Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 & Z Flip 3 hands-on: Writing a new page of foldable history

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 169
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 169 (Image credit: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

After getting our hands on the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3, there's no doubt that these are going to be two of the best Android phones money can buy in 2021. You've likely seen both of these devices appear in leaks over the past few months, and we can happily say that they were all true. Better glass — or, at least, a better screen protector — 120Hz displays, S Pen support on the Z Fold 3, stronger aluminum bodies, significantly better scratch and drop resistance, water resistance, and an improved software experience are the hallmarks of this release.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 Hands On S Pen Case Closed Black

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

While some product release cycles radically change perspectives, others refine good ideas in order to make them better ones. Samsung's third-generation foldable phones fit squarely into this second category, and they represent a concerted effort to take Samsung's more novel smartphone ideas and transform them into a fully consumer-ready product. In many ways, 2021 is the year that foldables are finally being built to go mainstream.

They're very nice

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 & Z Flip 3 hands-on: Price and availability

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 Hands On

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

The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is now the same price as the Galaxy S21+.

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CategorySamsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G
Device nameSamsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G
ChipsetSnapdragon 888
Memory12GB
Storage256GB or 512GB
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
Battery4400mAh
25W Fast Charging
10W Wireless Charging
4.5W Reverse Wireless Charging
Weight271g
Water and dust resistanceIPX8
ColorsPhantom Black, Phantom Green, Phantom Silver

It would be hard to start a discussion about these phones without bringing with the price. Up until now, Samsung's foldable phones have been out of reach for most customers simply because of their cost. However, that changes significantly with Samsung's third-generation foldables, which drops the price substantially in the Z Flip 3's case and puts it squarely into carrier flagship pricing territory.

At $999, the Z Flip 3 is the same price as the Galaxy S21+ 128GB model. In other words, someone walking into a T-Mobile, AT&T, or Verizon store this year will actually be able to choose between the form factor they prefer rather than having to make a decision solely based on price.

The Z Fold 3 is also seeing a drop in price but not to the level that will likely see the mass adoption rates the Z Flip 3 could. At $1,800, it's still $400 more expensive than a maxed-out iPhone 12 Pro Max. The selling point here, though, is that it's sort of a phone and a tablet in one device, keeping you from having to lug another larger screen around with you. It's also a far more productive device now, thanks to native S Pen support.

Both phones are available for preorder on August 11 from all major retailers and will begin shipping on August 27.

Feel as good as they look

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 & Z Flip 3 hands-on: Displays

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 Hands On

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

Hardware upgrades are always expected with new phones, and Samsung's latest doesn't disappoint. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3's displays bring some expected improvements to the table and put them more in line with mainline Galaxy S phones. Beyond that, Samsung finally improved the one real nagging feature about its previous foldable phone displays: the cheap film screen protector.

Both the Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3 ship with a pre-installed screen protector on top of their foldable displays. But while the screen protector on previous generations of foldables just felt gross and cheap, this new protector is made from a material that feels almost identical to glass in every way.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 Hands On Folding Front

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

The new preinstalled screen protector feels identical to glass but isn't user-replaceable.

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CategorySamsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G
Device nameSamsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G
ChipsetSnapdragon 888
Memory8GB
Storage128GB or 256GB
Rear Camera12MP, ƒ/1.8, 1.4μm (wide-angle)
12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.12μm (ultra-wide)
Inside Camera10MP, ƒ/2.4, 1.22μm
Battery3,300mAh, 15W Fast Charging, 10W Wireless Charging, 4.5W Reverse Wireless Charging
Weight183g
Water and dust resistanceIPX8
ColorsPhantom Black, Cream, Green, Lavender, Gray, White, Pink

Samsung achieved this by switching the material to PET (Polyethylene terephthalate), a type of plastic the company says is 80% more durable than the previous material. This new resin improves upon the original in scratch resistance, so you won't have to worry about making a divot with your nail. In the Z Fold 3's case, it's also designed to withstand the force that the S Pen will apply to it. Like the old protector, it's not actually glass, so it won't break if it gets dropped or hit.

The one big downside is that this new screen protector is not user-replaceable in the way that the previous Galaxy Z Fold 2 screen protectors were. That's sure to be a bitter pill for some folks to swallow because, in the event that you do mess up the pre-installed one, you'll have to send it to Samsung for a replacement.

But here's the deal. If I had a choice between the old plastic film type protector and this new PET one, I'm picking the PET one any day of the week. Even if I can't replace it myself, it's significantly better because it just feels like glass. The only thing this protector doesn't improve much is that crease down the middle of both devices. While it does seem to dissipate the line a bit, it's still noticeable from any angle.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 under display camera

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

Samsung's first under-display camera is a good start to maximizing screen real estate.

When opening the Z Fold 3, you find any obvious cameras taking up screen real estate — a stark contrast to previous generations of Z Folds — and that's because the Z Fold 3 ships with Samsung's first under-display camera. Samsung is doing things a little differently than manufacturers like Vivo and is using a unique pixel pattern over the top of the punch hole camera.

This results in a camera punch-hole that can be seen if you look closely but is often occluded by whatever color is most prevalent around that area of the screen. It's a unique dithered pattern that's more noticeable on white backgrounds than other colors — likely due to the pentile diamond arrangement of the pixels — but still offers a better way to view fullscreen content on that big, beautiful inner screen.

While the Z Fold 2 shipped with a 60Hz outer screen and a larger 120Hz inner screen, both screens are 120Hz on the Z Fold 3. That should make it far more pleasant to switch between screens without one immediately feeling laggy, as the outer screen tended to appear on the Z Fold 2. Likewise, the Z Flip 3's inner screen is also a buttery-smooth 120Hz display, another spec that brings it up to par with the likes of the Galaxy S21+.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 Hands On

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

120Hz displays offer a more luxurious experience all-around.

The outer screen of the Z Flip 3 might only be 60Hz, but its size makes it infinitely more useful than the tiny thumbnail display of the previous Z Flip models. This new screen is four times larger than the old one, making it possible to use six premade lock screen-style widgets right on that smaller display. That makes it easy to change songs, check your notifications, use Samsung Pay at the register, or toggle quick settings like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Your Galaxy Watch's face can also sync with this display in many cases, offering a unique matching look for your day.

A real digital notebook

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 & Z Flip 3 hands-on: S Pen capabilities

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 Hands On S Pen Notes

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

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 has S Pen support on that big inner display, and it's nothing short of glorious.

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 has S Pen support on that big inner display, and it's nothing short of glorious. There's little doubt that Samsung has been planning S Pen support for the Z Fold since day one, and I'm happy it turned out to be this good. But, like the new and improved screen protector, packing the Galaxy Note's Wacom digitizer inside of a folding display is something Samsung needed time to figure out.

That new Wacom layer takes up the entirety of the large inside screen and makes it feel more like you're actually writing in a notebook than any Galaxy Note device ever could. There's little doubt the Z Fold 3's form factor plays a huge part in achieving the penultimate transition to a fully functioning digital notebook that Samsung's been playing at for years.

The Z Fold 3 is compatible with two models of S Pen: the S Pen Pro — that's the new one that works with the Galaxy S21 Ultra and other Samsung Note-branded products — and the S Pen Fold Edition. While neither of these pens fit inside the body in the way a Galaxy Note series S Pen does, they're both infinitely more comfortable than the smaller S Pens could ever hope to be.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 Hands On S Pen Sizes

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

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 S Pen Retract Tip

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

Both new S Pens have a retractable tip — a design that pulls the tip into the body of the S Pen in case you push a little too hard.

The Fold edition is the smaller of the two S Pens and fits inside a gorgeous leather case Samsung makes for the phone. That holster position is right on the spine of the phone and makes it look and feel just like a notebook with a pen wedged inside of the spiral spine. Samsung also makes separate leather sleeves for both sizes of S Pen, if you'd rather have it that way.

The S Pen Pro is much larger than the Fold Edition and sports a switch that changes compatibility between the "S Pen" and "Z Fold" modes. If you forget to flip the switch, the Fold will remind you as you attempt to write.

Both new S Pens have a retractable tip, a design that pulls the tip into the body of the S Pen in case you push a little too hard. Samsung says this is designed to keep the S Pen from damaging the ultra-thin glass (UTG) on the Z Fold. Thankfully, that new PET screen protector that's preinstalled on the Z Fold 3 feels exactly like glass and, at least for me, felt no different from writing on a Galaxy Note device.

As you might have hoped, you can fold the Z Fold 3 in on itself to any angle and still write notes on both halves of the screen. This makes it possible to take notes while the phone is in Flex Mode and just felt so darned comfortable to use.

Drop it in the sink

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 & Z Flip 3 hands-on: Waterproofing

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 closed hinge close up

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

For the first time ever, Samsung has been able to add a water ingress protection rating to its foldable phones. Among the many changes Samsung made between this generation and the last, this one might be the starkest when it comes to life's most unfortunate events. Both the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3 sport an IPX8 rating, which mea