First up is the Z Fold 3, Samsung’s flagship foldable. The Z Fold 3 is a phone that opens up into a tablet, featuring a 7.6-inch, 2208×1768 flexible OLED display on the inside and a 6.2-inch, 2260×832 OLED display on the outside. The Fold is getting a few big changes this year. First, both screens are 120 Hz. The Fold 2 was 120 Hz on the inside and 60 Hz outside, so the update provides a nice bit of consistency.
The device sports Samsung’s foldable “Ultra-thin glass” as a display cover, and there’s a layer of protective plastic over top of that. On previous models, the top, plastic display surface was subject to scratches and wasn’t as friction-free as a real, glass smartphone, but the internal layer of ultra-thin glass provides some much-needed rigidity to the plastic display surface. Samsung says it has improved the plastic display cover, which is “80% more durable” than previous plastic covers.
This year also brings an under-screen camera on the interior display, making the Z Fold 3 Samsung’s first-ever device to feature this futuristic camera configuration. Previously, Samsung used a hole-punch camera, which cuts a circular shape out of the display, allowing the camera to peer through a dead, black space (there is still a hole-punch camera on the front display). An under-display camera configuration doesn’t completely remove the pixels in front of the camera, so there are still some pixels in front of the camera. The camera isn’t totally invisible—the pixel arrangement in front of it is less dense than the rest of the display, so you will still see a faint outline of a circle, but it should feel like less of an interruption compared to a dead, black hole.
And here’s what the Galaxy Z Fold3’s new in-display camera looks like magnified — literally. pic.twitter.com/0ofQz4kWn2
— Ryne Hager (@RyneHager) August 11, 2021
Sticking pixels in front of the camera isn’t great for image quality, so under-display cameras will always be a balance of display image quality (localized only over the camera cutout) versus camera image quality. Do you want a better-looking screen with a denser pixel matrix over top of the camera, or do you want a thinner pixel matrix and better-looking selfies? Any manufacturer could make a completely invisible under-display camera, but its image quality would probably be terrible.
Companies don’t really render display pixels in promotional images, so pictures from the manufacturer are usually useless in determining what an under-display camera looks like. Ryne Hager of Android Police got an early hands-on demo and posted some nice live pictures, though. Samsung says it went with the “minimum [amount of] pixels applied on top of the camera hole,” presumably meaning that it prioritized image quality over the look of the display.
It will be interesting to compare the old school hole-punch camera on the front to the under-screen camera in the flexible display. Many selfie shutterbugs love to mess with filters and beauty corrections, so are people even looking for an ultra-clear, super-accurate selfie camera that shows every flaw? People would probably accept a selfie camera that fudges the details somewhat.
The new Galaxy Fold is now water-resistant. Despite all the folding, sliding, hinging action, Samsung claims the Fold 3 has an IPX8 water ingress rating (“water-resistant in up to 5 feet of water for up to 30 minutes”), so it should have similar water resistance (but not dust resistance) to your boring old slab smartphone.
Samsung describes the phone as having three parts where water resistance is a concern: the left half, the right half, and the hinge. The company says each half can be water-proofed just like a traditional phone, by gluing everything together. Things get tricky for the hinge, though, which houses ribbon cables that pass between each half of the phone (so there’s a hole). Samsung says it water-proofed the ribbon hole with a rubber gasket and a “CPIG,” or a “cure-in-place gasket.” Apparently, the CPIG provides a flexible, water-resistant seal around the cable hole. It sounds like the hinge area isn’t water-resistant at all, but it also doesn’t expose any electrical components to water, so it doesn’t matter. At this point, Samsung is only worried about the metal hinge rusting when it fills with water, so the hinge is made of “corrosion-resistant material” finished with “long-lasting grease.”
The Galaxy Note line is dead, but Samsung is alleviating any concerns somewhat by making the Galaxy Fold S-Pen compatible. There are two custom pens for the Z Fold 3: the “S Pen Fold Edition” and “S Pen Pro,” both of which feature a retractable tip that Samsung says limits force on the display. The Z Fold 3 doesn’t have anywhere to store the S-Pen, but there are cases available.
As for the rest of the specs, we have a Snapdragon 888 SoC, 12GB of RAM, 256GB of UFS 3.1 storage, and a 4400 mAh battery with 25 W charging. Samsung isn’t breaking the bank with the rear camera setup this year and is using what looks like the sensors found in the Fold 2. There are three 12 MP sensors, a main camera, wide-angle, and 2x telephoto. There’s a rear fingerprint sensor, wireless charging, a USB-C port, NFC, and Wi-Fi 6.
The Fold 3 is getting a bit of a price cut from the $1,999 Fold 2: It’s $1,799. The phone is up for pre-order today and ships on August 27.
The Galaxy Z Flip 3—Samsung’s fashion phone
Samsung also announced the Galaxy Z Flip 3, the sequel to the Galaxy Z Flip 1 (no, there’s no “version 2”). When open, the device more or less looks and works like a regular Samsung slab phone, but it can fold in half like a new-age flip phone, allowing you to pocket a thicker, shorter square instead of a thin, tall rectangle. Just like the Z Fold 3, the Z Flip 3 has ultra-thin glass as an interior layer of the display (it’s plastic on top) and has IPX8 water resistance.
Samsung isn’t changing much about the inside design of the phone this year. The screen is still a 6.7-inch, 1080p display with a hole-punch front camera, but it’s being upgraded to 120 Hz. The big changes show up when you fold the device in half—you’ll see a 1.9-inch, 512×260 front display, which is a big upgrade from the tiny 1.1-inch display of the first model. To feel fast and convenient, foldable phones need to have a usable front display, since the opening process is a lot more cumbersome than just glancing at a slab phone. The Flip 1 display could only display a scrolling ticker, but the Flip 3 display is now big enough to show an entire notification, including some action buttons. It should be a big help.
Other than that, you’re getting the usual yearly spec upgrade to a Snapdragon 888. There’s still 8GB of RAM, 128GB of UFS 3.1 storage, and a 3300 mAh battery, along with Wi-Fi 6, a USB-C port, NFC, wireless charging, a side fingerprint reader, and more. Two 12 MP cameras live next to the front display, one main lens and one wide-angle.
We weren’t huge fans of the Z Flip 1 or other new-age flip phones in general, since they work exactly like slab phones when they’re open, offering no additional functionality. The folding is there purely as a fashion gimmick, but it comes with big downsides. On the Z Flip 1, this meant a $280 price increase for the specs; a bumpier, higher-friction plastic flexible display; and a raised bezel that made edge-of-screen gestures more difficult. Opening up into a tablet is one thing, but when your foldable phone just opens up into a regular-sized phone, why not just use a regular smartphone, which has a better user experience?
This year, Samsung is at least correcting the pricing issue: the Z Flip 3 is $999 (the Z Flip 1 was $1,380). This move gives the device a much better “fashion versus functionality” argument. It’s the same MSRP as the Galaxy S21+, which also has a 6.7-inch display. So take your pick: The S21+ has a smooth, solid glass display without any perimeter obstructions or divots and a much bigger battery (4800 mAh versus 3300 mAh). Or throw all that out for the Flip’s sweet folding action, which is sure to impress all your friends and family for the first month.
Like the Fold 3, the Flip 3 is up for pre-order now and ships on August 27.