Samsung unveiled several new products at its Galaxy Unpacked event with the new Galaxy Z Fold 3 serving as the highlight. It isn't as much of a revelation as its predecessor but the Z Fold 3 brings several important updates to this horizontally folding phone series.
Chief among the new features is S Pen support, an upgrade mourning Note fans will find solace in. For everyone else, the Z Fold 3 has improved durability with IPX8 water resistance so you can feel better about its ability to hold up for the long term. The quirkiest new feature is an under-display selfie cam that lets you shoot photos and videos without interrupting the gorgeous folding panel.
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But the main draw has nothing to do with hardware — the Galaxy Z Fold 3 gets a $200 price drop down to $1,799. It isn't nearly as affordable as the Galaxy Z Flip 3 but this phone is the most ambitious in Samsung's catalog, if not in the industry. However, the question remains: is the Galaxy Z Fold 3 enough of an upgrade for Galaxy Z Fold 2 owners to trade in their trusty foldable for the newest version? Let's find out.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 vs. Z Fold 2 price
In its quest to appeal to a wider audience, Samsung knocked the price of the Galaxy Z Fold 3 down to $1,799, making it $200 cheaper than the Galaxy Z Fold 2. It's a nice price drop but not the headline-grabbing reduction the $999 Galaxy Z Flip 3 enjoyed.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 vs. Z Fold 2 design
On the surface, the Z Fold 3 and Z Fold 2 look identical apart from some new colors and a tweaked camera array. The trio of lenses on the back is now vertically aligned in an oblong module instead of the rectangular one used on Samsung's past models.
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 when unfolded. The 7.6-inch and 6.2-inch displays are also the same size as last year's model.
The big updates are found on the inside. Galaxy Note owners will appreciate the new S Pen support which goes beyond what we've seen from Samsung's clamshell phones with the option to use either the S Pen Fold Edition or S Pen Pro. There is no built-in housing but an optional case has a spot to store the stylus when you're finished taking notes. Enabling S Pen use is an 80% more resilient screen but Samsung is still worried about durability so it made the S Pen nib retractable in case you apply too much pressure on the panel.
On the topic of durability, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 gets IPX8 water resistance, meaning it can survive being submerged in roughly five feet of water for up to 30 minutes. We don't recommend testing this with your own device but the certification reassures us of the Z Fold 3's improved durability over the Z Fold 2.
Samsung also slimmed down the Hideaway Hinge, making it even sleeker while retaining its 200,000 fold lifespan. The bristles on the inside are smaller than before to better protect against dust and grime.
If durability or S Pen support wasn't high on your list of priorities going into this release, then the Galaxy Z Fold 3's design won't move the needle much. However, foldables still need to prove their longevity and the Z Fold 3 takes sensible strides in that direction.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 vs. Z Fold 2 displays
The display differences between the Z Fold 3 and Z Fold 2 are also minor but there are two main changes to note. Most significant is the upgrade to a 120Hz adaptive refresh rate on the cover display for smoother animations, videos and games.
The other update is that the 6.2-inch cover display received a slight boost to its resolution at 2268 x 832 pixels, up from 2260 x 816 last year.
That's it! Apart from S Pen support, these panels are identical. And don't worry about the lack of upgrades because the Z Fold 2 had one of the best screens we've ever tested.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 vs. Z Fold 2 cameras
The Galaxy Z Fold 3 retains the same 12MP triple rear camera array as the Galaxy Z Fold 2. On the back of the phone are a wide-angle lens at f/1.8, an ultra-wide at f/2.2, and a telephoto at f/2.4. While we took some great shots with this setup when we tested the Z Fold 2, at this price, we were hoping for upgrades to match the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
Even the 10MP f/2.2 selfie camera is the same on the cover display. The selfie camera inside gets one fascinating update — it is located underneath the display. The 4MP front-facing camera is still visible on the main screen but it's not nearly as obtrusive as the hole punch selfie cam on the Galaxy Z Fold 2.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 vs. Z Fold 2 performance
You know how it goes. A new year means a new processor. In this case, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 upgrades to the Snapdragon 888 from the Snapdragon 865 Plus in the Z Fold 2. These chips are powerful enough to run any mobile workloads you throw at them, including using multiple apps when the screen is bent in half. But as you might guess, the Z Fold 3 with its Snapdragon 888 and 12GB of RAM delivers better performance, even though many people won't notice.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 vs. Z Fold 2 battery and charging
This isn't a battle anyone wanted the Z Fold 2 to win. Alas, the Z Fold 3 has a 4400mAh battery, down from the 4500mAh cell in its predecessor. That doesn't necessarily mean the new model gets worse runtimes than the Z Fold 2 (9 hours and 5 minutes), but we aren't expecting huge endurance gains, either.
There are other variables in play beyond the battery capacity. Possibly improving runtimes is the new processor and software tweaks while the 120Hz screen could cause the battery to dip further.
Charging is also unchanged with support for 25W fast wired charging, 10W wireless charging and 4.5W reverse wireless charging. As with most other new phones, don't look for a USB-C charging brick in the box.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 vs. Galaxy Z Fold 2: Verdict
Galaxy Z Fold 2 owners who are happy with their foldable phone shouldn't feel the urge to flock to the Galaxy Z Fold 3. That is, unless you're a former Galaxy Note owner who misses their stylus because the Z Fold 3 now supports the S Pen Fold Edition and S Pen Pro. The other major upgrade is the 120Hz refresh rate for the cover screen, which will make animations look buttery smooth.
There are also some nice enhancements to the phone's durability, although these are less important to Z Fold 2 owners who already took the plunge. Speaking of plunge, the most meaningful reassurance is the Z Fold 3's new IPX8 water resistance.
Samsung made smart tweaks to the folding formula by addressing durability concerns and adding S Pen support. But the key aspects — the screen, cameras, design and battery life — received little attention. If you're considering diving into the deep end of foldables for the first time then the Z Fold 3 is a compelling option. However, if you already own a Z Fold 2, there isn't much need to upgrade unless you find a good trade-in deal.
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Phillip Tracy is the assistant managing editor at Laptop Mag where he reviews laptops, phones and other gadgets while covering the latest industry news. After graduating with a journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin, Phillip became a tech reporter at the Daily Dot. There, he wrote reviews for a range of gadgets and covered everything from social media trends to cybersecurity. Prior to that, he wrote for RCR Wireless News covering 5G and IoT. When he's not tinkering with devices, you can find Phillip playing video games, reading, traveling or watching soccer.