Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 review (in progress): The best foldable phone just got better – Tom’s Guide

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3: Specs

Price: $1,799 (256GB), $1,899 (512GB)
CPU:
Snapdragon 888
RAM: 12GB
Storage: 256GB, 512GB
External display: 6.2 inches (2268 x 832) 120Hz Adaptive
Internal display 7.6 inches (2208 x 1768) 120Hz Adaptive
Rear cameras: 12MP wide (f/1.8); 12MP ultra-side (f.2.2, 123-degree FOV); 12MP telephoto (f/2.4, 2x optical zoom, 10x digital zoom)
Front camera: 10MP (f/2.2)
Under-display camera: 4MP (f/1.8)
Battery: 4,400 mAh
Charging: 25W (charger not included)
Size: 6.2 x 2.6 x 0.56 to 0.62 inches (closed); 6.2 x 5 x 0.25 inches (open)
Weight: 9.55 ounces

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is determined to win over foldable phone skeptics. Worried about the device’s durability? The display is up to 80% tougher, and the whole phone is water resistant. Want to do more with a massive 7.6-inch screen? There’s S Pen support, plus an under-display camera for more immersive viewing. 

Think foldable phones cost too much? Well, we can’t help you much there. This sequel is still pricey at $1,799, but at least it’s $200 cheaper than its predecessor at launch. If you’re looking for a truly affordable foldable, the new $999 Galaxy Z Flip 3 is a better bet. (For a deeper comparison, see our Galaxy Z Fold 3 vs. Galaxy Z Flip 3 face-off.)

Other notable Galaxy Z Fold 3 upgrades include a brighter display and enhanced multitasking features, complete with a Windows-like taskbar.

While this foldable is still a niche device, based on our Galaxy Z Fold 3 review in progress it looks like Samsung has refined the best foldable phone you can buy, making it a potentially excellent choice for power users who want a phone and tablet in one device.

Update August 15: We have added battery testing, display and benchmark results. Stay tuned for our final rating. 

Galaxy Z Fold 3 review: Quick pros and cons

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

(Image credit: Future)
  • The under-display camera on the Galaxy Z Fold 3 impresses with its ability to disappear when you’re viewing content. However, the 4MP resolution is not great for selfies.
  • The main 7.6-inch display is easier to view outdoors, as the panel gets up to 30% brighter. I also appreciate the 120Hz adaptive refresh rate, which enables smoother scrolling. 
  • I really like the Taskbar feature, which lets you pin your favorite apps to the side of the display and follow you to any app. It’s just like Windows. However, you have to dig in the Labs setting to turn this on. 
  • There’s no getting around the fact that the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is a thick phone when closed. You will definitely notice this phone-tablet combo when it’s in your pocket. 
  • It’s good to see that more apps have been optimized for the Fold 3, including Spotify, Gmail, Chrome and TikTok. 
  • S Pen support is a great addition but we wish Samsung didn’t charge extra for this accessory. 
  • The overall camera quality is very good from the Galaxy Z Fold 3, with it taking sharp and colorful images for the most part. But the iPhone 12 Pro is better.
  • The Galaxy Z Fold’s 3 battery life could be better. The foldable lasted under 8 hours on our web surfing battery test, while better phones last 10 hours or more. 

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 review: Release date and price

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

(Image credit: Future)

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is available for pre-order now, with a release date of August 27. Those who pre-order the Galaxy Z Fold 3 can take advantage of a few perks, including getting $200 in Samsung.com credit and 12 months free of Samsung Care+ when you sign up for a three-year plan.

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 has a starting price of $1,799 for the 256GB model, and the 512GB version costs $1,899.

Check out our how-to pre-order the Galaxy Z Fold 3 guide for all the best deals. 

Galaxy Z Fold 3 review: Design and durability

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 adds a lot of in the way of durability, even if it’s still on the bulky side.

Right off the bat, you’ll be glad to know that the new Galaxy Z Fold is IPX8 water resistant, which means it can withstand being in up to 1.5 meters of water for up to 30 minutes. I doubt most people will dunk this foldable, but it’s good to know it can handle everything from splashes to rain.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 hands-on review

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Unfortunately, we are not able to test water resistance on our review sample, but we have purchased a Galaxy Z Fold 3 and will put that unit to the test and update this review. Just note that the Z Fold 3 is not dust resistant, so I wouldn’t feel comfy bringing this foldable to the beach.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 hands-on review

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To further fortify the Galaxy Z Fold 3, its stronger Armor Aluminum body and Gorilla Glass Victus display are designed to resist scratches and drops. Last but not least, Samsung claims that the Z Fold 3 employs a new protective PET film that when combined with “optimized” main screen layers results in a 80% more durable screen.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 hands-on review

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The Z Fold 3 measures 6.2 x 2.6 x 0.56 to 0.62 inches when closed and 6.2 x 5 x 0.25 when open. And it weighs 9.5 ounces. Compare that to 6.2 x 2.6 x 0.66 inches (closed), 6.2 x 5 x 0.27 inches (open) and 9.9 ounces for the Galaxy Z Fold 2. Still, this is way thicker and heavier when closed then most phones, so you’ll feel it in your pocket. 

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 hands-on review

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The Galaxy Z Fold 3 comes in three main colors: Phantom Black, Phantom Green and Phantom Silver. I’m a fan of the silver because it pops most. 

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 displays

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 once again features two displays: a 6.2-inch OLED cover display and a 7.6-inch main screen that’s revealed once you unfold the device.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 hands-on review

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Both panels offer a 120Hz adaptive refresh rate, and I experienced smooth scrolling and overall performance during my hands-on time with the phone.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 hands-on review

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The resolution for the interior screen is the same as before at 2208 x 1768 pixels, but the good news is that the new display is rated to be 29% brighter than before, thanks to new Eco display technology.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 hands-on review

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The Galaxy Z Fold 3’s main display looks pretty stunning, and a big reason for that is a new under-display camera. Instead of having to stare at a notch or punch hole, the UDC on the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is nearly invisible, especially when you go full screen on content like photos and videos. When the display is dark, say on the home screen, you can make out the tiny hole, but it’s not that noticeable.

Unfortunately, the Galaxy Z Fold 3’s display averaged 422 nits in our lab testing. That’s okay but nearly half what the Galaxy S21 Ultra turned in (821 nits), and the iPhone 12 Pro Max also hit a relatively high 654 nits.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 multitasking and app support

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 Is a multitasking powerhouse. Thanks to the Multi-Active Window feature, you can run two apps side by side (dragging and dropping content between them) or run up to three apps at once. And now the enhanced App Pair feature lets you create shortcuts for two apps later in the same way you had them open. 

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 hands-on review

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Don’t feel like constantly swiping in from the right side to open the Edge Panel to see these and other apps? Samsung added a new Taskbar feature that lets you switch between apps on the fly; it just sits there on the right side of the display, similar to the Windows taskbar. To get the Taskbar to work, I had to dig into the Settings menu and activate Samsung Labs, which most people won’t know how to do.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 taskbar

(Image credit: Future)

Once activated, the Taskbar is a great addition. I love that I can quickly glance at how many notifications I might have in Slack, for example, then quickly switch to that app. Or I can quickly open my favorite App Pair: Gallery and Messages. 

Samsung Labs can also force apps that are not optimized for foldable displays to work in Multi-Active Windows mode. For example, I could park Netflix on the left side of the display and continue watching Outer Banks while keeping an I on messages on the right side of the screen. 

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 drag and split

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Another cool feature is drag and split. For example, if you’re in the Samsung browser and you’re looking at items on Amazon, you can simply drag one over to the right to open a new window. That way you can look at the details on one product while comparing other products on the left. Other apps that support this feature including Samsung Message, MS Office, One Note and more. 

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 flex mode

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When you fold the Galaxy Z Fold 3 like a laptop, a number of apps support Flex mode, which puts the content up top and controls on the bottom portion on the display. This works in YouTube and the Camera app, and I also used it during a hands-free Google Meet video call. You can even force Flex mode to appear in apps, but I’d rather see more developers just embrace the feature.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 apps

(Image credit: Future)

Samsung is also closely with third-party developers to roll out more apps that work natively with the Z Fold 3. These include Snapchat, TikTok, Netflix, Spotify and YouTube. For example, when you’re using Spotify, you’ll see the Now Playing window on the bottom left side and the rest of the discover menu on the right side, making it easier to multitask. 

But my favorite optimized app for the Fold 3 is Chrome. I like being able to see all my tabs up top and move them around, just as I would on the desktop. 

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 S Pen

Given that I’ve always found using a stylus on even the biggest phablets cramped, it’s refreshing to see Samsung add S Pen support to a 7.6-inch foldable phone. There’s simply more room to take notes, sketch or mark up documents without having to constantly zoom in.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 hands-on review

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The catch is that the S Pen isn’t included and there are two options: S Pen Fold Edition ($49) and S Pen Pro ($99). While both pens feature a retractable tip to prevent display damage, the S Pen Pro adds Bluetooth connectivity for doing things like controlling media playback or taking photos remotely.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 hands-on review

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The good news? The S Pen Fold Edition felt very responsive when I used it to write some notes. You almost forget that you’re writing on a display. It’s just too bad there’s nowhere to store the pen on the phone, unless you spring for a case with a holster. The S Pen Fold Edition with case costs $79, which I think is a must if you plan using the pen often.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 cameras

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 hands-on review

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There’s really not much new to report on the camera hardware front with the Galaxy Z Fold 3, with the exception of the under-display camera. But Samsung has brought some of the best camera features over from the Galaxy S21 Ultra, including Single Take (Dynamic Video) and Director’s View (for using the front and back cameras at once). Other highlights include Rear camera selfie and a Capture View Mode that lets you see your photos on the left and your live preview on the right.

The rear cameras once again include a trio of 12MP lenses: a f/1.8 wide-angle shooter, an ultra-wide f/2.2 camera with a 123-degree field of view and a 12MP telephoto camera. Based on our photo comparisons, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 takes colorful and mostly sharp photos, but it’s a step behind the iPhone 12 Pro in terms of details and more realistic hues. And you miss out on the zooming power of the S21 Ultra.

You can see in this shot of portulaca flowers that the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is capable of delivering vibrant colors, though the details could be a bit better in the petals when I zoomed in. I slightly prefer the contrast offered by the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

In this portrait, the Z Fold 3 does a mostly fine job with the bokeh effect, blurring out most of the background, though the leaves on the right side are fairly pronounced. My blue shirt really pops, and there’s a good amount of detail in my hair, but my skin tone is a bit washed out, with the iPhone 12 Pro offering a warmer and more realistic take. 

Once again the Galaxy Z Fold 3 produces a colorful shot here of various peppers, offering saturated hues of green, orange, yellow and red. And this time the detail remained fairly strong as I zoomed in on the sign and even the stickers on some of the produce. It’s nearly a draw with the iPhone 12 Pro Max, though once again the added contrast gives Apple’s phone a slight edge, and the oranges are a bit more rich.

In this beach scene you can see that the Galaxy Z Fold 3 struggles to deliver the same amount of detail and subtlety as the iPhone, especially when it comes to the translucence of the water, the variations in sunlight and the bark in the tree on the right side.

With Night mode engaged, I compared the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy S21 Ultra, and the Fold has an edge with more realistic colors. The S21 Ultra’s shot is brighter but has an orange tinge to it. 

To test out the Galaxy Z Fold 3’s selfie capabilities I used both the 4MP under-display camera and 10MP front camera, and it’s no contest. My face looks blurrier and washed out with the UDC photo, and my hair, shirt and the surrounding grass just look better with the 10MP camera. For more on this UDC see my Galaxy Z Fold 3 under-display camera test results

It’s too bad that you get just a 2x optical zoom and 10x digital zoom with the Z Fold 3. The Galaxy S21 Ultra, for example, packs dual telephoto lenses with 3x and 10x optical zoom, and that phone’s Space Zoom (digital) goes up to 100x.

Galaxy S21 Ultra (50x zoom) (Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

In the above photo the Z Fold 3 delivers a shot that’s nearly as good as the S21 Ultra at 10x, even if the pic is a bit too bright. But the Galaxy Z Fold 3 pushes much further, as you can see in the above shot taken with the 50x zoom setting. 

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 performance

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 proved mostly snappy in our hands-on time, and that’s because it has some pretty beefy hardware under the hood. A Snapdragon 888 processor runs the show, and it’s backed by 12GB of RAM. There’s also 256GB of internal storage standard, though you can opt for 512GB.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 hands-on review

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In everyday use the Galaxy Z Fold 3 provided swift performance, whether I was running three apps at once or racing around the track in Asphalt 9. However, I did notice some glitches at times, such as when going from the cover display to the main display. 

On Geekbench 5, which measures overall performance, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 notched 3,418 on the multi-core portion of the test and 1,107 on single core. That’s on par with the the Galaxy S21 Ultra (3,400/1,123) but well behind the iPhone 12 Pro Max (4,100/1,600).

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 wasn’t as far behind the iPhone 12 Pro Max on the 3DMark Wild Life graphics test. The Samsung mustered 33 frames per second, compared to 39 fps on the iPhone. 

On our video editing test using the Adobe Premiere Rush app, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 took 50 seconds to transcode a 4K video to 1080p. That’s faster than the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s 1 minute and 2 seconds  but still slower than the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s 28 seconds. 

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 battery life and charging

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 packs a 4,400 mAh dual battery, which is a bit smaller than the Z Fold 2’s 4,500 mAh pack. And we were disappointed in the results on our web surfing battery test, which involves surfing the web over 5G on 150 nits of screen brightness. 

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 lasted just 7 hours and 52 seconds in 60 Hz display mode, and even less on adaptive mode (up to 120Hz) at 6:35. The Galaxy Z Fold 2 lasted a much longer 10:10 and 9:05, respectively, on the same screen modes. Last year we used T-Mobile’s network so that may account for some of the difference. We will report back with more test results.

As expected, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 doesn’t include a charger, so we used a 25W Samsung charger to test the charge time. After 30 minutes, the phone reached 47%, which isn’t bad. 

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 hands-on review

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The Z Fold 3 also supports up to 10W wireless charging. You can also use the back of the Z Fold 3 to reverse wireless charge other devices up to 4.5W.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 review 

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 looks nearly identical to its predecessor at first glance, but the upgrades here are fairly substantial, including a more durable design and S Pen support. And it’s good to know more foldable-friendly apps are on the way.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 hands-on review

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On the other hand, I would have liked to see a built-in stylus holster for the S Pen, similar to what the old Galaxy Note phablets included, as well as more substantial camera upgrades to put the Z Fold 3 on par with the S21 Ultra. 

Ultimately, the Z Fold 3 is about pairing that “wow” factor with peace of mind to those willing to invest what is still a lot of money in the ultimate foldable phone. And based on what I’ve seen thus far, Samsung could very well succeed in that mission. Stay tuned for our full review and final rating.

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