Let’s get this out of the way: the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is not a perfect phone (because there’s no such thing). But it’s a phone that absolutely nails what it sets out to: provide a premium-feeling folding phone that looks fantastic, feels great to use, and doesn’t cost the Earth.
The perfect version of this phone would probably have slightly better cameras – but then it would cost a few hundred more. Or maybe it would have longer battery life – but in that case it wouldn’t be half so compact.
Samsung made the right compromises, and the result is not only a foldable that can stand toe-to-toe with its slab phone rivals, but is comfortably the most exciting phone this year.
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Design and build
- New, improved design
- IPX8 water-resistance
- Enhanced durability – but the hinge is still vulnerable
Last year’s Galaxy Z Flip and Z Flip 5G looked pretty fantastic, so it was a slight surprise that Samsung went back to the drawing board for the series’ third phone. Luckily my scepticism was unwarranted, as the company found space for several key improvements.
The broad shape and size of the phone hasn’t changed much, but the aesthetics have. Gone are the mirrored, metallic finishes of the first gen, replace by more muted two-tone designs. I’ve been testing the phone in cream, but you can also grab it in black, purple, or dark green – with a few more online-only colours with a black trim available from Samsung’s web store.
The colours all look great, but the bigger change is the new black bar that takes up almost half the phone’s front. This encompasses not only the two outer cameras, but also the larger cover display. The design here manages to hide this display when it’s not in use, and even when it is the black background used throughout makes it feel like a seamless part of the body, rather than a screen sticking out.
The Z Flip 3 doesn’t just look better than its predecessors – it’s tougher too. The headline here is the inclusion of an IPX8 rating, which means there’s the same level of water-resistance as on most flagship phones, but no rating for dust-protection – so you’ll still want to be careful at the beach.
The new ‘Armour Aluminium’ frame is supposedly 10% tougher than before, while Gorilla Glass Victus – the toughest around – coats the body and Gorilla Glass DX sits above the lenses.
I do have a confession here: in my week with the Flip 3 I have managed to drop it. A quick fumble as I took it from my pocket left the phone tumbling a metre onto a cobbled street. A couple of scuffs and a small dent aside, it still works flawlessly – even though the dent in question is right on the hinge itself, presumably the phone’s weakest point.
I can’t promise that the Z Flip 3 is as tough as standard ‘slab’ flagships, and it clearly has a few new vulnerabilities. But it can survive a tumble, and doesn’t feel like a phone that needs to be babied.
- 6.7in, 120Hz foldable display
- Yes, there’s a crease – but it doesn’t matter
- Improved 1.9in outer screen
There are two displays to consider with the Flip 3. Let’s start with the main one.
The 6.7in folding screen is a Full HD+ AMOLED panel – the same as before – but this year has a welcome bump up to a 120Hz refresh rate, which nets you smoother and more fluid animations.
If you haven’t tried a folding phone before you might be surprised by how solid the Flip 3’s display actually feels, and by how little you tend to notice the central crease.
Still, it is there. It’s not so visible head-on, but at angles or against light backgrounds you will see the crease pretty easily. You’ll also feel it any time you scroll over that central line, which is probably the bigger annoyance of the two.
When you first get the phone it feels like it matters. Within a few hours of use, it really doesn’t. Don’t overthink it.
As for the outer cover display, I’ve already mentioned that it’s larger than before at 1.9in – now capable of fitting in widgets and controls, rather than mere notification icons.
You can set up widgets for music controls, weather alerts, alarms, your step count, and more, accessible by swiping to the one side. Swiping the other way brings up notifications – which you can even read from the small screen – while swiping down from the top gives you brightness and volume controls. You can also customise the default clock with a few fun animated options, and set up a simple always-on display.
Essentially, there’s enough here to make the cover screen useful without making it so big as to get in the way of the design. I’d welcome a little more customisability on the widgets, and maybe a few quick message reply options without opening the phone, but otherwise this feels like a really smartly designed part of the phone.
Specs and connectivity
- Strong, flagship specs
- 5G support
- No dual-SIM
The first-gen Galaxy Z Flip used what was at the time a slightly older chipset, in what was presumably a cost-cutting measure. Impressively, despite actually lowering the price this time Samsung hasn’t tried to get away with that approach again – instead you’ll find this year’s flagship Snapdragon 888 inside, the same chip used in the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and the S21 phones.
Together with 8GB of RAM that nets you fast performance across the board, capable of rivalling just about anything other than top-spec gaming phones.
Storage is also solid, with a choice between 128GB or 256GB of fast UFS 3.1 storage – though with no microSD slot, you won’t be able to expand this if you ever run out.
The Snapdragon 888 also delivers 5G support. There’s sadly only space for one physical SIM card, but the phone can support a physical SIM and an eSIM simultaneously.
Beyond all that you’ll get Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.1, and NFC. There’s face unlock driven by the single selfie camera, and a fingerprint unlock using a side-mounted scanner – not an under-display option.
Battery and charging
- Only just lasts a full day
- 15W wired and 10W wireless charging
- Charger sold separately
It’s all been rosy so far, but now it’s time to get into what are unequivocally the phone’s weak points – though I certainly wouldn’t consider them crippling.
First up, the Z Flip 3 packs a piddly little 3300mAh battery – far smaller than most mainstream Android phones these days. With light-to-typical usage it will last a full day, but heavier users will struggle.
Taking it on holiday with me, I found that a day of Google Maps and photo taking was too much for it, with the battery often dying around 7pm. That’s with 120Hz and the cover screen’s always-on display enabled though, so it would be possible to squeeze some extra life out of the phone if you were willing to sacrifice either of those – and remember that travel does involve particularly heavy usage.
As always with a phone though, this is the best the battery will ever be – a year or two into the phone’s life and even with light use it probably won’t last the day.
Batteries are bulky, and I think Samsung made the right choice in prioritising the phone’s slim, lightweight design over longevity. But it does mean that this phone won’t be for everyone, and certainly won’t please power users.
The mediocre battery would be easier to swallow if Samsung had paired it with fast charging speeds, but the 15W charging here is slow by Android standards – even the small battery here topped up by just 46% in half an hour using a third-party charger. On that note, remember that Samsung doesn’t ship the phone with any charger, so you’ll need to use an existing USB-C charger to top it up – or buy a new one.
There is 10W wireless charging though, and slow 4.5W reverse wireless charging for other devices, though using either form of wireless does see the phone heat up a fair bit.
I don’t think the phone’s battery and charging limitations are a dealbreaker for me, but I can see why they would be for others. Weigh up how heavy a phone user you are – and how willing you are to carry around a power bank every once in a while.
- Dual rear camera
- Competitive in good lighting
- Slab phone rivals still win on versatility and lowlight
If the battery life is objectively sub-par, the camera quality on the Z Flip 3 is a more subjective concern.
Samsung has decided to re-use last year’s camera specs, meaning you get a 12Mp main lens and 12Mp ultrawide, along with a 10Mp punch-hole selfie lens.
These cameras were good-but-not-great last year, and to be honest the same holds true now. Simple shots for social media will come out well, especially in good lighting, but performance will suffer in dimmer conditions and many will miss the extra options afforded by a telephoto lens.
The 12Mp, f/1.8 main lens will be good enough for most people. Colours are bright and punchy, and 12Mp is still plenty for crisp detail. It actually holds its own in lowlight, helped by the inclusion of optical image stabilisation, though is certainly noisier and less detailed than the best at this. It struggles most with HDR, tending to over-expose bright backgrounds, resulting in blown-out skies.
The wide-angle and selfie lenses are a similar story, but thanks to the smaller f/2.2 and f/2.4 apertures and lack of OIS, the problems are exacerbated. Lowlight performance here is worse, with fuzzier, less-detailed results, and the tendency to blow out bright lights is exaggerated.
There are some camera advantages afforded by the foldable form factor however. The shape means the camera can prop itself up to your choice of angle – ideal for video calls, or for setting the phone up for timed selfies. You can similarly choose to send a cropped preview of the viewfinder to the cover display – meaning if you’re taking a portrait of someone they’ll get a glimpse of how they look before you take the shot.
Most of the time the photos out of any of the lenses here will hold their own even against top phones, especially to the untrained eye. Advances in smartphone photography are now focused on edge cases – night photography, challenging lighting, and extreme zoom – and it’s only here that the Flip 3 can’t compete.
Does that matter? Probably not to most, and I suspect the Flip 3 will find a sizeable audience willing to make that compromise for the unique design. And if that’s not you, then Samsung has the S21 series ready and waiting.
- Ships with Android 11
- 3 years of Android updates
The Galaxy Z Flip 3 launched running Android 11, with Samsung’s OneUI 3.1 on top.
Samsung has committed to providing three years of Android version updates to the phone – which should cover the upcoming Android 12, but also versions 13 and 14 – along with a fourth year of security patches. That’s one of the best Android update promises you’ll find, only really outpaced by Google itself.
OneUI is one of the better Android variants around these days. It’s burdened by a bit too much unnecessary clutter, and at times can feel more rigid and inflexible than rivals, but it’s also quick, attractive, and easy-to-use – arguably more important factors.
Samsung has also done a good job of incorporating support for its foldable’s unique features. I’ve already mentioned a few of the camera features, but there are other smart touches.
Tap on a notification or widget on the cover screen, and the app will be ready when you open the phone. You can also configure options around calls so that opening and closing the phone will answer and end calls respectively.
It will even recognise when you have the display partly open. If you prop the phone up on a table, the Samsung gallery app will move photos to the top half of the screen for you to scroll through, and can do the same with video in a few compatible apps.
Price and availability
The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is available worldwide now, with two prices depending on the storage you want:
- 128GB: £949/$999/€1,049/₹84,999
- 256GB: £999/$1,049/€1,099/₹88,999
I won’t pretend that £949/$999 is cheap for a phone, but compared to the £1,399/$1,449 starting price of the Z Flip 5G it’s an absolute steal.
At this price you’ll likely be weighing the Flip 3 up against other top flagships like Samsung’s own Galaxy S21, the new iPhone 13 series, or Chinese rivals like the Xiaomi Mi 11 or Oppo Find X3 Pro.
To be blunt, any of these phones will beat the Flip on photography prowess, battery life, and durability. But none of them fold in half. Personally, I’d make that trade any day – but it’s understandable if you wouldn’t.