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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 review: Still another novelty device

It is hard to compare the Galaxy Z Fold 3 with other smartphones. For now, all you can do is admire the tech behind a mainstream foldable phone  

Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy Z Fold3 5G foldable smartphone with S Pen stylus at the Samsung Unpacked product launch event in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. (Bloomberg)

In its first year, we said the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold was a rushed and incomplete device. In the second, we said the Galaxy Z Fold 2 was refined and felt like a good first step. Now, in the third attempt, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 feels like things are finally falling in line for the technology giant.

Last year’s Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 almost made us believe that phones can be tablets, but it didn’t exactly convince everyone that they need to be tablets. That’s the one question this year’s Galaxy Z Fold 3 fails to answer too.

Also read: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 review: A mainstream flip smartphone

At its core, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is the same phone as its predecessor. It feels the same, it’s thin and it’s tall when folded. When you unfold it, it turns into a nearly 8-inch tablet and makes you feel like you’re looking into the future.

The large, unfolded form factor takes a bit of getting used to, and I must admit I haven’t gotten used to it after nearly a month now. It’s also thick and heavy and feels much like a Nokia Communicator of yore in your hand. But all that is somewhat subjective and what it means to you will really depend on your taste and choices.

More importantly, this year’s Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 supports the S-Pen, which adds some functionality, and reinforces the notion that this is, in fact, the phone that has replaced Samsung’s Galaxy Note line. The stylus isn’t bundled with this one though. You will have to spend extra to use it with this device, which will set you back another Rs. 3,999 and Rs. 9,999 depending on the model. I didn’t get a chance to try out the new S-Pen with this device though, so I can’t comment on how it works.

Samsung Electronics' foldable smartphone Galaxy Z Fold3 is seen in this undated handout photo released to Reuters on August 11, 2021. 
Samsung Electronics' foldable smartphone Galaxy Z Fold3 is seen in this undated handout photo released to Reuters on August 11, 2021.  (VIA REUTERS)

But despite the S-Pen and some neat software tricks from Samsung, there’s only so much you can do. With the software features last year, like opening apps side-by-side, Samsung gave us hope that there is a point to this device. The fact that you can’t do much more this time is sort of a bummer. To be fair, this is what many of us said about the first few editions of the Galaxy Note series, but Samsung proved us all wrong over time.

In essence, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is as much of a novelty as the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is a mainstream foldable phone. The good thing is that Samsung is still making important changes to this phone.

It runs on the Snapdragon 888 and is as fast as any smartphone today, at least for most practical purposes. Samsung has also attached 120Hz displays on both the inner and outer screens, which makes for a more uniform experience than the one we had on the Galaxy Z Fold 2.

Samsung also claims that the screen is stronger now, which it very well could be. It has layers of plastic over it though, which feels somewhat sticky and though it looks great in terms of colour and brightness, it doesn’t quite feel premium. The plastic is somewhat sticky and makes you wonder what the S-Pen would feel like when used on such a screen.

Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy Z Fold3 5G foldable smartphones at the Samsung Unpacked product launch event in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.
Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy Z Fold3 5G foldable smartphones at the Samsung Unpacked product launch event in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. (Bloomberg)

There’s an under-display camera on the inner screen this time, another first from the South Korean giant. Some have argued that the under-display camera is distracting and comes in the way of watching immersive content. However, I found it as distracting as any notch on a smartphone screen today, by which I mean that I’m only too happy to accept such trade-offs if it means more screen real-estate.

The fact that Samsung is still doing the work is good news for the industry, and the consumers, as a whole. Tech giants do the first and absorb the costs that go into making really new devices and technology, and eventually smaller firms make things cheaper and put “cutting edge” devices in everyone’s hands.

Like the Galaxy Z Flip 3, the cameras on the Z Fold 3 don’t quite match up to flagship class devices today, including Samsung’s own Galaxy S21 Ultra, but they do more than enough for posting photos on social media. It just doesn’t have all the features that the top cameras today possess, a trade-off that many early adopters are fine with. If this phone wasn't worth Rs. 1,49,999, many wouldn't even have complained about it.

The bottom-line is that the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 isn’t a phone that you should compare against regular smartphones. It does everything a smartphone can, including supporting 5G networks, but Samsung very clearly doesn’t want you to compare it to one. It will probably be a few years before we find a real use case for this — perhaps Google will fix Android itself to take advantage of these larger screens — but in the meanwhile, this is a novelty that exists to prove Samsung’s superiority as a real technology giant.

Also read: Why we continue to love foldable phones

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