Almost every review of the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 pitches it as ‘the first folding phone for everyone’ — and after using the phone for a couple of weeks, it’s clear that sentiment is surprisingly accurate. For years, foldable smartphones were nothing but a pipe dream. There were repeated rumors of Samsung and Apple concocting the devices, tech demos at CES showing early prototypes of folding screens, yet no commercially available product implemented any of that technology. In short, folding phones were something out of science fiction and nothing more.
That all changed in 2019 with the Galaxy Fold. Samsung’s first folding phone may have had a rocky launch, but even so, it paved the way for a reality where foldables were just another part of the mobile landscape. Samsung continued to refine its formula in 2020 with the Z Fold 2, Z Flip, and Z Flip 5G. Where the first Galaxy Fold felt like a truly bizarre experiment, Samsung’s 2020 foldables were a meaningful step forward in bringing the niche to the mainstream. There weren’t quite ready to replace the Galaxy S handsets and iPhones of the world, but they did get Samsung one step closer to achieving that goal.
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Two years and four folding phones later, one of Samsung’s latest attempts in this space is the Galaxy Z Flip 3. It’s the same general idea as the Flips that came before it. It looks and feels like any other Android phone when it’s open. When someone’s done using it, however, it can be folded up in half just like the flip phones of yesteryear. The Z Flip 3 doesn’t do anything to change that formula. What it does offer, though, is the most refined and well-executed implementation of that form factor yet. And this year it just so happens to costs the same exact amount as any other ‘normal’ flagship. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is not a perfect smartphone. It is, however, one of the most exciting and exhilarating this writer has used in years.
Everything Great About The Z Flip 3
The design of the Z Flip 3 is objectively the most interesting thing about it. However, a unique design on its own isn’t enough to justify a folding phone. Everything that makes a smartphone good or bad — the processor, cameras, display quality, etc. — are just as important. The short story is that all of these things are great on the Z Flip 3. They’re all very familiar and don’t push any boundaries, but they’re also more than adequate for almost everyone.
Performance-wise, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is every bit as fast as a Galaxy S21 or OnePlus 9. It’s powered by a Snapdragon 888 chip, has 8GB of RAM, and there’s a choice between 128 or 256GB of UFS 3.1 storage. It opens apps quickly, streams 2160p YouTube videos without breaking a sweat, and is fantastic for playing graphically intense games like Call of Duty: Mobile. All of that raw horsepower is made even better thanks to the display’s 120Hz refresh rate, allowing for buttery smooth animations and scrolling throughout the entire interface.
Speaking of the display, it looks just as good as any other Samsung handset. All of the usual components are here for a fantastic experience: Dynamic AMOLED 2X technology, 2460 x 1080p resolution, HDR10 support, and up to 1200 nits of brightness. If someone’s used a Galaxy flagship from the past couple of years, that’s the exact experience to expect from the Z Flip 3. Whether it be the wonderfully vibrant colors or deep blacks, this is a display that’s top-notch for media consumption of any kind. And, unlike previous entries in the Z Flip series, there’s actually enough brightness to use the Z Flip 3 in direct sunlight with little issue.
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And then there’s the camera department. This is arguably the weakest aspect of the Z Flip 3’s ‘normal’ features, but that’s not to say it’s bad by any means. Two 12MP sensors make up the Z Flip 3’s camera array, including a primary shooter and an ultra-wide with a 123˚field-of-view. As someone would expect with specs like that, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 takes perfectly good photos without raising the bar. There’s plenty of detail in shots, the convenience of the ultra-wide sensor is always great to have, and pictures have that typical Samsung look with the saturation cranked up to 11. This isn’t a phone that’ll compete with the S21 Ultra or iPhone 12 Pro Max any time soon, but for everyday casual use, it’ll absolutely satisfy more often than not.
That’s really the main theme with these aspects of the Galaxy Z Flip 3 — be it the processor, display, cameras, or almost anything else. All of the things someone has come to expect from a flagship Android phone are all really good (if not excellent). It’s very expected and familiar in a way that doesn’t push the needle forward. But you know what? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. As a regular Android phone, the Z Flip 3 is perfectly fine.
What It’s Like Using A Folding Phone
But that’s the kicker of the Galaxy Z Flip 3 — it isn’t a regular Android phone. Once someone’s decided they’re done using the phone, it can be folded in half into a compact square. On paper, a form factor like this doesn’t sound very useful. A phone like the Galaxy Z Fold 3 uses its folding nature to cram a phone and tablet into one device. Having a normal smartphone that gets smaller when it’s not in use admittedly sounds a lot less interesting. Thankfully, the Z Flip 3 proved that assumption wrong almost immediately.
From a practical standpoint, being able to close up the Z Flip 3 has been surprisingly nice. Despite being thicker than two S21s when closed, having a phone that can become around 3.4-inches tall in the blink of an eye is magical. The Z Flip 3 is infinitely more comfortable to have in jeans pockets or a small compartment in a backpack when folded up like this. Beyond that, there are also some unique advantages that non-folding phones simply can’t offer — such as throwing the Z Flip 3 in a crowded purse or bag. With a normal phone, there’s a constant risk of having the display scratched by car keys, coins, or anything else with which it’s sharing that space. The Z Flip 3 doesn’t have that problem. It’s possible the Gorilla Glass Victus on the front and back gets scratched, sure, but the main display is protected from virtually anything while shut. Perhaps even more important, having such a small form factor means the Z Flip 3 fits into tiny pockets that a normal phone simply couldn’t — such as women’s jeans and shorts.
Related: Can Samsung’s $1,800 Z Fold 3 Replace An iPhone 12 And An iPad?
Making this even better is the Z Flip 3’s cover display. Where the Z Flip and Z Flip 5G were virtually unusable while shut, the 1.9-inch screen on the outside of the Z Flip 3 is better in every single way. A quick double-tap shows the ‘home’ screen, which is relegated to just the time, date, and battery information. Samsung includes a surprising amount of customization options for this screen — whether that be selecting a new clock design, color pattern, or changing the background to a photo on the device. From here, there are a couple of other areas to explore. Swiping down reveals shortcuts for changing the brightness or notification volume, a swipe up opens Samsung Pay, and swiping left reveals a handful of widgets to add, remove, or re-order however someone would like (including a music player, weather, calendar events, and more). Finally, swiping to the right shows any notifications the Z Flip 3’s received.
There are admittedly a lot of restrictions that come with this setup. There’s no way to reply to notifications from the cover screen, users are stuck with the widgets Samsung’s included, and there’s no way to run real apps in this mode. In a strange way, however, those restrictions are kind of great. With any other smartphone, the ability to get lost in Twitter or Reddit is as easy as powering on the display. There are endless distractions just waiting to happen at a moment’s notice, thus resulting in more screen time than many people like to admit. The nature of the Galaxy Z Flip 3 curbs this in a fascinating way.
Because the cover screen is inherently limited and the main display requires extra work to use, this writer has found himself using the phone far less than a ‘normal’ one. Tapping on the cover screen makes it easy to quickly check notifications and see what’s going on. If there’s an important email or text, it’s time to open it up and use the Flip 3 like any other Android. If there’s nothing that requires immediate attention, however, the screen stays shut and that’s the end of that interaction. It’s a strange side effect of any folding phone like this, and it’s one that’s been surprisingly nice to have. To use Twitter, YouTube, or anything else on the Z Flip 3, there’s a conscious effort that needs to be made of opening up the phone before that can happen. It’s a simple task and one that takes just a second, but it’s that extra little barrier that has resulted in approaching the Z Flip 3 unlike any other smartphone.
What makes all of this work so well is the Z Flip 3’s execution. This is only the third generation of the Z Flip family, but it’s hard to imagine it getting much better even this early on. The hinge feels tight and satisfying to use, it stays open at an angle to prop the Z Flip 3 up on a table/desk, and the new screen protector feels every bit as nice as the latest version of Gorilla Glass. While long-term durability for the Z Flip 3 does remain to be seen, this seems like a folding phone that’s in it for the long haul. Even after dropping the Flip 3 a couple of times on a tile floor, it’s still just as flawless in its function and aesthetics as the day it came out of the box.
The One Z Flip 3 Deal-Braker — Battery Life
Unfortunately, all of this praise does come with a hefty asterisk: the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 has some of the worst battery life out of any phone in recent memory. The 3,300 mAh capacity is a far cry from the 4,000 and 4,500 mAh batteries found in most other modern flagships. In day-to-day use, that smaller size is extremely noticeable.
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One of the Z Flip 3’s best days saw it lasting 16 hours and 27 minutes before hitting 12 percent battery. That was with 3 hours and 10 minutes of screen on time, including 47 minutes of YouTube, 32 minutes of Chrome, and 20 minutes on Twitter. The Flip 3 ended another day with 25 percent remaining battery after 16 hours and 31 minutes of use. That particular day only had 2 hours and 17 minutes of screen time, including 50 minutes spent on Twitter, 14 minutes in Chrome, 23 minutes on YouTube, and a little over an hour of Apple Music playing in the background.
The Z Flip 3 is the first phone in a long time that comes with legitimate battery anxiety. It’s technically possible to get through a full day on a single charge, but doing so requires careful and calculated usage. Spend too much time watching YouTube or Twitch? It’s all but guaranteed the Z Flip 3 has to go on the charger before bed. What makes the situation even more irritating are the slow charging speeds. The Flip 3 maxes out at just 15W when plugged in and 10W with Qi wireless charging. In a world where phones regularly charge at 25W, 65W, or even higher, going back to these snail-like speeds is far from ideal — especially with a phone that frequents the charger as often as the Z Flip 3 does.
Should You Buy The Galaxy Z Flip 3 For $999?
Samsung had an apparent mission for the Galaxy Z Flip 3: to create a perfectly average Android phone that can fold into itself. Understanding the appeal of such a device may be hard to grasp at a distance, and for some people, it may never click. But to the folks who are intrigued by such a concept and are looking for something different, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 feels like the start of something big.
The smartphone form factor we have today is pretty great. It may not be the most exciting thing in the world, but it’s a comfortable shape for media consumption, communication, and just about anything else. Rather than reinventing the wheel like the Z Fold 3, the Z Flip 3 takes that familiar formula and gives it a fun twist. Personally, that’s been the main reason why the Flip 3 has been such a positive experience. It does all of the things I like to do on a smartphone without hindering those interactions in any way. Instead, it offers all of that on a device that’s fresh, fashionable, and inventive unlike almost all of its peers.
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Could the cameras be better? Sure. Does Samsung need to improve battery life on the Z Flip 4? Absolutely. There’s certainly room for Samsung to grow in the future, but even in its current form, the Z Flip 3 feels complete and ready for launch in a way no other foldable has — especially with the much more approachable $999 price.
There are a lot of reasons to buy a smartphone. So often in this industry, people place the most value on things like processing power, display quality, camera performance, etc. It’s nowhere near as easy to quantify the ability to put a phone in tight pockets, its ability to minimize distractions, or the fun factor it includes — and those are things the Galaxy Z Flip 3 does an impeccable job at. It may not be a technically perfect smartphone, but the Flip 3 is the most fun I’ve had with one in a long time. For anyone out there who wants their next phone to be a lifestyle change rather than number upgrades on a spec sheet, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is — at the very least — worth a good, hard look.
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About The Author
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Joe has been actively writing and talking about consumer tech since 2012. His biggest passion lies with smartphones, but he’s happy to talk your ear off about just about anything with a CPU. He lives in Kalamazoo, MI with his wife, two cats, and pit bull/boxer mix.
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