The Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3 have firmly established Samsung as the smartphone world’s trailblazer Foldables haven’t been around for too long. And, truth be told, they don’t make up significant volumes for any manufacturer yet. But we have seen several foldable devices launched in the past couple of years. It […]
The Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3 have firmly established Samsung as the smartphone world’s trailblazer
Foldables haven’t been around for too long. And, truth be told, they don’t make up significant volumes for any manufacturer yet. But we have seen several foldable devices launched in the past couple of years. It can also be said that the media attention that foldables have received is clearly disproportionate to the demand that it has seen. Much of this can be directly attributed to the time, resources, and marketing muscle that Samsung has devoted to it. All other manufacturers, meanwhile, only seem to be testing the waters with their foldable phones. Samsung, on the other hand, has committed itself to its foldable line-up, so much so that reports are now emerging that Samsung might discontinue the Note Series and focus its energies on foldables.
While there are strong contenders like last year’s Motorola Razr and the Huawei Mate Xs, when compared with Samsung’s line-up, they are seriously underwhelming — one because of the hardware compromises it makes, and the other for the lack of Google apps and services. And then there is also the price. The two phones I mentioned above cost way too much for what they offer. While the Huawei is a technically accomplished smartphone, the Motorola’s major draw is nostalgia, along with the fact that among other such foldables, it is the one that will fit most comfortably in the palm.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3, on the other hand, are the best foldable devices out there. Period. It must be mentioned that Samsung’s foldables didn’t get here overnight. Samsung has been a manufacturer that has been willing to take big risks too. In April 2019, several of the review units given to some of the most prominent tech reviewers malfunctioned, with several issues noticed on the hinge as well as the display. Samsung had to recall the devices, rework them, and the launch of the original Galaxy Fold was delayed. It was a PR nightmare, and a major blow to Samsung’s plans to make foldable devices a feature of its line-up.
At this stage, it would have been easy to take a step back and reconcile, or maybe even drop the idea altogether. Samsung had tried after all, and it didn’t work. But Samsung stuck to its guns. It worked on the issues that the Fold had and released an updated version. Sure, as a first-generation device, it wasn’t perfect but what it promised was something special and it received the credit that was due. Even today, two-years later, a foldable is quite a radical piece of tech. In that time though, Samsung has worked hard behind the scenes to turn those early struggles into the extremely polished Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3.
What is it that makes them special? Let us start with the Fold 3. The idea here is simple. The Fold 3 is a smartphone that opens up into a tablet. The bigger screen means that it is far more useful as a productivity tool as well as a great media consumption device. And when you just need it to be an everyday phone, the Fold 3 can fold back down easily. Three main factors have so far (bear in mind that these are early days) determined how good or bad a foldable is — the robustness of the hinge mechanism, the durability of the foldable display, and finally, how well has the software been optimised to take advantage of the added real estate. The Fold 3 seems to have all the three spot-on — at least better than anyone has done them before.
Samsung’s flagship foldable now gets IPX8 water resistance — something that is crucial for a foldable. The tolerances in the hinge mechanism are now tighter than ever, and Samsung’s use of brushes inside to get rid of debris and dirt mean that you no longer have to baby it around. It seems like a solid, well-built flagship. The 6.2-inch outside display and the 7.6-inch foldable display both have 120Hz refresh rate, and like on all Samsung flagship displays for a few years, they are bright, sharp OLED panels. Samsung has reinforced the foldable display, and the top layer is a strong plastic screen protector. There is still a crease in the middle, but first person accounts of using the device claim that it isn’t much of a bother.
Then there is the new S Pen designed for the Fold (another indication that the Note might no longer have a place in Samsung’s line-up). Samsung has used digitisers from Wacom, which make up a layer of the foldable screen, to make it happen. Most importantly, Samsung has made major improvements to One UI 3. Multitasking on it is far more refined than on stock Android on tablets. Samsung’s multitasking solution employs flexible, movable windows for apps that can be dragged and resized.
The fact that Samsung has equipped the Fold 3 with the Snapdragon 888 chipset and 12GB of RAM means that when it comes to performance, it is no slouch. The cameras, however, haven’t been changed from last year, with Samsung opting to only add optical image stabilization to the telephoto lens. That said, the cameras are far from shabby and do what Samsung does best — produce bright, sharp, and vivid photos. All this hardware does mean that the Fold 3 is steeply priced with prices starting at Rs. 1,49,999 — easily out of the reach of most smartphone buyers, even people who typically shell out for a flagship. Samsung understands this, and has a trick up its sleeve.
That trick is the Galaxy Z Flip 3. Starting at Rs. 84,999, it is pitted directly against the regular flagships (the kind that sell in large numbers) and not the Ultras and Maxs’ of the world. This ensures that many people will experience foldable smartphones. They could also become loyal to the brand simply because no other manufacturer does foldable devices so well at such a low price point. But it is not just the price that is the draw here, even though its predecessor was significantly more expensive. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is well equipped for any phone in the price range. It gets the Snapdragon 888 (something that even the S21 series doesn’t get), and has 8GB of RAM.
While the Z Fold 3 opens to reveal a larger display, the Z Flip 3’s 6.7-inch OLED screen folds into a clamshell like the Moto Razrs of the past. There is a small external display that comes in handy for viewing notifications at a glance. Like its sibling, the Z Flip 3 is something that doesn’t mind being wet. Like most flagships in recent years, the Z Flip 3 is built solidly with premium materials too. It also looks great to boot. The cameras, like on the Z Fold 3, haven’t improved much from last year (the Z Flip 3 uses the same array as last year), but are still fairly good, and most people wouldn’t mind them at all. Once you open it up, the Z Flip 3 functions like any other smartphone. So, in the way of software, there is not much that Samsung has done here. That also means that some of the issues with how apps use or don’t use the larger real estate are not relevant here. The software experience then is one without compromise.
It is safe to say that Samsung’s foldables are a few generations ahead of the rest of the competition. While the Z Fold 3 is part of Samsung’s attempt to develop a new productivity tool-cum-media consumption device that fits in your pocket, the Z Flip 3 is a smartphone that is ready for the regular consumer. The decisions that Samsung has had to make for its more ‘experimental’ flagship do hold it back in certain places. For instance, the Z Fold 3 is a rather bulky piece of hardware, and thicker, taller, and heavier than your regular flagship and by some margin. It is also exceedingly expensive. The specially designed S Pen is also a bit of a liability at this point, as it must be carried separately or attached to a case. Then there is the question of using the narrow external display — it is, by all accounts, harder to type on. Add the fact that most apps don’t really support the large display yet and you can see why it is still a little experimental.
The Z Flip 3 is bound to find far more favour among buyers as it lacks all these shortcomings, and is an easier device to switch to from a conventional smartphone. I wouldn’t bet against Samsung finding a way to make the Z Fold 3 a success though. This is after all the same company that has sold millions and millions of Notes (a device that was considered too bulky and cumbersome when it first arrived). Regardless of how successful Samsung’s bet on foldable devices turns out to be, it is refreshing to see the biggest smartphone maker take a massive risk on what is essentially still an experimental technology in an era when smartphones are becoming increasingly templatised.