My team and I come across a smorgasbord of smartphones on a daily basis, as part of what we do at 91mobiles. However, we don’t get to see as many innovative devices as we’d like, and as much as the pace of technological advancements in this field would indicate. And even when do come across innovation, in many cases, it’s not meaningful enough. While at first glance, the new Galaxy Z Fold3 doesn’t appear as a true innovation – it is, after all, an upgraded version of its two predecessors, and brings along similar use cases. That said, I feel that it does pack in enough to refine that innovation and take it to a level where it’s ready for mass consumption… the high price notwithstanding. Allow me to explain.
So what’s new?
The key, my friend, is the spit and polish. The refinement. The tweaks. Attention to detail. The improvements that make it not just faster, better, more capable than before, but also more usable. And these come in various forms.
For one, there’s the IPX8 rating. The Z Fold3 is the first foldable smartphone that’s water-resistant, and that’s great because if you’re spending the kind of money Samsung wants for it, a little water shouldn’t be able to spoil your prized possession. The IPX8 rating not only adds to peace of mind, but it also brings the device somewhat at par with other premium flagships, most of which are IP68 rated.
Apart from the foldable screen, the other interesting and useful innovation here is the under-display camera. For a long time now, smartphone brands have been trying to find a suitable location to hide the front camera, and we’ve seen quite a few different implementations. Remember pop-up cameras? There was the classic notch too of course, which eventually gave way to waterdrop or dew-drop notches. We’ve seen shark fins, and even flip-ups (the Galaxy A80 and the ASUS 6Z). As of now, the punch hole seems to be the way to go for most. Generally speaking, the punch hole has now reduced to a small black dot that one gets used to with time.
S Pen support
And then, there’s the added S Pen support. I actually have mixed feelings about this. Now, I didn’t get the S Pen to try out with the Z Fold3, but I”m reasonably confident that it’s a useful addition to the device’s repertoire, based on my experience with the S Pens I’ve tried earlier with Samsung’s Note series smartphones and tablets. The S Pen can add wings to your creativity, and boost your productivity if you use it to its fullest potential, and the Z Fold3’s large main screen should offer enough real estate for it to do its thing well. However, the fact that the S Pen can’t be attached to or inserted into the device makes it a bit inconvenient to carry around, unless you opt for one of those specially-designed cases.
I do appreciate how Samsung has thought through and paid attention to the software as well, and added tweaks that make use of the Galaxy Z Fold3’s unique form factor. The 7.6-inch screen is great for running multiple apps together, and thanks to the multitasking features that are baked in, you can do so quite well. Up to three apps can be opened together in split view mode, and you can add more on top as floating, pop-up windows. Running so many apps together seems overkill if you ask me, but the split-screen view can certainly be quite useful.
Then are tons of other software features that take advantage of the Z Fold3’s dual screens and folding form factor too. For example, the camera app has an icon that enables dual view when the device is open, moving the otherwise full-screen viewfinder to the right side and allowing you to preview clicked shots instantly on the lift side of the screen. Similarly, another icon on the top right of the camera app toggles cover screen preview, letting you shoot selfies using the more capable rear cameras instead of using the front camera.
Then there’s the Flex Mode, which offers additional functionality when the device is propped up half open on a flat surface, with the screen facing you (akin to a laptop). Flex Mode enables compatible apps to display contextual information or more functionality on the lower half of the screen, as the upper half shows the main content. For example, if you open the Gallery app and keep the device propped up half open in front of you, the bottom half of the screen turns into a touchpad using which you can scroll the pictures being displayed on the top half. Similarly, the calendar app shows the dates up top, with your meetings and schedule listed below, and the calculator app uses the bottom half as a numpad, showing the calculations up top. However, Flex Mode is supported only by a few apps as of now. While some non-Samsung apps like YouTube and Google Duo support it, you can force others to open in Flex Mode by enabling this on a per-app basis. This setting can be found under ‘Labs’, within the Advanced Settings option in the Settings apps. Forcing non-compatible apps into Flex Mode isn’t much help, however, since the bottom half of the screen only shows a few controls like brightness and volume and little else of actual use. Also present under the ‘Labs’ option is a setting that lets you enable a taskbar on the side of the main screen, making sure your favourite apps are just a tap away. This is a sort of an extension of the edge panels feature, which is also around if you want to make use of that.
While I’m the subject of software, a handy new option that I found hidden deep inside battery settings was one called “protect battery”. Enabling it pauses charging when the battery levels touch 85 percent, thereby prolonging its lifespan. For those unaware, it’s always recommended not to let your phone battery charge to 100 percent or to let it drain completely on a frequent basis, as this impacts its charge cycles and reduces its lifespan. Also worth mentioning that many apps, mostly the default ones (including the settings app, the default file manager etc, among others) from Samsung, offer a dual-pane layout on the main screen, again making good use of the extra real estate.
Otherwise, the Fold3 runs Android 11, with One UI 3.1.1. The whole gamut of goodies from Samsung is on board as expected, complete with access to signature features like Samsung Pay, Secure Folder, and the like. And how can I forget DeX… the super useful productivity feature that can give you a desktop-like computing environment on an external display, using an HDMI link, or if you have a compatible TV or display, wirelessly as well.
How well does it handle the basics?
All that is fine and dandy, but how is the Fold3 as far as the core aspects of a smartphone are concerned? Well, that 7.6-inch AMOLED display is gorgeous, offering 1,768 x 2,208 pixel resolution, up to 120Hz refresh rate, and HDR10+ support. The 6.2-inch Cover screen is no less capable, being a 120Hz AMOLED panel too. Its 25:9 aspect ratio however, makes the Cover screen quite narrow, and less than ideal for many apps. While it’s fine for handling calls, checking messages etc, it does feel quite cramped for most other tasks. Talking about pure performance, thanks to the Snapdragon 888 SoC inside, 12 gigs of RAM, and up to 512GB of UFS 3.1 storage, overall usage is quite zippy regardless of whatever you might want to use the device for.
When it comes to the primary shooters, you get a trio of 12MP sensors, comprising an f/1.8 wide sensor with dual pixel PDAF and OIS, an f/2.4 telephoto with PDAF, OIS, and 2x optical zoom, and an f/2.2 ultrawide with 123-degree field of view. The camera app also offers the usual camera features that can be expected from a Samsung flagship, including Single Take and Director’s View. Coming to the image quality, you can expect great shots in almost all shooting conditions, with most daylight shots offering high saturation levels that make the images look vivid and pleasing to the eyes.
Night shots look good too, and the dedicated night mode does a great job of enhancing the images to bring out the colour and detail. The Galaxy Z Fold3 does fall a bit short in terms of pure image quality when compared to the likes of the iPhone 12 Pro Max, or even its own siblings like the Galaxy S21 Ultra. That said, I don’t think you’d find it lacking when it comes to delivering great shots in different scenarios.
The one area where the Galaxy Z Fold3 does fall short is battery life though, and while its 4,400mAh battery should last you a day’s worth of use, it could need a top-up charge later in the day if your usage is heavy and you tend to use it more unfolded. That large, high-res 120Hz display does guzzle the battery. There’s 25W charging support, and while Samsung doesn’t include a charger in the box, you can expect a full charge in about 2 hours and 10 minutes if you do get hold of a compatible charger supporting that speed. The device also supports 11W wireless charging, and thanks to reverse wireless charging support, can juice up other compatible gadgets at 4.5W.
What are the concerns while using such a device?Using a device like the Z Fold3 can pose a few challenges, so let’s also consider a few not-so-great aspects related to practical, daily usage.
- Despite all of Samsung’s claims regarding its durability (and I have no reason not to believe them), the fact remains that the Galaxy Z Fold3 isn’t for you if your smartphone gets subjected to rough usage. You’d still need to handle it with care.
- The main screen still has a crease in the middle that can be felt when your fingers glide over it. It’s visible sometimes too, depending upon the content being viewed. Not a big deal really, but it does take away a little something from the premium feel of the device.
- The Cover screen feels quite cramped because of the narrow form factor.
- Although there are cases available for the Z Fold3, finding one won’t be as easy as selecting a case for a regular phone.
- It’s a pocketable phone when folded, but at 271 grams, quite heavy too. So carrying it around won’t be as easy as a regular phone, and it’s bound to weigh down your pockets. And if you’re one of those who make and receive tons of calls every day, and end up keeping your phone glued to your ear for hours, the weight of the device is bound to give you arm fatigue.
- If you use your smartphone for navigation when you drive, you should know that the Z Fold3’s unique form factor doesn’t bode too well for that use case, especially if you’d like to mount it on the windscreen or the dashboard. In theory, however, there should be some mounts available (possibly designed for tablets) that can accommodate this device.
What about long-term usage?
By now, I hope I have been able to give you a fair idea about how well the Z Fold3 works, what it can do for you, and the niggles you should be prepared for, if you consider buying this device. However, for getting a little more context around the long-term usage of foldable smartphones, I turned to two of my industry friends, both of whom are proud owners of the Z Fold3’s predecessor, and have been using the foldable since the past year or so. I wanted to find out what made them buy the Z Fold2 in the first place, and how it changed their lives, if at all. To avoid colouring this review, they shall remain anonymous, and I’ll be referring to them as H&M (no link to the Swedish clothing chain).
So as it turned out, H says he bought the Z Fold2 because it was so cutting edge, and owning a foldable phone was like a dream. In fact, he ended up influencing M’s decision too, who bought it almost as an impulse purchase after hearing of H’s new possession. M, in fact, considers the device “jewelry for the gadget lover” since it feels so polished, sophisticated, and luxurious. Many people, as per M, tried to make her feel bad about her purchase, saying things like “who buys a phone for one and a half lakhs”, but she stuck with her decision, and the phone has held up fine so far.
I think that using the Z Fold3 as a daily driver can enhance your productivity and entertainment-based usage, especially if you spend a lot of time on the move. That large screen does help quite a bit, plus the fact that it’s one device effectively doing the job of two. And even if you don’t move out as much and end up spending most of your time indoors, the Fold3 can prove to be a useful companion, since you’d have most of your daily use apps logged in on one device and don’t have to juggle between multiple devices for basic stuff. I found myself extensively using it unfolded, making use of the main screen not just for watching movies and shows on OTT apps, but also for video calls and attending online meetings.
Now, spending Rs 1.5 lakh on a phone might not be an easy decision to make, and even if you can afford that, the Galaxy Z Fold3 might not be for everyone. Moving from a conventional smartphone to this device does require a fair bit of commitment, and knowing what you’d be getting into if you do buy one. The issues regarding its weight, and aspects related to daily use which are unique to it because of its unconventional form factor, are all important considerations. If you’re on the fence just because you feel it’s a delicate piece of gadgetry, you do have good reason to worry. However, if you’re one of those who usually treat their phones carefully, you should know that the Galaxy Z Fold3 appears to be the sturdiest, most reliable foldable smartphone yet, and promises to last long too. Not only is it a great conversation starter and a device you’d love to flaunt, the Galaxy Z Fold3 is a device that shows how the foldable display innovation has been refined to a level where it’s finally ready for mass consumption.
Editor’s rating: 4 / 5
- Sturdy and water-resistant build
- Smooth performance and good cameras
- Under-display camera makes viewing immersive
- Useful software features
- Heavy and bulky
- Cover screen feels cramped
- Still needs careful handling