Samsung’s Galaxy Fold phones are some of the best examples of how flexible display tech can change an entire class of devices, even in a category as established as smartphones. And now three years in, it feels like Samsung is really hitting its stride with the new Galaxy Z Fold 3.
At first glance, it might seem like not much has changed with the Z Fold 3, but some of the phone’s biggest upgrades are ones that don’t necessarily jump out when you’re looking at a spec sheet. The Z Fold 3's flexible main screen is the same size (7.6 inches), same refresh rate (120Hz), and same resolution (2208 x 1768) as its predecessor, but Samsung says the screen is now 80% more durable, due in large part to the Z Fold 3's new factory-installed screen protector.
On top of that, Samsung says that screen protector (which is now made from PET instead of a softer TPU material) is now even stickier, which should prevent the screen protector from peeling away and causing bubbles to form. That was my biggest issue with my Galaxy Z Fold 2, so this news is a relief.
But the screen upgrades don’t stop there. Samsung has also added a Wacom digitizer layer to the Z Fold 3's screen, which means Samsung’s top-spec foldable phone finally has official stylus support. Samsung already confirmed that we aren’t getting a new Galaxy Note this year, and while this move may not appease everyone, the ability to draw and sketch directly on a phone with a screen this big is more important than ever.
In fact, it’s so important Samsung made not one but two different styluses that work with the Z Fold 3. First, there’s the standard $50 S Pen Fold edition, which is like a slightly larger version of what you’d get with a Galaxy Note. It features a new nib designed to automatically retract if you press too hard, so as to protect the Z Fold 3's flexible screen from any sort of permanent damage. For heavy S Pen users, there’s also the $100 S Pen Pro, which is even longer and is compatible with all of Samsung’s other devices that support stylus input, with a special toggle switch on top that you can activate when using with the Z Fold 3.
Now in practice, drawing on the Z Fold3 is still a little nerve wracking, because even though Samsung says its screen is stronger than before, the display still has enough give to remind you that it’s not your typical glass panel. But once you get past that, the ability to jot notes and draw on what is effectively a small tablet screen just makes so much sense, even if there’s no built-in slot to store either the S Pen Fold edition or the S Pen Pro when not in use.
But what might be the biggest upgrades in terms of daily use are all the tweaks and improvements Samsung has made in terms of the Z Fold 3's durability. None of Samsung’s foldable phones so far have come with any sort of water resistance, so you felt like you had to handle the Z Fold with kid gloves. But the Z Fold 3 comes with an official IPX8 rating that can withstand full submersions in up to five feet of water for 30 minutes.
Around back, Samsung is using Corning’s new Gorilla Glass DX as lens covers to protect the Z Fold’s cameras from getting scratched. In front, the 6.2-inch cover screen is protected by Gorilla Glass Victus and gets a faster 120Hz refresh rate. Samsung has also redesigned the Z Fold 3's hinge with more bristles inside to keep dust and dirt out, while using a new alloy called Armor Aluminum, which is supposedly is the strongest type of aluminum Samsung has used on any of its phones yet.
The one new feature on the Z Fold 3 I’m still not entirely sold on yet is the new under-display camera that lives beneath the phone’s flexible screen. In theory, hiding the Z Fold 3's interior selfie camera underneath its display means there should be one less thing distracting you from that big ‘ole screen. However, because that camera punch-out is still quite visible on both dark and light backgrounds, I’m not sure the under-display lens is having its full desired effect.
The Z Fold 3's general design might not have changed that much, but the new phone feels stronger and even a tiny bit thinner—right down to a slightly smaller gap between its flexible display when closed. It’s like the difference between buying clothes off the rack and taking them to a tailor.
I’m also intrigued by the fact that Samsung is working with more companies, including Google and Microsoft, to create apps that are better optimized for foldable devices, with as many as 50 tweaked apps available at launch and more to come in the future. In the meantime, Samsung has also taken inspiration from PCs by adding a new taskbar to the Z Fold 3's UI, so it’s easier to open your favorite apps and get right to multitasking.
As you’d expect, the Z Fold 3 features upgraded flagship components, including a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip, 12GB of RAM, 256GB or 512GB of storage, a side-mounted fingerprint sensor, and triple rear cams (12-MP main, 12-MP ultra-wide, and 12-MP telephoto with a 2x optical zoom). The only thing that hasn’t been bumped up is the Z Fold 3's 4,400 mAh battery, which is actually 100 mAh smaller than last year.
Now let’s talk price, which is actually a little bit more affordable than with Folds past. The Fold 3 is $200 less than its predecessor, with a starting price of $1,800. That’s still prohibitively expensive by almost anyone’s standards, and I feel like in order to really spark mainstream adoption, Samsung needs to shoot for $1,500 or less. But for what remains a cutting-edge device, any price reductions are welcome developments, especially considering all the other new features on the Z Fold 3.
The Z Fold 3 seems to address nearly every issue or complaint I have about the Z Fold 2. It’s stronger, more durable, and it finally has real water resistance, which helps alleviate one of the biggest fears about owning a foldable phone. Then you add in native stylus support, and it feels like the Z Fold 3 has finally evolved into next-gen device that a lot of power users and Galaxy Note fans have been waiting for.
That means one of the few remaining drawbacks of the Z Fold 3 is its rear camera setup. The phone is more than capable of snapping pics and vids, but there’s a part of me that wishes Samsung had found a way to include the 5x optical zoom or the 108-MP main sensor you get on the S21 Ultra. Even on a phone that costs $1,800, it seems you can’t have it all—at least not yet.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 will be available in three colors (matte black, green, and silver), with preorders starting today. You’ll be able to buy a Fold 3 when it goes on sale Aug. 26.