With an upcoming sequel for The Matrix, Limp Bizkit dropping a new album, and Samsung releasing the Galaxy Z Flip 3, it’s safe to say that the early 2000s are back. After the last decade of nostalgia for the 1980s and ’90s, I suppose it was only a matter of time.
Released back in August of this year, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is the second iteration of Samsung’s line of clamshell foldable smartphones and a massive leap forward over its predecessor. But even with these upgrades, how does it stack up to other smartphones on the market? Does a flip phone have a place in 2021?
What can the Galaxy Z Flip 3 do?
Taken on face value, it’s easy to write the Galaxy Z Flip 3 off as more of a novelty than a serious smartphone. And while I think that’s true to some degree, Samsung has made the effort to create a phone that makes a decent enough argument as an alternative option when compared to the brand’s other phones and other phones on the market.
The Flip 3 runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888, which is the same chipset that the U.S., Chinese and Japanese versions of the Samsung Galaxy S21 models use, with 8GB of RAM and an Adreno 660 GPU. Over the two months that I’ve been using this phone, it’s only crashed on me once – and that’s because I was trying to do it on purpose.
Compared to Samsung’s flagship smartphones, the Flip 3 does have a smaller battery size at 3,300mAh, but I never found it to be a problem. Most days I’d be sitting at around the 30% mark when I plugged in the handset to charge overnight.
It comes with two external cameras – a 12MP Wide-angle and a 12MP Ultra Wide – which are both outstanding. When open, the phone has a pretty good front-facing 10MP punch-hole camera too.
The Ultra-Wide camera really lives up to its name and is almost a fisheye lens, which leads to some distortion at the edge of the image. It’s not as noticeable, but you’ll definitely see it if you’re using it to take up-close shots.
The phone’s hinge is pretty firm and maintained that firmness the entire time I’ve been using it. There’s also something incredibly satisfying about dramatically flipping the phone open or shut. I found myself doing that whenever I could, even if the occasion didn’t really call for that level of sass.
Unlike the previous Z Flip model, the Flip 3 actually has an IPX8 water-resistance rating but no dust rating. So try to keep that hinge clean.
The Flip 3’s best feature and biggest improvement over its predecessor, is its screen, which is pretty impressive considering it regularly bends in half. Its screen is a 6.7-inch, 2640 x 1080 Samsung AMOLED display with HDR10+, and everything I’ve watched or played on it has looked so crisp and sharp.
Compared to the previous Z Flip, this new iteration supports an adaptive refresh rate of up to 120Hz (more on that in a moment) and a high peak brightness that ensures that you won’t have any problems when using the phone outside in direct sunlight.
The bigger 22:9 display is perfect for gaming. Since most mobile game HUDs are designed to sit on the far edge of the screen, there’s a lot of real estate in the centre. The screen does get a bit warm after using it for extended periods of time. Not enough that it’s uncomfortable, but it’s noticeable.
The 120Hz refresh rate really helps create some buttery-smooth gameplay, and I had no problems maintaining 60 FPS while playing more RAM-intensive games like Call of Duty Mobile and Genshin Impact. The hinge is also sturdy enough that I never accidentally bent the phone while playing with it.
The phone also has a Game Booster feature, which will help to optimise its performance while you’re gaming by analysing the phone’s memory usage and temperature by allowing you to limit notifications, battery usage and background app functions.
The bendable nature of the phone does mean that there’s a crease that runs up across the screen when fully opened. However, I think Samsung has done a good job of downplaying this crease as much as possible. While playing games or watching videos, it isn’t very noticeable at the right angle. However, every now and then I’d readjust myself, and the crease would catch the light of the room.
That extended screen does make the Flip 3 a pretty long phone, but I was able to hold it comfortably as I usually would any other smartphone. I have pretty big hands but never felt I had to overextend myself to hit the volume or power buttons. But you might have a different experience if you suffer from a case of baby hands.
There’s also a small, external 1.9-inch display that you can use to view notifications, basic info like the time or battery, or access app widgets like Spotify while the phone is closed. You can also use the display as a viewfinder if you want to take a selfie with the higher-quality external cameras.
Is the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 worth flipping out over?
I’m of two minds about the Flip 3. On the one hand, it’s a very good phone. Even with the bend dip, it has one of the nicest displays of any smartphone I’ve seen and its performance is pretty fantastic, especially when it comes to gaming. It’s also made a lot of great improvements on the previous Z Flip model, moving it towards something that means proper business and can actually stand toe-to-toe with some other smartphones on the market.
The entire time I was using the Flip 3, I found myself asking the same question over and over again: Is this good enough that I’d want to pick it over a Samsung Galaxy S21 or a similar equal? As much as I like what’s under the hood, I’m not sure if that’s quite enough for me. For the sake of price comparison, the 128GB model of the standard Galaxy S21 retails for $1,249, while the S21+ sits at $1,549. The 128GB Z Flip 3 will set you back $1,499.
The Flip 3 was released alongside the Galaxy Z Fold 3, another one of Samsung’s foldable phone experiments. The Fold 3 has the ability to fold out from a double-thick phone into a tablet, which is a function with a clear practical use. Comparatively, the Flip 3 is more of an aesthetic novelty. This might be fine for some – there’s plenty of tech out there that people favour for more aesthetic reasons than functional ones.
However, speaking on a purely aesthetic level, I appreciate the Flip 3 as an attempt at something different. Over the past decade, smartphone design has homogenised. You now get to pick from a rectangle of glass and aluminium, and a slightly different rectangle of glass and aluminium.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 is still very much a part of that design trend, but I like that it’s thrown an alternative option into the ring. If you take a look at the mobile phones of the early 2000s, there is a massive variety of shapes, styles and designs – and on some level, I suppose I miss that. Will the Samsung Z Flip 3 usher in a flip phone renaissance? Probably not, but I’m glad that they made the effort in the first place.