Less is more with the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G ($999.99), a powerful flagship phone that trades battery life for portability and style. Now in its third generation, Samsung’s flexible-screen phone is now mature enough for mainstream buyers. The biggest question is whether you’re willing to pay a steep price for a phone that subtly discourages you from using it. The Editors’ Choice–winning Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra ($1,199.99) remains the best Android flagship if you want a phone you can use intensively all day, but the Fold3 is worth considering if you want to enjoy the world around you and spend less time staring at the screen.
Making the Pivot
The Galaxy Z Fold3 and the Galaxy Z Flip3 make up the third generation of Samsung’s folding phones. (There was no Flip2; it was called the Flip 5G.) The redesign is more radical with the Flip than the Fold. The major change is a much larger exterior display, taking up the bottom half of the closed phone. At 1.9 inches and 512 by 260 pixels, it’s big enough to deliver notifications, let you control your music playback, and show alarms and timers. Like a smart watch, this display provides just enough functionality and information to discourage you from fully opening your phone unless you really need to.
This is the first Flip that costs what it should cost, at $999.99. That’s the same price as Samsung’s slab-style Galaxy S21+, but where the S21+ is something of an awkward middle child (more expensive and harder to handle than the $799.99 Galaxy S21, but without the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s camera or S Pen support), the Galaxy Z Flip3 occupies its own specific niche. And if the external display saves you the $249.99 cost of a Galaxy Watch4, it becomes a real bargain—though of course a phone in your pocket can’t provide a smart watch’s health and fitness functions.
The more I handled the Galaxy Z Flip3, the less I thought of it as a flip phone. There’s too much resistance in the hinge and you need to thumb it open. So much of the visceral concept of “flip phone” is about the one-handed experience of flipping it open and closed. This is really an origami phone, something that folds up small and then blooms larger.
Samsung markets the Galaxy Z Flip3, in part, as a sexy fashion phone for influencers. I am not a fashion influencer, but I can appreciate the phone’s sleek, unique look. When it’s closed, the two cream-and-black panes of my model remind me of Naoto Fukasawa’s black-and-white Infobar phone from 2003, a piece of electronics design I still adore. More than any glass slab can, the body here really feels like a meticulously designed object. But I’m more interested in how this phone fits into pockets that others stick out of, especially back pockets, and how it makes you look at your phone less.
Open it up and you’ll find a 22:9, 2,640-by-1,080 6.7-inch 60Hz screen with plenty of real estate, though a touch less than on a slab-style 6.7-inch phone because it’s so tall and narrow.
Closed, the phone measures 2.83 by 3.38 by 0.67 inches (HWD). That’s just barely at the edge of comfortable one-handed width, for me—I’d rather it were 2.7 inches wide—but it still works as a one-handed device and fits easily into any pocket. It opens up to a lanky 6.53 inches long and weighs 6.45 ounces, which isn’t feather-light but isn’t bad at all.
You can still see the crease in the screen, but I don’t find it bothersome. It all but disappears if you’re looking at the phone straight on and the display background is anything other than solid white.
The front-facing camera peeks through a hole punch at the top. The physical fingerprint sensor shares the power button on the side.
Samsung made the Galaxy Z Flip3 waterproof, unlike previous Flips. It’s rated IPX8, which means it’s protected against water but not dust or sand, because Samsung says dust can still get into the hinge. The company also says the “ultra-thin glass” screen is more durable than previous models. We do not try to break phones; the display on my test unit has remained unscuffed through a week of normal use. If you’re concerned about breakage, a $12.99/month Samsung Care+ subscription gets you up to three free repairs per year.
Fine, Flexible Performance
Like all of Samsung’s recent flagships, the Galaxy Z Flip3 uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor. It has 8GB of RAM and either 128GB or 256GB of internal storage. It ships with Android 11, and Samsung promises upgrades as far as Android 14, although not on any particular time frame.
On the application-based benchmarks PCMark and Basemark Web, the Galaxy Z Flip3 tests similarly to the Galaxy Z Fold3 and the Galaxy S21 Ultra. But Geekbench, specifically, reports lower single-core and machine-learning scores than on the Galaxy Z Fold3. That may have to do with processor throttling to save battery. I didn’t feel the real-world performance was any worse than on comparable phones, in part because the Flip3 has so much less to do than the Fold3: It isn’t trying to multitask three windows or transition apps between screens or anything of that sort.
You can customize the front face with 11 different clock styles and use any of seven different widgets to see notifications, control media, check your calendar, or set timers on the front. I stuck with the clock, music player (because my earbuds don’t have a fast-forward button), and calendar.
There’s also Flex Mode, Samsung’s term for having the phone half-open in an L-shape. In that form, you can force application UIs onto the top half of the phone if you like; a few apps, like the camera and YouTube, have custom UIs that put content on top and controls on the bottom. So far, I’ve found that Flex Mode is a very convenient way to use the phone as a cute music player on my desk.
To my mind, the Galaxy Z Flip3 is more of a media phone than a gaming phone. Its 22:9 aspect ratio is relatively well suited to video, with narrow black bars on the side that keep the video content out of the way of the hole punch. Te dual speakers are technically quieter than on the Z Fold, at 99.8dB max, but I got much more effective sound while holding the Flip3 than I did on the Fold3 because I was less likely to cover the speakers with my fingers.
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The radio performed identically to our Galaxy Z Fold3 and Galaxy S21 models. It has all of the 5G frequency bands used by US carriers, including millimeter-wave and the upcoming C-band; the advanced EVS voice codec for clear calling; Wi-Fi 6; and Bluetooth 5.1. Tested on T-Mobile’s mid-band 5G network, it achieved speeds up to 740Mbps down and 113Mbps up; on Verizon’s millimeter-wave network, that increased to 2.6Gbps down and 126Mbps up. The Galaxy Z Flip3 does not have Wi-Fi 6E, which the Galaxy Z Fold3 does.
The US model of the Flip3 is a single-SIM phone; the internal eSIM function exists but has been disabled. Samsung says there’s a possibility the eSIM could be enabled in the future, but it doesn’t want to promise anything.
A Skimpy Battery
Like every other small phone we’ve tested, the Galaxy Z Flip3 struggles with battery life. On our battery rundown test, it lasted for 9 hours, 30 minutes. Because of the way we run these tests, that somewhat overstates usage time, because Samsung’s power-saving features kick in after a while and prolong the test. The important point is that this score is two hours less than Galaxy Z Fold3’s, and three hours less than the S21 Ultra’s.
Samsung also didn’t throw a lot of energy, so to speak, into fast charging. Like the Galaxy Z Fold3, the Galaxy Z Flip3 charges at 25W wired or 10W wireless, with 4.5W reverse wireless charging for watches and earbuds. On a Samsung 22W charger, it took 108 minutes to get to a full charge—longer than on the Galaxy Z Fold3, even though the Fold has a bigger battery.
I’ve grown increasingly frustrated by Samsung’s continued disdain for fast charging, something I can only think comes out of the hangover from the Galaxy Note 7 exploding-battery situation. Come on, that was five years ago! Any Galaxy Z Flip3 battery concerns could be cured by Samsung signing on to a charging solution like OnePlus’s Warp Charge, which tops off your battery very swiftly.
It’s worth noting that if you use your phone less, the battery issues won’t matter so much. The front screen lets you check notifications without opening the whole phone and risking being pulled into a game or social media, and that convenience plus the small effort of prying the phone open makes you think, “Do I really need to be staring at my phone right now?”
Basic, Effective Cameras
The Galaxy Z Flip3 has the fewest cameras, and the simplest camera setup, of Samsung’s current flagships. Samsung says it’s the same as the Galaxy Z Flip 5G’s camera stack: 12MP main and ultra-wide rear cameras and a 10MP front camera. There’s no zoom camera at all.
Photos aren’t bad, but they aren’t nearly as good as the ones you get from the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The dynamic range suffers, with colors being a bit more washed out. Performance with Night mode is similar to the S21 Ultra’s, more dependent on how steady your hand is than anything else.
On the other hand, you don’t get zoom, even the 2x zoom we now expect on most premium smartphones. If your subject is across the street, up in a tree, or on a playing field, the Galaxy S21 Ultra will deliver much, much better photos.
The front-facing camera is very good, especially in low light; in my tests, it easily matched the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s. There’s a slight difference in that the Galaxy S21 Ultra has a shallower depth of field and produces a more natural bokeh effect, but it’s subtle. If you think of the Galaxy Z Flip3 as a phone for influencers who like taking photos of themselves, the good front-facing camera makes sense. And you can use the front screen as a viewfinder, a nice trick.
Toward a More Beautiful World
As a productivity dork rather than a fashionista, I find a lot of the appeal of this phone to be that it’s smaller in your pocket and it feels nice to use. That’s also how I felt about the Apple iPhone 12 mini, and then nobody bought it, I think because its battery life is so poor. It’s very possible the Flip3 could meet the same fate.
The Galaxy Z Flip3 is just a little challenging, but in a good way that makes you use it more deliberately. Functionally and aesthetically, it’s better than the Galaxy S21 and the Galaxy S21+, though it doesn’t have the amazing camera or long battery life of the Galaxy S21 Ultra. In terms of the small comparison set of modern flip phones, the Galaxy Z Flip3 is faster and generally works better than the Moto Razr 5G.
Battery or beauty? That’s where the choice lies. If battery is what matters to you, the Galaxy S21 Ultra remains our Editors’ Choice among flagships. But I’d love to see more Flip3 phones in the wild, making the world a bit more thoughtful and lovely.
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