Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G review: Refined, worth buying but with trade-offs

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Foldable devices aren’t a brand new category in the smartphone world, but they are still in infancy. OK, so maybe not totally infancy, but foldables are still not mainstream, and most users probably won’t be ready to commit to them just yet. But dammit, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G is the device that can certainly convince you that you need a foldable.

Estimated reading time: 14 minutes

Along with its bigger brother, the Galaxy Z Fold3, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G is the most refined foldable device to be introduced. I do not generally give my final thoughts at the start of a review, but if you can’t wait until the end, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G is ready for primetime use. Samsung has put effort and work into making this the year of the foldable, and the price for this device makes it a must-buy and try.

That said, there are still some things to consider before jumping on board the foldable bandwagon. You will have to compromise some things, but in our opinion, the pros outweigh the cons, and using the Samsung Z Flip3 5G was the most fun we’ve had with a smartphone in a very long time.

While this foldable has its misses, its hits are what make this our Editor’s Choice for a foldable device in 2021. Read on for our full review of the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G, the disruptor of the smartphone world.

Specifications

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G has the following features and specifications:

  • Display:
    • Size: 6.7 inches (measured diagonally from corner to corner)
    • Resolution: 1080 x 2460 pixels 426 ppi
    • Aspect Ratio: 20:9
    • Type: Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 120Hz, HDR10+, 1200 nits (peak)
    • Cover Glass: Gorilla Glass Victus
    • Cover Display: Super AMOLED, 1.9 inches, 260 x 512 pixels
  • Performance:
    • Operating System: Android 11
    • CPU: Qualcomm SM8350 Snapdragon 888 5G (5 nm)
    • GPU: Adreno 660
    • RAM: 8GB
    • Storage: 128GB/256GB
    • Battery: Li-Po 3300 mAh, non-removable
    • Charging:
      • Fast charging 15W
      • Fast wireless charging 10W
      • Reverse wireless charging 4.5W
  • Rear Camera:
    • Main:
      • 12 MP, f/1.8, 27mm (wide), 1/2.55″, 1.4µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS
      • 12 MP, f/2.2, 123˚ (ultrawide), 1.12µm
      • LED flash, HDR, panorama
      • Video: 4K@30/60fps, 1080p@60/240fps, 720p@960fps, HDR10+
  • Selfie Camera:
    • 10 MP, f/2.4, 26mm (wide), 1.22µm, HDR
    • Video: 4K@30fps
  • Audio:
    • Dual Stereo Speakers
    • 32-bit/384kHz audio
    • Tuned by AKG
  • Dimensions:
    • Unfolded: 166 x 72.2 x 6.9 mm
    • Folded: 86.4 x 72.2 x 15.9-17.1 mm
    • Weight: 183 g (6.46 oz)
    • Build: Plastic front, glass back (Gorilla Glass Victus), aluminum frame
  • Colors:
    • Phantom Black
    • Green
    • Lavender
    • Cream
    • White
    • Pink
    • Gray

What’s In The Box

  • Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G
  • Charging Cable
  • Documentation and Warranty

Design

Where do we even start with the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G? It freaking folds! I mean, there are a few other competitors out there like the Moro Razr, but Samsung has refined the recipe when it comes to foldable.

There are still a lot of unknowns, though. In contrast, many things have been improved, including the hinge and durability of the Galaxy Z Flip3 5G. We can’t help but wonder just how good those improvements will be in the long run.

The first few generations of the Flip suffered from ingress of dust and debris and damage to displays. Samsung says its team addressed those issues, but we think only time will tell if this is a long-term fix or a short-term one.

As of now, I agree that this is the best foldable line Samsung has designed. I have yet to feel as if dust has penetrated through the hinge and the movement of the hinge feels smooth and articulate. Not to mention that it is oddly satisfying to fold and unfold the Galaxy Z Flip3 5G.

When folded, you can see the hinge and the Samsung branding on the hinge. The rear cameras and the external display are the only other things you can see.

Folding the Galaxy Z Flip3 5G open presents you with its AMOLED display with a screen protector that you should not remove and the front-facing camera. Along the right side are the volume rocker and power/fingerprint sensor. Along the left side is the SIM card tray. There are also antennas and mics around the body of the Z Flip3 5G.

The bottom of the Galaxy Z Flip3 5G also houses the speaker and USB-C connector. The whole phone is slim when unfolded, which I’m sure they meant to try and keep it thinner when folded in half.

Overall, the Z Flip3 5G design isn’t too far off from the first two models. This generation is far more robust than the previous two generations, but I think one will need to be more careful with this device than, say, an S21. There are just many more fragile bits on this phone than you’d find on a typical smartphone. This is to be expected, though. I don’t think foldables are out of the woods just yet when it comes to fragility.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G
This is a Samsung AMOLED display, no doubt about that.

Display

The display is probably the single most delicate part of this smartphone. The previous two generations suffered from a soft outer layer that was prone to denting and scratches. Since its release, I’ve had the Galaxy Z Flip3 5G and have yet to experience any scratch or dents from fingernails.

So what about that crease? It’s there—no doubt about it. Samsung wants you to think that it’s hard to see, but you can see it. That said, it’s less evident than the previous generations and can be seen less at certain angles. As far as physically feeling the crease on the display, yes, you can feel it when scrolling or swiping around the screen. It takes some getting used to and feels strange at first, as if the screen is broken, but it doesn’t take long to acclimate to it.

The Galaxy Z Flip3 5G can also be used when it’s partially folded. For example, if you open YouTube and fold the phone, the video will stay on the top portion of the display while the user can scroll through the comments on the bottom half. Samsung calls this Flex Mode, and we’ll talk more about it in the software section.

The display is vibrant and very bright, with 1,200 nits of peak brightness. I found using this display in bright conditions, including sunlight, was very easy. Many screens will wash out once bright light hits them, making it hard to view what’s on display. I had no issue with the Galaxy Z Flip3 5G in bright conditions.

Since this is a Samsung AMOLED display, you can expect a display with punchy and vibrant colors. Blacks are also deep and very dark, making the whites even cleaner and crisper. Samsung included a 120Hz refresh rate on the Z Flip3 5G as well they should have.

Scrolling is snappy, and while I don’t think non-techie people will notice a huge difference, I think they will see something is different but not know what is different. Pinch to zoom, and all of the everyday gestures all work fantastically here.

Samsung also added the 1.9″ outer display, which gives you notifications and a few widgets. It’s OK, nothing brilliant but better than the previous generations. The widgets are nice to have for a glance at the time or weather, but they are limited. Having notifications available at a glance is also helpful. The cover display is handy but also not mind-blowing.

Finally, one the last thing. Fingerprints and smudges will be your life as this display picks them up without any apologies. I found myself cleaning the screen constantly. Whatever the material is on the front, it picks up the dirt quickly.

Overall, this is a Samsung display, and you get precisely what Samsung delivers in its displays, bright, vibrant, black, and snappy. The only real differentiator here is that the display folds. On that note, I have yet to see any damage from daily use, but we can only wait for a year or two to see how well this display will hold up in everyday use.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G Editors Choice Techaeris 2021
The cover display is handy

Software

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G comes with the regular Samsung software that every other Samsung phone comes with. Except for Flex Mode. We touched on Flex Mode in the last section, and while the idea is brilliant, sadly, Samsung does not have a ton of apps that natively take advantage of Flex Mode. Currently, these are the apps that are Flex Mode native:

  • Calendar
  • Camera
  • Google Duo
  • Gallery
  • Samsung Free
  • YouTube

Samsung does offer a way to force Flex Mode on any app, but that doesn’t always work so well. Some apps work OK when forced, but it feels exactly that way as if it’s forced. I’m not too deeply disappointed because I know that software always takes time to catch up to new devices like this. There are reports of Google making some tweaks to Android 12 for a better foldable experience. Of course, this has led to rumors of a possible Pixel Fold; we shall see about that.

As usual, Samsung is using its One UI skin over the top of Android, and as I have said in the past, I like it. The rest of the software is standard Samsung and Google fare. Wallpapers, themes, Always On Display, Android Auto, Quick Share, and Cover Screen.

Cover Screen is the only other real significant change to the software. Cover Screen allows you to change the clock style and widgets on the small 1.9″ cover display. It’s straightforward to use, and there aren’t a whole lot of options. But it is nice to be able to customize it to your liking.

Overall, the software is familiar here; there’s nothing too drastically changed. The big news is Flex Mode, and as it turns out, the big news may also be a big letdown for some users.

Performance

Some media criticized the Galaxy Z Flip3 5G for not having better specifications than the S21. Given that the S21 was released 8-months prior, some felt that the Z Flip3 5G should have had better internal hardware. I’m OK with what they chose to use here.

The Qualcomm SM8350 Snapdragon 888 5G CPU paired with the Adreno 660 GPU gives the Flip3 5G plenty of power. Users can easily do gaming on the Flip3 5G, and all of your essential everyday functions are snappy and responsive.

Samsung did opt only to give the Galaxy Z Flip3 5G only 8GB of RAM instead of 12/16GB like the S21 Ultra has. I don’t think this significantly impacts performance, but if you’re a heavy gamer or heavy multi-tasker, you may experience some performance issues. But I don’t think it’s going to be a huge issue for most.

Overall, this is a flagship Samsung phone with flagship specifications. It performs like a flagship phone, and most everyone should be pleased with the performance.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G
Speaker and USB-C

Speakers/Sound

The Galaxy Z Flip3 5G has stereo speakers tuned by AKG. There is one speaker in the top earpiece and one at the bottom edge. They sound just OK. There’s not a whole lot to write home about with these speakers. They work, but I wouldn’t rely on them to thoroughly enjoy a movie or good music.

They’ll work fine for spoken word, conference calls, speakerphone, and podcasts. Otherwise, use headphones or a Bluetooth speaker to get a good sound experience from a movie or music.

Camera

The cameras on the Z Flip3 5G are interesting because they’re not interesting. I’m not going to spend too much time on this part of the review because I believe Samsung didn’t put much into these cameras, and reports indicate they’re not as good as the ones on the S21 series. Some users have been disappointed by this, given that this is a flagship phone.

The cameras are just OK, they’re not horrible, but they’re not spectacular either. They get the job done, and they are better than midrange or budget smartphones cameras. They take excellent photos that I think most people will love. No, they’re not S21 or iPhone 13 quality, but it’s a very thin difference that I think most users won’t notice.

Galaxy Z Flip3 5G Camera Samples

The colors are bright and punchy, and photos taken in good lighting are always great. Low-light performance is OK, not the best, but Night Mode does a reasonably decent job.

I’m not a fan of using the back camera as a selfie camera when the Z Flip3 5G is folded. Samsung touted this in its presentation because you’re supposedly taking advantage of the higher megapixel camera for a selfie, but the result is an odd square-shaped aspect ratio. I did not find this appealing at all and only used that feature once or twice.

Overall, these cameras are fine and I didn’t find myself using them all that much. They’re not going to win any awards or outperform other flagship devices, but the cameras aren’t the point of this device. I guess that Samsung pulled back on the cameras to keep the price down under US$1K. Most people considering this device want it because it folds. Samsung put in cameras that are good enough but not outstanding. It’s a trade-off and one I think most people will be OK with.

Z Flip3 5G
This is the rear camera using the cover display as a viewfinder. It crops it square and I don’t like it.

Reception/Call Quality

Not much to say here; Bluetooth and cell reception were excellent, which should be the case for a flagship phone. The call quality was also excellent, and speaker calls were outstanding.

Battery Life

Battery life. Oh, battery life. The Galaxy Z Flip3 5G has a 3,300mAh battery which sometimes makes it through a whole day and other times doesn’t. It’s going to depend on what you’re doing with your phone on any given day.

Heavy gamers will get light use from the battery here, don’t expect too much from it. I don’t do a lot of serious gaming, so my use-case is much different from gamers.

I was able to get a full day of use from the battery ending my day at around 10%, and that is the lowest I’ve taken a smartphone battery in a long time. My day generally consists of YouTube videos, light gaming, emails, browsing, calls, texts, social media, and photo/video shoots.

I think Samsung opted for a smaller battery to keep the Galaxy Z Flip3 5G thin in both its unfolded and folded configurations. I get why they did this, but I think that some users may suffer from short battery life throughout the day.

Overall, the battery life isn’t perfect—especially when comparing to other flagship phones of the same performance and specifications. That said, some users can overlook the lack of battery life, given that they’re carrying a folding smartphone in their pocket.

Price/Value

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G starts at US$999, and that’s fantastic. One of the pain points of the previous generations was the price. Bringing the Z Flip3 5G under US$1K was smart on Samsung’s part, and that’s going to pique the interest of many users who refuse to pay over US$1K.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G
The Z Flip3 5G unfolded

Wrap Up

This was a complex review to write up and think about. Why? The Galaxy Z Flip3 5G is one of these new categories still in the testing phase. Yes, this is the 3rd generation, but it’s still not totally out of the woods regarding problems. At the same time, Samsung has made a lot of improvements to foldables in general. It will take at least the next year to see how these phones fare in actual-world use.

Still, I think that if you’re curious about foldable devices and feel the need to use one. The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G is the one you should buy. It’s refined enough that I believe it should hold up to daily use, and most people shouldn’t have any issues with it. Battery life may be a problem for some, but everything else is nearly identical to something like the S21 Ultra.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G is the best foldable device currently on the market for under US$1K worth even considering. It’s not for everyone, but I think it’s the breakthrough foldable of the year.

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Last Updated on October 16, 2021.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G

US$999+

Design

9.0/10

Display

9.0/10

Software

9.5/10

Performance

9.5/10

Speakers/Sound

9.0/10

Camera

9.0/10

Reception/Call Quality

9.5/10

Battery Life

9.0/10

Price/Value

9.0/10

Nailed it

  • The best designed foldable on the market, period.
  • Many improvements over previous generations
  • It freaking folds in half!
  • Insanely pocketable
  • Most all of the flagship features are here
  • Decent cameras
  • Great looking and bright display
  • Flagship Samsung performance
  • Great display in bright conditions
  • Cover display is handy, nice for quick glances at information

Needs work

  • Only decent cameras, still not up to par with the S21
  • There may still be reason to worry about dust in the hinge
  • Only time will tell how durable the display and crease are
  • Battery life isn't all that great
  • Speakers aren't as good as other flagships
  • Not enough Flex Mode apps
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G Editors Choice Techaeris 2021
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