In search of the perfect compact phone: Galaxy Z Flip 3

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In search of the perfect compact phone (foldable edition) - Galaxy Z Flip 3
I spent the past few years bitching and moaning about phones getting too big, too heavy and impossible to deal with one-handedly. And then manufacturers decided to fold them in half. Just like you would fold a piece of paper if it doesn’t fit in your pocket.

When I first saw the Z Flip (and the new Motorola RAZR for that matter), I thought “Great! That’s such a nice idea.” Now, for those of you who don’t remember flip phones (I’m old enough to have used one, still own it as you can see from the thumb picture), the flip idea might be new and the experience - a bit strange.

For me, though, it is a ticket to the past, and a familiar journey down the memory lane. Or so I thought it would be. The reality turned out to be a bit different.

First impressions

When I folded the Galaxy Z Flip 3 for the first time (it comes in an unfolded state in the retail box) I immediately thought “This thing is square!” The next thing I noticed was that the phone doesn’t fully close. The flexible screen only bends up to a certain angle and there’s a small crevice when you snap the phone closed.

In all fairness, I was familiar with the design from previous generations, and other similar devices so I decided to lock my OCD in the closet and soldier on. By the way, this thing is built like a tank! I’m not sure if it has something to do with the fact that the Z Flip 3 is made in Korea but it feels super solid and very, very well made.

The hinge is super-stiff too (I’m stuck with the “super” trope for some reason). It’s near to impossible to open the phone with one hand. Also, nine out of ten times I opened the phone I accidentally clicked the power button (I was holding the phone pretty tight as it’s as slippery as a used car salesman).

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Weight and pocketability

The Galaxy Z Flip weighs a little over 180 grams (that’s 6.46 oz for you guys over the pond), and in a folded state it measures 87.4 x 73.6 x 17.3 mm. As I mentioned above, that’s pretty square and also quite thick.

Now, 180 grams is considered lightweight by modern standards, as many flagships nowadays easily cross the 200g threshold. It’s quite interesting the human perception - when the phone is folded it feels heavy, heavier than when it’s unfolded.

That’s probably because the mass is concentrated in a smaller volume, well not exactly smaller - the phone doesn’t compact as a marshmallow under a campfire, but you get the idea - the weight is in your palm. It's a purely subjective feeling but it’s there nonetheless.

The pocket situation is also very interesting and polarizing to some extent. The phone fits great in the inside pocket of your jacket but it feels like a pack of cigarettes when slipped inside the front pocket of your jeans. It’s thick, no way around it.

It’s also great in a small woman’s purse (my wife loved it next to her puff box) but I wouldn’t advise you to try and carry it in your back pocket. The thin, non-folding phones are much more suited to tight pockets, I’m afraid.

Thumb comfort, one-hand operation

This is the crucial part. For me, a phone passes the compact test if you can easily manage it with one hand. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is not the device you’re looking for, if you plan to use your other hand for… well, other stuff.

There is only one scenario where you could get away using only one hand and it’s checking your notifications and other data on the external display. That’s it. The Z Flip sports a massive 6.7 inch display that is also quite wide.

Trying to reach the corners of the phone with one hand through hand gymnastics is a heart attack-inducing experience with a phone that’s so slippery and thin (when unfolded). Picking up a call with one hand is extremely difficult as the hinge is stiff and there are no dedicated slots or ridges to help you open the phone up.

Typing and media consumption

Obviously, the big plus of all the foldables is the same thing I was blabbering about in the above paragraphs. You’re getting a big screen, and it’s nice for media consumption and typing.

Even though I would choose the iPhone mini before the Z flip (purely for compactness) any day of the week, watching videos on the mini is a tiresome endeavor, and typing is a nightmare. The Z Flip 3 is just like an S22+ when unfolded with all the benefits that come with it.

One thing I should probably address in this section is the crease. It is there. There’s no way you won’t notice it and you will certainly feel it when scrolling. Is it annoying? Surprisingly, not that much. I guess we humans can get used to pretty much anything.

Another thing I wish Samsung had done differently is the hole-punch selfie camera. You can use the secondary screen to take selfies with the main camera system (with a quick double press of the power button), and for me there’s no reason to mutilate the main display with a hole in it.

But then again I’m not a TikTok-er or a streamer, so maybe hiding the hole-punch under the screen would be a better solution. Also, the camera system is too close to the volume rocker (which you use to snap pictures), and your thumb ends up in most of the shots. Samsung should’ve put the cameras on the other side to avoid that.

Battery life

Battery life is another sensitive topic for all compact phones aficionados. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 houses a 3,300mAh battery, and although it’s not big by modern standards, it’s substantially larger than the battery you would find in something like the iPhone mini.

You can easily get through one day of moderate to heavy use, and in that regard the Z Flip 3 scores high.

What I like about the Galaxy Z Flip 3

  • Amazingly solid build quality
  • Capacitive fingerprint reader (that works!)
  • The display is awesome
  • Stereo speakers
  • Solid battery life
  • IPX8 water resistance (in a foldable!)
  • The flip experience

What I don’t like

  • Hard to open with one hand
  • It’s a big phone when unfolded
  • Limited functionality of the secondary screen
  • Slippery without a case
  • The flip experience

Does folding a phone in half make it compact?

At some point, probably, it would. Just not with the Galaxy Z Flip 3. The phone is amazing, don’t get me wrong - not only "for the price," it’s amazing - period. The thing is, it’s really hard to use it with one hand, and that’s the whole point of a compact phone. If it was narrower and thinner, things would’ve been completely different (the original Motorola RAZR comes to mind).

With all that being said, I really enjoyed my time with the Galaxy Z Flip 3. I would definitely buy it - not as the perfect compact phone, I still prefer the iPhone mini in that role - but as a technology milestone. The great thing about the Z Flip is that it’s a herald of what’s to come. Foldable phones will continue to evolve and maybe someday I will get that original RAZR back.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3

128GB, up to $700 off with trade-in + free Buds2 and wireless charger
$299 99
$999 99

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

256GB, up to $1050 off with trade-in + free Buds2 and wireless charger
$749 99
$1799 99

Check out the other articles from the series:

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