Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 review: Folding a Note

After more than half a year, there's still nothing quite like the Z Fold 3.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 Water Rain Open
(Image: © Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

Android Central Verdict

Samsung made all the right changes with the Z Fold 3, finally giving people a good reason to consider a foldable phone without making serious concessions. S Pen support and new multitasking features will make Note users jump for joy, and nicer screen protectors and water resistance mean you can confidently use this phone in any situation.

Pros

  • +

    Blazing performance

  • +

    Reliably good cameras

  • +

    Feels like a digital notebook with the S Pen

  • +

    The best multitasking

  • +

    More refined software than last year

  • +

    A uniquely amazing experience

Cons

  • -

    No storage for the S Pen

  • -

    Cameras aren't up to par with the Galaxy S21 Ultra

  • -

    Foldable crease is still noticeable

  • -

    Eye-watering price

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For its third generation of foldables, Samsung seemingly didn't hold anything back. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is Samsung's top-tier foldable phone, featuring more RAM, more storage, an upgraded outer screen, bigger (and more) screens, better cameras, new screen protectors, and support for the fabled S Pen. It may still have the same physical camera hardware as last year's Galaxy Z Fold 2, but software improvements make it a much better camera than the specs suggest.

Despite the importance placed on quality-of-life features like the addition of water resistance — something consumers have come to take for granted in the best Android phones (opens in new tab) — the real revolutionary feature lies in the Z Fold 3's compatibility with the S Pen. As the unofficial replacement for the Galaxy Note series in 2021, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 form factor achieves a goal no Note phone has ever been able to: the feeling of writing in a digital notebook.

Despite S Pen compatibility representing the most revolutionary new feature, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 doesn't ship with one nor even have a place in its body to store it. That brings the question to mind: Who's the Z Fold 3 for, and do these omissions detract from the overall experience? Is this the Note killer you've been waiting for, or is it just another oversized phone? Let's unpack.

Galaxy Z Fold 3: Price and availability

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 S Pen Box

Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central (Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 3 began selling for $1,799 in August 2021, a $200 price decrease from the Galaxy Z Fold 2 (opens in new tab)'s original retail price. Samsung has been running its usual set of deals since launch, including offering heavy discounts to customers who trade in older phones to upgrade to the Z Fold 3. Additionally, many US carriers have been offering upwards of $1,000 off the price of the Z Fold 3 when you order through their websites or in-store.

Since launch, we've seen the unlocked phone drop $400 in price, often retailing for around $1,399 at stores like Best Buy. That puts it more in line with the pricing of the Galaxy S22 Ultra (opens in new tab).

Despite the price, Samsung doesn't include very much in the box with the Galaxy Z Fold 3. In fact, aside from a SIM eject tool and a little pamphlet, you're only going to find a single USB-C to USB-C cable and the phone itself. No charger, no S Pen, and no pack-in case or extras of any kind. If you're looking for a case, be sure to check out best Galaxy Z Fold 3 cases (opens in new tab), so you can make the best decision.

Galaxy Z Fold 3: Hardware and design

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 Open

Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central (Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)
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CategorySamsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G
Device nameSamsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G
Operating SystemAndroid 12, One UI 4
Cover Display6.2 inches, 25:9, 2268x832 (387 PPI) resolution, Super AMOLED, 120Hz refresh rate
Inner Display7.6 inches, 22.5:18, 2208x1768 (374 ppi) resolution, Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 120Hz refresh rate
ChipsetSnapdragon 888
Memory12GB
Storage256GB or 512GB
Expandable StorageNo
Rear Camera12MP, ƒ/1.8, 1.8μm (wide-angle)
12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.12μm (ultra-wide)
12MP, ƒ/2.4, 1.0μm, 2x optical zoom (telephoto)
Inside Camera4MP, ƒ/1.8, 2.0μm
Cover Camera10MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.22μm
SecuritySide-mounted fingerprint sensor
Battery4400mAh
25W Fast Charging
10W Wireless Charging
4.5W Reverse Wireless Charging
Dimensions158.2 x 67.1 x 16.0mm (folded)
158.2 x 128.1 x 6.4mm (unfolded)
Weight271g
Water and dust resistanceIPX8
ColorsPhantom Black, Phantom Green, Phantom Silver

When comparing the Galaxy Z Fold 2 vs. Galaxy Z Fold 3 (opens in new tab), you won't find much difference from a bird's eye view. Look more closely, however, and you'll spot several important differences. The Z Fold 3 folds a bit flatter than the Z Fold 2 and has a less pronounced hinge. The matte finish all around keeps fingerprints where they belong (on your hands) and even made it easier for me to hold without fear of dropping it. It's also IPX8 water-resistant — probably the single most important new feature — meaning you can finally fold all you want while reading in the bath.

The Z Fold 3 is 11 grams lighter than the Z Fold 2 — a paltry difference on paper but a surprisingly noticeable one in real-world usage — making it a bit easier to pocket and use for prolonged periods. At 271g, though, there's no denying that this is a heavy, rather bulky-feeling phone. When folded, that feeling is exacerbated since it has the thickness of two phones stacked against each other. However, at least it's quite narrow, which helps the pocketability factor.

Hinge resistance doesn't feel any different from the Z Fold 2, which is both a positive and negative trait. Unlike most laptops, the Z Fold 3 lacks an indentation to grab to make opening it easier. That wouldn't be much of a problem if you could just flick it open, but the hinge was designed to be sturdy so that you can use the phone in Flex Mode — that's Samsung's term for when you've got it open at any angle smaller than 180-degrees. So opening the Z Fold 3 is a chore, but maybe a necessary one.

The Z Fold 3 is all about quality-of-life changes, including water, scratch, and drop resistance.

Part of the charm of the Fold's design is in its versatility. On the outside, a thinner screen makes it easy to operate with a single hand — a trait that most modern phones can't claim — yet is just wide enough to be used for most tasks. I found myself using the smaller screen more often than the larger one. Not only is the outer screen more convenient to use, but the folded form is also easier to hold than most phones because it's both narrower and thicker than most.

There's little doubt that some folks will find the outside screen too small for typing out long messages, though. I found that I would often pry the phone open any time I had to spend more than 30 seconds or so on a task. Thanks to Samsung's brilliant app continuity feature, whatever you were looking at on the small screen immediately appears on the big screen when you open the phone up.

Samsung's decision to stick with a side-mounted fingerprint scanner was a smart one. It's easy to grab the phone with any hand and give that sensor a quick tap to unlock it, no matter how you hold the phone. It's a superior solution to either face unlock or in-screen fingerprint scanners for me.

Another area where the Z Fold 3 crushes the competition is with its stereo speakers. Watching videos on the big screen with the sound cranked up is just sublime. You can feel the bass in your hands and enjoy clear dialog and excellently mixed audio all-around. It's a phenomenal experience that makes the big screen feel like a miniature theater.

While the speakers have improved, the mics themselves are just alright. This is particularly noticeable when using the phone in Flex Mode during a meeting or video call. Because of the way the mics handle noise cancellation, in addition to their placement, leaving the phone on a table or other hard surface creates a hollow, tinny sound for folks listening to you on the other end. Picking up the phone fixes this issue, but I hope Samsung resolves this in a software update.

Galaxy Z Fold 3: Displays

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 Open

Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central (Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 ships with two significant display improvements: one you can see and one you can feel. That smaller outer screen is now the same beautifully fluid 120Hz as the inner display, further reducing the friction when moving between the two screens. As you would expect, content on this screen looks stellar, although you'll probably want to limit media consumption on it because of the awkward 22.5:18 aspect ratio.

The new PET screen protectors feel just like glass and don't scratch easily — unlike the Fold 2's.

If you can believe it, the new polyethylene terephthalate (PET) screen protectors that ship with the phone make an even bigger impact on quality than the improved outer screen. Unlike the Galaxy Z Fold 2, these protectors feel like glass and won't scratch easily. They're part of what allows the Z Fold 3 to support the S Pen, which we'll talk about in the section below.

If better scratch resistance and a surface you'll want to touch weren't enough, folks who enjoy using polarized glasses would be happy to know what these screens work just fine with their favorite pair of specs. Conversely, the Z Fold 2's screen would turn into a mess of rainbow colors when viewed with polarized lenses.

The biggest disadvantage of these new screen protectors is that they're not user removable. Over the past six months, the larger inner screen remains completely free from scratches and dents, despite heavy usage during that time.

That smaller outer display's screen protector, however, has several scratches on its surface. There's even a small nick taken out of the top right corner of the protector but, at the least, the display underneath should be just fine.

If any of your Z Fold 3 screen protectors do end up getting damaged or scratched to heck and back, there are alternatives. The best Galaxy Z Fold 3 screen protectors (opens in new tab) will definitely get the job done, which is great to see given the uncertainty surrounding this when the phone launched.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 Closed Use Website

Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central (Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

While the difference between the aspect ratios of the screens is pretty massive, it only took me a few days to find an optimal way to use them both individually. The large inner display's aspect ratio, in particular, is great for lazy video viewing. In the YouTube app, for instance, you can watch videos at the entire width of the display without having to rotate the phone at all. Given that it's about as wide as most phones are tall, you're effectively getting the best experience without any effort.

Rotating the display will still give you a larger video to watch and, this time around, no interruption from a punch-hole camera. That was one of my biggest annoyances with the Fold 2's larger screen. The punch-hole camera is still there but is now covered by a unique grid of pixels that's less resolution-dense than the rest of the screen.

The new under-display camera is well hidden while watching full-screen videos.

The result is a sort of mosquito-net effect over the camera that's not quite the ideal solution but, ultimately, is a significant improvement over a giant black hole in the screen. The effect is obvious if you stare straight at it — or look at photos of it — but the camera is nearly invisible to the naked eye while watching videos or playing games.

In fact, there was never a time over the past six months that I even noticed it while consuming content. That, to me, is a huge win for Samsung's design here.

Galaxy Z Fold 3: S Pen support

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 Is This A Note Hero

Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central (Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

Waterproofing might be a bigger positive point for most people's daily lives, but Galaxy Note-lovers will want to pay attention to the second huge new feature of the Z Fold 3: S Pen support. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 supports two different types of S Pen (opens in new tab): the S Pen Pro and the S Pen Fold Edition. I used the S Pen Fold Edition for this review — a special passive S Pen that requires no charging but lacks Bluetooth support.

This is the Note form factor I've been waiting for since the beginning of the storied history of Samsung's pen-friendly phones.

If you've ever used a Galaxy Note phone, you'll find identical writing features on the Z Fold 3. For example, hovering the S Pen above the screen and clicking the pen's side button will bring up the Air Command list: a set of functions designed to let you quickly scribble down a note, take a screenshot with annotations, or share something on social media. Likewise, holding down this button will change the pen from a writing utensil to an eraser in the Samsung Notes app.

While writing on the new PET screen protector feels identical to the glass of the Note line, being able to hold it like a book while writing lends authenticity to the experience that candy bar-shaped phones never had. There's just something that feels so good about writing in an object that already looks like a book from every angle.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 S Pen Air Commands

Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central (Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

Samsung ensured that the ultra-thin glass wouldn't take damage from the S Pen by equipping the S Pen Fold Edition and S Pen Pro with a tip that automatically retracts when too much pressure is applied. It's a thoughtful choice backed up by a digitizer that detects older S Pen models and displays a warning if you attempt to use them.

To add to that, yes, you can even write on the screen while it's folded at any odd angle. The phone's ability to recognize the difference between pen and touch input means you won't accidentally mark things up with the side of your hand. The S Pen only works on the larger inside screen; you can't jot down a quick note with the phone closed.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 S Pen Retract Tip

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

Under the hood, Samsung folded in several different types of digitizers to complete the experience. Believe it or not, the WACOM digitizer that enables S Pen support doesn't fold. There are two separate WACOM digitizers on each side, and some software magic makes it impossible to tell that there isn't anything in the crease that the pen touches. A 120Hz refresh rate only further helps drive the illusion that you're writing with a pen and not some old-school stylus.

A 120Hz refresh rate only further helps drive the illusion that you're writing with a pen and not some old-school stylus.

The obvious downside to the Fold 3's design is the lack of a slot for the S Pen to fit in. While this means Samsung can use much, much larger S Pens — as it has with tablets for a while now — it also means that you'll need to remember to take your S P