Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 unboxing and first impressions: refinements aplenty

Hands-on with Samsung's latest foldable

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 is not your usual, run-of-the-mill device. Despite the fact that the foldable is now in its third generation, it still feels every bit as exciting and as innovative as before. This time, however, there’s a certain sense of confidence and maturity exuded both by the device as well as the brand, I feel. The confidence that comes with knowing they have a solid, reliable device in the hand. And this bodes well for everyone who’s eying this device as their next purchase.

The retail box of the Z Fold3 is a tad underwhelming, frankly. While its predecessor came in a large, thick box matching the phone’s Uber-premium positioning, the Z Fold3 comes in a thin box that has achieved size zero slimness by shedding the charger. Yup… just like its premium S series siblings, the Fold3 doesn’t ship with a charger, and all you’ll find in the box apart from the device is a Type-C to Type-C cable and a quick start guide. There’s no case included either.

Design-wise, it looks very similar to the Fold2, with the basic raison d’etre remaining the same – to offer a pocketable smartphone that can turn into a tablet with a quick unfold. Most of the design elements are the same, but the under-display camera on the main screen is one of the standout new features.

The under-display camera is certainly a useful feature to have, making sure that there’s no black dot to affect your viewing experience. Truth be told, the camera is visible if you look closely, but it still does a great job of vanishing from view when you want to focus (pun unintended) on the content on screen.

As far as the basic design attributes are concerned, there are stereo speakers on the top and bottom, a SIM tray on the left, and a volume rocker along with the power button on the right. A fast and accurate fingerprint scanner is embedded into the power button, but you also have the face unlock option to authenticate yourself.

The cover screen and the main screen haven’t changed in terms of their respective sizes – the Z Fold3 is a pocketable smartphone with a 6.2-inch cover screen when folded, opening up to reveal a 7.6-inch tablet-like main screen. Speaking of, the Dynamic AMOLED display is gorgeous, sporting a resolution of 1,768 x 2,208 pixels, and offering support for HDR10+ along with a refresh rate of up to 120Hz. It might sound like more of the same, but there are significant changes here as compared to the previous model.

Of special note are the durability upgrades. Foldable smartphones are perceived to be fragile and expected to be treated with kid gloves, but Samsung is trying its best to ensure that its latest can withstand the rigours of daily life. The Galaxy Z Fold3 is IPX8 rated and comes as the very first foldable smartphone that’s water-resistant. The IPX8 rating specifies that while there’s no dust resistance, the Fold3 can actually survive for up to 30 minutes in 1.5m deep freshwater. This means that poolside usage should be possible, and getting splashed in light rain and spilling a glass of water on the phone on the dinner table will no longer be causes of worry.

Furthermore, Samsung says the Galaxy Z Fold3’s frame is made of something called ‘Armor Aluminum’, which is 10 percent more durable than before. The device is also layered with Corning Gorilla Glass Victus on the back cover and front screen, and this is the latest, strongest protective glass from Corning yet. Coming to the main screen, Samsung claims that the addition of a panel layer and protective film make it a whopping 80 percent more durable than before.

Next up, the usability enhancements. For one, Samsung has now added S Pen support. The downside is that the S Pen is an optional purchase, and the device doesn’t have any silo to house it. You should, however, be able to get hold of cases that can accommodate the accessory. The S Pen is a signature feature of Samsung’s Note series of smartphones, and the Galaxy Z Fold3’s big screen should work as a spacious playground for it to do its thing. We’ve seen the powerful features of the S Pen on devices like the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, and adding its capabilities to the Galaxy Fold 3’s repertoire should do wonders for the creative types and others who can squeeze out its full functionality. Unfortunately, I don’t have an S Pen to try yet, but I’ll try to get hold of one for the full review.

Also worth a mention are the software tweaks that have been added to enhance usability. The Fold3’s large main screen is great for multitasking, and Samsung has added new software features to help you do just that. You can run two apps side by side on either side of the display when the device is open, and you can even drag and drop apps into place using the taskbar on the side. In fact, you can open up to three apps on the main screen using salt screen, and five more as pop-ups, giving you access to up to eight apps that can be opened together. The Flex mode has received a few upgrades too, and compatible apps can provide contextual information and let you do more using the bottom half as you view something related on the top half of the screen (when the device is kept half open akin to a laptop). The camera has a split mode as well that displays the viewfinder and camera modes on one side and allows you to instantly review the captured photo on the other side.

Of course, befitting a 2021 flagship, the Z Fold3 comes with top-end specs, including Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 SoC, 12 gigs of RAM, and up to 512GB of storage. The under-display camera on the main screen is a 4MP affair, but that apart, you get a 10MP snapper on the cover display for selfies and a trio of 12MP shooters at the back of the device. The 4,400mAh battery supports 25W fast charging and can even be juiced up wirelessly. And software-wise, you’ll find Android 11 loaded up along with Samsung’s latest OneUI, complete with Knox for security and all other signature features we know and love. As to how well the new device fares, its multitasking capabilities, S Pen usage, and details on other aspects of its performance, cameras, and battery life, do keep an eye for my full review.

The Galaxy Z Fold3 5G doesn’t come across as a breakthrough device at first glance, but more an evolutionary upgrade that adds meaningful features and capabilities, polishing out the rough edges its predecessor had. Not that there were many. The upgrades it brings are significant, mainly from a build quality and usability standpoint. I was hoping for a more aggressive pricing from Samsung, but the Rs 1,49,999 starting price for the Fold3 is still pretty good, given everything the Fold3 brings. I’ll have more to say in my in-depth review… in the pipeline as you read this. For now though, suffice it to say that the latest foldable is a step in the right direction, and hopefully, Samsung’s confidence in its durability, combined with the upgrades will help prospective buyers gain more confidence in foldable smartphones as well.

Related read: It’s about time we see an affordable foldable