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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 reviewed

Samsung Galaxy Fold 3 reviewed: big screen to go

Quick review

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G (SM-F926B)
The good
Still a really cool idea
Excellent performance
Fantastic entertainment device
Includes an under-screen camera (!)
Rear cameras can be used as a selfie camera
Supports 5G
Wireless charging
Water resistant
The not-so-good
Very, very thick
Under-screen camera isn't great
Rear camera shots need to be sharper
No 8K video capture
S-Pen support feels like it's been thrown in as opposed to designed to be truly used with the Fold 3
Not a major leap on last year's Fold 2

Wish you could take more of your media with you? Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 3 makes the case that you can make a larger screen magically materialise for whatever need, and you don’t have to sacrifice much, beyond what you’ve paid for it.

Glance at your phone and you’ll probably recognise the shape and style, much like you would on everyone else’s phone: a device that is more or less all screen, but built with one screen in mind. This is the normal phone, or even the phone that everyone has.

The touchscreen block may as well be the very definition of a phone these days, but it isn’t the only one out there. With the advent of the foldable phone, you can have a screen that folds up to make the phone smaller, or even one that folds open to make the experience bigger to go.

In fact, that last one is precisely where Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 3 fits into. The third generation of Samsung’s large folding screen technology, it’s one of a handful of phones like it, folding a big screen into the body of something much, much smaller.

Granted, you’ll pay for it, with a cost edging close to the the $2500 mark, but depending on what you want from a phone, the Fold 3 might be the ideal hybrid device for on the go fun. Is the Galaxy Z Fold 3 the foldable worth checking out, or does it still have room for improvement?

Design

Appearing like two phones hinged together, the Z Fold 3 may bring to mind what Samsung offered in last year’s Z Fold model, the Z Fold 2. And that probably won’t surprise you, because it is a similar phone.

While Samsung has changed a few things about the feature set, the design is similar, with a slim screen on the outside and a wide foldable screen on the inside, slim bezels, and a metal frame and hinge.

It’s a similar looking phone no matter how you look at it, but the feature set is a little different, and that matters a great deal.

Features

Fortunately the tech inside has changed a little, and that matters, too.

You’ll find an eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 inside the Fold 3, with support for 5G over the Sub-6 standard, working with 4G networks, as well. Samsung has equipped the Fold 3 with 12GB RAM and either 256GB or 512GB, with no microSD slot, so pick wisely.

It arrived with Android 10 at launch, but by the time we reviewed ours, Android 11 was available, and now we’re just waiting for Android 12.

Software aside, the hardware is what you want to talk about, specifically focusing on the screens. There are two of them here, with a 6.2 inch HD+ Dynamic AMOLED display sporting the unorthodox resolution of 2268×832 and a 120Hz smooth adaptive refresh rate, while the inside gets a 7.6 inch flexible Dynamic AMOLED display, running at 2208×1768 and that 120Hz adaptive refresh rate, as well.

Technically, the Z Fold 3 comes with five cameras, sporting three main rear cameras and two selfie camera. For the former, there are three 12 megapixel cameras handling standard-wide at F1.8, ultra-wide at F2.2, and 2x telephoto at F2.4, while the selfie cameras see a front-facing camera on the outside of the phone as a 10 megapixel built into the slim 6.2 inch display, and another 4 megapixel camera hidden under the top-right corner of the 7.6 inch display.

Connection-wise, there’s 4G, 5G, Bluetooth, WiFi 6, GPS, Near-Field Communication (NFC) and USB Type C for charging, data transfer, and heaven forbid if you want to plug in Type C headphones or a converter to let you do it.

It’s also the first large foldable phone from Samsung to support water resistance, getting the IPX8 resistance level, meaning it’ll handle up to 1.5 metres of fresh water for up to half an hour, while the glass is protected by Gorilla Glass Victus, as well. The water resistance is possibly the most impressive durability feature for the foldable, offering something missing in action on last year’s model.

Also missing in action last year was S-Pen support, which is found in the Z Fold 3. If you have an older S-Pen or you go buy one, you’ll find you can scribble on the inside screen, filling in the gap left by the omission of a “Galaxy Note” model this year.

Beyond this, there’s a 4400mAh battery, wireless charging, reverse wireless charging (handy if you have earphones you want to charge on the back of your wearable), a fingerprint sensor under the power button, and support for Dolby Atmos through the speaker system.

In-use

With two screens on the Z Fold 3, you’ll find two distinct ways of using the phone, and that’s before you get to the S-Pen.

There’s the first screen, which is just like using a phone. Granted, you get a very tall screen, different from most phones because it’s not as wide as others, even if the length is about the same. At 6.4 inches, it’s a big screened phone lacking in width, but easily usable all the same.

Then there’s the second screen, which folds out to reveal a 7.6 inch display more like a tablet, and using this is a little different.

You can use it just like a tablet, poking and prodding apps as you would a phone, and you can even grab an S-Pen, which works on the screen. And then, depending on the app or phone feature, you can fold the Z Fold 3’s screen at its hinge and use the bottom section as a controller for the top section, like using an on-screen keyboard in one section or playing games with the controllers at the bottom and the game screen at the top.

Twitter vs Instagram on the Fold 3

There is the occasional catch, mind you, because some of the apps just don’t like running in the tablet screen. A quick glance to social apps during our Fold 3 review period showed a perfect example of that: while Twitter performed fine on both the tall front screen and the inside tablet screen, Instagram had to centre itself in the tablet screen, leaving massive borders on either side.

Your experience will depend greatly on the app and what it has been made to work with, and some apps will fill like you’re being given a better experience for the big screen than the taller and thinner one, but you’ll need to find those out for yourself.

All up, however, you have choices in how you use the Galaxy Fold 3, which is part phone, part tablet, all choice.

Performance

Armed with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 and 12GB RAM, it’s not just choice you’ll get on the Z Fold 3, but performance with plenty of revs to spare.

One of the fastest chips out there, the Galaxy Fold 3 is one of a handful of Samsung Galaxy models released in Australia to get a Snapdragon chip, much like the Flip 3, while the rest of the Galaxy S flagship range sees the Samsung-made Exynos locally. While that doesn’t mean a lot for differences, expect plenty of speed for games and apps, while the 12GB RAM helps it along beautifully, making it hard to find a skerrick of lag.

Whether you use it as a phone or tablet, there’s plenty of power in this phone to work with, getting similar performance to the Asus ZenFone 8, which also saw the Snapdragon 888 in Australia.

The world of high-speed 5G is also strong here, and while it doesn’t support the mmWave band you can find on the Google Pixel 6 Pro, you’ll find plenty of speed, provided you can latch onto a 5G network with bandwidth to spare.

Camera

The camera is where things get interesting. Not necessarily because the Fold 3 isn’t interesting — it definitely is — but rather because the camera specs aren’t as high-end as the rest of the phone, and that can be a bit confusing.

With the Galaxy S21 Ultra, you had a 108 megapixel standard wide accompanying a 12 megapixel ultra-wide and two other 10 megapixel cameras set to 3x and 10x telephoto, giving you quite a bit of zoom range. Here on the Z Fold 3, it’s not really the same.

Rather, it’s three cameras as opposed to four, and they’re much lower end, losing out to the S21 standard, which itself offered a 12 megapixel F1.8 standard wide, a 12 megapixel F2.2 ultra-wide, and a 64 megapixel F2.0 3x telephoto.

Here on the Z Fold 3, you’ll find three 12 megapixel cameras, covering 12 megapixels F1.8 standard wide, 12 megapixels F2.2 ultra-wide, and 12 megapixels F2.4 for a 2x telephoto. That’s not quite the feature set we’d expect Samsung’s highest-priced phone to have, losing out to the Galaxy S models this year.

The three cameras on the Fold 3 aren't as high-end as the cameras on the S21 Ultra.

The performance can be equally hit and miss, as well.

Shots can be nice enough in daylight and night, provided you don’t get too close, because once you do, the softness is overwhelming. Samsung’s Z Fold 3 doesn’t take an amazingly sharp photo, that much we’ve learned, and even if there is plenty of light, we would typically find soft spots and blur up close.

It’s also missing support for 8K video capture, maxing out at 4K, and missing out on one of those features we’ve seen in Galaxy models since the S20 last year. That’s not a great look for an otherwise high-end phone.

The selfie cameras aren’t much better, with the 10 megapixel module on the slim screen being acceptable, but the 4 megapixel under-display camera being low-res and very, very soft.

Every shot captured on the under-screen camera just didn’t feel like the rest of the hardware, and while the positioning of the camera helps to make it feel integrated in the screen, the performance of the camera itself lets down that aesthetic choice.

There's an under-screen camera there on the Fold 3 if you look hard enough.
There’s a 4 megapixel selfie camera hidden here. Can you find it?

There may be one saving grace of the multi-camera setup in the Fold 3: if you open up the tablet and pay attention to the back, you can use the main three cameras as a selfie camera, viewing your preview on the front-facing screen.

That is, without a doubt, the best way to guarantee semi-decent selfies on the Fold 3, though we still wish the camera was as high-end as the rest of the feature set.

Selfies through the 4 megapixel under-screen camera are soft.

Battery

At least the battery life isn’t totally terrible, with the 4400mAh on offer capable of hitting a little over 24 hours, but not much more. It’s a lot of juice for a foldable device, even if the fact that it’s a tablet makes you want it to be more capable and go for longer.

It’s worth remembering that this is both a phone and a tablet, and so it it needs to keep on going with the life of the former, while working like the latter.

We’re not thoroughly surprised that it can’t do much more than 24 hours, and in most of our tests, found a nightly charge with the Galaxy Z Fold 3 was going to be likely. But depending on how often you use the phone, you may be able to get a little more juice out, and at least it includes wireless charging, so if you have one, you can just leave it in place and bring the juice back up.

Value

While the battery life isn’t super surprising, neither is the price, with the Galaxy Z Fold 3 being a rather expensive option in the world of phones.

Yes, it’s a flagship, which already incurs quite a cost, but factor in that it’s a flagship with a foldable screen, and the price goes up once more. As such, Australians can expect to find the Galaxy Z Fold 3 for $2499 for the 256GB model or $2649 for the 512GB variant. You can’t upgrade these with a microSD card, either, so you’re buying the size you want from the get-go.

That is a high-priced phone no matter how you slice it, costing more than the 512GB iPhone 13 Pro Max’s $2369 price tag, and just under the 1TB model of the same phone at $2719. Granted, you do get a foldable screen, something Apple has yet to offer, and that does make it stand out.

But that price is still something, and may be hard for many to grapple with. Think long and hard whether you want to spend $2500 for a phone, because that is a lot of money for a mobile.

What needs work?

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 reviewed

It’s a lot of money even if the idea is cool, because while cool, the Galaxy Fold 3 still comes off as a phone that’s struggling to find the right audience, and honestly doesn’t feel like a major leap from the Fold 2.

Samsung has made a lot of changes and improvements to the inside, bolstering performance, adding the S-Pen support, and changing that front-facing camera on the inside to be almost invisible. Almost almost.

What it hasn’t done is changed the thickness, as this phone is still quite a chunky boy rather like its predecessor. You may feel it in the pants, because it really is like smushing two phones together, held in place by a thick hinge.

Make no mistake, the Z Fold 3 is a chunky phone folded, tipping the scales at 271 grams, a good 30 grams heavier than one of the another heavy phone, the iPhone 13 Pro Max. To Samsung’s credit, the Fold 3 feels well built, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a sizeable smartphone.

With an S-Pen, you can scribble on the internal tablet screen of the Galaxy Z Fold 3.

We also wish Samsung had spend some time making the S-Pen a proper part of the package, much like it has been on the Note range. While we suspect that’ll be something for next year, it feels like the S-Pen feature has largely been tacked on, supported on the inside screen, but not on the outside one, meaning you need to unfold the Fold 3 in order to scrawl any notes at all.

Samsung could have also included some storage for the S-Pen, like it always did with the Note phones. A pen you could simply pull out from the body would have made a lot more sense than a phone that requires a specific case, especially when that case adds more size and thickness to an already thick phone.

Really, all we’re saying is the S-Pen could have been a more central aspect of the Z Fold 3’s design, rather than feeling like it was extra for the sake of being, you know, extra.

What we loved about the Fold 3

Even though the new Fold doesn’t do too much to change the previous model and still has quirks we’d love to iron out, there are things about the phone that we love, and the main one is how it can be used for entertainment.

Simply put, the Fold 3 is a really fantastic entertainment gadget.

It’s a big screen wrapped into a smaller design, and something that will appeal to folks who desperately want a big device without all the usual hang ups of carrying one.

For instance, we love the iPad Mini for its compact size and versatility, but you need a small pack to take it with you and it doesn’t fold up for your pocket. But the Galaxy Fold 3 does, and even though it leaves an indent, it’s a 7 inch screen you can unfold so, so easily, giving you a big screen to go.

Skip the controller and you can still game on the Fold 3!

There’s also a cool use here for gamers, because with that high-end chip made for 2021 and a screen that folds in half, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 feels like having a portable game system in a foldable body. It’s a little reminiscent of the Nintendo DS, but with touchscreens on other side of the foldable divide and more capability.

Armed with the right games and apps, and the Samsung Fold 3 becomes a makeshift video game console made for a whole lot more than what typical portable consoles retail for. Imaginative gamers may not need to think long and hard about all the games this phone could be used for, and it goes beyond that. Pair it with an Xbox controller — wired or wireless — and then Microsoft’s xCloud, and you have a portable Xbox of sorts with a large screen you can carry on the go.

Bring a controller and you can game on the Fold 3.

If you’re someone who loves a digital comic book, dabbling with the CBR and CBZ files you can buy online, not to mention the services that support comics, Samsung’s large 7.6 inch display that folds out makes for an excellent way to bring a bunch of comics with you to go on a large screen.

The point is basically that while any phone can do games and comics and other sources of entertainment, Samsung’s ability to fold out a big screen from its relatively small size makes perfect sense, filling a gap few phones manage.

In short, this phone is built for entertainment, and it works a treat there, too. If entertainment is one of the main reasons you consider a new phone, it’s worth considering the Fold 3.

Final thoughts (TLDR)

The world of foldables hasn’t really set our eyelids on fire like we’d hoped, but they are coming along.

Three generations of foldable in, Samsung’s chunky chap is more interesting than ever, and feels like a worthy option for someone who lives a life around entertainment. If you’re into games, movies, or just generally taking media to go, the big screen made in a compact body makes for a genuinely compelling proposition.

And while there are still aspects to the Z Fold 3 we wish had been refined even more, this is still a really cool idea, and one that’s now water resistant.

The Fold 3 is still very, very expensive, and that may make it harder to pull the trigger on the device. But if you live for entertainment, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is worth a look, given you’ll basically be carrying a fully-fledged media device in a big screen to go.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 reviewed
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G (SM-F926B)
Design
Features
Performance
Ease of use
Cameras
Battery
Value
The good
Still a really cool idea
Excellent performance
Fantastic entertainment device
Includes an under-screen camera (!)
Rear cameras can be used as a selfie camera
Supports 5G
Wireless charging
Water resistant
The not-so-good
Very, very thick
Under-screen camera isn't great
Rear camera shots need to be sharper
No 8K video capture
S-Pen support feels like it's been thrown in as opposed to designed to be truly used with the Fold 3
Not a major leap on last year's Fold 2
4
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