The year was 1997, the movie was The Saint, and for the tech nerd in me, the film was really just part of the story. What really blew my mind was not whether Val Kilmer played a good Roger Moore. Honestly, my eyes were mostly set on that Nokia 9000 communicator.
For a guy who could barely afford a cheap Nokia 250 at the time, the idea of a phone that could morph into a communicator was the stuff of science fiction. It was this device, along with the Palms, and the Pocket PCs, and the Blackberries that helped your phone today do so much more. The problem is when the flat slab took over for a couple of reasons. I honestly think the obsession over a larger flat screen got kind of out of hand, up to the point where phones today are massive, and in ways that aren't always convenient. Like I get that having a large screen is good for watching a video, but is it just as useful when trying to use it with one hand? Seriously, think about it, do you always need your phone to be large, or wouldn't it be great if your phone was easy to handle when you need it, but that became something else entirely when you need more?
This is the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3, one of the two smartphones I've carried in my pocket for the last two months, and honestly the one I would not leave home without if I had to pick. I know, with the iPhones and the Pixels that just got launched, that's kind of a bold statement, but it's because I've tested those products already that I find myself believing in this premise more and more.
If we're honest, the idea of a foldable tablet in your pocket is a topic of excess. It's as if companies decided to address the growing demand for larger screens about as well as lightning hitting the Iron Man suit (Generator - Power is now 400% - Well how about that).
But if we only look at it as a phone or a tablet, I think we're missing the bigger picture. Surely there's nothing a foldable can do that a flat slab can't do, but if we're real, regular smartphones aren't great at everything, and I don't think this Z Fold 3 wants to be just a phone or just a tablet. The most important ideas here are peace of mind and adaptability.
I think the first is the most important. Buying this phone before was honestly a stretch because it wasn't cheap, and there was no guarantee it would survive extended use given its rocky start. This third-generation is finally what the first two weren't. It's a bit less expensive and yet manages to solve absolutely every complaint we had with the previous models. We finally get IPX8 water resistance, making me no longer worry about bringing it to the gym. It also brings Gorilla Glass Victus on the front and back, matched with a stronger armor aluminum on the hinge and the chassis. At 271 grams it's definitely not a phone I'd call light, but again, this is not just a phone.
Ironically, I think there's more genius to this phone closed, than open. See, there's a reason screens have become taller for the past 4 years. The narrower the device, the easier it is to hold and use, but the Z Fold 3 takes that a step further. I feel more confident holding this thicker sandwich with one hand, and the taller aspect ratio of this 6.2-inch OLED helps me reach most of the screen without a problem, which is then complemented by a snappy 120hz refresh rate. If I'm on the street and need to communicate quickly, this feels like the perfect phone to handle, so much so that so far I've never dropped it or felt like I will. This narrow approach is even easier to pocket, as it snugs just right at the edge of any pair of jeans.
When I'm not on the go this phone pays perfect homage to that Nokia 9000 from so many years ago. If we're realistic, a tablet does a far better job than a regular phone when I want to either consume content or get productive, and that's really what makes this phone special. At 7.6-inches diagonal this is almost an iPad mini but with more resolution, far fewer bezels, dynamic refresh rate up to 120hz, and all the great colors this Dynamic AMOLED can provide, along with some of the best dual firing speakers I've heard all year. (Speaker test)
And then it's powered by one of the most powerful chips, brings loads of RAM and Storage, all flavors of 5G, a decent battery, Fast wireless, and reverse wireless charging, like even specs most high-end tablets lack.
Still, I'm gonna admit I decided to use this phone very differently. See, this form factor as a tablet reminds me of my days with a Franklin Planner, and the inclusion of S Pen support only augments that. I've gone into permanent dashboard mode where I have my email on one side, and then my calendar and notes on the other. It's invited me to go back to my old Stowaway keyboard when typing gets intense, and then the S Pen to help me doodle notes or highlights within them. Yes, I wish it worked on the outer screen too, but I actually like the idea of using the outside just like a regular phone. This whole use case has even gotten me to remove all social media apps from it so that this can be the productivity workhorse that helps me stay focused. Best of all, I don't know how Samsung does it, but endurance on this phone is pretty legendary. Not sure if it's the mix of using the outer screen more, but I easily go beyond a day of use on just one charge.
It's not necessarily perfect, though, but we have more Android to blame. Samsung apps handle multi-tasking well, but the rest of the Play Store is hit or miss, and then there's the fact that Android tablets don't get much love from developers, with Instagram being exhibit A. I still find reading magazines to be better on an iPad, for example. Also, keep in mind that 18 by 9 video is not necessarily ideal for a 25 by 9 aspect ratio, but watching YouTube in flex mode is something a regular tablet can't do. Yes, that inner selfie camera can look funky if you nit-pick, but I've learned to get used to sometimes not seeing it there.
Now photography is probably what I've least done with this phone. With the exception of the specs in telephoto and those 8K capabilities, think of this as a Galaxy S21+ and that's not a bad thing. It's no Ultra in capabilities, but what it can do, it can do pretty well, and flex mode helps you take shots a regular phone can't help you with.
During the day photos are your typical Samsung with great color, saturation, and dynamic range. Whether you're using the Ultra-Wide, the standard, or the telephoto, this phone produces some pretty epic photography, even if 10x is really not something I'd recommend.
Switch to night mode and the results are pretty good. It's not as fast as the Ultra for logical reasons, but if you can keep a steady hand, this phone can pull some pretty awesome results that are even better than some iPhone 13 Pro photos I've taken recently.
I also think Samsung does a better job than most at selfies but from the external camera. Remember that an internal one is just good for a video call. The outer one handles skin tones well and provides a pretty nice separation for portraits.
Even in video, I think this phone does a pretty good job. I still think Samsung lags slightly behind in the codec when compared to iPhones, and that's the story with all their offerings, but I think that gap keeps narrowing year over year. Stabilization and dynamic range are pretty good, and that even applies if you switch to selfie video. It's crazy how even today, only Samsung can provide that feature without you stopping your recording.
To conclude, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that this isn't just one of my favorite phones of the year, but honestly, one of my favorite products. I've been wanting to love this form factor for two years now, and there was always something getting in the way of that. After two months of using this phone while testing others, I'd pick this one blindly. I even have a hard time comparing it to anything else because there's seriously nothing else like it.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3
The mother of foldables
After two months of using this phone while testing others, I'd pick this one blindly. I even have a hard time comparing it to anything else because there's seriously nothing else like it.
Of course, this is not a product for everyone. The added durability doesn't mean the inner screen isn't more fragile than others, but then I also feel that being able to close it and protect it is a plus. Yes, I know buying an S21+ and a tablet would be cheaper combined, but then only one would fit in my pocket, and with the trade-in deals Samsung offers, adoption is not so steep.
I know I didn't recommend the first one, and I had some slight reservations on the second, but it seems third times a charm. Like the Nokia 9000, this is more than just a phone. It has all the potential of being the only device you carry. After years of carrying a Galaxy Note for those tasks, I have to say I think this is what the Galaxy Note should be from now on.