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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is an evolutionary step forward

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 was announced today on the (virtual) stage at Galaxy Unpacked 2021, and while the foldable looks similar to its predecessor, it features several crucial changes. The nascent foldable category has a lot to prove, but the Galaxy Z Fold 3 may be enough to win over a much broader audience.

The most significant update has nothing to do with the hardware and that is a $200 price drop, bringing the Z Fold 3 to $1,799. While still a startling amount of money to spend on a phone, Samsung has quite a few incentives for early buyers that may make it even more enticing.

On the hardware front, there are two changes helping the Galaxy Z Fold 3 win over more fans. The first is improved durability including IPX8 water resistance and the latter attempts to lure in Note fans with the addition of S Pen support. 

The original Galaxy Fold felt like a hardware beta Samsung shipped to customers, while the Galaxy Z Fold 2 was a multi-generational leap forward. Now, with a reduced price and well-considered upgrades, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 may be enough to deliver mainstream success.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 price and availability 

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is available for pre-order starting today from Samsung.com and will be shipping on August 27.

The base model starts at $1,799 with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage and will be available in Phantom Black, Phantom Green or Phantom Silver. A 512GB storage model will also be available and it retains the same 12GB of RAM.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

(Image credit: Samsung)

Pre-order deals will abound for the Galaxy Z Fold 3, but Samsung itself is offering a $200 Samsung Credit for those who pre-order between August 11 and August 26. Samsung will also let buyers trade in up to four phones for a maximum of $800 off the Galaxy Z Fold 3.

It’s excellent to see the pricing on Samsung’s flagship foldable come down from its near $2,000, matching the $200 off we saw across the Galaxy S21 lineup this year. Still, I had hoped we would see it drop a bit more. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 got that massive price drop and will cost just $999 this year. Perhaps next year we’ll finally see something similar with the Galaxy Z Fold 4, but for now, we’ll have to be satisfied with a $200 price drop.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 hands-on

We'll have our full review in due time, but we did have the chance to go hands-on with the Galaxy Z Fold 3 ahead of Galaxy Unpacked including the new S Pen Fold Edition and S Pen Pro.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 specs 

Displays7.6-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X (QXGA+, 120Hz); 6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X (2268x832, 120Hz)
5G supportYes
CPUSnapdragon 888
RAM12GB
Storage256 or 512GB
Rear cameras12MP wide-angle f/1.8; 12MP ultra-wide f/2.2; 12MP telephoto f/2.4
Front cameras10MP wide-angle f/2.2 (cover); 4MP wide-angle f/1.8 (under-display)
Battery capacity4400mAh
Water resistanceIPX8 (No dust resistance)
ColorsPhantom Black, Phantom Green or Phantom Silver
Size6.23 x 2.64 x 0.63-inches (folded); 6.23 x 5.04 x 0.25-inches (unfolded)
Weight9.56 ounces

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 design

The design of the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is virtually unchanged from the Galaxy Z Fold 2 with the rear camera array being one of the few alterations. Gone is the large protruding rectangular array from last year, replaced with a much narrower and sleeker elongated oval array.

Otherwise, you would be forgiven for not being able to tell the difference between the two. The dimensions are identical at 6.23 x 2.64 x 0.63 inches when folded and 6.23 x 5.04 x 0.25 inches unfolded. The displays (see below) are identical in size to last year's model as well.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

(Image credit: Samsung)

So where are the updates? On the inside. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 introduces IPX8 waterproofing, which means the phone could survive being submerged in roughly five feet of water for up to 30 minutes. That’s a massive quality of life improvement for a phone that previously left you worried if you were caught in the rain. Dust resistance is still missing, so it still isn’t as durable as other flagships, but it is getting closer.

Samsung also made improvements to the Hideaway Hinge that allows the phone to fold. It is “thinner and sleeker” than on the Galaxy Z Fold 2 while retaining its 200,000 fold lifespan and ability to hold at any angle. The interior of the hinge is also improved with smaller bristles for greater protection against dust ingress.

Durability was high on our list of why foldables aren’t catching on (pricing being the top concern), so these improvements go a long way to making foldables feel more like a viable phone that can hold up to the rigors of life. 

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

(Image credit: Samsung)

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 displays

Again, at first glance, little has changed with the Galaxy Z Fold 3 displays, but there is one massive upgrade to the cover display and a potentially game-changing addition to the internal display.

Tackling the smaller cover display first, Samsung made the one update I wanted in the Galaxy Z Fold 2; that is, a 120Hz refresh rate. The 6.2-inch cover display also gets a slight boost to its resolution at 2268 x 832 pixels, up from 2260 x 816 last year. The narrow display still leaves you with an unusual aspect ratio, but it’s an improvement. 

The 7.6-inch internal display is identical to the Galaxy Z Fold 2 with the exception of S Pen support (more on that later). This new feature may open this device up to a whole new audience (particularly Note fans mourning the loss of that line). Oh, and don't be concerned about Samsung using the same display — the Galaxy Z Fold 2 display is one of the best phone displays on the market and we expect the same from the Z Fold 3. 

Another tangible but invisible update to the interior display is its enhanced durability. Not only should this alleviate some of the scratching concerns that were particularly problematic for the original Galaxy Fold, but it also offers an improved feel. 

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 cameras

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 keeps the 12MP triple rear camera array of the Galaxy Z Fold 2. This includes a wide-angle lens at f/1.8, an ultra-wide at f/2.2, and a telephoto at f/2.4. I was pleased with the results of the Galaxy Z Fold 2 last year, so I don’t imagine this will be any different on the Fold 3. 

With that said, this configuration is nearly identical to that of the now sub-$600 Galaxy S20 FE, so it would have been nice to see some upgrades. Both the Snapdragon 888 and Samsung’s steadily improving computational photography should deliver improvements over last year’s results, but you'll be disappointed if you were hoping for Galaxy S21 Ultra-level picture quality.

The front-facing hole-punch camera on the cover display is the same  10MP at f/2.2 sensor. The biggest camera change comes for the interior display as it now features an under-display camera for the first time. The sensor itself is a 4MP at f/1.8 which tells you that Samsung only intends for people to use this for video calling. The under-display camera is still visible, but far less obtrusive than a hole punch or notch, so it’s a step in the right direction. 

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 performance 

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 uses the same Snapdragon 888 processor paired with 12GB of RAM as the Galaxy S21 Ultra, one of the best performing devices of this year. There had been some speculation of a Snapdragon 888 Plus debut in the Galaxy Z Fold 3, but this configuration should be plenty to keep things moving across the Z Fold 3 displays. 

Samsung gives a base 256GB of storage, which is enough for most users. I’m glad that Samsung didn’t try to scale back the storage as some rumors indicated. This year, you even have the option to upgrade to 512GB of storage, which is a good addition considering the lack of a microSD slot.

While I don’t anticipate performance being an issue on the Galaxy Z Fold 3, it is interesting that Samsung didn’t follow its traditional pattern with the Galaxy Note in introducing the Snapdragon Plus processor. Also, we're not getting the 16GB of RAM found on the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The former suggests that Samsung is struggling to hit this reduced price point with the Galaxy Z Fold 3.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

(Image credit: Samsung)

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 battery life and charging 

Battery size takes a slight step back on the Galaxy Z Fold 3 to 4400mAh (down from 4500mAh). That might be concerning as the Galaxy Z Fold 2 only managed 9 hours and 5 minutes in our battery test with the display at 120Hz. And with the cover display moving to 120Hz, battery life could take another hit.

With that said, I never found the Galaxy Z Fold 2 battery to be an issue in real-world usage. I could usually end a full day with 15-25% remaining. There’s also reason to believe that the improved efficiency of the 5nm Snapdragon 888 over the 7nm Snapdragon 865+ will be enough to counteract the minimal reduction in battery size. I’m never thrilled to see a downgrade in battery size, but this seems like it should be a non-issue. 

Everything remains the same on the charging front with 25W fast wired charging and 10W fast wireless charging. Neither of these compares to what we’ve seen from OnePlus and others with 65W wired charging and 50W wireless charging, but Samsung is still understandably skittish when it comes to pushing battery and charging limits. 

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

(Image credit: Samsung)

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 S Pen support

There will be no new Galaxy Note this year, but it remains unclear if the line is entirely dead. Samsung is trying to bandage those wounds with S Pen support coming to an increasing number of other devices. While the notion of using an S Pen on the Galaxy Fold or even the Galaxy Z Fold 2 seemed ridiculous given concerns over fingernails scratching the interior display, it remained a feature many wished for given the expansive display.

That wish is now a reality with a new S Pen Fold Edition and S Pen Pro available for the Galaxy Z Fold 3; the latter is also compatible with other devices in Samsung’s lineup. Just as with the Galaxy S21 Ultra, the S Pen won’t have a housing in the phone, but cases will be available that allow you to keep the S Pen close. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 has a much more resilient screen than its predecessors, but the S Pen itself also features a new retracting nib that prevents you from putting excessive pressure on the display when writing. 

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is a fantastic size to use for a small portable notebook, but only time will tell if any non-Note device will be able to generate similar interest from S Pen fans.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

(Image credit: Samsung)

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 software 

Samsung currently offers better software support than any other manufacturer with four years of security updates and three years of major OS updates. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 also benefits from a number of unique features geared toward the folding display.

A number of these fall under the Flex mode features. These include the ability to split features out from an app when the phone is Flex mode.For example, you can separate the camera controls from the viewfinder. Samsung has promised that additional third-party app makers are adopting these features, which will only be boosted by more foldables coming later this year and presumably improved Android support with Google possibly releasing a Pixel Fold later this year.

Samsung has also enhanced its Multi-Active Window features, which let you juggle up to three apps on screen at once. These can either be split into distinct areas of the screen or viewed in an overlay. Improvements include the ability to create shortcuts for regularly used sets of apps and a new Taskbar that will let you quickly switch between apps.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Outlook 

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 won't bring foldables to the masses. That honor will more likely go to the Galaxy Z Flip 3. However, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 shows steady progress in a category that is still trying to find its footing.

Unlike the Galaxy Z Flip 3, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is trying to do something new in a manner reminiscent of the original Galaxy Note. While I’m glad that we left the word “phablet” behind, if ever a phone actually had earned that title it would be the Galaxy Z Fold — this is truly a phone and a tablet in one. Now the question is simply how many people want this form factor. 

The Galaxy Z Fold 3, like the Note before it, unlocks productivity enhancements that aren’t possible on other devices. New additions like Multi-Active Window and S Pen support press this advantage even further. Price will remain the biggest challenge for the Galaxy Z Fold 3 even with the drop to $1,799, which is still hundreds beyond even the top configuration of the Galaxy S21 Ultra or iPhone 12 Pro Max. Yes, the foldable can do more, but it comes up short in a direct spec comparison, making it a tough sell at its price.

The Galaxy Z Fold 2 was one of my favorite phones ever because of its form factor. I have no doubt that will be true again with the Galaxy Z Fold 3, however, like many other potential Galaxy Z Fold 3 buyers, I'll need to think long and hard about spending so much on a phone.

Sean Riley

Sean Riley has been covering tech professionally for over a decade now. Most of that time was as a freelancer covering varied topics including phones, wearables, tablets, smart home devices, laptops, AR, VR, mobile payments, fintech, and more.  Sean is the resident mobile expert at Laptop Mag, specializing in phones and wearables, you'll find plenty of news, reviews, how-to, and opinion pieces on these subjects from him here. But Laptop Mag has also proven a perfect fit for that broad range of interests with reviews and news on the latest laptops, VR games, and computer accessories along with coverage on everything from NFTs to cybersecurity and more.