We’ve gone through quite a frenzy of foldable smartphone long-term reviews recently over here at GSMArena towers, as we’ve already reviewed Oppo’s first entrant in the space, as well as Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip3. So now it’s time to go back to the roots of the foldable movement, and that can only mean one thing: turning our attention to the original line of mainstream foldables, which is, of course, Samsung’s Fold.
Now in its third iteration, the Fold is better than ever, but is it good enough to take over the world? Or is the ‘phone that unfolds into a small tablet’ form factor still too niche, still too undercooked, even as we look at it in 2022? Those are some of the questions that have guided us in creating this long-term review of Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold3.
This phone is not new anymore, having launched last August, so it’s had plenty of time to ‘bake’, as it were – any pesky software issues should have been ironed out, for example. So is the Fold3 the best Samsung smartphone you can buy right now? Or is the fact that it folds still inevitably leading to some compromises in performance, cameras, or battery life?
If you join us over the next few pages of this review, we’ll try and find out, as always, by putting a more subjective lens on things – if you’re only after the more objective numbers and such, our normal review will serve you very well. But numbers and repeatable tests never tell the whole story of what it’s actually like to live with a device day-in, and day-out, so that’s exactly what this long-term review is for.
We’ve used the Fold3 as our one and only smartphone for an extended period of time, trying to dive as deep as possible into what makes it tick and where it falls short of expectations so that we can bring you an assessment based on our experience with it, and not just cold hard numbers and facts.
With all that said, let’s find out together if foldables really are the future of mobile phones, or just a temporary fad that will inevitably morph into something else soon. And what better device to aid us in this journey than the latest incarnation of the one that started it all?
Design, build quality, handling
By this point, the Fold3’s overall appearance should only be shocking to people who’ve really lived under a rock in the past few years – or are so enamored with, say, the Apple ecosystem, that they never even peek across the aisle to see what competitors are doing. We’re sure such people do actually exist, but we’re assuming most of you know what a Galaxy Fold looks like, at least in broad strokes.
That said, it would perhaps be a bit much to call this a classic design already, after all, it’s only been a few years since the first Fold came out. Still, the Fold3 is definitely recognizable as a folding smartphone, with its chunky profile when closed, and it’s also not easily mistakable for anything other than a Samsung foldable phone. The Korean company is probably aware of this too, which might explain why it refrained from stamping its logo anywhere on the back of the phone.
There’s that one solitary Samsung wordmark on the hinge, and that’s it. We love the minimalist looks this enables and have to praise Samsung for its courage – after all, when the phone is opened, it has zero visible logos.
The back’s satin-like finish is something we still haven’t grown bored of; it’s just a joy to touch every single time – and it’s also among the most fingerprint-resistant glass coatings we’ve ever had the pleasure of using.
The frame is similarly fingerprint-proof, but the same can’t be said for the outer part of the hinge itself, which is glossier for some reason, and as such, will enjoy collecting your fingerprints all over. You win some, you lose some.
The camera island on the rear fits perfectly with the above theme, with its three identical circles for the sensors, and circular LED flash underneath, and distinct lack of any pointless embellishments or text surrounding it. It works very well with the overall design, and it’s one of the more understated camera islands we’ve seen. In our book, that’s a good thing. However, by looking at its elongated shape, you may have already realized that it does, in fact, make the phone wobble on desks when it’s closed, and you’re trying to tap on the screen.
This is much less of a problem with the phone opened because then the wobbling only occurs when you tap one small area in the bottom right. Of course, if you use a case of any sort, the equation changes. Oh, and speaking of cases, there’s no such thing provided by Samsung in the spartan box. You’ll have to buy your own. We can’t say we think it makes any sense for phones costing 10% of the Fold3’s price to have bundled cases (and chargers, for that matter) and this top-of-the-line offering not to, but that’s just the weird state of the mobile world right now.
There’s no getting around the Fold3’s heft. It’s chunky when closed, and it’s heavier than any non-folding smartphone, but both of these inconveniences kind of come with the territory, as they say. It needs to be thick to accommodate both parts of the device, and it needs to be heavy for the same reason. The very tall aspect ratio of the outer screen means handling the Fold3 when closed is a breeze – you can get a secure grip even without a case on. This is, in fact, one of the best things about the device, but that aspect ratio also has downsides, which we’ll address in the Display section of this review.
Overall, handling the Fold3 while closed is easy thanks to its narrow outer screen, although you inevitably feel the heft all over. When the device is opened, it really does feel like a small tablet, so the hefty feeling goes away. The internal screen is way bigger than the outer one, of course, but it’s still not so big as to always warrant two-hand usage. If you’re just scrolling, you can very easily get away with using the Fold3 one-handed even when it’s open, and that’s a plus in this reviewer’s opinion because it just allows more flexibility.
Speaking of flexibility, let’s address the hinge. First off, it does bring a lot of flexibility because it’s not a black-or-white open-or-shut affair but can be ‘paused’ in any number of intermediate places. That’s much appreciated, as it allows for some laptop-like use-cases, as well as serving as a makeshift stand of sorts – you can watch videos on the outer screen while it’s propped up by the hinge. This wasn’t the case for the Oppo Find N, and we sorely missed it indeed.
The weird aspect ratio of the outer screen does, however, mean that, depending on what you’re watching, you may have to pick between huge black bars or cropping so far into the video that you can barely tell what’s going on. Even so, we like that this feature is in here and that the hinge can do all this.
What we don’t like is that, when the phone is closed, the hinge is as far from ‘zero-gap’ as they come. We’re going to cut Samsung some slack for this generation of the Fold, though, as ‘zero-gap’ hinges started appearing in Chinese competitors after the Fold3 was already released. That said, the Fold4 simply has to have one in order to keep up with the times.
Anyway, the hinge feels sturdy, much more so than the Flip3’s – but then that may all be down to size. Similarly, when the phone is fully opened, it feels much more like a unitary device and not two separate parts like the Flip3 does. Again, we’re assuming the ratio of the size of the hinge to the size of the phone has something to do with this. And yet, the Oppo Find N actually feels 100% like a non-folding device when opened, and the Fold3 is not quite there. These are minute details, mind you, and ones that you aren’t likely to notice unless you’ve played extensively with more foldables than just this one.
The metal frame is rather slippery (if not nearly comparable to the worst offenders even among foldables – looking at you, Find N), which means opening up the phone is never 100% a breeze. It’s actually easier to open it up than the Flip3 for whatever reason, and much easier than the Find N, so of our current sampling of long-term reviewed foldables, it fares the best, even though there’s definitely still room for improvement there.
Since this is a foldable device and is thus a bit more fragile than normal phones, you may want to be attentive when you try to unfold it, because there is always a non-zero chance it could slip from your hands while you’re doing that.
The Galaxy Z Fold3 has two speakers, one on the top and one on the bottom, and they’re probably among the best speakers ever put in a phone overall. They will neatly complement your media enjoyment on the Fold3. They sound great, although they’re not the best for bass. Then again, since this is a phone and they have to work within such size constraints, even if they were a tiny bit better in that department, bass heads would definitely still need an external speaker or headphones, in all honesty. But these are perfectly passable for anything involving voice and musical genres that don’t rely a whole lot on the low-end.
The speakers also get plenty loud; they are, in fact, among the loudest we’ve ever heard on a phone that was reviewed long-term. This means that, while indoors, we never felt the need to bring the phone closer to our ears to hear what was going on – the top volume was always sufficient.
The situation understandably changes completely the moment you step outside, but that’s just physics for you – there’s only so much tiny speakers can do to cover the world around you with their sound. But for tiny phone speakers, these are definitely impressive.
The vibration motor is a similar story. While probably not the best we’ve ever encountered, it’s very, very close. It has a lot of oomph and is one of those which you can feel but also hear – especially if the phone is resting on a hard surface. Now some people don’t like this, but we absolutely love it.
There’s a lot of ‘depth’ to the vibrations too, and of course, you can play with various patterns for various scenarios to adjust everything to your liking – this is a Samsung after all, and Samsungs are nothing if not customizable. We still wish the UI would use gentle ‘nudge’-like vibrations more often, like MIUI does, but that’s a minor point and doesn’t actually have anything to do with the vibration motor itself. That part is definitely top notch in this phone.
The fingerprint sensor is side-mounted, and it ties the Galaxy Z Flip3’s for the most accurate side-mounted one we’ve ever used. And yet – for some reason, this one is slower. It’s not so slow as to become annoying, but it’s edging dangerously close to that. Still, when it comes to accuracy, you won’t be disappointed. We’re happy to see side-mounted sensors finally catch up, accuracy-wise, to their rounded counterparts, which used to be mounted on phone’s backs (or in their Home buttons – remember those?).
It’s been a long time in the making, this, but now we can finally say that just because they’re thinner and have less finger surface area to scan doesn’t mean they can’t be equally as good. Hopefully, Samsung can do something about the speed of this sensor, if not through software updates for the Fold3, then through may be using a different hardware part in the upcoming Fold4. Again, don’t get us wrong – it’s not frustrating to use, but it’s almost there. Cutting it real close.
Of course, you also get face unlocking, but as usual in the Android world, it’s using the front-facing cameras only, so it’s way less secure than the fingerprint sensor.
The Fold3’s fingerprint sensor is also in the appropriate position, the one that will fit most righties for their thumb and most lefties for the index finger. That’s a welcome improvement compared to the Flip3, which has the sensor too high up on the right side of the frame, owing to the position of its hinge. There’s no such issue here, in fact, we might even go so far as to say the Fold3’s fingerprint sensor could actually be a tad too low for people with big hands. For most, it should be fine, however, and the volume rocker is above it on the same part of the frame – see, Oppo, it can be done!
Like on the Flip3, you can swipe from top to bottom over the scanner to bring down the notification area, and like on the Flip3 we tried this and then chose not to leave it on because we ended up triggering it a lot by accident when just holding the phone. If the response to this gesture would be a little less sensitive, then we’d definitely keep it on, as it is a great aid for one-handed use of the Fold3.
Refresh rate, brightness, quality, settings
As you may know, the Fold3 has two screens, and they’re both 120 Hz which is refreshing to see (excuse the pun). Unsurprisingly, the refresh rate is adaptive, and the software is doing a lot of adapting, but you wouldn’t necessarily notice that in day-to-day use. Everything feels like it’s at 120 Hz all the time, even though it’s not, and that’s a great achievement on Samsung’s part – it gets to save some battery while not sacrificing any perceived smoothness in operation. So kudos for that.
Both screens are high-quality, as you’d expect from any device costing this much, and they’re both legible outdoors on sunny days, but don’t expect too much here. Neither of these competes with the panel in a Galaxy S22 Ultra, for example, but the cover display does hold its own against anything that isn’t a current-gen flagship device, which is impressive. The internal, foldable screen trails it somewhat in brightness, which is to be expected since, you know, it folds! It is even usable outdoors if you don’t let the sun shine directly onto it. Brightness is not an area we’d say the Fold3 struggles in, for sure.
The same is true at the other end of the scale; when you are in pitch dark environments, the screens go dim enough so that they don’t sear your retinas. We never found ourselves wanting to go even dimmer, but we do have to note that adjusting the brightness slider at its leftmost extremity could have been smoother.
That said, the auto-brightness curve on the Fold3 was very good during our time with it, for both screens. We did find ourselves manually adjusting the brightness from time to time, but not so much so that it became a nuisance. For some reason, even in total darkness, the slider was antsy about going all the way down sometimes – but definitely not always.
Likewise, on cloudy days outdoors, we generally needed to pump up the brightness somewhat, but these were only minor adjustments as the built-in system worked well. Not among the best we’ve seen, but not very far from that either.
As usual with recent Samsung devices, you can play around with color settings. The standard two options return: Vivid is the default one and targets the DCI-P3 color space, while Natural is tuned to sRGB. Accuracy is good, especially in Natural mode, if not as good as on other high-end Samsung panels. The Vivid mode also comes with manual color sliders and color temperature adjustment for those who simply must tinker with everything in as manual a fashion as possible. Both screens have very similar color reproduction, which is quite the technical feat to pull off.
As on any modern smartphone, there’s a blue light filter on offer here too, which Samsung calls Eye comfort shield. It’s not as customizable as others we’ve seen, only letting you pick a schedule (or let it automatically adapt based on time of day), and choose the color temperature with a slider. That said, it does work, and it works well, so no complaints other than the lack of a black and white mode, or any textures, or a ‘light colors’ mode or anything like that. Weirdly enough, this is one area where other skins outshine Samsung’s in customizability. That’s not necessarily something we thought we’d ever get to write, but here we are.
Always On Display functionality is unsurprisingly also present on the Fold3, and you can pick from a selection of clocks and even add stickers, AR Emoji, Bitmoji, and images from the Gallery. That’s quite a bit of customizability on offer, and of course, you can also schedule the AOD to only turn on between set times, have it actually always on, or have it only show up when you tap the screen, or when you get a new notification.
Interestingly enough, you can even pick its orientation to be portrait or landscape, there’s a toggle for auto brightness, and you can have it show currently playing music information too. That’s… a lot, and in this regard, Samsung is definitely still Samsung, customizability being the name of the game here.
Now that the basics are out of the way regarding the displays and their settings, let’s turn our attention to what Samsung likes to call the Cover display, and we’ll probably just end up referring to the outer screen. This nicely covers (get it?) almost the entire half of the phone, which we appreciate. There’s an inherent lack of symmetry created by the presence of the hinge on the left – so the display ‘ends’ sooner on that side than it does on the right. This isn’t a big deal, even if you are prone to bouts of OCD from time to time.
The main issue with the cover display is actually the same trait that makes the phone very easy to hold with one hand when it’s closed – and that’s how tall the screen is. The aspect ratio is very far from anything we’d call mainstream, even Sony’s 21:9 displays are less tall than this one. That’s great in theory for scrolling through feed-heavy apps like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and the likes, but it creates a real problem when typing, because the keyboard is more cramped on this screen than on any other phone we’ve ever used.
Long story short: get ready for a lot of text corrections, as even autocorrect will struggle to interpret what you’re trying to write.
Throughout our time with the Fold3, we found that we’d need to manually go back and correct words about 60% of the time, with the other 40% being covered by a combination of accuracy and autocorrect doing its magic. This is obviously not ideal, especially if you don’t want to keep opening the phone up for typing.
For everything else, the tall aspect ratio does look weird, but you get used to it. Well, perhaps with one other exception, and that’s watching videos in landscape mode. It’s so wide that you either get stuck with huge black bars on both sides or, for apps that allow this (like YouTube) you can crop in so that the entire screen is covered but then you’re missing huge chunks of whatever is going on at the top and bottom. Neither solution really works very well in practice.
Funnily enough, if you only use the inner screen for watching stuff, you sort of run into a similar problem, but in reverse – while the outer display is too rectangular, the inner one is too square, so you’re going to have to do the same dance again – picking between black bars and a pretty substantive crop.
The solution to all this is kind of obvious – if the cover display would be wider, all of these issues would be mitigated somewhat. We don’t necessarily mean 16:9 wide, like Oppo did for the Find N (although maybe Samsung could explore that form factor too in the future), but even something like 21:9 would be an improvement. The 25:9 ratio that the Fold3 presents is just too narrow or too tall, depending on how you want to look at it.
This is one of those things that we immediately imagined would be problematic going into this review, and unfortunately, our expectations were confirmed. It’s not by any means a dealbreaker in our book, but it is a slight annoyance you’ll have to put up with every single day.
Main (folding) screen
And why would you want to put up with the cover display’s imperfections, you ask? Well, because the same phone also gives you a large folding screen that is still quite a sight to behold even today, years after the first Fold came out. The magic of unfolding the phone to reveal that inner screen still can’t be overstated, and as we mentioned above, the quality of the folding panel is very high.
That said, it’s not all roses. First off, while there is a layer of ultra-thin glass in the display assembly, what you’re actually touching day after day is a layer of plastic on top of that (don’t take it off though – that will ruin the display!). And while this one is nowhere near as cheap feeling and smudge-prone as the one in the Flip3, it’s still not great either – at least not compared to real glass, even glass from a glass screen protector. This is still one of the inevitable tradeoffs when going the foldable route, but we think there’s room for improvement here with future Samsung foldables. After all, the Oppo Find N has a top plastic layer that feels slightly better to the touch, so it can be done.
Like we said, you don’t get the same ‘cheap plastic screen protector’ feeling here that you get on the Flip3, but you will still constantly need to wipe your fingerprints off of it, and the contrast with the glass adorning the cover display is rather stark every single time you go from one to the other.
Also stark is the crease at the middle, and how pronounced it is. Not only can you definitely feel this one every time your finger reaches it, but you can also see it from almost every angle – and it has this annoying tendency to reflect glare at you too. That’s yet another aspect that Samsung can and definitely should fix for the next Fold, as Chinese companies have shown how you can have a crease that’s barely noticeable.
In what is becoming a theme of this review, things are actually better than they were in the Flip3, at least they are if you use the phone, when opened, in ‘portrait’ mode – where the crease is vertical. For most scroll-heavy apps, this means you can safely interact with the software without ever reaching the crease. Flip the phone over, though, so that it’s in ‘landscape’ (with the crease now being horizontal), and every single time you scroll you’ll feel it. Can you get used to this? Yes, no doubt about that, but it’s still a bit off putting even after a long time of use.
If you’re used to slab-type smartphones with their curved glass on the sides, the fact that the inner screen’s tiny bezels are somewhat raised may throw you at first, but we had no issues getting used to this – and this reviewer is actually a huge fan of curved displays, and this is the furthest away from that you can go. The ‘lip’ surrounding the screen is there to protect it of course, and it does a good job as far as we can tell. It feels sturdy too, like it’s part of the frame and not just an added plastic bit on top.
On the main, folding screen of the Fold3 sits an under-display camera, and we’ll just say this outright: it’s a gimmick. We don’t notice it in day-to-day use, but then again, we wouldn’t have noticed it if it was just a simple hole-punch cutout either. If you go searching for it, you’ll see it no matter under what conditions: with the screen off it’s probably most visible and looks the most like a regular punch-hole, but even with the screen on, if you pixel peep, you will see that the area of the screen that sits directly on top of the camera is way lower-res than the rest – and that’s necessary in order to let some light pass through.
So, if you were hoping for the under-display camera to stay magically hidden at all times – it doesn’t. If you feel like seeing it will impede your use of the phone in any way – don’t worry, it won’t. We do want to point out that the position of the camera is weird. We get why it can’t be centered (as it would need to sit on top of the hinge), but why not have it in either the left or right corner? It would’ve been more ‘invisible’ in practical experience over there with a classic hole-punch than it’s ever going to be in this position, nevermind all the fancy under-display shenanigans. Sometimes complicated solutions to simple problems are just that.
The Galaxy Z Fold3’s Snapdragon 888 chipset may not be Qualcomm’s latest and greatest anymore, but you’d be hard pressed to tell from using this device. Unless you’re a heavy-duty gamer or someone who runs benchmarks for a living all day, you can’t actually notice any difference in normal usage between the 888 and the newer Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. Even the aging 870 can play this game for most use cases, and you’d still not be able to figure out which is which in a blind test.
So don’t worry about performance; the Fold3 has plenty of that to deliver whenever you need it. Then again, the cooling at work here, given the folding case constraints, will definitely be inferior to any dedicated gaming phone’s – so if it’s gaming you’re after, you’re probably not looking at the Fold3 (or any other foldable, for that matter) anyway.
That said, it can of course, take casual gaming sessions without a hitch, but for everything more, you should be looking at proper top of the line devices that don’t fold, as well as those aforementioned gaming phones with their active cooling solutions and the likes.
For ‘normal people’, the Fold3 always feels like a top notch handset, and it never leaves you wanting in the performance department. It’s always fast, and the performance is very reliably delivered too.
When it comes to everyone’s favorite subjective assessment of smoothness, this is undoubtedly the smoothest Samsung we’ve ever tested for a long-term review. It’s very close to the Flip3 we’ve looked at previously, but manages to be ever so slightly smoother than that one. In fact, it’s getting hard to notice any smoothness delta between the Fold3 and any other top of the line device out there. This still doesn’t feel to us to be the smoothest model we’ve ever tested, but it’s incredibly close.
And we need to commend Samsung because only a couple or so years ago, its high-end smartphones were no match for competitors in terms of smoothness, exhibiting countless random lag and stutters throughout the UI. The company kept iterating its Android skin, One UI, and now, with One UI 4.1, it’s finally catching up to the champs. It definitely took some time, but we’re happy to see Samsung where it belongs – in the top tier when it comes to smoothness too, not just raw performance.
Battery life, charging
The Fold3 has been a solid one-day phone for us throughout our time with it, for our use case. Nothing more, but also nothing less, and that was refreshing to see because we didn’t know what to expect going into this review. The 4,400 mAh battery isn’t very big, for this day and age at least, but the phone’s inner screen is larger than any other in a mainstream form factor.
Thankfully, we could always finish one 12-16 hour day without the need for a midday top-up, but keep in mind that our days are spent primarily on Wi-Fi, so if you are out and about a lot and use mobile data more than we do (about an hour per day), especially in areas with bad signal, things will go downhill quickly.
The screen on times you can see in the screenshots above were achieved with Bluetooth always on and connected to TWS earbuds for around an hour or so per day for music or podcast listening, another hour or two of phone calls, and with location always on (with about 30 minutes or so of daily navigation using Waze or Google Maps).
Based on the cold hard numbers at work here, we didn’t expect the Fold3 to impress us with its battery life, and indeed it hasn’t. But it’s managed to turn up a very adequate performance given the capacity of the cell it has to work with. This phone is already chunky as it is, when closed, so we understand why Samsung didn’t think it a good idea to up the capacity further. Maybe it should look into that for the future, however, or better yet – do something about charging speeds.
Like all Samsungs, this too is laughably slow to charge compared to even $250 competitors right now, and it’s getting ridiculous. Normally here we’d whine about the fact that such an expensive phone ships without a charger, but given how slow that would be, maybe it doesn’t actually matter? Certain other Android makers have managed to charge batteries about as big as this one in around 35-45 minutes for a few years now, and yet the Fold3 needs one hour and 46 minutes. That’s just unacceptable in 2022, plain and simple.
The presence of wireless charging is welcome but also expected at this price, and of course, in true Samsung fashion, that’s very slow too – 11W compared to 15W on even Samsung’s mainstream flagships. Clearly, charging is the next area in which the Korean company needs to get its act together. So far, it’s managed to vastly improve software quality, as well as smoothness, so we’re confident that it has what it takes to overcome this newest obstacle too.
We’re up to One UI 4.1 these days, and as it presents itself on the Fold3, this is definitely, by far, the smoothest One UI yet. Scratch that – it’s the smoothest Samsung skin yet. But the qualifier is equally important: as it presents itself on the Fold3. Don’t take this section to mean you can buy a cheap A-series Samsung with One UI 4.1 and get the same smoothness – you won’t. For now, it seems like the company has primarily focused its smoothness enhancement efforts on its most expensive devices, and if you have to prioritize, you might as well prioritize the people who are spending the most money purchasing your products, no?
Anyway, let’s once again commend Samsung for how much it’s improved its update game in recent years. From being among the worst about updates, it’s now among the best, and possibly the best in the Android world.
You get four years of big Android updates and five years of security updates with a device such as the Fold3, and that’s unmatched by any company not called Apple or Google.
But it’s not just that promise – it’s the yearly improvement in how fast these big updates are being sent out too. And, perhaps most importantly of all, it’s the monthly cadence of security patches. While it’s still not as fixed a release schedule for these as Google has (first Monday of the month), in 99.9% of months, you get the current month’s update before the month is over. And a few times a year, you might even get next month’s update this month. So, in short – if you care about updates, be they big ones or small security ones, and you want a foldable phone, you only really have two options right now, and they’re both made by Samsung.
The Fold3’s One UI 4.1 skin based on Android 12 comes with all the features you’d expect in this day and age and all of the quirks, too – this is still Samsung software, and as such, there are some weird things in there. Like the fact that by default, you don’t see notifications on the lock screen, only app icons, as if it were the Always On Display.
Sure, you can change this behavior with a quick dive into Settings, since the name of the game for Samsung’s Android skins has always been customizability, but should you have to go and fix a problem the company itself created? This isn’t default Android behavior, after all, it’s default Samsung behavior.
Speaking of things that aren’t how Android generally does them, a long press on the power button is by default set to bring up Bixby, because Samsung still thinks more people would want to do that than see the power menu. So if you want to reboot or turn off the Fold3, you need to hit a key combo – and also know that you have to. Otherwise, it’s a quick trip down to Google to figure out what to do. Thankfully, this is also easily switchable back to the Android default, but maybe the Bixby experiment should finally end at some point? The Google Assistant is so clearly better (and not just compared to Bixby, but it’s arguably better than all other assistants) that it’s not even funny.
Of course, you can use the Google Assistant on the Fold3 too, no one’s stopping you; you just get Bixby too. And this is, of course, a theme. You have the Play Store, but there’s also the Galaxy Store. Oh, and Samsung still has a lot of other apps that it would very much like you to use instead of Google’s generally (but not always) superior options. One UI still feels like it’s hosting a battle for your attention between Samsung apps and Google apps, and this is quite ridiculous if you think about it. There are even “Samsung” and “Google” folders in the app drawer, just to drive the point home.
That brings us to the app drawer, which, aside from being weird by allowing folders, is also still not alphabetically sorted by default, so good luck quickly finding anything by scrolling. The scrolling itself is anachronistic since it’s horizontal when every other Android device maker is doing it vertically, which to us makes more sense since there’s continuity with the gesture to bring up the drawer – which is a swipe up. So it only feels natural then to keep scrolling in the same direction. Not to Samsung, though.
While Samsung’s feed to the left of the leftmost home screen is still alive, and now called Samsung Free, you do thankfully get an option to switch to the Google Discover feed – but again, you have two options, one from Google, one from Samsung. You can also just turn off both of them for what it’s worth. We like the Google Discover feed, and think Samsung Free is a pointless laggy mess, but you, of course, might disagree.
The most interesting feature of the launcher is its ability to either have different home screens on the two displays, or mimic the outer screen’s icons on the inner one. And this is done in a very smart way, so if you set things up so that you don’t have two separate home screen arrangements, when you open up the phone you’ll basically always see two home screens next to each other. This works incredibly well due to the tall aspect ratio of the cover display and the square aspect ratio of the foldable screen.
This is how we used the phone during our time with it for this long-term review, but if you want to have different home screens on each display, you can do that too – and this is the flexibility we can definitely get behind. It works well and feels like there’s much less wasted space on the inner display than what we saw in Oppo’s Find N, for example, where you’d get the exact same amount of icons inside that you had outside, with huge spaces in between them.
You can also pick which apps to continue using on the cover screen when you close your phone, but in a very clunky way. The setting is off by default for all apps, so you’re going to have to dive into Settings and set it to on for those you want to keep using in this way. But it’s a binary choice – once you set an app to On, every single time you close the phone, if you were using it on the inner display, you’ll then get it on the outer screen. The phone won’t lock, as it thinks you want to keep using said app.
We’ll be honest – Oppo’s way of going about this in the Find N makes much more sense to us. There when you close the screen having been using an app on the inner display, you get two options – either do nothing and the phone locks, or swipe up on the outer screen to keep using the app. This is easy and incredibly intuitive compared to Samsung forcing you to think long and hard about which apps you want to always pop up on the outer screen when you’re closing the phone vs. which apps you want to never do that.
Recent apps, gesture navigation, dark mode
The Recent apps display has, by default, recommended apps at the bottom, which an algorithm is presenting based on what the phone thinks you may be trying to get to. This is a very neat idea in theory, and it used to work incredibly well, but not so much anymore. We don’t really know what’s up with that – either our usage patterns have become very unpredictable, or the algorithm itself got rusty. We appreciate the fact that the app screenshots in this view scroll horizontally, and Samsung didn’t feel the need to go its own way here – instead of doing this the way practically everyone else is (aside from Xiaomi on some devices).
Gesture navigation is present and works well, and that’s all we can say about it. This has become a standard feature nowadays, and Samsung’s implementation in One UI 4.1 doesn’t necessarily stand out in any good or bad way. A dark mode is another feature you can definitely expect to get in this day and age, and so naturally, the Fold3 has one of those too. It’s not incredibly customizable, at least compared to what we’ve seen in other Android skins, but it is perfectly adequate and does the job well. You can schedule it manually to turn on and off when you want it to or have it automagically come on at sunset and then go away at sunrise if that’s more your thing.
Since One UI 4.1 is based on Android 12, it has the system which can change your UI’s colors based on your chosen wallpaper, and obviously, Samsung found a way to make this even more customizable by giving you a few color options you can pick from – one’s the default, but if that doesn’t float your boat, there are others to choose too.
Unlike on Pixels where the magic happens automatically, here you do actually get an additional step: pick your new wallpaper, and then select which colors you want applied.
While we’re on the topic of wallpapers, let’s just mention that Samsung’s Galaxy Store has a huge range of them on offer for you if the built-in ones seem lacking, and the same goes for themes. We like the Dynamic Lock screen service, which basically shows you a different lock screen wallpaper every time you unlock the phone, allowing you to pick up to five categories of images and then magically shuffling them for you. This is great, but why not have a similar system for home screen wallpapers? We’re still baffled as to why no Android device maker has anything like that on offer (with Google being the sole exception).
Multitasking, S Pen
Since the Fold3 can be viewed as a small tablet when it’s opened, split-screen multitasking becomes a much more important feature here than it is in a mainstream slab phone. But it’s not just split-screen multitasking – the UI is split-screen too, and in pure Samsung fashion, while this is understandably the default, you can turn it off so that every part of the UI and every app behaves like it’s on a weird huge square phone and not a small square tablet.
We kept the default “Multi view” on as we think you should too, it just takes advantage of the inner screen’s aspect ratio in a much more logical way, presenting you with what we’d call categories to the left, and their contents to the right.
Now moving back to multitasking – you have the split-screen variety, of course, but also pop-up view, and you can even force these onto all apps (as some, by default, don’t support both or either), through a Labs setting. To make multitasking even better, the Labs section also houses a way to go into Full screen mode while in split-screen view, thus hiding the status and navigation bars to allow more space for the apps’ UIs.
Depending on your specific multitasking use case, this could come in very handy, or it might just add unneeded hassle, since to see the status bar, you’d then need to swipe down from the top, and if you use the navigation bar and not gestures, you’ll have to swipe up from the bottom to make that visible every single time. Still, it’s a good option to have, we reckon.
The Fold3 is the first foldable smartphone to support a stylus, the S Pen in this case, but unfortunately, we didn’t have an S Pen to test during our time with the handset. And since long-term reviews are all about our personal experience using these devices, and we haven’t used the Fold3 with an S Pen, we can’t really say anything about what that’s like. We would just add here that stylus use on smartphones is still a very niche thing, even if those who love using styluses on smartphones really love it.
Camera image quality
The Galaxy Z Fold3 has three cameras on its back, and they’re the ones you’d want: a main/wide, an ultrawide, and a telephoto. That said, neither of them is really the best available out there, but that isn’t meant to imply that the images they produce are bad. They’re not, though cameras are clearly one of the areas in which Samsung tried to save as much space as possible, so as to not make the phone even bigger than it already is.
As such, the sensors in these cameras are pretty small compared to what we see on flagships lately, which is why you shouldn’t expect them to compete head-on in terms of image quality with said flagships. And yet, in our experience, what the Fold3’s cameras deliver isn’t a mid-range experience, but more. Think of these like upper-midrange, almost-flagship but not quite, and you’ll get the idea.
The main shooter delivers good images during daytime, which isn’t really that surprising since it’s the same one previously seen in the likes of the Galaxy S20. However, the Fold3’s images are slightly soft sometimes and can get a tad noisy in certain environments, especially in skies. The flip side of that coin is that the reason for this seems to be less aggressive sharpening and noise suppression, which makes for an overall more natural look.
Not natural per se, this is still a Samsung, but more so than you might expect. Colors are a similar story: they still pop, but ever so slightly less than the Korean company has gotten us used to. Detail levels are good generally, only lacking when meeting intricate patterns. There is also a tendency to overexpose sometimes, again slightly.
These images, while a bit different from what we expected, still definitely exhibit the trademark Samsung look, which seems to be appealing to a lot of people, especially when sharing on social media is involved. Samsung clearly knows what it’s doing, giving people what they appear to prefer even if purists will moan and whine.
The ultrawide produces good images too during the day, although there is a quality delta when comparing them to the main shooter. We’ve definitely seen better daytime ultrawide shots from other phones, but these aren’t bad in any specific way – they’re just good, and nothing more. If you look closely enough, you can see general ultrawide problems like overall softness and slightly lacking detail levels and dynamic range.
Once again, the images are a bit less sharp than we expected them to be, but color consistency compared to the main camera is on point, and needs to be praised because this is somehow still an issue even on devices that have overall better sensors. Colors pop a little but maybe less than you’d think. Sadly the ultrawide doesn’t have autofocus, which means it can’t pull double-duty as a macro camera.
The telephoto camera shoots in a native zoom level of about 2x, which is fine but far from anything a periscope would achieve. Insert note about how a periscope zoom lens would have taken up much more space inside the phone, but then again, how come some of Samsung’s Chinese competitors can throw a periscope inside their foldables without them being too unwieldy? That’s a mystery for another day.
The images out of the tele are good too, if not amazing or the best we’ve ever seen (spot a trend here?). They have a good dynamic range and are generally devoid of too much noise (even if it does tend to creep in from time to time). Colors are once again consistent with what the other cameras deliver, and we were pleased with these shots – they are closer in quality to what the main snapper delivers than what the ultrawide can manage.
At night, the main sensor produces shots with good levels of detail and good sharpness too, without going overboard, though sometimes perhaps lacking a bit. Noise exists, but it’s generally kept well in check, and overall these are very nice nighttime images.
If you want them to get even better, then employ the manual Night Mode. There’s a sort of half-Night Mode sometimes automatically triggering when you use the Auto mode, but the manual one goes further in restoring highlights, especially from light fixtures, and it also brings up the shadows nicely. There’s also some much needed extra sharpness on offer. There isn’t a specific capture time for Night Mode, as this automatically varies based on the amount of ambient light around you. But we never found it to take so long that we couldn’t hold the phone still.
The ultrawide isn’t great at night, clearly delivering the worst results of the trio. It’s not horrible – we’ve definitely seen much worse – but produces dark shots that are soft (and especially so near the edges), while light sources are very blown-out. Not all of the pictures you capture with this camera at night will be usable, let’s put it like that.
Thankfully though, Night Mode improves things visibly, fixing those light sources, lifting shadows, and even bringing forth some more details. There’s also a welcome boost in sharpness (since we were starting off overly soft anyway). All that said, these images are still worse than the auto mode shots from the main camera.
As with practically all phones, it takes more to capture Night Mode shots with the ultrawide than with the main camera, so while we recommend going the Night Mode route if you can, that is something you need to keep in mind. Shot-to-shot times aren’t great, and since there’s no OIS on the ultrawide either, if you have shaky hands, things may get murky.
The telephoto’s night shots are, unsurprisingly, noisier than the daytime snaps were. Some sharpening artifacts can also make their way into your images, but you do get reasonable amounts of detail and generally well-balanced exposures with decent (but not outstanding) handling of light sources.
Once again, Night Mode improves things, trying (but not always fully succeeding) to restore light-source-related highlights, and lighting up shadows a bit too. As on both of the other cameras, it brings some extra sharpness as well. Overall we think we’d recommend using Night Mode for nighttime shots by default no matter which camera you use, that is if you have the time (and stable hands) for it.
While you can use the main cameras to capture selfies thanks to the Fold3’s unique folding nature, and you can also use the under-display camera on the inner screen for the same purpose, neither of those put up a fair representation we think. The main cameras obviously take the best selfies so comparing those to anything shot by a dedicated selfie cam is pointless, while the under-display shooter is worse than a normal selfie camera because, well, it’s under the screen!
Not to mention that the phone simply won’t let you use it at all when it’s very dark – that makes sense since it’s struggling to pull in light anyway, because of the screen being in its way; this problem gets exponentially worse when there isn’t a lot of light around you to begin with. So while this might work when you’re directly under a lamp post, there are a lot of scenarios when you’ll be instructed to use the other selfie camera anyway.
This long preamble is meant to explain that what you see below are selfies from the punch-hole camera on the outside of the phone. If you want to get an idea about selfie quality from either of the main cameras, just look above at our other samples, while the under-display shooter is best used for video calls if you must. A proper selfie, one that’s not fiddly to capture, and so can be taken with the phone closed, is one produced by the camera on the cover display.
These are sharp, detailed, and look very good during daytime. As is tradition with high-end Samsungs, you get two ‘field of view’ options for your selfies, which is fine but the default is the cropped mode, and that just looks a bit too close. The wider one makes much more sense in our book, and thankfully you can make that the default if you like it more.
At night, quality degrades quickly, and it’s best to have at least some light sources around you before attempting to capture a selfie, even if you use the screen flash function. In pitch darkness, even that won’t make for a usable shot, but, when there is some light nearby, you can still capture images that are shareable on social media, even though they’re soft, noisy, and detail levels suffer.
There are very few downsides to the Galaxy Z Fold3, and depending on your stance on each particular matter, it could reasonably be argued that all of these are actually more like tradeoffs that still inevitably come with the form factor.
The size and weight of the device are things you can never really get over, but think of what these tradeoffs make possible – you can unfold a small tablet in your hand whenever you feel like it. The same goes for the cameras – while good, they’re not the best out there, but them being the best out there would require them to use more space, which is at a premium anyway, because – did we mention that you can unfold a small tablet in your hand whenever you feel like it?
Battery life is good but not outstanding, which makes sense when you consider that this is a folding phone and one of its screens is huge, compared to any other smartphone. Actually, given what it was working with here in terms of screen sizes and cell capacity, it’s quite impressive what Samsung managed to achieve. After all, there are definitely much worse foldable offenders in the longevity arena – hi, Flip3!
The Fold3 was cheaper than its predecessor when it launched, and that’s progress, but even today, when it’s cheaper, no sane person would dare call it affordable in any way. Price continues to be one of the big tradeoffs when you go foldable, and of course, we’re hoping this will change in the future, but for now, you need to keep that in mind.
Then again, maybe some things are just worth paying more for? Like, for example, a device that transforms from a phone to a tablet in the palm of your hand? Sure, the novelty factor’s wearing off after a few years of this form factor existing in the market, but that doesn’t make the technological achievements here any less outstanding. Samsung shouldn’t rest on its laurels, though, as competitors are aggressively entering the foldable market, and some are actually out-innovating the Korean company at the moment. But those devices we’re talking about, with their zero-gap hinges and almost unnoticeable creases – they’re still confined to China, at least for now.
So, if you’re anywhere else and want to get a taste of (what might possibly be) the future, the Samsung way is the only way. And of the Flip3 and Fold3, it’s pretty clear which product is the fashion statement and which one is the serious workhorse. Small phones have always been around, in one shape or another. Tablets you can actually pocket, though? Come on, it’s not even a fair competition.
So the Galaxy Z Fold3 is thus, and is going to remain, the foldable phone for a lot of people. With the price drops over the past few months, we’d wager it’s probably the best time to grab one and enter that constantly-promised-but-never-quite-delivered-until-now future. It’s a wonderful place, full of possibilities full of flexibility, and we’re excited to see what comes next.