Four generations later, the Fold has finally met its intended purpose.
Two years ago, Samsung set out to put the best of both worlds in the palm of your hand with the Fold in a way others wouldn’t even dare to imagine. Four generations later, the product has finally met its intended purpose. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 makes the best possible case yet for folding devices which is to say, it’s ‘safe’ to buy one now although if you’re someone who did not buy into the whole construct before, there’s very little that this review or even Samsung can do to change that.
The new Fold is based on the same basic principle as the last Fold, and the one(s) before it. You get two slabs of glass joined together by a metal hinge that combined give you access to two different screens, one of which folds vertically in the middle—a feat of engineering that’s still as awe-inspiring as it was in 2018, the first time Samsung had teased the concept during a developer conference. The end goal—to offer a big screen tablet in the body of a smartphone that’s somewhat pocketable too—remains the same as well.
But all this consistency also means that there’s still a visible gap at the top and bottom ends where it is folded which means, you’ve still got to be careful with it around dust and debris. There is still a visible crease where it folds and expectedly, the whole thing is still pretty thick, long, and tad difficult to get used to, at least initially. It still costs almost 1.5 lakhs so it doesn’t come cheap either although to be fair—and as we’ll find out later—it’s kind of remarkable how Samsung has managed to price it same as the Fold 2 despite bringing so many updates.
Build quality, durability
Those updates aren’t screamers exactly. They’re subtle. Hard to pin-point, unless you go peek at the spec sheet, or better yet, get your hands on one. I’ve been using one—as a daily driver no less—for over two weeks now and I think I have some idea of what Samsung was going for. Instead of going for any radical cosmetic changes—which could have meant going back to the drawing board again—it chose to get the house in order first. It was confident that it had a product worthy of your attention. All that it needed to do was iron out any potential durability-related loopholes and make the thing more useful through some new software chops to make you stay, if you will.
That’s the story of the Fold 3 in a nutshell. If the Fold 2 was all about method and intent, the Fold 3 is about precision. Samsung knew, the Fold isn’t for everybody—not yet anyway—so it went on and made sure those who did want to invest in one today, were really getting their money’s worth.
It’s only a hair thinner (6.4mm versus 6.9mm when unfolded) and lighter (271g vs 282g) than its predecessor but boy, what a difference that makes. You don’t see it. But you’d feel it. Samsung’s choice of build materials obviously has something to do with this. The Fold 3 uses copious amounts of Corning Gorilla Glass Victus. Its outer frame is made of armor aluminum—some form of fancy metal that Samsung seems to have conjured in-the-house—that’s apparently 10 percent stronger when compared with the last generation.
Even more importantly, Samsung has put all this to good use with flair, even some degree of authority—enough to somehow add an IPX8 water-resistance rating (up to 1.5m for up to 30 minutes) to a product like this. If you thought the Fold wasn’t a marvel already, well, this would surely change your mind. The Fold 3 is easily the nicest—and potentially the most durable—foldable that Samsung has ever made although just for the sake of nitpicking, I do wish it wasn’t so slippery. The fingerprint reader—which is on the side—could do with some repositioning too.
It’s what’s on the inside that really counts and I am happy to report that there are some reassuring changes here. And a new parlour trick. The hinge and magnets seem tighter. The folding—or flexible OLED—screen seems more tightly wound around on its axis too. As a result, everything from unfolding and snapping it shut to propping it up at an angle, feels more solid and—for the lack of a better word—more satisfying. As for the quality of the screen itself, Samsung claims it’s 80 percent more durable. You’re still advised against peeling off the outer plastic or even so much as scratching it with your finger nail—which could lead to dents—but there are four big upgrades to talk about.
1.) the touch experience on the Fold 3 feels much smoother,
2.) the pre-installed screen guard picks far less smudge and fingerprints,
3.) Samsung has added a layer of digitisers to it to enable S-Pen stylus support, and
4.) thrown in a clever—albeit a workaround— under-display camera for a more uninterrupted viewing experience.
All this does not necessarily guarantee anything in the real world. Samsung does not guarantee it either, which is probably why it flashes you a buttload of to-dos—and what not to do—the moment you boot it up for the first time. You’ve got to handle it with care, there’s just no getting around this fact.
Performance, software and user experience
Tread with a little caution and a world of possibilities await on the other side. To say that the Fold 3 is a productivity powerhouse will be an understatement. Last year’s Fold wasn’t too shabby or anything, but this year’s model, oh, it unlocks a whole new level. What a difference a year can make.
I’ll go so far as to say, Samsung’s rendition of Android for tablets beats Google to the punch in every sense of the word. The compact form factor and styling—plus its dual personality—mean it’s more value than a lot of Android tablets in the market today, including some made by Samsung itself. To be clear, the software used in the Fold 3—which is One UI 3.1.1—is not the same as what’s seen inside a full-blown tablet like the Galaxy Tab S7 FE. It is unique to the Fold.
Returning features like app continuity (that allows an app you open on the outer screen to automatically switch to the inner display when you unfold it), flex mode (that lets you run two apps simultaneously when in 90-degrees), multi-window (for running three apps together, resize and even pair them for quick launch later) and floating windows (that adds up to five more apps to the list) are now better—read faster—than ever.
They are joined by an all-new option to permanently dock a vertical row of frequently used apps that stay on regardless of where you are on the home screen/app drawer or any app that you’re using (unless you’re playing a full-screen video or using the camera).
It’s part of ‘Labs,’ a dedicated feature in settings that’s designed to bring experimental features first—and I am assuming exclusively—to Samsung’s foldables. You can use the same menu to force multi-window for all apps, and—this being my personal favourite—customise aspect ratios so apps like Instagram and Netflix—basically any app—can run in full-screen. Not every app will obviously play nice with this, but the ones that do work well. I am hoping Samsung will continue to add more interesting features to the list in future so fingers crossed there.
Expectedly, the Fold 3 supports DeX which means you can get some degree of desktop-like experience as well by hooking it up to a monitor wirelessly or with an HDMI or USB cable.
Rounding off the package is—as mentioned earlier—stylus support. Now the Fold 3 does not work with just about any stylus. Since the inner screen is ‘soft’ Samsung needed to build a custom stylus for it, one with a retractable tip. Oddly enough, you don’t get one in the box.
The most basic option—which is S Pen Fold Edition—costs Rs 3,999 but then you’d probably also want to get something like a Galaxy Z Fold 3 flip cover with pen to store it, which is another Rs 6,099. There is a second option—called S Pen Pro—that works with both the Fold 3 and other compatible Samsung phones, has a holding pouch and comes in at Rs 9,999. Clearly, the S-Pen isn’t the Fold 3’s killer feature. It’s optional which makes me hopeful that the Galaxy Note may return some day in the near future. Again, fingers crossed on this one.
But coming back to the Fold 3, the S Pen Fold Edition works surprisingly well for what it’s worth. You can’t really tell this was Samsung’s first attempt. There is a slight learning curve as this is no ordinary screen, but once you’re past that initial phase where you’re basically watching every stroke with a proverbial microscope, you’d end up being pleasantly surprised by how meticulously Samsung has made this thing. No detail is too small. It does not work with the outer screen though.
Speaking of which, the cover display is switching from a 60Hz to a dynamic 120Hz, keeping the size—which is 6.2-inch—same as last year. It’s slightly higher resolution as well. Even though these are welcome upgrades, there’s also no denying that this screen could be polarising for many people. Typing is a task on such a tall and narrow display and not all apps behave in the same way to its rather unusual 24.5:9 aspect ratio. That’s not to say it isn’t usable, it’s just that your mileage will vary.
As for the inner screen—which is same as last year: 7.6-inch QXGA (2208×1768 pixels) dynamic 120Hz with HDR10+ support—it’s an absolute delight for anything and everything you can possibly imagine. From reading e-books to editing Word documents, from streaming content to playing graphically demanding games, the Fold 3 can cover a lot of ground.
Under the hood, it has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip which is paired with 12GB of RAM and up to 512GB storage. The Fold 3 also puts that hardware to good use. The same is true about its dual speaker setup which gets plenty loud and offers good stereo separation. The haptics here are also some of the best in the business. The only notable exclusion is the headphone jack.
Battery capacity has taken a slight hit with the Fold 3 packing a smaller 4,400mAh battery (the Fold 2 had a 4,500mAh battery) which seems to be a compromise to keep its dimensions low. Depending on your use case, you can kill the Fold 3 anywhere from under four hours to close to a full working day. Whatever be the case, battery life is definitely not its strongest suit.
But what surprised me the most was Samsung’s choice of cameras. The Fold 3 has the same cameras—which is a combination of 12MP wide, 12MP ultrawide-angle, and another 12MP telephoto—as the Fold 2 except that the telephoto lens has Optical Image Stabilisation. The camera on the cover screen also stays the same, which is10MP. The one on the inner screen is in fact a downgrade at 4MP, its best use case being video calls. The Fold 3’s unique form factor means you can choose to use the primary setup to shoot just about anything and while the all-round quality is serviceable if you give it lots of light, it’s nowhere in the same ball park as the Galaxy S21 Ultra, a premium Samsung phone that’s way more affordable.
Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3?
With no new Galaxy Note happening this year, the onus falls on the Fold 3 to take the baton from the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and take charge as Samsung’s new high-end premium offering for the remainder of the year and the near future. It has big shoes to fill.
But more than anything, it’s a sign that Samsung stands firmly committed to foldables—as it searches for the next big thing—an unchartered category where it has first-mover advantage. Making them more affordable is the next step and the company seems to be doing a lot of permutations and combinations internally to bring the price down already.
The Fold 3 India price is proof. It starts at Rs 1,49,999 for a version with 12GB RAM and 256GB storage same as last year. A version with 512GB storage will set you back by Rs 1,57,999. There’s also the Galaxy Z Flip 3 launching alongside that starts lower at Rs 84,999. Given the track record of Samsung phones, it won’t be too long before we start seeing discounts and offers pouring in one of the gazillion online sales, hopefully bringing these prices down further.
Though its first few attempts at making a foldable were a miss, since last year’s Fold 2, Samsung has shown great deal of promise and the Fold 3 is a step in the right direction.
Samsung has done almost everything it could possibly have done and made a strong case for foldables this year, question is, will more people finally take the plunge.
Pros: It folds, Productivity powerhouse, S-Pen support
Cons: Cameras could be better, Average battery life, Under-display camera is an unnecessary gimmick, Pricey