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The Galaxy Z Flip 3 — one of Samsung’s new foldable offerings — is the company’s latest attempt to bring foldable smartphones into the mainstream.

The compact device, which folds open into a full-size smartphone, boasts the latest screen tech, a modern processor that makes software glide, a dependable set of camera lenses and a modern design. What’s more, Samsung priced the phone at the relatively standard $999, one of the few foldables in line with other high-end offerings. But does all this add up to a device that brings foldables out of novelty limbo and into the realm of everyday use?

A foldable phone without compromises

The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is ultimately a normal smartphone that just happens to fold with critical features accounted for. It's the first foldable we can safely recommend, but there isn't a crazy feature begging you to run out and get it.

The who, what and how

Who this is for: The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is ideal for someone who’s been considering getting a foldable but was waiting for a sturdier, speedier option that rivals the likes of iPhone and Galaxy devices.

What you need to know: The only two major compromises with the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is no telephoto lens and a battery that performs below par compared with other high-end devices. But, from what we could glean from our testing, Samsung fixed the major issues with previous foldables, namely a premium build and vibrant display that are in line with other $999 smartphones.

How this compares: In terms of direct competition with the Motorola Razr and the previous Z Flip, the third generation is more durable with a stronger build and screen that doesn’t lead you down a road of concerns. Whereas previous foldables didn’t feel secure in the hand or made audible creaking sounds in normal operation, the Z Flip 3 is ultimately a normal smartphone that just happens to fold. Still, those who want the ultimate camera setup are likely better served by the iPhone 12 Pro or Galaxy S21 since those feature a telephoto lens. If you have an iPhone, the Z Flip 3 isn’t going to move the needle, as, aside from the foldable nature, there’s no real upside. And if you want the ultimate Android phone, you’re better served with an S21 Ultra or Note 20 Ultra.

Improved durability and a refined design

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The third-generation Z Flip features a refined design highlighted by an Armor Aluminum build, which combines aluminum and other metals. With that new build, Samsung has veered into more muted color options rather than flashy ones that we’ve seen on previous devices. Our cream Z Flip 3 is much tamer than the Mirror Purple Z Flip.

The rear of the Galaxy Z Flip 3, at least the glass portions, is protected with a layer of Corning Gorilla Glass Victus, which protects against drops and scratches. We dropped the Z Flip a few times on surfaces like grass, carpet and hardwood without any issues. And the most significant piece of refinement: water resistance — specifically an IPX8 water resistance that can handle submersion in up to a meter of water for up to 30 minutes. It’s impressive, though we’ll note this doesn’t carry a dust resistance, which is arguably more critical with the hinge. But you can indeed get the Z Flip 3 wet — we dunked it a few times into a bucket of water and used it outside in a drizzle without harming the device.

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When unfolded, the Z Flip 3 feels as sturdy as any normal-size smartphone — iPhone 12 or Galaxy S21 included — and there isn’t any extra flex or bend. It’s a significantly beefed-up design with stronger materials, but it still weighs in at 183 grams.

Samsung is still using its hideaway hinge. When closed, you’ll see it as the metal band with Samsung etched into the top of the device. As you open the device, the hinge gets covered by the two main halves of the Z Flip 3. The Z Flip 3 is still a bit more difficult to open with just one hand, and the smooth finish doesn’t help a ton in this area. There is still a crease in the display — you’ll feel it when using the phone, but we’ll touch on that more below.

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A more useful cover screen and an expansive smooth main display

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The cover screen on the original Z Flip was a gimmick at just 1.1 inches. It could act as a stock ticker to present your notifications or quickly show the time — but it proved essentially useless.

With the Z Flip 3, Samsung made some nominal improvements. The screen is nearly four times larger and now has a date and time display — it can match your Galaxy Watch 4 or rotate through a series of animals. A swipe from left to right pulls up your notifications, which you can now scroll through and open to read, but it pushes you to open the Z Flip to complete an action like replying.

Swiping from the right to the left lets you walk through different widgets. You can customize some of these, but it’s just a selection of Samsung experiences, and they’re not opening it to third parties just yet. You can control media playback (and yes, this works with a service like Spotify), see the weather, start a timer, see quick stats from health and view your calendar, among others. While it does let you peek at a notification with ease or without fully engaging the phone, it’s kind of irritating that you can’t respond right back on that screen. Still, though, it’s bite-size doses of information with some level of functionality.

The screen’s gimmicky but helpful function as a viewfinder for selfies is still here, and you can swipe up or down to switch between wide and ultrawide, or even right to left for video. It’s neat, but a 1.9-inch viewfinder still shrinks the experience. The better use case with the cover screen is when you take a photo or video with the phone folded open, as the person you’re shooting can see the framing in the mini screen.

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Folding open the Z Flip 3 reveals the primary 6.7-inch Infinity Flex Display, which is vibrant with colors and heavy with details on any given screen. Taking in content like the latest episode of “What If…?” on Disney+ takes advantage of the full color spectrum and has some fast-paced action sequences.

The Z Flip 3 5G features a 120 Hz refresh rate display, which is pretty much the new standard — except for Apple that sticks to 60 Hz. This spec speaks to how many times in a second the screen can refresh itself, and with this turned on the screen feels buttery smooth. Page scrolling, watching content or playing games feels a bit more natural.

The hinge creates a crease that lives right in the center of the display — and you will feel it when scrolling. By no means the end of the world, but it is something to know when opting for a foldable.

In terms of actual usage, day in and day out, the Z Flip 3’s 6.7-inch display is really terrific. It’s also on par with other flagships at the $999 price point in terms of quality and results. The screen here is not entirely made of glass, though — it’s a layer and Samsung’s Ultra Thin Glass technology. The actual final layer is plastic, and it feels similar to a plastic screen protector on top of a normal glass display. But we didn’t cause any scratches or issues to the display in our testing either.

Samsung’s flexing Android

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The Z Flip 3 is all about the return of a clamshell that opens into a modern smartphone. And like a full-size smartphone, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is running Android 11 with a Samsung user interface on top. A Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor powers it with 8GB of RAM, the same setup as the Galaxy S21. It’s a flagship in every right in this regard.

We never felt the device stutter or slow down on the main screen, even with some intense tasks. The Z Flip 3 feels as fast as other leading smartphones and likely will continue that support into the future. Samsung also promises three years of Android updates with this device, stretching the value equation further.

And Samsung’s version of Android here is pretty familiar. You get the classic clock widget on the main screen, a bevy of preloaded apps and the ability to use the Edge bar. Swiping on or tapping the small gray bar that hovers on the right side of the display brings up quick access to core apps and setups. The latter lets you use multi-window to place an app like YouTube on the bottom for playback and a web browser on the top. It’s a neat trick and lets you multitask on the Z Flip 3.

The other key affordance to the Z Flip 3 is Flex Mode, in which you prop the phone at a 90-degree angle and it will stick there. With Samsung Labs turned on in any setting, any app can make use of this by leaving controls on the bottom half, which is flat, and the playback or media at the top screen faces you. It works great for an app like YouTube, as you can use playback on top and view details or comments on the bottom. With Messages, your conversation is on the top and your keyboard is on the bottom. It’s neat, but we’d like to see more applications natively adopt this.

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Battery life, on the other hand, might have you reaching for a charger midday. The two cells, which add up to a 3,300mAh battery, drained pretty quickly so that we couldn’t get a full day of use out of the Z Flip 3. You’ll need to plug it in for a quick charge or lay it on a wireless charging pad. Lighter days with less interaction could let us stretch the battery life a bit more. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 does support fast charging through a brick, but you’ll need to bring your own.

As the full name suggests, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G does support 5G connectivity. And the good news is Samsung is supporting Sub-6 and mmWave networks with the Z Flip 3. These two bands are the leading standards in the United States. While harder to find, mmWave delivers ultra-fast speeds. When testing using a Verizon SIM and in direct line of sight with a mmWave cell site in NYC, we hit speeds close to 1,000 MBps on the Z Flip 3. That crushes 4G LTE, which hovers closer to 100 MBps or 200 MBps.

You’re more likely to have Sub-6 5G in your region, but this merely adds more capacity and not the flashy speeds. If you have either band near you, you’ll be able to tap into it right now. Otherwise, it’s a method of future-proofing your investment in the Z Flip 3.

2 great cameras

We’ll address the elephant in the room: These cameras perform on par with the Pixel 5, iPhone 12 or Galaxy S21. The lenses included are:

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12-megapixel wide camera: This wide lens is handy for portrait shots and does a good job of accurately capturing a scene. We didn’t experience any significant color skewing. This lens features optical image stabilization for less blurry shots as well.

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12-megapixel ultrawide camera: The ultrawide lets you capture more in any given shot and is an entertaining way to frame a building or whatever you might be capturing. It performed quite well in our testing.

As a whole, the Z Flip 3 captured some nice images. Photos of our poodle, Georgia, or Bernadoodle, Charlie, picked up the individual hairs with relative ease and didn’t overtly smooth the shot. Similarly, natural landscapes didn’t look skewed and packed in a lot of detail. Portrait Mode performed strong here, with the Z Flip 3 correctly picking up hairlines and sensing the depth. You can see a full gallery of our shots below.

The one lens we’re missing here is telephoto, and for $999, we would have liked to see a physical optical zoom option here. Lastly, the internal 10-megapixel selfie camera does an excellent job. Know that it’s not an ultrawide lens, though, so it can be harder to squeeze quite a few people into the shot. Still, though, better details than the under-display 4-megapixel camera on the Z Fold 3.

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Bottom line

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Between the larger — and more functional — cover screen, water resistance, smooth internal display and more refined design, there’s a lot to like about the Z Flip 3. Has it gone mainstream? Well, yes, in the sense that we can safely recommend it for someone who wants a folding smartphone.

But there isn’t a reason to rush out and switch to a folding smartphone as of yet. Yes, Flex Mode is neat, but not every app supports it natively. It’s also not a must-have. The compact nature of the device is more of an appeal, and if you’re tired of these oversized smartphones not fitting in your pockets or being a chore to carry, know that you’re not sacrificing much by opting for the Z Flip 3.

You’re missing out on a third camera lens and all-day battery life. And that’s the achievement here; opting for the Galaxy Z Flip 3 doesn’t mean you’re sacrificing anything you’d expect on a smartphone. You might even end up on top with more color options, two screens and a conversation starter.

Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip 3 starts shipping on Aug. 26 and is up for preorder now at $999.99.