The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 is without a doubt the best clamshell foldable on the market, although as the newest addition to what is an extremely limited device niche – only the Z Flip and Motorola Razr occupy the category, and Motorola’s most recent contender is a year out of date – that’s not saying much.
But the Z Flip 3 further refines everything a clamshell foldable should be, and also manages to be pretty good at everything else modern phones are supposed to do.
It keeps up with other flagships in terms of performance (Snapdragon 888 chipset, 8GB RAM, 128GB or 256GB storage) and when flipped open has a good-sized 6.7-inch plastic OLED display that delivers a picture somewhere between LCD and OLED levels of color vibrance and crispness, and with a smooth 120Hz refresh rate.
The Z Flip 3’s relatively small 3,300mAh battery can be limiting (it rarely lasts more than a day), but the phone’s biggest shortcoming is its camera setup, which hasn't changed from its predecessors, the original Z Flip and its 5G variant (there’s no Z Flip 2, with Samsung skipping a number in order to keep its Flip range in line with its Z Fold series).
There are 12MP f/1.8 main and 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide cameras on the rear, and a 10MP f/2.4 selfie camera. It’s an acceptable offering, but not comparable to what you’ll find on phones like the comparably-priced Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus with its 3x optical zoom, or phones with better telephoto cameras, like the S21 Ultra or ZTE Axon 30 Ultra, both of which have 5x optical zoom cameras.
However, those other flagship phones can’t be folded up and slipped into a small pocket, and that’s a novelty that’s never been more affordable that it is here: with a starting price of $999 / £949 / AU$1,499, consumers can get a clamshell foldable for the price of a top-tier conventional flagship phone.
Not everyone needs that novelty, though, and it’s easy to see where the Z Flip 3 is a stepping-stone to a successor that’s even more affordable, packs zoom cameras, and has a large enough outer display to let you send texts or emails and use apps.
As it stands, the phone is a joy to use for folks who are willing to pay for something more pocketable, but all its non-folding features can be had for much less elsewhere.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 price and release date
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 was officially unveiled at Samsung Unpacked on August 11, and you can buy it now (it went on sale on August 27, 2021) in the US and UK. Those in Australia will see the phone go on sale on September 10.
It comes in two storage sizes: 128GB, which costs $999 / £949 / AU$1,499, and 256GB which will set you back $1,049 / £999 / AU$1,599
For comparison, the original Galaxy Flip cost $1,380 / £1,300 / AU$1,800, and the 5G model was even more at $1,449 / £1,399 / AU$2,599, so the new phone is much cheaper at launch, and around the price of other flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus or iPhone 12 Pro. On the other hand, both the original Z Flip and the Z Flip 5G have gotten much cheaper since launch, and are currently more affordable than the Z Flip 3.
The Z Flip 3 is also a whole lot cheaper than its larger sibling, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3, a true foldable phone that starts at $1,799 / £1,599 / AU$2,499. With twice as much display and S Pen support, the Z Fold 3 is an impressive alternative – but one that’s meant for productivity, not portability.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 doesn’t look much different from its predecessors, aside from an expansion of the outer display and a rearranging of the rear cameras around it. It’s still a clamshell foldable with two ‘halves’ rotating around a large, Samsung-branded hinge. Unfolded, it’s still a very tall and narrow phone, with a 6.7-inch display.
There are some (mostly aesthetic) improvements, however. While the phone doesn’t fold completely flush, there’s less of a gap between sides when it’s closed, and the protective plastic bumper ringing round the inner flex display is still there, but it’s thinner, looking more like a guardrail strip than the rounded pontoon layer lining the edge of the Z Flip’s screen.
The rear cover design has also been changed, from a single-color finish on the Z Flip to a two-toned effect on the Z Flip 3: the bottom two-thirds are a single hue, while the top third is all-black glass, and houses the outer display, with the twin rear cameras aligned vertically next to it. It’s a more handsome look this time around, although some of the color options are more appealing than others (our cream hue wasn’t terribly attractive).
The back is covered in Gorilla Glass Victus (which its maker, Corning Glass, claims is more durable than Gorilla Glass 6 with twice the scratch resistance), while the screen inside has a ‘glasstic’ flexible plastic display. For the first time in a foldable, Samsung has secured an IPX8 rating for water resistance, meaning the phone can be submerged in 1.5 meters of water for up to 30 minutes. It’s not rated for dust resistance, however (hence IPX8 instead of the more common IP68, with the ‘6’ denoting dust resistance).
Other than the enlarged outer display, the phone is set up much like its predecessor. On the right side is a lock button with a fingerprint sensor and a volume rocker above it, which are admittedly a bit high for comfort when the phone is unfolded – the former is just reachable with a thumb (to unlock the phone), but raising or lowering the volume is almost impossible to do one-handed.
This setup isn’t arbitrary – when folded up, the buttons sit in the middle of the side of the top half of the phone.
On the left side near the top is a SIM slot, although sadly there’s no microSD slot, so you can’t add to the built-in storage. The top only has a microphone, while on the bottom there’s a USB-C slot in the center, with a speaker on the right and mic on the left.
What’s it like to fold?
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 is the best clamshell foldable on the market, although that’s not saying much given that the phone’s only competition is the year-old Motorola Razr 2020. The phones take different approaches to the form factor: the Razr has more functionality on its outer screen, while the Z Flip 3 allows for unfolding the phone to any degree (until fully flat), with more functionality in semi-unfolded stages.
Unfolding the Z Flip 3 is a little tough to do one-handed (as was the case with previous Z Flip phones), but this resistance means you can unfold the device to whatever degree you want and feel confident it will stay locked in position, which is as functional as it is fun.
There are probably only a few use cases that would require part-folding the Z Flip 3, at least until more apps build in functionality that splits the screen (called Flex Mode), but having this option elevates some experiences above what normal phones are capable of. Video chatting is so much better when you can prop up your phone; likewise with taking selfies.
But mostly, the Z Flip 3’s foldability comes in handy when you’re carrying it around. While it won’t fit in some pockets – as iFixit found when folding closed older clamshells, the smaller footprint still results in a thicker phone – it’s a great feeling to slide it in a pocket or bag and not worry about the inner display getting scratched by keys or other bits and pieces.
The external display remains the foldable’s least impressive feature – it’s still too small to use for much beyond seeing notifications, previewing selfies, and controlling audio. The screen looks virtually the same in read-only mode (tap it once) and interactive mode (tap it twice), so it might seem like touch functionality is irregular, although it’s certainly more usable than its predecessor.
However, the Motorola Razr’s larger 2.6-inch outer screen still has more functionality, and can interact with more apps than on the Z Flip 3’s exterior display.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3’s displays have been improved, although not by too much, all things considered. That’s fine, but we’re still waiting for parity between glass and plastic displays – and no folding seam – before we’re blown away by clamshell foldables.
The seam is shallower than on previous clamshell foldable displays, and while you’ll still feel it while running your finger across the center of the 6.7-inch Full HD Plus (2640 x 1080) display, it’s not too annoying. The screen itself is bright enough for viewing outdoors, and has comparable visuals to other flagship Full HD displays, though it’s not quite as crisp as phones with OLED displays.
The Z Flip 3’s plastic inner display doesn’t seem to have an inferior picture compared to glass phones, but in side-to-side comparisons it may exhibit a slightly less sharp picture than screens on OLED phones. The screen has been slightly improved over the display on its predecessor, with a 120Hz refresh rate for smoother browsing and gaming.
As mentioned, the Z Flip 3’s 1.9-inch exterior display is nearly four times the size of the original Z Flip’s 1.1-inch outer screen. Instead of barely showing a single line of text, and perhaps the world’s smallest photo preview, the Z Flip 3’s larger screen makes it a lot easier to preview selfies, and there are mini-app widgets for simple audio controls, setting timers, and a few other things.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 has enough cameras to handle casual photography, lacking any telephoto capability but managing everything else well. The phone benefits from Samsung’s impressive photo software, with images looking nicely detailed and colorful.
The pair of shooters on the back of the phone – a 12MP f/1.8 Dual Pixel main camera with optical image stabilization (OIS) and 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide camera – don’t seem to have been changed from the pair on the Z Flip. That said, they capture photos that compare favorably to shots taken with other Samsung flagships, with good color balance in daylight.
There’s a 10MP f/2.4 front-facing camera that takes decent selfies, although these have slightly less detail than shots from front-facing cameras in rival flagships like the iPhone 12 Pro. Still, this is the most selfie-friendly phone we’ve used in a while – being able to shoot with the phone unfolded halfway, with one side resting flat on a surface, is much easier than awkwardly bending an arm to fit yourself and others in frame, a practice that’s potentially trickier for folks without a wide range of motion.
The Z Flip 3 can also take selfies when folded closed, using the superior rear main and ultra-wide cameras, to take shots that are previewed on the outer display – just double-tap the lock button to open the camera mode. The touch interface is perfectly simple: swipe up to switch between the main and ultra-wide lenses, and swipe left and right to switch between photo and video.
It’s super-simple and a great party trick, and undeniably an easier way to take selfies. Just be aware that this mode inexplicably takes fully square photos (perplexing given the widescreen-formatted outer display) – and other photo dimensions aren’t possible.
Here are some samples taken with the Z Flip 3's rear cameras, as well as a selfie with the front-facing camera (well, front-facing when the inner screen is open):
Some food photos, naturally:
And last, a zoom test, starting with ultra-wide, then main camera, and then in greater magnification using the crop zoom from 2x, 4x, and the maximum 10x:
Specs, performance and software
The Samsung Z Flip 3 has flagship specs, and performs as impressively as any phone outside the priciest top-tier handsets. It runs on the Snapdragon 888 chipset (which you’ll find in the leading Android handsets released in 2021), and has 8GB of RAM and either 128GB or 256GB of storage.
Unfortunately, the storage isn’t expandable via microSD, meaning you’re stuck with the onboard limit – but while it may seem like a step back to offer a 128GB version (the Flip and Flip 5G came in a single 256GB configuration), it ultimately allows the phone to be offered at a lower price point. It isn’t ideal, but there are alternatives, like cloud storage, if you need more space.
Overall performance is impressive: whether we were browsing the web, watching media or playing games, the phone didn't stutter or falter, and kept up with whatever we put it through. Its Geekbench 5 average score of 2801 is impressive enough, though not quite on the level of the year’s top-level phones like the Asus Rog 5 (3732) or iPhone 12 Pro (4007).
This average reflects a wide range of individual scores, from a high of 3252 to a low of 1953, and while we didn’t notice the phone’s performance vary in real-world tasks (we didn’t see any slowdown while watching video or playing games, for instance), most flagship phones have far less variance in their benchmarks.
The Z Flip 3 runs Android 11 out of the box, bringing the best perks from the latest Google operating system. Given that it only took a few months for the original Z Flip and Z Flip 5G (both launched with Android 10) to get upgraded to Android 11 after the latter phone launched in October 2020, per Android Headlines, it’s a reasonable bet that the Z Flip 5G could get this year’s Android 12 upgrade in the same time frame.
One of the big features coming in Android 12 is Material You, which redesigns your interface based on your chosen color palette – and the Z Flip 3 has its own version of that, enabling owners of a Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 or Watch 4 Classic to sync their watch face with their outer display, giving the latter matching colors, fonts, and even little images. It’s a small touch that folks might not use, but it’s cool to see more personalization of the outer display.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3’s biggest drawback is probably its 3,300mAh battery, which is far from the biggest battery among flagship phones, and steadily drains over the course of a day – don’t expect it to last into the second day. There’s also no charger in the box, as part of the company’s shift toward more sustainability and less waste (as well as saving on costs).
The battery drains a bit faster than most phones just by keeping the display liveopen and the phone on; one one day, the phone held up until it hit around 10%, and then dropped sharply. But ordinary tasks shouldn’t drain this phone more than any other – for instance, watching a half-hour Netflix show sapped the battery by 3%, which is pretty typical.
We used the most powerful wall charger on hand, a 60W Asus brick, which recharged the battery to 46% in 30 minutes and 80% in an hour. Not bad, but not great compared to phones tuned to high-wattage recharging – the OnePlus 9, for instance, recharges twice as fast (76% in 30 minutes in our test).
Should I buy the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3?
Buy it if…
You want the most affordable flagship foldable
Well, the Z Flip 3 isn’t exactly affordable, but it is the cheapest of the new foldables on the market. If you want to try foldable phone tech out while spending as little as possible, get the Z Flip 3.
You want a pocketable phone
The Z Flip 3’s biggest perk is certainly that it’s packing flagship capability in a foldable package, and at a better price than ever.
You want a selfie machine
Let’s be real: no phone makes taking selfies easy... except for the Z Flip 3. This is the phone to get for selfies and video calls if your favorite subject is you.
Don’t buy it if…
You want a flagship phone with a telephoto lens
The Z Flip 3 doesn’t have a telephoto lens – and take it from us, the maximum zoom is blurry. If you want a phone that can shoot distant subjects, opt for the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra or another handset with a telescope zoom lens.
You want more screen with your foldable
You may hear ‘foldable’ and be surprised that the Z Flip 3 only has as much inner screen area as a typical phone – if you want twice the display real estate of your usual handset (and S Pen stylus support), pick up the new Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3.
You want an even cheaper clamshell foldable
Like the ‘flip phone’ format but want it even cheaper? You can get an older Z Flip, Z Flip 5G, or Motorola Razr for less than the Z Flip 3 costs at launch.
First reviewed: August 2021