Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3: Impressions from afar

Refinements are important for any coming of age story. Whether it’s a person trying to find their true identity or a next-generation product that’s still experiencing growing pains, small adjustments and baby steps in the right direction are fundamental to that coming-of-age story’s subject, and the Galaxy Z Fold 3 seems to be the very definition of that.

Today during its Unpacked event, Samsung unveiled the new Z Fold 3 and shared a pretty extensive list of new features. I’ll go over everything worth mentioning in this article, but it’s important to mention that there aren’t any huge upgrades or jaw-dropping redesigns. Rather, there are some rudimentary refinements and minor quality-of-life updates. As a package deal, it’s clear this is the most well-rounded Galaxy Z Fold yet, as it should for the steep $1,799 asking price.

Perhaps the biggest design update the Galaxy Z Fold 3 receives is IPX8 water resistance. Finally, we have foldable phones that won’t freak out if you get them wet. That being said, there is no dust protection here, so the beach is a really bad idea unless you wanna get sand in your hinge.

That hinge appears to be identical to the one on the Z Fold 2, and the device folds the same way because of it. This means you still get a crease in the middle of the phone, and there hasn’t been a fundamental change to the way the phone works. There’s a big outer screen, and you can open it up if you want even more screen.

Speaking of which, the outer screen on the Z Fold 3 is 6.2-inches with a Super AMOLED panel, a 120Hz refresh rate, and a resolution of 2268 x 832. It’s incredibly tall just like before, so you won’t be reaching the top of the display with one hand any time soon. Opening the device will present a big 7.6-inch Infinity Flex 2208 x 1768 120Hz screen. It’s an extremely similar setup to the Z Fold 2, only the Fold 2 had a 6.23-inch outer screen.

The inner screen gets stronger “glass” that should help resist scratches. It’ll also help resist scratches caused by the S Pen which is now compatible with the Z Fold 3. I’ve heard a lot of reviewers say for years that the Z Fold series should work with a stylus because of how large its display is, and now it does.

Notably, you’ll have to buy one separately. Samsung won’t be supplying an S Pen with the Z Fold 3, and you won’t find a slot on the device to slide it into. That means you’ll also have to buy a special case if you want to store the pen with your phone. But hey, at least you’ll be able to use a fine tip with your folding phone.

Samsung also introduced a special S Pen Pro specifically designed for the Z Fold 3. It has some extra Bluetooth and air-gesture features, but the biggest change is a special Galaxy Z Fold 3 mode. When you switch it on, the pen’s tip with retract a bit when you touch the screen so the pressure being applied isn’t as harsh. This is to ensure you don’t accidentally create unintended scratches. It remains to be seen how effective this is, however.

The specs of the Z Fold 3 are nothing surprising. You get a Snapdragon 888 processor, 12GB of RAM, up to 512GB of storage, and 5G (obviously). The battery is a bit smaller than the Z Fold 2 at 4,400mAh (the Fold 2 had a 4,500mAh cell), but it should still last all day. You’ll also find stereo speakers, a USB-C port, wireless charging with reverse wireless charging, and a side-mounted fingerprint sensor.

The camera department is a little interesting. You may have noticed that the inner screen of the Z Fold 3 is uninterrupted. It’s because the device comes with an under-screen selfie camera. Samsung implemented the sensor will still maintaining the same pixel density of 400ppi. Admittedly, the 4MP sensor in question is bound to suffer a bit in terms of quality because it’s below the screen, but at least the Infinity Flex display won’t have a huge black dot near the top of it any longer.

On the back, Samsung includes a 12MP f/1.8 main camera, a 12MP ultra-wife f/2.2 lens, and a 12MP f/2.4 telephoto. The standard and telephoto sensors have optical image stabilization, while the ultra-wide gets a 123-degree field of view. This setup is very similar to the Z Fold 2’s, down to the 10MP selfie camera in a hole-punch cutout at the top of the outer screen. Of course, you don’t really buy foldable phones for the camera tricks its capable of, and Samsung seems fine with it. The experience should be good enough, in other words.

The software on the Z Fold 3 has perhaps seen the largest number of improvements of any aspect of the device. You can now have quick access to your apps in a sort of dock on the right side of the device, split-screen multitasking sees improvements thanks to support for every app on your phone through a new Labs feature, and various UI elements have gotten polished for a better experience using such a large screen. It’s all based on Android 11 and powered by One UI.

There’s nothing entirely revolutionary here. The specs fit right in with the rest of 2021’s best flagships, the foldable screen is nearly identical to its previous iteration, S Pen support only means something to fans of the S Pen, and the design is nothing more than unsurprising.

That being said, the phone is technically cheaper than its predecessor. At $1,799, it’s $200 cheaper than the $1,999 the Z Fold 2 cost when it launched. That could incentivize more people to buy it, but $1,799 is still a lot of money.

Foldable phones are starting to become more and more mainstream, and lower prices will help accelerate that process. The Z Fold 3 and its various refinements will also aid in matching consumers’ wants and needs from these devices, so it’ll be interesting to see how customers respond to it.

Samsung will launch the Galaxy Z Fold 3 on August 27th. Preorders are now live.