-end set of parts.
That Snapdragon 888 processor isn’t just among the best out there, but is also paired with 8GB RAM and either 128GB or 256GB storage. And while that might just read as specs to you, the result is like other high-end phones, the Flip 3 flies.
It’s as good as every other big phone, except somehow made smaller. You won’t believe how compact a performer the Flip 3 is. It’s that good.
Of course, there’s that inclusion of 5G, as well, which graces not just the high-end, but also the mid-range, too. And here in what is ostensibly the high-end, you can hit high speeds, provided your network facilitates those needs, with that capability extending to WiFi 6 (802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax) and Bluetooth 5.1, as well.
In short, there’s plenty of performance here, which in our testing period showed only a smidgen of lag between apps, but was otherwise quite solid. There’s very little to complain about, except perhaps the locked amount of storage, with no microSD slot to speak of in Samsung’s foldable phones.
But while the performance is mostly top notch, the camera can be a little ho-hum, falling short of the camera in the S21, and giving you two cameras that do the job and are comparable to other phones at the price point, though won’t exceed them.
The two main cameras here follow part of the template set by the S21, so you’ll find two 12 megapixel cameras, accomodating a standard wide lens and an ultra-wide lens, one of which is better than the other.
The standard wide is the better one, the ultra-wide helpful but not the best, with both delivering decent shots in daylight, but owners of the Flip 3 basically getting an updated take on last year’s Flip 5G cameras, which were wide and ultra-wide, as well.
Sadly, it’s not quite the same camera assortment from the S21, so you’ll miss out on the usefulness of a telephoto camera, but gain slightly improved standard cameras, which deliver some better images in standard and portrait modes.
Low-light camera performance in the Z Flip 3 isn’t far off what other phones at these price points can do, but we don’t see the shots as being on par with what another 6.7 inch phone can do, the iPhone 12 Pro Max, with its neat sensor-shift technology to provide clearer low-light imagery overall.
Likewise, Samsung’s night-time shots aren’t quite comparable to the other leader, Google’s Pixel range, which appears to have an edge, particularly on the ultra-wide angle.
Capturing low-light shots on the ultra-wide camera, you may find colour washes out all too easily, leaving night mode for the standard camera, because it at least is acceptable there.
Overall, it’s an acceptable camera, but not a necessarily amazing one. We’d say Samsung is near what the standard iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini can offer, but that you’re essentially sacrificing camera capability for a flexible compact phone, and while this is like what the S21 camera offers, it’s also a little under where a $1499 phone would normally hit.
Except for one area: selfies.
In the world of self-portraiture, you’ll find an acceptable 10 megapixel camera, plus a much cooler use of that rear LCD screen, which can turn into a 1.9 inch selfie viewfinder and then fire a shot using that 12 megapixel F1.8 camera on the back, effectively giving you a better shot overall.
That’s a win for us, because it means you can take better selfie shots using the better camera on the back, and see yourself as you do so, hitting the volume key to fire the shot just like it works as a trigger for every other phone, too.
This is a great feature, for sure, but the phone is let down by something else entirely: battery.
As much as we love what Samsung set out to do in the Z Flip 3, the battery is clearly an obstacle the maker of the most foldables hasn’t quite solved.
Here’s the problem: you cannot hit a day of life on this phone, unless you choose not to use it at all. It’s kind of maddening when you think about it, but if you use the screen for more than two hours, expect the phone to scream for a battery charger.
Even when you don’t, we found the battery life falters all too easily, regardless of what you turn off.
Keep everything out of the box with 5G and the 120Hz adaptive screen, and you’ll be lucky to hit 14 hours of life. Turn off the 120Hz and bring it back to 60Hz, and you’ll be lucky to hit 18 hours of life. Stay away from 5G and stick to WiFi only, and you might get more, but you’ll still need to keep screen time down.
Of course, there were indications in the spec sheet that this phone could never have hit a full 24 hours of battery life: it comes with a 3300mAh battery, two screens, and the high-end Snapdragon 888. It’s a foldable compact beast, but those features were always going to lead to questions about the battery life, questions our tests seem to answer.
The battery life on the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is what we’d describe as “unfortunate”, feeling more like a lockdown phone ideal for the inside of your home, but hardly the out. It’s fine when you’re near a charger, but utterly useless if you’re not.
That’s a dramatic difference from the Galaxy Z Flip 5G before it, which didn’t offer stunning battery life, but could manage 24 hours, making it a fair amount more useful in the day-to-day life, when we eventually return to that.
A frustrating battery life dents the value of the Z Flip 3, which at $1499 gives us mixed feelings.
Granted, you’re getting a foldable screen that also happens to be water resistant, two things that are new in the same package, while foldables are still fairly hard to find in the industry. In a few years, they’ll be normal, but right now, they certainly make you stand out, and it comes without the premium price tag we saw only recently.
At $1499 in Australia, the Flip 3 is a positively inexpensive 5G foldable phone, but it’s one that comes with a catch: less than fantastic battery life.
What needs work?
It’s that battery life that gives us the most pause with the Galaxy Z Flip 3, as it just kind of sullies the whole package.
The camera also could be better and doesn’t feel as deserving of the price tag as you might expect, but it’s not in the same league as the battery, which is hard to argue a defence for.
Final thoughts (TLDR)
The battery life is a huge problem, even if it’s one that’s less important in the safety of a country-wide lockdown. That is the situation this writer and others like him find themselves in at the moment, at the time this review was published, with a seemingly ongoing Covid lockdown across Australia’s most populous of states. Thanks, coronavirus.
With most everyone inside beyond the daily hour of exercise, needing capable battery life is currently a distant memory, though one that will change. Australians and their phones will eventually go out again, and when they do, they’ll want their mobiles to not need to be within reach of a charging plug just to remain upright. Unfortunately, the Flip 3 struggles with that, and owners may struggle to hit more than 15 hours unless they actively choose not to use the phone.
It’s a little maddening, to say the least. Samsung has built a beautiful little compact powerhouse, bringing the size of a big phone to the physical size of the small one. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is a great concept, but the battery is sorely lacking.
Samsung, we love the phone, not the battery.
Even with less than flagship camera performance, we could normally recommend this mobile, provided the battery did better. But even with features that see the phone learn how we use it and best optimise the battery life, the result is still the same: bring a power pack, because this phone’s daily runtime changes nothing.
This phone simply will not hit a full day, the minimum we’d expect for any major phone these days.
It’s a shame, too, because the Flip 3 is one of the most polished foldable phones and a genuine treat.
In a world of big phones, Samsung has built something amazing that is delightfully small. But that battery life is a hard sell, and unless you like sitting near a power plug, it makes the Flip 3 hard to fully recommend.