Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 Review: Flippin’ great… except for the battery life
- More durable than previous generations
- Powerful processor
- Camera quality could be better
- Battery life
|Launch price (RRP)||$0|
The first generation of Samsung foldable phones resulted in plenty of excitement owing to their underlying technology. However, the odd design choices and durability raised concerns.
The second generation devices solved most of the design issues. Still, the durability concerns remained.
The third time? It's not quite the charm, but it's achingly close. Samsung has done a lot of work to make the Galaxy Z Flip 3 a compelling prospect. Durability is markedly better with water resistance and a tougher screen protector inbuilt. The shift to a lower price point makes it a lot better value as well.
But all this good work is undone by the battery life, which all too often leaves you staring at a folding brick by the end of the working day.
Design: More robust folding works well
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 is Samsung's lower cost, more portable take on foldable phones for 2021, alongside the more premium Galaxy Z Fold 3.
The Galaxy Z Flip 3's focus is on providing a compact and portable experience, folding in half when not in active smartphone use.
In that respect, nothing has changed in terms of the Galaxy Z Flip 3's function relative to prior generations. That's not to say that Samsung hasn't made some changes.
Samsung sells the Galaxy Z Flip 3 in a total of seven colours. All retailers sell the Green, Lavender, Phantom Black and Cream models (as tested). Samsung reserves the Gray, White and Pink hues for sale only through its website.
I'll be honest here and say that I don't love the Cream colour of the review model I tested.
It almost veers into the "beige box" territory of old school desktop computers, and I worry about how it'll look over time.
But if I was buying one, I would at least have a nice range of seven colours to pick from. So often phones in Australia only get a couple of colour options at best.
The other big design change for the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is the location of the external dual camera. The original model Galaxy Z Flip put a camera module next to a tiny 1.1 inch display. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 features a 1.9 inch display that slides the cameras in at the side. It's a much neater bit of design that makes the cameras far less intrusive when the Galaxy Z Flip 3 folds up.
Unfold the Galaxy Z Flip 3, and you're faced with a 6.7 inch 2640x1080 pixel 120Hz Dynamic AMOLED 2X display. Like every other high refresh rate Samsung phone, you can't force high refresh rates. Instead you have to rely on its "Dynamic" setting to chose 120Hz for you when it considers it worthwhile. You can force 60Hz all the time if you want, but where's the fun in that?
The screen on the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is improved relative to prior generations. Still, you can't entirely get past the central fold "crease" in the display, which has both tactile and visual issues.
If you're looking at a pure white page – like, say a web page – it's noticeable whenever the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is held at an angle. If you're playing games that need you to swipe across the whole screen, you will still feel the divot of the crease.
Samsung's pitch for the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is more about the style and convenience of a standard smartphone that can halve in size at will. Samsung isn't alone in this field, although it's done more to promote it than Motorola has with its RAZR line.
The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is also IPX8 rated, which means that it's capable of surviving immersion in fresh water, not that you should push this too far. That rating is an oddity in itself, because the X in X8 means that it's not rated in any way for dust ingress over time.
Presumably the water flows out, but sand and grit could still build up in there. Again the smaller folding action of the Galaxy Z Flip 3 makes this a less pressing concern.
The split screen of the Galaxy Z Flip 3 doesn't allow for a fingerprint unlock under the display as you'd find on a Galaxy S21 phone. Instead, Samsung's opted for a side mounted fingerprint unlock on the power button. That's a rather common idea right now for much cheaper phones. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 does manage biometrics a lot better than those lower cost options, however. During my review period I've had no issues with unlocking from a digit.
To be honest, I've never been much of a fan of the flip style foldables.
I could see the style appeal, but the more fragile nature of the handsets combined with the premium you paid for folding alone made them a bad buy .
But by dropping the price and upgrading the Galaxy Z Flip 3's durability, Samsung has done a lot to quell those concerns.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 Camera: Dual cameras shoot well, but should be better
The price of the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is lower than previous generations, but at $1499 and higher, it's still a premium-priced device.
These days, camera features and performance are what premium phones sell themselves on. This is one area where the Galaxy Z Flip 3 shoots well below its asking price.
The Galaxy Z Flip 3 features three cameras in total. You get one holepunch 10MP "selfie" camera on the primary display, and a pair of 12MP wide and ultra-wide cameras on the rear of the handset. This is of course the "front" when it's folded down, but that's the nature of foldable phones.
Camera quality isn't entirely a numbers game, but it's impossible to ignore what the Galaxy Z Flip 3 offers relative to other phones at similar premium price points.
There's no telephoto lens, although you can use a digital zoom if you must. The problem here is that you're just blowing up a 12MP sensor with no real capacity for sensor sampling as you'd get with a higher megapixel count. The results are, unsurprisingly, underwhelming at best.
All you have to shoot with is a dual camera setup that can't help but feel like it might have fallen out of a phone from around 2018.
One area where my initial tests had me concerned was low light shooting. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 features a night shooting mode, and this is an area where premium phones should excel. Taking a sample photo not in night mode at a nearby supermarket gave me this:
But when I switched to the Night mode specifically to see how much more detail I could get, I got… this:
That's quite the mis-shoot, although in reality you'd almost certainly try to take the shot again.
Still, it left me wondering how well the Galaxy Z Flip 3 compared to other flagships.
So, keeping in mind Sydney's current lockdown and my own movement restrictions, I went out late one night with a mask and three phones to test.
I pitted the Galaxy Z Flip 3 against its own stablemate, the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G, because it's a good low light camera, and also Apple's iPhone 12 Pro Max. In terms of the brands Australians tend to buy it's very much this specific two-horse race.
First stop was a valley view late at night, but with a little moderate light. Here's how the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G took the shot:
That's way more light and colour than my own eyes could make out, because it was quite dark. The iPhone 12 Pro Max went even further:
Here's how the Galaxy Z Flip 3 compared with the same scene:
You do get more of a sense of "night" out of the shot, but it's also clearly picking up less light. That could have an impact on other low light scenes.
To put that to the test – and this isn't easy in a city as light-drenched as Sydney – I found a nearby downhill thicket. I could not see what I was shooting at, but expected the phones to be able to at least pick up a little detail.
The goal here wasn't a pretty photo. I simply wanted to see what level of detail, light and colour post-processing each phone would present.
Here's the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G:
Here's the iPhone 12 Pro Max:
And finally, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3:
That's not a bad shot to speak of, but it's definitely on the lower end of premium scale expectations.
All this is not to say that the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is a disaster area when it comes to taking photos.
If you're a total photo novice, the inbuilt "Single Take" mode that's been a premium Samsung feature for some time is present. Single Take grabs taking multiple snaps and video on demand, and you can then pick from those shots to get a pleasant picture.
While the results can be quite decent in the right conditions, that should be the ground floor for a premium phone.
The Galaxy Z Flip 3 shoots at the level of one of Samsung's considerably cheaper A series phones, more or less.
You've got to ask yourself if the convenience and cool factor of folding is worth having a less capable camera.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 Sample Photos:
Performance: Speedy performance with a great cover display
The Galaxy Z Flip 3 does get the premium performance part of a flagship phone right. Indeed, it does better than its premium Galaxy S21 offerings, thanks to the fact that it runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 SoC. The Galaxy S21 models we see in Australia use Samsung's own less impressive Exynos Silicon.
Samsung matches up that Snapdragon 888 with 8GB of RAM and either 128GB or 256GB of fixed storage. That's a recipe for very good app performance, reflected in the way that the Galaxy Z Flip 3 benchmarks:
While the Galaxy Z Flip 3 doesn't top the charts in those benchmarks, the reality of current model flagship phones is that this level of performance is more than enough for any app you're likely to throw at it.
The same story plays out when benchmarking the Galaxy Z Flip 3's Adreno 660 GPU:
Again, while the comparison to other flagships doesn't favour the Galaxy Z Flip 3 specifically – and that should factor into your buying decisions – it's more than enough to handle the most intensive Android games today.
The one catch I've noticed is that the Galaxy Z Flip 3 doesn't appear to have the most elegant temperature management. Under heavy usage, the top half definitely picks up more heat than the lower half. This was never uncomfortably hot, but it was noticeable.
The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is 5G capable – there's no 4G only model – and in my tests I hit some of the best peak speeds I've seen on Australian 5G networks. Testing on a Telstra 5G connection, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 managed an average of 613Mbps down and 81.5Mbps up.
The other big improvement in the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is the cover display, which has effectively doubled in size relative to the prior generation models.
It's not at the level of the Galaxy Z Fold devices, because nobody's going to use this display as their actual phone in a sustained way.
Still, the widgets do have simple appeal that goes well beyond the titchy display in the early Z Flip phones.
The default is a simple clock, but from there you can scroll to a music player, weather widget, alarm, voice recorder, timer, calendar or Samsung Health widgets at will.
It gives you a simple snapshot of some key functions, while also acting as a tiny viewfinder for the cameras. You're in selfies-only territory here, because those are the only cameras that aren't folded down, so it's basically a sneaky-Selfie camera. Is there a need for such a thing?
You can use it that way as needed, but it doesn't feel like some kind of essential tool, more a party trick to show off on your cool new folding phone.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 Battery: Split battery is neat tech, but nowhere near powerful enough
The realities of producing a battery to fit in the Galaxy Z Flip 3 meant that Samsung had to get somewhat creative. On a regular phone you could throw in a straight battery with a lot of power. The split nature of the Galaxy Z Flip 3's design means that Samsung couldn't do that for any generation of the Flip family.
What you get instead is a split battery with a total power rating of 3300mAh. That's very small by Android standards. Combine that with the raw power of the Snapdragon 888 and a 120Hz capable display, and Samsung had quite a job on its hands to ensure the Galaxy Z Flip 3 could last a full day of regular usage.
Unfortunately, this is the one area where the Galaxy Z Flip 3 falls very flat – and all too fast.
To give the Galaxy Z Flip 3 some comparison, I ran it through our standard battery rundown test. This involves streaming a Full HD YouTube video at maximum brightness and moderate volume for an hour off a 100% charged battery.
What I typically look for is at least 90% battery remaining. Phones that fall below that level typically struggle to last out a day of usage. Every percentage point above 90% is a plus here, naturally.
Here's how the Galaxy Z Flip 3 compares against that same crop of similarly priced premium phone options:
89% on that test is not a good score for a premium phone, but perhaps the realities of a half-folded phone would make a big difference in real world use?
To put that to the test, I used the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 as my daily use handset over a week, starting each morning with a fresh charge.
I am, it's fair to say, a tough use case for a mobile phone, and your habits may vary. Still, it's not unfair to suggest that a premium priced phone should last through at least a day's use in 2021.
That wasn't the case on any day at all for the Galaxy Z Flip 3, which suffered battery complaints sometimes before the actual working day was over.
The current realities of Sydney's lockdown meant that a charger was never far away, but this is still a sub-optimal result.
It's one that's not helped by the fact that like the Galaxy S21 series, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 doesn't ship with a bundled charger of any sort.
You're stuck at a wired charging rate of 15W, or only 10W for wireless charging as well. The one small blessing here is that a 3300mAh battery by definition won't take as long to fully juice up. You will have to get used to the Galaxy Z Flip 3 sitting on a charger way too often, however.
Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3?
- Buy it if you want the cool factor of a foldable phone with reasonable durability.
- Don't buy it if you want acceptable battery life.
The first generation Galaxy Z Flip – and its 5G successor – failed because while the underlying folding technology was cool, the price, battery life and camera capabilities were seriously compromised.
Samsung has come so close to rectifying those issues with the Galaxy Z Flip 3, but it hasn't quite got it all right. Asking $1499+ for it means that it is still a pricey phone. However, it sits better against other premium phones if you figure the folding aspect is a premium feature in its own right.
Concerns over durability have been mostly addressed with that more durable display protector and water resistance. You really don't want to drop the Galaxy Z Flip 3 too much, or dunk it in the bath too often either, but that's true even of more robust flagship phones.
It's also powerful thanks to the Snapdragon 888 processor and 5G compatibility.
It does falter on the camera aspect. It's not that it takes bad photos most of the time, but simply that you can get the quality of its cameras in a much less expensive Samsung handset.
What really cripples the Galaxy Z Flip 3's value proposition is its battery life. Samsung's in a tough bind here, because putting a flagship processor and 120Hz capable display into a phone that can only fit a smaller battery could only really end up going one way.
Alternatively, there's the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3, which we have also fully tested.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 Pricing and availability
Compare Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 plans
You can also purchase the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 on a handset repayment plan from Optus. This will split the cost of your new phone over 12, 24 or 36 months, and you'll get a mobile plan with it too.
Power, storage and battery
How we tested
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 was tested over a 1 week intensive period, using all functions and benchmarking performance, camera features and battery life.
We compare all phones against similarly priced devices at the time of testing to provide a broader picture of your choices within a range. This includes foldables such as the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Microsoft Surface Duo 2. Although in the case of the Galaxy Z Flip 3 there's only one competing flip foldable, the Motorola Moto RAZR, and Motorola Australia has yet to provide a review sample for comparative purposes.
As the Galaxy Z Flip 3 sits within the premium phone price space, we have instead compared against similarly priced non-folding phones as a result.
Images: Alex Kidman
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