Back in 2011, when Samsung launched the first Galaxy Note phablet (a portmanteau of phone and tablet, to denote the larger than normal 5.3-inch display then), the device wasn’t quite embraced by the masses but slowly and surely, the larger size became the industry norm, the phablet moniker was dropped and the Note became one of two flagship devices that the Korean chaebol launched every year, to great success (short of that explosive one).
So what does the company do to celebrate the phone’s decade-long success? Absolutely nothing. Instead, it is hedging its bet on the Galaxy Z Fold, another recent innovation that the tech giant is hoping to sell to the masses, after two earlier attempts. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G is a 7.6-inch foldable Android smartphone that can be folded in half, to reveal a smaller 6.2-inch secondary screen, otherwise known as the cover screen, providing two uses of the devices for different circumstances.
Like the Galaxy Note before, it is hailed as an innovative approach to having the best of a large screen, but this time, there is the option of having a normal phone as well. The crux of the technology lies in the folding flexible display, which has been improved since the first version. Yes, the folded crease on the larger gate fold display can be seen when the screen is off, but once the display is turned on, the crease is almost invisible and when you get the hang of it, there is plenty to love about the large screen.
Unfolded, the Z Fold 3 offers the largest and sharpest display ever seen on a phone, and there’s so much to benefit from the enhanced real estate. Once you get the font size right, web pages read like normal, without the need to scroll incessantly just to skim through an article. Editing documents or looking at photos without the need to rotate the display almost seems normal, and yes, the company has noted that a larger screen is more than just increasing font size and expecting consumers to be happy.
In the Gmail app, the Inbox you are familiar with on a computer is now present, with open emails opened on the right of the display, with a list of recently received emails charted on the left-hand side. This minimises the need to get in and out of a message to search for something as you would on a normal phone.
The catch is that the phone, or rather, software doesn’t always register that you’re on a larger display, unless you rotate the device. Normally on Android, this rotation indicates that you’re viewing the screen horizontally. Since this is a square display when unfolded, it’s an interesting quirk of needing to rotate a square before a larger display is detected.
But rotate you will because there are incredible benefits to the big screen, especially when playing games. With role-playing games, where the screen is filled with text and information, the Z Fold 3 offers a new way of immersion. When playing board games, such as Ticket To Ride or Carcassonne, the small text is no longer an annoyance simply because there is enough real estate, akin to moving from a CRT TV to a flatscreen.
And watching YouTube is an interesting experience, as the top half of the screen houses the video, while the bottom half holds the comments. Rotate and fold, and you have a standing device that props the top half for your viewing pleasure. Blow it up to full screen, and you still get a semblance of a full video playing, albeit in a slightly distorted manner.
You get to see more, enjoy more, and experience more, and the smoothness is enhanced by the 120Hz display. The cover display, while smaller than the main one, is no slouch either, and you can still use it effectively to send Telegram messages or shoot off short emails. Of course, a 6.2-inch might not seem much smaller than a 7.6-inch, but the cover display is also much narrower, literally half that of the open display, so any long form typing will feel somewhat constricting. The benefit is that you can easily unfold the device to the same app and page you’re at, to continue the flow of activity without skipping a beat.
The company has also refined certain aspects of this current model, to benefit users. Anyone used to, but still despises the camera notch on the front of displays, will appreciate the under display camera on the Z Fold 3. With the screen off, you can see a small circle on the top middle of the right-hand screen, and once the display is on, you see a fuzz over the same circle, but gone is the irregular shape that indicates a camera housing where the screen should be.
That said, the front camera isn’t anything to shout about. It’s a 4MP needed for making front video calls if you need the real estate, but otherwise, fold the device and go with the 10MP cover camera instead. It’s the three 12MP rear cameras that you would be using – the Ultra-wide, Wide-angle and Telephoto. These specs aren’t as amazing as the 108MP on this year’s Galaxy S21 Ultra or the 64MP on the S21+, but they get the work done.
Powered by the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5nm 64-bit octa-core processor, 12GB of RAM and the choice of either 256GB or 512GB in storage capacity, the Z Fold 3 is zippy in performance, and encased in a soli chassis. Like the Z Flip 3, it’s not easy to unfold the device with one hand, and it’s risky, given the cumbersome 128.1 x 158.2 x 6.4mm dimensions of the device. When folded, things are more manageable at 67.1 x 158.2 x 16.0mm, but that 1.6cm of thickness isn’t uniform as there’s a slight gap on one side. On its own, it doesn’t mean much, but design wise, there is something jarring about a fold that isn’t uniform, a camera module that isn’t flushed with the phone’s body, and an under camera module that provides a tiny disturbance when viewing things in full screen.
Battery-wise, the 4,400 mAh battery is also slightly disappointing in that it wasn’t built to support the display of this size. It’s already smaller than the 4,500 one on the previous Z Fold 2, so even if you use it liberally, there is no escaping the less than eight-hour battery life, before you need to plug it to a power source. Is there an option to increase performance by dialing back on the use of the larger screen? Definitely, but that kind of defeats the purpose of buying a large phone.
Another factor that will prevent the masses from picking this up is likely the price. At $2,398 for the 256GB model and $2,548 for the 512GB version, it might be cheaper than the predecessor, but it’s still a hefty investment for a phone that will last up to two years, before you need to naturally upgrade to a better device. Already, Android phones have a smaller resale value compared to Apple, and a high price point on a flagship device might seem flashy, but it’s also incredibly prohibitive.
Is the Z Fold 3 a powerful device that has its uses? Definitely. Premium in its built with plenty of new features that sets the tone for a new way to interact with a large screen device that is not a tablet, flexible displays offer a clear distinction in what sets it apart from other devices. The still unanswered question though, is with the flexibility itself. Having seen earlier models of the Fold and Flip wear out its hinge after prolonged use, this flaw that reveals itself only at a later stage remains the single prohibitive reason against embracing foldable screens.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
While the Galaxy Z Fold 3 offers some great features, it’s still a test device that’s part experimental at this stage. The price point of S$2,398 (256GB) and $2,548 (512GB) is a huge undertaking for most people, and unless the technology provides an assurance of extended usability, or if the price falls below to something more mass market, the Z Fold 3 is the concept sports car you would love to own, but it’s more practical to buy a regular sedan instead.
Aesthetics - 9/10
Build Quality - 8.5/10
Performance - 8/10
Value - 8/10
Geek Satisfaction - 8/10