48 Hours with the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3

I’ve always felt that bigger is better, from back when “phablets” were an entire phone category to the Pro and Plus-sized models of the various iPhones, the Samsung Galaxy Note series, and the super-sized LG slabs. After all, the screen is your primary point of interaction on a phone, where you consume video, play games, browse sites, and more.

After 48 hours with the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3, I thought I’d have a clear preference for the former. What I discovered instead was an attachment to the smaller Flip along with two other key takeaways.

I liked the Galaxy Z Flip 3 a lot more than I thought I would

In many ways, Samsung’s latest and greatest foldable Z Fold 3 seems designed to appeal to me specifically. The Fold 3 benefits from some key screen-related improvements. The narrow 6.2-inch cover screen is upgraded to 120Hz up from 60Hz, has Gorilla Glass Victus protection, and the 7.6-inch main screen is now fully compatible with the S Pen Fold and S Pen Pro to let you take notes and sketch.

What this gives you is a big, bright 7.6-inch AMOLED screen with a 120Hz display that’s absolutely gorgeous. There’s plenty of space for having multiple apps open, reading e-books, playing games like Stardew Valley and Genshin Impact across both screens, and being able to access full-sized menus when scanning a QR code menu at a restaurant. There’s plenty to like here, and there’s no denying that Samsung has improved the look, feel, and overall experience of the Fold 3 across the board.

Flip 3 cover screen.
Ajay Kumar/Digital Trends

But despite all of this, I found myself gravitating more and more toward the Flip 3. With its cute, pocketable design, it’s not a phone that would typically garner my interest. But after years of hand-busting candy bar slabs, there’s something undeniably refreshing about being able to snap closed a phone that’s no bigger than my wallet. It doesn’t weigh down my pocket, it doesn’t leave an unsightly bulge in my jeans, and my girlfriend found it easier to slip into even her smallest purses.

The Flip 3 also boasts similar improvements to the Fold 3. It has a bigger and better 1.9-inch cover screen with the more durable Gorilla Glass Victus, a high refresh 120Hz panel inside, and a less obvious hinge and crease. But the selling point for me so far has all come down to the form factor and price — for $1,000, the Flip 3 is no more costly than most other flagship phones on the market. It’s the first foldable I think that most consumers will actually want to buy.

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 didn’t need an Under Display Camera (UDC)

The UDC is utterly redundant. Samsung could have omitted it entirely and I wouldn’t have missed it. In fact, I’d have even preferred if they’d gotten rid of it. For starters, at just 4-megapixels (4MP) it’s a regression in both resolution and quality. When snapping selfies on it there’s a significant level of grain sprinkled through almost every shot, and you can actually see the post-processing kicking in a few seconds later to help clean up the image.

My opinion is that if the sensor quality just isn’t up to snuff, no amount of post-processing can really fix it. But more than that, the UDC is simply redundant, because you have not one, but two superior camera options if you want to take selfies or front-facing video. The cover screen boasts a 10MP sensor which is sharper and better in low light than the 4MP main screen sensor.

Under Display Camera on the Galaxy Z Fold 3
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

If you want an even sharper shot, you can flip the Fold 3 around and take a selfie with the rear 12MP sensors, using the cover screen as a viewfinder. The shots come out beautifully, with great detail and clarity even in challenging lighting conditions.

What all this amounts to is a somewhat pointless UDC that doesn’t even hide itself all that well. On white backgrounds, there’s a noticeable level of pixelation so you’ll definitely spot it when scrolling around on a webpage or viewing certain kinds of content. It raises the question of why Samsung even bothered including one when Huawei omitted one for the Mate X2 and was no worse the wear for it.

I’m not convinced the Fold 3 is a genuine Note replacement

If there’s one thing Samsung is really trying to sell people on, it’s the idea of using the Fold 3 as a replacement for the Galaxy Note series. On its face, that makes sense. You get a fair bit more screen space than the Note 20 Ultra or S21 Ultra, giving you more room to write and draw.

At this point, it’s far too early for me to judge because I only had an hour to use an S Pen Fold and didn’t get one packed with my review model. But I will say that not having a convenient place to slot away an S Pen feels like a huge downside. Samsung says it’ll have cases that support an S Pen slot available for sale, but none were available during my hands-on, and a compatible case direct from Samsung costs a cool $80.

Fold 3 with S Pen.
Ajay Kumar/Digital Trends

In addition, according to PCMag, there are not one, not two, but five S Pen models currently available. If Samsung was really keen on selling the Fold 3 for productivity, the S Pen Fold should come in the box by default just like it did for the Note, so you know you’re getting the right one. If you’re paying $1,800 for a phone, it doesn’t feel like too much to ask to include a $99 accessory, let alone also have to shell out for an $80 case to hold out.

More than that, only the S Pen Fold or S Pen Pro is compatible with the main screen of the Fold 3. Using any other S Pen, including the ones from previous generations, will damage the screen because they don’t have the retractable tip. You also can’t apply as much pressure, since despite the durability improvements Samsung has made, the Fold’s main screen isn’t Gorilla Glass, and you can damage it if you press too hard. You’re actually warned about that on setting up the device.

I still have plenty more testing to do on both the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3, but my first 48 hours definitely subverted some of the initial expectations I had about which phone I’d like and why.

 

 

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