The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G may be the latest and greatest piece of tech from the world’s largest smartphone maker, but at $2499/2649 plus extra for a 25W charger, case, and S Pen, it is not for everyone.
As the name suggests, The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G folds, is the 3rd generation and is 5G. And I can’t get that damned Kenny Rogers song out of my head when I use this superb device.
Oh, and I need to add to Kenny’s song – Know how to hold ’em because it is a two-handed job, not like a 20:9 tall slim Galaxy S smartphone.
If you have a lazy $2500 or so and want a phone that makes a statement, this is for you. And if you are a former Galaxy Note user, read Counterpoint’s statement:
The 6+” display size has become the norm. The larger Note devices have been losing the point of differentiation. Replacing the Note series with a novel foldable device, the most premium big display, and S Pen support will help Samsung differentiate itself from competitors.
Let’s just say that reader comments are that you won’t go back once you are in the Fold.
Or walk, no run, away and buy what you can afford because apart from screen space and maybe an optional S Pen, this does no more than a typical glass slab.
This is a long-format review. If you are going to spend $2.5K plus, you need to know what you are buying. Or you can simply jump to our final rating.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G Model SM-F926B 12/256GB, Single SIM and eSIM.
* Grey Market – beware no Australian Warranty or 5G connectivity.
All genuine Australian 5G models use unique Australian 5G sub-6Ghz and 5G low-band frequencies and require local activation first. That means a grey market phone likely won’t be able to use 5G here nor get Australian firmware, patches and over the air updates.
We have named and shamed the major grey marketers here. If you spend this much money, get a genuine ‘Made for Australia’ model.
A word on price
Samsung has a trade-in program that could be worth up to $920. For example, a three-year-old Galaxy S10+ 512GB is worth $155. There is a limited $500 bonus offer as well on trade-ins.
It has an optional upgrade subscription to get a new model each year financed through Latitude Pay.
Samsung Care+ is a device swap program for $399 (currently on sale at $199). You can swap your eligible device twice with a two-year subscription by paying the swap fee (now $299 for the Fold series). It is more a damage replacement program.
Who buys the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G?
Wealthy consumers who have a lazy $2.5K or use a BNPL scheme. Business buyers get immediate depreciation. International media reports state the device is a sell-out in the UK (similar to our demographics) and Singapore. Samsung Australia says it has more pre-orders than it sold foldable handsets in 2020.
So, yes, there is a market but considering that global smartphone sales in 2020 were about 1.5 billion units, foldables represent a tiny share at .6%. This is an inspirational device to show Samsung’s technological prowess.
But what is the use case?
You must view the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G solely as a large screen phone. It opens from a single 6.2″ tall (24.5:9) screen to a 7.6″ tablet-like device. Size: 158.2 x 67.1 x 14.4-16 mm folded and 158.2 x 128.1 x 6.4 mm x 271g open. Samsung has done a great job with the user interface – there were only a few obscure apps that did not like the format as its not 16:9 when opened. On the whole, apps expand sideways to fill the screen leaving lots of white space.
That is its primary appeal – screen real estate allows you to do things you cannot do on a typical 20:9 smartphone screen. Otherwise, there are other glass slabs with better battery life, more advanced camera and more.
But what are those things?
The primary use is two separate screens side-by-side, allowing multi-tasking and drag and drop.
Flex mode (open at 90°) is perfect for video conferences like Google Meet.
S Pen is a little more useful as an editing tool or to write notes screen off
YouTube is 16:9, so you get a video bar on about 1/3rd of the screen. The sound is very good.
It is not, as we discovered, very good at Word or Excel because text and figures by default are small. Excel shows 13 rows and five columns. Flex mode placed the screen keyboard on the bottom half and the text on the top, cutting these apps back to the same size as a glass slab.
As one who has had all three versions in their hot hands, this is the most ‘finished’. The Armor Aluminium Frame is solid, the Gorilla Glass Victus (front screen only) and the inside PET covered screen are substantial improvements – it no longer feels fragile.
The crease between the screen is still there but less noticeable – only when touching it, using the S Pen or swiping over it.
My only design complaint is that it is still a $2.5K phone, and the 2-handed process of opening it and the 1.5 hand process of holding it are still risky. Over nearly two weeks of use, I almost dropped it daily.
The second issue is that it is an amazing fingerprint magnet – both the inside and outside screens. You don’t want to use a scratchy tissue to clean them despite Samsung’s claim of 80% better durability. Better keep a microfibre lens cleaning cloth handy – I promise you will need it.
But all that disappears when you put it in your pocket. It may be heavy, but it is perfectly pocketable. However, apart from being a fingerprint magnet, it is a dust–pocket lint magnet.
And a final suggestion to Samsung Australia. While this is a beautiful device, your tendency to keep reducing specifications on the website makes it very hard for those that want to use them to help objectively make a purchase decision. Please return to the good old days where specifications are deep and meaningful. Even Apple does a better job, and it is not good at that.
Screen – one, two or three
7.6” 2208 x 1764, 374ppi, 22.5:18 ratio Adaptive 48/60/96/120Hz
6.2” 2268 x 832, 387ppi, 24.5:9 ratio Same
Eco OLED, Dynamic AMOLED 2X with un2der screen camera and low-density pixels overlay
Super AMOLED 2
16.7m colours 8-bit Vivid – DCI-P3 space Natural – 99.8% sRGB Delta E 2.9 HDR10/+, HLG
Same Not tested
489 nits and 922 nits in max auto
Daylight AOD Dark mode Blue light Edge screen
Yes Customisable Yes Yes Customisable
L1 Widevine HDCP 2.3 Plays 1080p HDR content from Netflix etc
Will play any game at high frame rates, but you need to consider the touch durability of the flexible OLED panel. Most games are full screen. See note about throttling later. 2.4ms BTW and 1.0.5ms GTG
Not advisable in 24.5:9 format
PET plastic screen protector
Gorilla Glass Victus It can survive drops up to 2M and has 4X better scratch resistance
Samsung has one of the more comprehensive range of accessibility options.
Wired via USB-C to USB-C 3.1 Wired via USB_C to HDMI Wireless via Miracast
The outside screen is much more an extension of the inside screen. Its tall slim format means that you will use it more often as your phone screen only opening the internal screen as required.
The inside screen is 22.5:18, which is 11.25:9 (typical smartphones are 16:9 to 20:9), which means it is best used as two screens unless the app supports it. An increasing range of apps will rescale, and it’s a feature in the coming Android 12,
Processor – running on unleaded
Qualcomm SD888 5nm 1 x 2.84GHz, 3 x 2.42GHz, 4 x 1.8Ghz 6th Generation AI engine 26 Trillion operations per second (TOPS) 3rd Gen X60 5G modem (no mmWave) Triple image signal processor can capture 2.7 gigapixels per second On-device Truepic cryptography seal CAI camera Geekbench 5 single/multi-core 1132/3477
Adreno 660 840MHz Open CL: 4599 Vulcan: 4338
12GB LPDDR5 – the fastest currently available
256GB UFS 3.1 (210GB free) Tests: Sequential read/write Mbps Internal: 1004/366 – near SSD External 1GB Orico iMatch USB-C 3.1: External USB Flash or SSD would show in My Files, but neither Androbench nor CPDT could recognise or test the speed.
Geek Bench 5
Single: 1132 Multi-core: 3477
Throttle 15-minute test
Max: 216,369 GIPS, Average: 204,252, 10% loss over 15 minutes CPU temp reached 50+°
Regrettably, this SoC has been hobbled to help manage thermal issues. The SD888 typically has 240,000+ GIPS and averages 225,000+ GIPS. This thin 6.5mm form factor has to back off to keep the temperature in check. It is akin to buying a V8 and running on six cylinders. This is not an issue in everyday use but certainly puts it out of consideration for mobile gamers that expect SD888 speeds.
It is a concern that external USB devices could be detected by My Files but not tested for data transfer speeds. With only 256GB of storage, shooting a [email protected] video takes .5GB a minute.
N 1, 3, 5, 8, 20, 28, 38, 40, 41, 66, 77, 78 Supports all sub-6Ghz and 5G Low Band from Telstra, Optus and Vodafone
Using a Boost Mobile (Telstra retail network) sim at 1km line-of-sight from Telstra tower. Expressed as -dBm (lower is better) and Femtowatts (fW) or picowatts (pW or 1000fW) where higher is better. Tower readings 1: -84/ from 3.2 to 6.5pW 2: -92/ from 125fw to 1pW 3: -99/ from 158fw to 1pW 4: found, but speeds were unusable. It reflects excellent antenna design and is suited for city, suburbs and regional use.
This has one of the strongest antenna signals we have seen – up there with Telstra Blue Tick regional standard. It supports all relevant 4 and 5G bands for Australia.
Battery – one day – just
2280+2120=4275mAh (nominally 4400mAh)
No charger in the box. The SD888 is capable of QC 4.0+, but Samsung limits this to QC 2.0. Samsung recommends a 25W QC 2.0 charger variable from 3.3-5.9V/3A or 3.3-11V/2.25A.10W (5V/2A) Qi wireless charge capable4.5W (5V/.9A) reverse charge (for Samsung watches) Tests 25W: 0-40% in 30 minutes 25W: 0-100% – 1 hour and 42 minutes 15W (5V/3A standard USB charger) – 5 hours 15W Qi Charger (maximum 11W) – 6.5hours
Tests Adaptive mode
PC Mark 3.0 – 8 hours and 8 minutes Video Loop test: 60Hz 1080p/50%/aeroplane mode – 14 hours Video Loop test: Wi-FI and Netflix – 10 hours Typical use 4G, Wi-Fi Test – 10 hours MP3 music test: 50% volume played from storage – 24hours+ 100% load Battery drain – 5 hours and 30 minutes GFX Bench T-Rex – 189.9 minutes, 3.17 hours, 6287 frames GFX Bench Manhattan 3.1 – 204.6 minutes 3.41 hours, 2520 frames When some tests were re-run at 120Hz, times dropped by about 1.5 hours
Battery life depends on the ratio of front screen to internal screen use. We did not have time or patience to repeat all the tests on the front cover alone, but the PC Mark 3.0 battery test increased by about 10%.
We also used a Plugable USB-C VA Meter (volts/amps/watts), and even with the 25W charger, the phone mainly selected 9V/2A 18W dropping back to 5V/1A when nearly full. It would not charge at 25W even with a 65W PD Charger.
Our call – recharge daily and buy a 15W Qi charge pad. And hobbling the charge to QC 2.0 is unacceptable when other devices accept QC 4.0+ or Super VOOC and charge in less than an hour. Yes, it Is all about thermal management!
Sound – a good wide sound stage
Dual top and bottom firing (Left and right in landscape mode) Dolby Atmos decode and downmix to 2.0
2 x Cirrus Logic CS35I41 D-Class amps, each providing up to [email protected]% THD. It is unusual not to use the Qualcomm Aqistic amps, but the Cirrus Logic is probably better at Dolby Atmos.
Codecs are SBC (standard), AC (Apple), aptX (Qualcomm), LDAC (Sony) and Samsung Scalable codec (Samsung earphones). 16/24/32-bit and 44.1/48/88.2/96kHz Supports to sets of Samsung earphones over SBC
We counted three mics at the top and one at the bottom. This enables audio zoom during recording and hands-free.
Tests dB Anything over 80dB is excellent
Media -78.3 Ring – 80.4 Alarm – 80 Earpiece – 55 Hands-free – while volume is good, the bottom mic needs your voice to be within a metre or so.
The BT 5.0 drove our reference Sony WH-1000xM4 in SBC, AAC and LDAC modes and provided good clear sound and plenty of volume. We tested with the Sony WH-1000XM3 that supports aptX – also good.
Excellent and much more expansive in the landscape mode (Left and Right speakers). It is not so good in portrait mode as it is likely your hands will cover the bottom speaker.
Dolby Atmos decode downmix to 2.0 speakers. That means it can play Atmos content (interesting as the screen does not support Dolby Atmos – only HDR10+), but you don’t get a spatial 3D effect. The EQ covers Normal (Flat for tests), Pop, Classic, Jazz, Rock and Custom, but remember that it cannot create more bass if it is not there in the first place – it is more about tailoring the sound to your music tastes.
Sound signature – fine for most music genres
It is Bright Vocal (bass recessed, mids/treble boosted) that can come back to Mid for clear voice. Suitable for most music genres. There is no low/mid-bass, and high bass starts at about 150Hz. That is enough to please everyone except headbangers. It has strong and flat mid and treble.
If interested, you can read more about the six distinct sound signatures and why they are important.
Build and S Pen
Folded: 158.2 x 67.1 x 16.0mm (Hinge) – 14.4mm (Sagging) Unfolded: 158.2 x 128.1 x 6.4mm 271g plus a choice of covers
Phantom Green, Silver and Black
Cover Glass Gorilla Glass Victus Internal glass – PET covered Frame – Armour Aluminium Back – Metal
IP X8 means 1.5 meters of water for up to 30 minutes (but avoid sand and dust)
In the box
Bumper cover USB-C to USB-C cable
S Pen Option
Can only use S Pen Fold Edition – 4096 pressure levels and 1.5mm sprung tip. Air Command, Air view, Live message, Samsung Notes, Screen off memo, Smart select Screen write, Translate. Bixby Vision, Glance, Magnify, PENUP, Colouring, Air Doodle, Write on calendar Also, a Pro edition S Pen (not reviewed)
The S Pen is handy, as Note users will tell you. But its primary use is screen-off notes followed by screen-on notetaking.
You can purchase a USB-C top 3.5mm DAC
As long as USB-C 3.1 can stream to external flash and SSD, this is not an issue.
Should be included and does not work on the cover screen
Needs to be in the box
Would have been nice
None of these is a deal-breaker.
Android 11 and UI 3.1.1
Google Android 11 and going to 12 Security patch date 1 August 2021 (September review)
UI 3.1.1 and going to UI 4
All standard apps, Google Lens and Assistant. Dedicated Google Assistant key.
Mostly productivity and utilities
Three Android updates at least quarterly security patches for four years
Fingerprint on the power button FaceID Secure Folder: a secure space on the device to isolate and protect content such as apps, photos, movies, and private files. Samsung Galaxy Knox (enterprise focus)
Samsung has one of the best upgrade policies and its UI is a delight to use. Not too heavy over Android.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G camera – good all around
The inside selfie is a 16MP, 1um, f/1.8 Sony IMX471 sensor that bins to a 4MP, 2um image. It then has to use AI to compensate for the screen pixel overlay. The final image (see table below) is barely acceptable – too soft, noisy, overly reliant on AI and significantly affected by lighting.
The so-called 4MP is reserved for wide-angle selfies, and all you get in standard mode is a slice. Similarly, the cover selfie is shooting way below par in standard selfie mode. Now we do understand that selfie camera usually shoot in 4:3 (single) or wide (16:9) and but you are getting selfie resolutions below or around 2MP.
The main 12MP lenses shoot in 12MP mode except for the Ultra-wide, which takes a 5.76MP slice. If you want 12MP, then 4:3 is your only choice as 9:16 is 9MP, and 1:1 is 8.9MP. Overall, the 12MP produces slightly softer, slightly noisy, less detailed, and more natural colour images.
Video – good but far from great
By default, video is h.264 compressed with an AVC video stream and a stereo 48kHZ AAC stream.
[email protected] is great in terms of colours and stabilisation, but it is let down by sometimes slow autofocus and tracking focus, poor textures/details and noise, especially in office or low light.
[email protected] nails it all. Great colour, white balance, details, focus and low noise.
There is OIS on two lenses and EIS on all three lenses. Image stability is not a problem.
It has HDR10+ recording (firmware update to come), Zoom-in mic, and an HEVC toggle.
It is the best (almost only) foldable today. It is unique, but you need the use case to justify it – unless you just want bragging rights. This Fold has grown up – relatively quickly, and there are no deal-breakers.
But I can’t help feel it is still an evolving format – pull out, rollable OLED, dual screens, who knows?. But as this is a 3-year device, who cares?
As a foldable, it is damned close to perfect. As a phone, there are far better phones like the class-leading S21 Ultra 5G.
After two weeks of use, I am happy to return to a glass slab – lighter, more pocketable, and a lot cheaper.
Value for money
Ease of use
IPX8 - what we expect of a premium device
The Foldable has grown-up
120Hz both displays
S Pen - vale Note
Good, not a great camera
USB-C 3.2 and video out
No charger or buds in box
Barely one day battery life
4MP under-display selfie is barely adequate
No 3.5mm or MicroSD