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Galaxy Z Fold 3: Samsung's not-so-great flagship phone becomes a better tablet

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Galaxy Z Fold 3: Samsung's not-so-great flagship phone becomes a better tablet
Compromises. That's what you'll have to make if you're willing to try out Samsung's new Galaxy Z Fold 3 foldable flagship.

In a story from June, I compared the Galaxy Z Fold 3's (then) rumored specs with Huawei's Mate X2. Here's a quote from this story:

This piece was named "Why the cutting-edge Galaxy Z Fold 3 is doomed to flop". Well, today, Samsung has pretty much validated this analysis. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is official, and I can already tell that there's pretty much no improvement in the five key categories discussed in the above-mentioned story.

In other words, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is pretty much a Galaxy Z Fold 2, with a questionable under-display selfie camera, which is as good as the ones in laptops (or rather - as bad); water-resistance and improved software to make better use of the inner screen.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 vs Galaxy Z Fold 2: Better. Not much better. But better.

Before I dive into why you might like to skip the Galaxy Z Fold 3, let's give it the deserved credit:

  1. Although with lackluster quality, the under-display camera on the Fold 3 makes me happy for one reason - the weird off-center cutout for the selfie camera is now gone (well, not totally gone, but you get the point).
  2. I have to congratulate Samsung for managing to make the Galaxy Z Fold 3 (and Galaxy Z Flip 3) water-resistant, given all the moving parts within the hinge mechanism. Still, we have to wait for actual testing and user feedback on how water-resistant the Folds really are. I hope this won't end up as a "watergate" scandal.
  3. The software (which was already good) now takes pretty much full advantage of the 7.6-inch inner display. Samsung has worked with almost all major app developers to optimize the app experience for this new form factor. On top of all, multitasking is more powerful than ever. More about that in our Galaxy Z Fold 3 hands-on preview.
  4. Continuity is also better, thanks to the matching 120Hz displays - in and out. According to Samsung, they are also brighter than before and up to 80% more durable (inner screen). Again, this will have to be tested, but it sounds promising.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 vs Mate X2: Huawei (still) does it better

Unfortunately, that's about where the meaningful upgrades end. So, let's bring back the Huawei Mate X2 and put Samsung on the spot (again).

Before doing so, just like in the June story, let's clarify that a comparison between the two isn't particularly valid since the Mate X2 doesn't run Google apps out of the box; costs much more than the Z Fold 3, and it's hard to get - we blame the US trade ban.

However, just as mentioned in the "Flop" story, this doesn't change the fact that there is a foldable phone somewhere out there in China that puts Samsung's Fold to shame. The 7-month old Huawei Mate X2 doesn't have water-resistance or an undercooked under-display camera, but it:

  • Has larger, better displays - especially the outer one
  • Pretty much solves the "crease issue" when unfolded
  • Comes with a way better, truly flagship-grade set of cameras
  • Much faster charging
  • And have you seen the GENIUS design move that allows the Mate X2 to fold without leaving a gap?!

What's shocking here is that the above is a direct quote from our Mate X2 vs Galaxy Z Fold 2 story. In other words, in an attempt to make the Galaxy Z Fold 3 cheaper (-$200), Samsung has completely overlooked the basics of a good smartphone and an excellent foldable… again.

  1. The outer screen is still awkwardly sized, encouraging you to use the inner display as soon as possible. However, then you open it, look a bit closer, and the crease from the original Galaxy Fold and Z Fold 2 is still there.
  2. Try taking photos, and you'll realize that the Galaxy Z Fold 3 comes with the same main and ultra-wide cameras from the Galaxy S20 and the exact same 2x zoom camera from (attention!) the Galaxy S10. Now, that's what I call a sacrifice for reaching a specific price point. I'm sure Samsung has worked on the software side of the camera experience to manage to squeeze the most out of those dated sensors, but it's still insane to think you're paying $1600 (!!!) for a set of mid-range cameras. And that's not even taking into account the new 4MP under-display camera that (sadly) rivals laptop cams in terms of quality.
  3. Try charging your Galaxy Z Fold 3, and you'll find out that it charges just as slow as any other Galaxy flagship. That's actually a problem with Samsung's entire flagship lineup, so I'm willing to give it a pass. Although, again - $1600…
  4. And finally, the design of the phone remains virtually untouched - slightly lighter thanks to the smaller battery (2% smaller), and with the same gap when closed - just like in the good old-Fold days.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3: Cheaper, but also… cheaper

Congrats, Samsung! You did it. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is now cheaper. But the price cut doesn't feel like magic as it does with Xiaomi's Mi Mix Fold, for example. This device can be imported for £1084 in the UK and Europe (12GB RAM/256GB storage) as of today, which makes it cheaper than Samsung's Galaxy S21 Ultra, and Apple's iPhone 12 Pro Max for reference.

Samsung's phone is now cheaper, but it remains expensive. Yet, it carries iterative improvements over the Galaxy Z Fold 2. If it was an iPhone, it would have been an "S" model. Who knows - maybe Samsung's only motivation to make a great foldable will be if Apple entered the game. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like Cupertino wants to play. I won't be surprised if Apple moves straight to a different form factor like a rollable phone. God knows when… Well, perhaps, Tim Cook does too.

Still, my impressions are, well… only first impressions. Therefore, come back for our full review of the Galaxy Z Fold 3. And hey - even with the compromises Samsung had to make, the Z Fold 3 is still better than the Z Fold 2. Also, chances are it's the only foldable tablet-phone available in your region, and therefore the best one.

Good job, Samsung, but you can do better…

For the record: the title refers to the Galaxy Note 20 and not the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. Also, we’ve purposefully left out the S-Pen support on the new Galaxy Z Fold 3, which will be discussed in an upcoming story, uncovering Samsung’s new Apple-like tactics when it comes to accessories. Stay tuned!

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