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Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 review: Third time’s the charm

After spending three months with it, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 is everything I hoped — and feared — it would be.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3

If Samsung’s latest Galaxy Z Fold 3 is for power users who might ordinarily gravitate towards the excesses of the Galaxy Note lineup, then the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is for everyone else.

Rather than unfold into the tablet-like form-factor offers by Samsung’s flagship Z Fold range, the Z Flip series opts for a clam-shell design that’s intuitive to handle and very much reminiscent of something like the Motorola Razr.

The overall layout of the rear camera, fingerprint and the physical buttons on the Z Flip 3 is more-or-less as the last two generations. It even weighs the same at 182g.

However, the seams tying together the form and function of the foldable are much better hidden the third time around. This means there are fewer distractions from the simple but satisfying joys of folding and unfolding the Z Flip 3.

Samsung’s latest execution of this idea — the Galaxy Z Flip 3 — doesn’t deviate or depart from the core vision of what it should be, but it does nail the details in a way that earlier efforts didn’t and arguably couldn’t.

If you’ve messed with any of Samsung’s other foldables — even briefly — you’ll quickly find that the tactile appeal associated with handling the Z Flip 3 isn’t terribly different from previous models, but it is noticeably more refined.

This upgrade in usability is complemented by an ambitious aesthetic overhaul. To its credit, the Z Flip 3 reminds me a lot of the two-tone design seen in Google’s second generation Pixel phones.

Rather than feel like an off-brand experiment, this entry in Samsung’s growing catalogue of foldable smartphones often comes across as considerably more confident and polished. You might even go so far as to say it has something of a personality — which is more than can be said about most modern smartphones.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3

As with the original Z Flip and its 5G-powered follow-up, the Z Flip 3 features two displays. Only one of these is foldable. That main display, located on the inside of the Z Flip 3, is the same 6.7-inches in size as the previous model but significantly improved when it comes to fidelity.

So long as you’re willing to live with the hit to battery life, the Z Flip 3’s display can offer a peak brightness of up to 1200 nits and a refresh rate of up to 120Hz. Once you enable these settings, even mundane and moment-to-moment tasks like scrolling through Twitter or checking your bank account become that much more engaging and sticky.

Samsung have a reputation for making nice screens and the Z Flip 3’s screen can sometimes be so nice that I found myself inventing reasons to use it more. For games like League of Legends: Wild Rift and Legends of Runeterra, the benefits of the higher-end display felt particularly valuable.

Durability has also been improved, via an IPX8 rated against water damage, the use of a sturdier “Armor Aluminum” material and the addition of Gorilla Glass Victus for additional protection.

All this is to say that Samsung are determined to put the reputation that foldable phones have for fragility behind them. While I suspect that the design of the Z Flip 3 itself does a lot of the heavy lifting, I’ve yet to notice any real scratches or damage to screen even after several months as my daily driver.

Beyond just refining the look and the feel of the Z Flip 3 and offering up a better screen, it’s worth noting that Samsung have systematically addressed every criticism that could be levied at the original Z Flip.

The new Z Flip 3 has Dolby-graded stereo speakers, it’s got a modern Qualcomm Snapdragon processor (if you’re an Australian consumer, this is a key upgrade on the Exynos hardware found in the rest of the Galaxy S lineup) and the external display that fell short in the original Z Flip has been given a significant face-lift.

At a baseline, the Z Flip 3’s upgraded 1.9-inch external display can be used to preview, read and dismiss notifications. Beyond that, there are about half a dozen Samsung apps that will play nice with it. you can pause and play music, set alarms and check the weather without having to fully unfold the device — which is nice.

This second-generation cover display feels like a significant upgrade to overall usability of the Z Flip 3 — even if it’s clear that it could be pushed further in the future. I liked that you could activate Samsung Pay via the cover display. I disliked that I couldn’t do the same with Google Pay.

Overall, my experience of relying on the Z Flip 3 as my daily driver for the past three months has been largely positive. That being said, there are a few shortcomings that are worth knowing about if you are seriously considering pulling the trigger on purchasing one for yourself.

The first of these is the battery life. All those nice things I said about the screen on the Z Flip 3 earlier? They tended to shave the screen time that Samsung’s foldable delivered on a regular charge by as much as 40 per cent.

With bells, whistles and 5G disabled, I’d usually get between 3 and 4 hours of screen-time on a single charge with Z Flip 3. However, once you turn those premium features on, you really do feel the impact pretty quickly.

As someone who is mostly working from home these, navigating these limitations hasn’t been too much of a hassle. However, as things re-open, I am a little concerned about what it means for the battery life on the Z Flip 3. It’s not unworkable, but it’s not ideal to have to do any work at all when it comes to piece of tech this expensive.

The other big area where the Z Flip 3 feels a little more ordinary is the camera. The Z Flip 3 features a 12-megapixel dual-lens main camera on the outside, matched by a 10-megapixel selfie-camera on the inside.

While there is a different sensor in the mix, the main camera configuration here doesn’t just offer the flexibility of a telephoto lens. It also falls short of the high-megapixel counts seen in Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S21 or the computation photography enhancements offered in Apple and Google’s latest devices.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 camera sample — pizza

Even if it’s perfectly serviceable in daylight situations, the Z Flip 3’s camera feels like its nothing special. It was functional enough, but I rarely wanted to share or show off the photos I took with the Z Flip 3’s camera.

If you’re not a camera person, that might be fine. Unfortunately, if you’re a techie who likes getting into the weeds on just how Apple’s Deep Fusion image tech works, the Z Flip 3’s camera hardware stands out as a weak link in the overall value proposition of the device.

Given that I’ve spent most of the my time with the device in lockdown, I didn’t necessarily feel too constrained by the Z Flip 3’s limits when it comes to photography. But like the battery life, I’m fully expecting that to change somewhat in the coming months.

If you’re looking to buy on specs or camera, then what Google have going on with the Pixel 6 or Apple’s latest iPhone 13 Pro Max will likely do a much better job of giving you what you’re after.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 camera sample — bushwalk

Beyond these two bigger deficiencies, there are a few minor areas where Samsung could probably look to improve what they’re offering with the Z Flip 4.

Dust resistance is a big one. I rock climb regularly, which also involves a lot of chalk. As such, many of my backpacks are filled with chalk dust. The first time I found myself in a situation where I had to put the Z Flip 3 into my backpack, I was so terrified that I sealed it inside a zip-lock bag in order to isolate it from any dust particles.

It sucks that this is a thing that I had to think about at all. If future generations of this device do not find some way to address this issue, I don’t know how interested I am in them.

The Z Flip 3 may be much harder to break than previous efforts, but it’s still a smartphone that you have to think about before you take it the beach.

I’ve also had another small hardware issue crop up in recent weeks, with a specific spot on the Z Flip 3’s inner display making an odd popping sound whenever I run my fingers over it. This hasn’t affected functionality so far, and from what I’ve found on Reddit it doesn’t appear to suggest any potential defect or damage related to hardware itself.

All the same, it was an unwelcome that it remains early days for foldables. Less breakable is not the same as unbreakable. Even if devices like the Z Flip and Z Fold 3 ready for mainstream consumption, there are still plenty of potential points of failure in the mix.

It didn’t help that my experiences reaching out to Samsung’s support team about this issue weren’t particularly insightful. After carefully explaining the problem, I was told to try and reset the device to see if it was a software issue — which was very frustrating.

Of course, my biggest source of disappointment with the Z Flip 3 is that none of the above shortcomings are much of a surprise. The moment that Samsung gave this thing its flashy debut, I started thinking about the price-point of the Z Flip 3 and the compromises that led to it.

If a “fine” camera and battery are what it takes to push foldables into a more affordable era, then it’s probably makes sense for Samsung to put off any serious tinkering with those aspects of the experience for now.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3

Final thoughts

Samsung’s third-generation clamshell nails about 80 per cent of the things it needs to get right, but that last 20 per cent eludes it. And as much I like what the Z Flip 3 says about the speed with which foldable smartphones have improved in recent years, the predictable corners that it cuts can sometimes be difficult to overlook.

Having to sit out this generation of the smartphone camera arms race sucks, and working around the caveats concerning the Z Flip 3’s battery life is a definite drawbacks. Still, if you’ve been waiting for a foldable phone that doesn’t cost an exorbitant amount of money and isn’t likely to break at the first fumble, the Z Flip 3 is worth your consideration.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 may not be the company’s finest foldable, but it does make the most compelling argument for itself as an alternative to those who would otherwise settle for a regular flagship device.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3

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