I handle a lot of phones. With most, I run them through our review process and set them aside. A few times a year, though, something grabs me enough to get my personal SIM for a few months.
The Galaxy Z Fold3 was one of those phones, with such a new form factor that I wanted to really dig in. So I used it as my primary phone for more than a month, and now I’m switching back to the Galaxy S21 Ultra. (There was also a OnePlus 9 Pro in the middle there.)
The Z Fold3 is compelling. Let me run down what the Z Fold3 can do that no other phone can:
- Reading: I like to read comics, and the Fold is the only phone that can properly show either a full Marvel Unlimited page or a full manga page at a comfortable size.
- Gaming: I played more than 30 hours of games on the Fold and the experience is more immersive, and arguably more fun, than it is on any other phone. I really felt like I was playing on a handheld gaming system.
- Anything with a map: I’m shopping for an apartment right now and spending a lot of time in Zillow and Trulia. There’s just so much more room to look around on the Z Fold3.
- Copying codes and numbers between apps: Copying a password into OneNote, copying a hotel booking reference code into an email, copying a database record number into Slack…they’re all easier in split screen on the Fold3.
- Feeling fancy: Several people commented on or nodded at my fancy phone. The Z Fold3 is a wealth signifier.
What’s Wrong With It?
So why did I just switch back to my S21 Ultra? Mostly, texting.
If you’ve read Galaxy Z Fold3 reviews, you know that the Fold’s cameras aren’t great. I won’t belabor that too much. They’re fine, just not great. But I didn’t expect to have so much trouble typing on the thing. The 5-inch-wide device is just too big for me to comfortably type on, even two-handed, when it’s open. And although it’s a delightful 2.6 inches wide when closed, I still had way too many mistyping errors on the keyboard.
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I know there are 300 different software keyboards to try, this being Android, and I’m aware I only used Samsung’s keyboard and Gboard. But I think that most people don’t try keyboard after keyboard. I end up having to type a lot on my phone, and typing on the Z Fold3 was hurting my hands after a while.
In addition, the Z Fold3’s battery life isn’t as good as the S21 Ultra’s battery in real-world use, and it doesn’t fast-charge as quickly. Those aren’t deal breakers for me, but they were factors in my list of pros and cons. I found that the phone was often at 20% to 50% battery between my heavy usage and not charging it long enough.
I also wasn’t prepared for how much the extra ounce and a half over the S21 Ultra matters. The S21 Ultra is already heavy at 8 ounces; the Z Fold3 is 9.5 ounces, and that made me noticeably less likely to want to pull it out of my pocket or bag and fiddle with it. I’ve thought over the past month that a Samsung Galaxy Watch4 would be a great companion for the Z Fold3, telling you when you really need to get your phone out, but the Watch 4 model I wanted (black, Bluetooth, 44mm) was out of stock until very recently, so I couldn’t try it with the phone.
And here comes the 5G angle: I thought the “killer app” for folding phones and 5G would be video calling, as I experienced in Korea. But it turns out, I just don’t do a lot of video calling on my phone. When I’m doing video calls, in my normal life, I’m at my desk. If I’m calling someone from the street, it’s an audio call. So I wasn’t finding or feeling the 5G boost that would make a big, folding phone unstoppable.
I put down the Z Fold3, took a look at my OnePlus 9 Pro and S21 Ultra, and decided to go back to the S21 Ultra (now with Android 12). The OnePlus 9 Pro is great—I spent most of last year with the OnePlus 8 Pro—but when I’m comparing the two, the S21’s 10x camera is just too marvelous to refuse. I’ll probably swap my SIM again early next year.
What have your three most recent phones been and why? Tell me in the comments.
What Else Happened This Week?
- The Google Pixel 6 phones are officially coming out October 19. I saw some dummy models in a window in NYC the other week. The biggest question for me is whether Google will bother to try to sell them, as no Pixel phone has ever gotten more than a few percentage points of market share. With the chipset shortage as it is, these may be truly limited-run products.
- Is there a market for midrange Android tablets? I’m tussling over that with the Nokia T20, a $249 “stock” Android tablet with great software support but a miserable Unisoc processor. Unisoc is the chipset equivalent of that cheap beer they bring out at college parties when everyone’s already a little loaded. Who actually buys a $249 Android tablet? Who uses them? I can’t quite figure that out.
- T-Mobile lowered the price of its home internet service to $50. I have a full review, of course. The tricky thing about T-Mobile Home Internet is that the company needs to avoid selling it in places where consumers would get a bad experience…and some of the comments I’ve seen online show that it hasn’t had that kind of restraint.
- There’s a spectrum auction going on! Call this “C-band, part 2.” The 3.45GHz band fits into the same band class (n77) as existing C-band, so it’ll go very well with what the carriers bought earlier this year. There’s 100MHz total available, and no carrier can get larger than a 40MHz block. Also, a lot of the eastern seaboard is “impaired” and will have restrictions on how the airwaves can be used. I think AT&T will still go big here to make up for its weaker showing in the first C-band auction. Here’s the best analysis I’ve seen so far.