REVIEW: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G
Compact, flexible and a looker. But is it worth it?
There was a point in mobile phone history that smaller devices were cool — particularly those you could fold (remember the Motorola MicroTAC?) — not to mention embodying the textbook definition of coming in handy. And in this age where you’d want to do more on your big-screen smartphone, doing so while being even more compact won't hurt at all.
Samsung’s answered that call already (no pun intended) with last year’s original Flip, and now its updated version, the Galaxy Z Flip3 5G, is ready for action. And, yes, we know it was launched alongside the humongous Fold3, but we’ll get to that soon enough. Be patient.
TALE OF THE TAPE
From a bird's-eye view, there is a good number of stuff that hasn't been altered, but the changes made are, in the strictest sense, quite crucial. Also, there's is no 'Flip2'; Samsung skipped that name to, apparently, keep in pace with the Fold series, much like what they did when they didn't use 'Note6'.
And check out that price over there — that's one-third less than the original Flip. But there's an argument to be made if you see the in-the-box part; you can do the math and perform your own price-balancing act.
Well, except for a few, rather unnoticeable tweaks, nothing much has changed physically on the Flip3 — heck, even its weight remains dead same, but with dimensions that are overall smaller and hairline slimmer (by 0.3mm to be precise, when folded; its unfolded depth sticks).
Unfolded, it clocks in at 6.53 by 2.84 inches; folded, the former’s down to 3.4 inches. The irony is that while it does have a size similar to standard smartphone sizes nowadays, it feels weird to grasp it while its folded. Anyway, now that’s a lot of space that can be saved when you put in anywhere, especially in your pocket. Obviously, the idea here is a greater sense of portability, with a dash of style written all over it; seriously, it just brings back memories of those ol’ foldable phones — you know that when you’re able to fold them, they’re just lookers, and especially now that we’re fully aware that the screen itself is now bendable.
In either case, the volume rocker and power button/fingerprint scanner are on the right, the card tray is on the left and the USB-C port is below. Flip it over (no pun intended) and the rear is quite unremarkable: On top is a black panel that houses the dual-lens camera and 1.9-inch front display (roughly one-fifth of its entirety), while the rest below reps your chosen colour, with the metal hinge separating top and bottom. And the only place the Samsung branding will reveal itself is on the hinge when you fold it.
It gets even more plain when you fold it: In this mode, that black panel and the lenses now face you, with completely nothing on the back. Yes, it’s really compact in this form, which is one of the Flip3’s key selling points. It may feel weird to hold a square brick; it’s not as if you’re going to use this as a full-on smartphone in this form, but there are a few things you can do in this phase (more on that later).
Samsung also armed it with some firsts when it comes to protection. Like the Fold3, the Flip3 is the world’s first foldable smartphone with an IPX8 rating, meaning it can resist splashes and even the rain (no saltwater, please). They’re also built with Samsung’s very own Armor Aluminium, which the company says is the strongest aluminum they’ve ever used on a Galaxy device. For good measure, they also come with Corning Gorilla Glass Victus, the brand’s toughest ever by far. And of course, the Flip3 is verified to withstand 200,000 folds; for perspective, that’s roughly 547 folds a day for a year (546 in a leap year) — try it if you wish and let us know.
Now a question that may pop up is that, is the Flip aimed at women? Honestly, no — and we can say that this form factor adds to the allure of the device. While opinions about this specific topic can be polarising, there’s really no ‘gender’ attached to this phone — unless maybe if you base this on what colour is to be used (you’d know which direction this is going if you cite the lavender and cream options). This makes no difference to when the likes of the Ericsson T28, Samsung’s own SGH-X426 and Motorola’s gang of foldables — including the TACs, V60 and, of course, the iconic Razr — were actually a thing.
So it's a flip phone. But unlike yesteryears, the display itself actually folds (we had to brign that up, didn't we?). There's no other way to put it: The Flip3 is a device that allows you to enjoy content on a huge screen, which you can clam and easily stow away when you're done (why are we reminded of the Nintendo DS?).
Naturally, it comes with its own bag of tricks, foremost of which is what's called Flex Mode, wherein positioning into what we call 'super-mini laptop mode' does exactly that: Viewing content on top and manning the controls below, all while letting the device sit freely, hands-free ('lazy mode', as we term it another way).
Some examples: When using Microsoft Office — Word, in particular — you can just let your hands rest and make both index fingers do the typing. Or on YouTube, where you can browse with just one finger below while something's playing on top.
In other words, it's just a hands-free mode of sorts. But since it may feel awkward to use certain apps on this mode, we may be better off using the device like we normally would — with both hands. Kind of a novelty in a way. The best things you can do on Flex Mode is watching video and chatting with someone.
More on typing: Another minor disadvantage is that when you try doing so in landscape mode, the virtual keyboard takes about 60 per cent of the screen, thanks to its form that's slimmer than other smartphones of this size. That takes away the bigger overview than you would normally have.
On the bright side, on this mode you can activate the split screen feature, in which you can use two apps simultaneously, browse the Web on top while texting someone below, for example. This feature isn't new, but it does add to the productivity chamber.
And as for that tiny cover display? Well, it is indeed bigger right now at 1.9 inches, but it's still severely handicapped: Sure, you can swipe through notifications and messages, but that's it — you can't respond to it unless you use Siri's friend Bixby or open the phone up completely. It really reminds us of the display on a smart band (not even a smartwatch!), given its limitations.
Now, theoretically, if you jack up this screen to the entirety of the space available — could go to about 3.7 inches, according to our trusty ruler — then indeed more can be done that could address the issues above. Could Samsung have added at least a scribble option on the present screen? Presumably, yes, which could've eased things a little bit.
The Flip3 has two cameras, 12MP plus 10MP, with nothing really fancy compared to what we've seen in higher-tier Samsung devices.
Here's what we saw.
Eegad. The results are somewhat pale; the scene above actually has a warmer tone.
Ditto for this one — though it still does do a good job overall in detailing colours. Still, being able to compare the shot from the real world makes it immediately noticeable that there's some hue issues right off the bat. Sure, you can tinker it with the software later on, but still.
The 10MP selfie camera, meanwhile, pretty much does its job with not much smudging to be seen. Given the size of the cover display, snaps taken on this mode give you a very limited preview, but the end-result is a full-sized photo... you may not be aware if someone's photobombing you.
The Flip3 retains its predecessor's 3300mAh battery, and it's quite what we expected: In our standard one-hour YouTube-at-full-brightness test, the device lost 12 per cent. It's more than enough to last the entire day, and you'll find it begging for more juice the following morning.
And since the box doesn't come with a wall plug, we used a standard Samsung fast adaptive charger, and here are the results:
Not bad, since 80 per cent in an hour is our passing mark. It also gets to full charge at a fairly good rate. Do remember that the Flip3 also offers wireless and reverse wireless charging, so that's an added bonus. We still feel that the battery could've been bigger, thus giving us some more hours of air time.
Honestly, this is a tough call. The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G can be viewed as both a cutting-edge device and a novelty — at least at this point in time. True, foldable devices have started to catch on, but there's still much work to be done for them to become full-mainstream devices.
We take issue with the lower-specced cameras and somewhat underwhelming battery. The price slash is a very much welcome move (practically almost Dh2,000 off compared to the first Flip!), but you do have to consider that there's also a lot of stuff missing in the box this time, which is why we're leaving the price out of our parting words below. Samsung did, however, make up for that with a tougher build, which we really appreciate.
We mean, think about it: Barring the foldable screen, you get some better specs — and a better price — with a Galaxy S21. We're sure, however, that the only way this will go is up — and by that we mean more powerful foldables at attractive prices in the future.
GOODIES: Tough build, very compact design, water-resistant
GOOFIES: Underwhelming cameras and battery, handicapped cover display, very difficult to open with one hand
EDITOR RATING: We'll be judging this from a purist's point of view. And this hurts. 4.0/5
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