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Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 Review
A fashion statement at first glance, a foldable ambassador at heart
When attempting something that's not easy, it pays to have a solid strategy - and that's exactly what Samsung seems to be doing these days with the launch of not one, but two foldable phones at the same time. The Galaxy Z Fold3 is the company's big, impressive, top-of-the-line model with a price tag to match (but still worth the cost for people intending to really take advantage of that huge main screen). The Galaxy Z Flip3, on the other hand, is different: it's much smaller, decidedly less capable but way, way more affordable. The first one is a technology and innovation statement, the second one almost looks like a fashion statement at first glance.
Imagine one's surprise, then, when - after ten days of using both - one realizes that the Flip3 manages to... flip the script: this is the device that will probably do more for foldables, making Samsung's case, than what any other of its kind did in the past or will do until mid-2022. Here's why.
It all starts with the Flip3's size. While the Fold3 looks like a regular smartphone when closed and aspires to offer a small tablet user experience when opened, the Flip3 is a compact great-looking gadget when closed and a regular smartphone when opened. The difference is as great as it sounds in practice: the Flip3's secondary screen on the front is meant for viewing notifications and firing up the simplest of apps only, not actually using the device like a smartphone. Unexpected bonus: this will easily make a lot of people realize how embarrassingly often they're checking their phone during the day. Hey, it's the first step towards not doing it so much, so no complaints there!
Built quality unparalleled, proper when unfolded
That's not to say that the Flip3's cover screen is not useful. It actually is, certainly a lot more useful than its predecessor's: it now takes up almost half of the device's outer shell - well, half of its half to be accurate - it's bright and its resolution is good enough for its intended purpose. It also works great as a camera viewfinder. The widgets that can be controlled on this mini-screen are quite common, even essential - music player, weather, schedule, alarm, voice recorder and timer - but it's a shame that there is no easy way to install more (maybe in a future version?). There's a decent array of options for customizing what the cover screen displays at all times, too. Not bad, not bad at all.
It's when the Flip3 opens that two facts about it become readily apparent: (a) this is a premium device through and through, (b) this is a top-end smartphone. It's a premium device because its build quality, felt in the hand while opening it, is right up there with Galaxy Fold3's: same materials, same hi-end construction and attention to detail, same kind of advanced, sturdy hinge. It's a top-end smartphone because its main screen is exactly what one would expect of a "normal" flagship smartphone to sport in 2021: extremely bright, high resolution, high refresh rate, excellent color. But, you know, it folds!
Just like with the Fold3, the crease across the screen where the device folds is visible, especially at an angle, but it's easy to imagine almost anyone not really paying attention to it given a few days. The only time the crease makes its presence felt in a somewhat negative way is when someone's reading e.g. a block of text: the line that is exactly underneath the crease is not as readable, but scrolling up a bit becomes second nature quickly enough.
The position of the crease and the fact that this is a rather narrow device may have been the reasons why Samsung did not make the Flip3 compatible with the S-Pen or any other stylus - or maybe it was the necessary hardware under the screen that could not be included this time around and the company might find a way to do it in a future model (if that makes sense for the intended audience of a Flip device of course). But the current model is now as water-resistant as the Fold3 is, while keeping it away from dust or sand is a good idea for the same reasons. The hinge might be smaller, but it's not impenetrable.
Packs a punch, snaps a bunch, needs a charge
What many people do not realize when looking at the Flip3 for the first time is that it sports the Snapdragon 888, the exact same processor the Fold3 - a device literally twice the size - packs. The same one that all the 2021 flagship Android phones are based on, in fact. Yes, it's coupled with 8, not 12GB of memory, but that hardly seems to make a difference in practice: in benchmarks, real-world testing and everyday, general use the Flip3 is as fast and effective as any of the "big ones". It's not even "clocked" lower, which would be the expected thing to happen given its size - something which is remarkable in and of itself. Long story short: this is a phone that can handle any app or number of apps without breaking a sweat and will be able to do it for a long time.
For the Flip3 to be this small something had to give, of course, so Samsung made some compromises. The first one has to do with the main camera system: there are two sensors of 12 Megapixels coupled with wide and ultrawide lenses (so no telephoto) while the selfie camera is of the "teardrop" kind (so no fancy "under-display" sensor). But they are all on the same level that the Fold3 offers, so snaps are quick, photographs are great and video is smooth even when captured in 4K resolution. Yes, there is no crazy optical zoom, and the only camera featuring optical image stabilization is the wide one but, considering the form factor Samsung had to work with, the Flip3 more than meets expectations.
There's only one thing that actually suffered because of the Flip3's amazingly small size and that is battery life. There simply isn't enough room in a device so compact for a large battery, so the 3300 mAh one Samsung managed to fit is acceptable but nothing to write home about. Typical use - not a lot of gaming, for instance - allows for a couple of hours short of a full day of operation before a charger is needed. Fast charging is supported but, at 15W, it takes around an hour and a half to fully recharge a Flip3. Most of us charge our phones at home during the night, yes, so it's not such a big issue, but people thinking of getting this compact foldable should probably keep this in mind.
There's no more room for complaint, though, regarding the Flip3: it's just a well-thought-out, balanced device. Internet connectivity is great through both 5G and Wi-Fi 6 speeds, stereo sound is unexpectedly good, the fingerprint reader is fast (although it takes a bit of time to get used to its position) and face unlock works reliably. As far as software is concerned there's no need for the customization layer and assorted functions Samsung has created for the Fold3, but the Flip3 does offer Flex Mode for "splitting" apps such as YouTube or Google Duo into two parts, each for one half of the screen when opened at an angle.
Not cheap, yet affordable enough to make a difference
So... what have we here? It's a flagship smartphone disguised as a stylish gadget: novel, eye-catching, elegant even, but perfectly capable of trading blows with the best of them. The folding screen at this size is more playful, more manageable than the huge, serious one of the Fold3, appealing to more people - surely to many more women, who prefer small and functional devices to cumbersome, hard-to-handle ones.
A few years back the Galaxy Z Flip3 would have qualified as the ultimate fashion statement in tech - and rightly so. But... that's the beauty of it: in 2021 it also works the other way around. The Flip3 may indeed be a fashion statement, but it's also the perfect ambassador for foldable smartphones in a way that its predecessor or the Folds weren't. Showing it to people, one can see that - after they comment on the design - they get interested in the tech of the folding screen itself. That's not just a 2021 victory for Samsung. It's free product marketing for the future of the foldable category as a whole.
That is also where Samsung's Q4 battleplan plan comes into focus: by pricing the Flip3 at around €1000, almost half as much as the Fold3, the Koreans may well be not making much money out of selling it, but their intent is clear. This is not a futuristic product that few can use. This is not the ultra-expensive, cutting-edge device that few can afford. It costs as much as a top Sony Xperia or OnePlus, but it brings something truly new to the table. As such, the Galaxy Z Flip3 is the most pleasant surprise of the year in the smartphone arena and it deserves to do well. Very, very well.