Anton D. Nagy contributed to this Samsung Galaxy Unpacked hands-on post featuring everything Samsung unveiled at its Unfolded event today.
In no industry is the phrase – third time’s a charm – more evident than in mobile technology. We even recommend that you avoid the curse of the early adopter, which was pretty much the case with Samsung’s first Galaxy Fold. Yes, we know, the first units we got brought design issues that were fixed later, and yes, we also know that left some of you skeptical of paying so much to experiment.
Thing is, then we reviewed the first Z Flip and that was a completely different phone. Mine is a year and a half old and still looks and folds like new, and it’s the same story with the Z Fold 2 I’ve been using since January. I almost wish the first Fold didn’t get such bad publicity because generation two was great. It’s been the breath of fresh innovation smartphone makers have spent 5 years arguing about. It’s brought the cool factor most of us in the tech space have expected, and yet, I know certain skepticism still exists.
I think the only way to erase that first impression is to actually address some of the compromises that even reached the second generation. We live in a time when our phone is our tool. We don’t want to worry about it getting wet and most importantly, we don’t want our expensive piece of hardware to be too fragile for the money, and this is why I feel the solution is generation 3.
We just had an opportunity to spend about an hour with Samsung’s new foldable flagships at a private venue before today’s Unpacked event, and let me just say that if I ever debated the need for my phone to fold in the past, I think my personal argument is over.
So quick disclaimer, keep in mind these are all first impressions. Each of us was given a private session to adhere to safety protocols, but then there’s only so much we can experience in 4 products in an hour. Yes, we got to see the new Z Flip 3, Z Fold 3, Galaxy Watch 4, and Buds 2. For this video, I’m gonna focus mostly on the first three as my Buds 2 review is already in progress in a separate video.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3
So let’s start with Z Flip 3. I’m gonna just call this the new flagship killer because, for $999, it’s going directly after any expensive “Pro” phone out there. Think of it, it kind of makes you debate why you would want to pay more money for a phone that doesn’t fold or do any other cooler trick. It comes in four colors, and that actually defines the finish. For example, if you go black, the entire body is matte, but then the Cream shade will blend shinny elements with a matte chassis, and then the other combos bring their own unique elements.
But then there’s the fact that Samsung pretty much-fixed everything we wanted with the first and second generation. Somehow they fixed the spring action of the hinge, so feel free to treat this like your old flip phone and just flip it open with one hand. Somehow they’ve modified the mechanism to allow this without affecting its ability to work in Flex Mode and be propped up on a table. They also addressed durability concerns in a big way. It might look like jewelry, but we’re talking Gorilla Glass Victus on the outside, a new Armor Aluminum finish Samsung claims to be stronger, and a new protective film that Samsung claims to be 80% stronger on the inside. What’s most important, yes, this phone is IPX8 fresh water-resistant, solving the biggest pain point at this price range.
The thumb outer display is also gone for a more logical 1.9-inch Super AMOLED that provides notifications you can actually read this time, along with its own set of widgets for you to call on without the need to open the phone. Now when you do, you can expect the same tall 6.7-inch Dynamic AMOLED panel at Full HD+ resolution we had before, but now with 120Hz refresh rate for a more fluid experience, and then stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos, which we wish we had on the two previous generations. Sadly, the rumors of no crease didn’t really happen, but after two years of using foldables, trust me, it doesn’t deter me from the experience.
Internals include a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888, 8 gigs of RAM, non-expandable storage that starts at 128 gigs, a 3,300mAh battery, a side fingerprint scanner, face recognition on the inner 10-megapixel punch hole camera, and then the two primary cameras on the cover are of 12 megapixels with ultra-wide and standard functionality.
Judging by the cases and optional accessories I’d say the Z Flip 3 is marketed more for a younger audience, or even a lifestyle consumer.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3
By contrast, I think the Z Fold 3 is a completely different product that’s more focused on the professional. Judging by the props, accessories, and cases, it’s as if Samsung is silently replacing the Galaxy Note with this phone. I even think the Galaxy Note name is far more appropriate for this product now that it folds than the Z Fold 3 scheme.
At $1799 it still is a pretty penny, but in Samsung’s defense, it’s now less expensive than it’s ever been, finally solves the caveats that made you debate the premium, and adds extra fan favorites that make it kind of irresistible. It comes in 3 colors in a more elegant and matte finish, with this matte black one being my favorite so far.
It addresses the same durability concerns with a combo of Gorilla Glass Victus and Amor Aluminum on the outside, plus a stronger protective film on the folding glass inside. Best of all, same IPX8 fresh water rating for added peace of mind. Now what’s interesting is that even if it’s slightly more substantial than before, Samsung managed to make it lighter and more ergonomic, doing away with the sharp spots we had in Gen 2.
New tricks include a 120Hz refresh rate, regardless if you’re on the outer 6.2-Dynamic AMOLED or the inner 7.6-inch panel. Yes, there is S Pen support now, whether you go for the Fold or Pro versions, and really what makes these different is that the tip now sinks in when you apply too much pressure, as a measure to protect the thin glass from scratches. That said, keep in mind that only the inner display provides this WACOM functionality. Can I just say this is the perfect form factor for an S Pen? The idea of having my phone become a tablet that I can write on is perfect, and the feel of the pen on the inner panel is no different than what I’ve experienced before. Yes, remind me of the crease all you want, but I see none of you writing in the middle of an open book either. We’ll see about that in our review.
Now, another interesting trick is the Under Display 4-megapixel camera included, which, well, let’s just say doesn’t look that much better than a punch hole when covered by its larger pixels. We’ll see how it performs on final review units.
Other specs include a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888, 12 gigs of RAM, non-expandable storage that starts at 256 gigs, a 4,400 mAh battery, a fingerprint sensor on the side, and stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos. As for the rest of the cameras, 10 megapixels on the cover display and then a combo of 3 primary cameras at the back that are all 12 megapixels, and serve for Ultra-wide, regular, and telephoto. No ultra chops to be seen here as some rumors predicted.
Now since this is a sort of Galaxy Note, there is a ton of software tricks baked in that I’ll cover extensively when final units arrive, as Samsung really wants this to even feel like a Windows product in day-to-day productivity.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 4
As for the Galaxy Watch 4, well we got to see both models in all their color variations. Not sure if I find it any more or less elegant than before given the short time we had, but I will tell you one thing: that OneUI watch feels more like the old UI we knew, that can simply run Wear OS apps. Same Rotating bezel functionality and placement of everything we knew on previous Galaxy Watches. It makes no logical sense for old watches not to get this update, but we’ll see once we can fully test what’s different. That said, given how Samsung has dropped the price to start at just $249 and $349 respectively, I can see them trying to make a statement.
But anyway, that’s it for what we saw at today’s Unpacked briefing. So far my experience with the Buds 2 has been pretty positive, but again more on that on a separate video. The Galaxy Watch 4 looks pretty promising, but let’s be real, what stole the show is the foldables.
I can tell you I really want that Z Flip 3 in cream color, mainly because it’s finally a flip flagship without compromise. That said, I wish I didn’t have to pick because its lack of S Pen functionality makes me stir to the Z Fold 3. To have stylus support, plus water resistance pretty much addresses my desire for a phone, that’s also a productivity tablet, all in just one product.
I seriously think this is proof that the third time’s a charm. Caveats addressed, more durability, added features, and less expensive prices, plus a ton of bundles that can even include a year of Samsung Care+ and I’d say these might just be the best phones of the year so far.
That said, there’s only one way to find out, and that’s in our full review coming very soon.