Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G – know when to fold ’em (review)

8.2

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.

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em. Know when to fold ’em. Know when to walk away. And know when to run.

Kenny Rogers – the Gambler

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.

Details

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G Model SM-F926B 12/256GB, Single SIM and eSIM.

WebsiteSamsung Australia
Price12/256GB $2499 free Australian delivery
12/512GB $2649
25W charger $29
Spare USB-C 60W rated cable $15
USB-C DAC to 3.5mm for cabled earphones $20
Wireless Charger from $59 to $159
Flip Cover with Pen $119
Leather Cover $129
BT Smart keyboard $69
ColoursPhantom Black, Phantom Green and Phantom Silver
FromSamsung online and major Samsung approved retailers*
Warranty12-months
Country of manufactureVietnam
SamsungSamsung is a South Korean multinational conglomerate headquartered in Samsung Town, Seoul. It is the world’s largest Android smartphone maker.
MoreGadgetGuy Samsung News and reviews

* 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.

Counterpoint says that 2021 shipments will be around 9 million globally and that foldable phone shipments will grow 10x by 2023. It expects Samsung will have 75% of the market.

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.

First impressions

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

 Main internalExternal
External7.6” 2208 x 1764, 374ppi,
22.5:18 ratio
Adaptive 48/60/96/120Hz
6.2” 2268 x 832, 387ppi, 24.5:9 ratio
Same
TypeEco OLED, Dynamic AMOLED 2X with un2der screen camera and low-density pixels overlaySuper AMOLED 2
Colour depth

16.7m colours 8-bit
Vivid – DCI-P3 space
Natural – 99.8% sRGB
Delta E 2.9
HDR10/+, HLG
Same
Not tested

 
Brightness489 nits and 922 nits in max auto479/1000
Daylight
AOD
Dark mode
Blue light
Edge screen
Yes
Customisable
Yes
Yes
Customisable
Same
N/A
DRML1 Widevine HDCP 2.3
Plays 1080p HDR content from Netflix etc
N/A
GamingWill 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
ProtectionPET plastic screen protectorGorilla Glass Victus
It can survive drops up to 2M and has 4X better scratch resistance
AccessibilitySamsung has one of the more comprehensive range of accessibility options. 
DeXWired 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

SoCQualcomm 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
GPUAdreno 660 840MHz
Open CL: 4599
Vulcan: 4338
RAM12GB LPDDR5 – the fastest currently available
Storage256GB 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.
micro-SDNo/size
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.

Comms – Wi-Fi 6e

Wi-FiWi-Fi 6e AX
Signal Strength 5Ghz – distance from Netgear RAX200, AX11000, 12 stream router
Test (-dBm lower is better and Mbps higher is better)
2m:  -39dBm/2400Mbps
5m:  -52/1956
10m: -69/1200
Screen mirrorMiracast supports [email protected]
BluetoothBT 5.2
UWBUltra-Wide Band chip for future use
GPSDual with <2m accuracy
NFCGoogle Pay or Samsung Pay
USB-C3.2 Gen 1 5Gbps
Supports [email protected] with a 4K rated USB-C to HDMI cable
SensorsCombo Accelerometer/Gyro LSM6DSO, Barometer, Fingerprint Sensor (capacitive on the power switch), Geomagnetic (e-Compass), Hall, Light, Proximity

It has a full suite of Comms and sensors. Wi-Fi 6e allows 2400Mbps full-duplex with the right router, and its antenna sensitivity is excellent.

LTE and 5G – excellent antenna signal strenght

SIMSinge sim and eSIM (If using 5G, it is always active)
Ring toneSingle
SupportVoLTE – carrier dependent – generally yes
Wi-Fi calling – Yes
UL/DL31.4/24/2Mbps 30ms – excellent
LTE Band1, 2, 3, 4, 5,7,8,12, 13, 17 18, 19,20, 25, 28, 32, 38, 39, 49, 41 66 – a world phones
5GN 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
TestUsing 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

Battery2280+2120=4275mAh (nominally 4400mAh)
ChargerNo 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

SpeakersDual top and bottom firing (Left and right in landscape mode)
Dolby Atmos decode and downmix to 2.0
AMP2 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.
BT codecsCodecs 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
Playback
Codecs
MP3, M4A, 3GA, AAC, OGG, OGA, WAV, AMR, AWB, FLAC, MID, MIDI, XMF, MXMF, IMY, RTTTL, RTX, OTA, DFF, DSF, APE
MicWe counted three mics at the top and one at the bottom. This enables audio zoom during recording and hands-free.
3.5mmNo
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.
HeadphonesThe 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.
SoundstageExcellent 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

Size/WeightFolded: 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
ColoursPhantom Green, Silver and Black
BuildCover Glass Gorilla Glass Victus
Internal glass – PET covered
Frame – Armour Aluminium
Back – Metal
IPIP X8 means 1.5 meters of water for up to 30 minutes (but avoid sand and dust)
In the boxBumper 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.

Missing

3.5mmYou can purchase a USB-C top 3.5mm DAC
MicroSDAs long as USB-C 3.1 can stream to external flash and SSD, this is not an issue.
S PenShould be included and does not work on the cover screen
25W chargerNeeds to be in the box
USB-C budsWould have been nice

None of these is a deal-breaker.

Android 11 and UI 3.1.1

AndroidGoogle Android 11 and going to 12
Security patch date 1 August 2021 (September review)
UIUI 3.1.1 and going to UI 4
GoogleAll standard apps, Google Lens and Assistant. Dedicated Google Assistant key.
BloatwareMostly productivity and utilities
Update PolicyThree Android updates
at least quarterly security patches for four years
SecurityFingerprint 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

 Camera Primary
12MP Wide
Ultra-wide
12MP
Telephoto
12MP
Selfie
Under-screen
4MP
Selfie
Cover screen
10MP
SensorSony IMX555S5K3LDHI1337IMX471IMX374
BinningNosamesame16MP to 4MPno
FocusDual Pixel AFFFPDAFFFFF
Aperture f-stop1.82.22.41.8 2.2
Pixel size um1.81.211 bins to 21.22
FOV° and cropped83 (71.5)119 (104.3)4580 (62.7)80 (69.3)
StabilisationOIS and EISEISOIS and EIS  
FlashSingle   Screen
Zoom  2X optical
10X digital
  
Video Max[email protected][email protected]same  same
FeaturesHDR10+ recording
Tracking AF
Scene Optimiser *
QR codes
Portrait bokeh
Food
Night mode
Video modes
AR modes

Missing – macro
    

* Face, Baby, Person, Dog, Cat, Food, People, Beaches, Sky, Mountain, Sunset, Sunrise, City, Snow, Waterfall, Watersides, Scenery, Stage, Vehicles, Drinks, Flowers, Trees, Greenery, Animal, Shoes, Backlit, Indoor, Text, Clothes, Night view

Outdoors

Macro

Office Light <400 lumens

Dark (<40 lumens)

General camera comments

Selfie – the Under Screen camera is a problem

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.

Under screenStandardMPWideMP
3:4139218562.58230417283.98
9:16104018561.93230412962.98
1:1139213921.93172817282.98
3:5137217122.34214417183.68
Front CoverStandardWide
3:4220829446.50364827369.98
9:16180832165.81396822328.85
1:1220822084.87273627367.48
Full220829446.50369814285.28
Main LensUW
12MP4000300012400014405.76

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.

GadgetGuys take

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.

]

Features
8.5
Value for money
8
Performance
8
Ease of use
8
Design
8.5
Positives
IPX8 - what we expect of a premium device
The Foldable has grown-up
120Hz both displays
S Pen - vale Note
Great speakers
Good, not a great camera
USB-C 3.2 and video out
Negatives
No charger or buds in box
Barely one day battery life
Slow charging
4MP under-display selfie is barely adequate
No 3.5mm or MicroSD
8.2