Galaxy Z Flip 3 ongoing review: Let’s talk about that cover screen

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 (in black) and the Galaxy Z Flip 3 are Samsung’s latest takes on foldable phones.

Sarah Tew/CNET

When Samsung announced the Galaxy Z Flip 3 alongside the new Galaxy Z Fold 3, I was most eager to try out the new Flip. The original 2020 Z Flip is my go-to Android phone in between reviews. As much as I enjoy the first edition of Samsung’s clamshell folding phone, there are a number of things that annoy me. Samsung says it’s improved and addressed many of the shortcomings the original Flip had. And if that’s the case, I’m very happy. As I enter my third day testing the phone, the initial “this is shiny and new” luster is starting to subside. Yet, I’m still really into it. I am working toward a final in-depth review, but for now, here’s my ongoing diary of life with the Galaxy Z Flip 3.

By dropping the price to $1,000, offering the new Flip in seven colors and selling brightly colored cases that make it look like a toy, Samsung has set up the Galaxy Z Flip 3 to truly be the first foldable phone many people will consider buying. I can almost hear Samsung in its best Frank Costanza Festivus voice declaring, “A foldable for the rest of us.” Granted, that doesn’t quite rhyme as well as it did on Seinfeld.

In order for it to be widely adopted, Samsung needs to deliver on those Z Flip 3 improvements. People need to see that they can use it and depend on it just like they do their current phone — meaning the Z Flip 3 can’t make people compromise their daily phone routines.

The Galaxy Z Flip 3 feels more uniform, like a regular phone

Samsung made a number of improvements to the body, hinge and screen of the Galaxy Z Flip 3. The body and hinge are made of a material Samsung calls Armor Aluminum, which is harder and more durable, so it’s less likely to be damaged or scratched. The material is reinforced with other metals, similar to using rebar to strengthen concrete for construction.

I can really feel the extra strength that Armor Aluminum adds to the phone. It makes the entire device feel like a single piece — whereas with the original Flip, or even the Motorola Razr folding phone, I’m aware of the separate parts that make up the device. With the Z Flip 3, that feeling is absent. It feels like a regular phone that just happens to fold in half.

The Z Flip 3 is roughly the same size and weight as the Z Flip 5G. Yet it feels different when I hold it. It feels wonderful in my hand. I am confident that I can treat it just like any other phone I test and review. On the whole, the small changes Samsung implemented make the Z Flip 3 feel much less like an experiment or prototype.

The screen still has a soft crease across the middle, and I largely don’t care. It’s not distracting. It doesn’t prevent me from using the phone in any way. When I interact with the middle of the screen I notice it, but it’s not because it feels weak or like a flaw. I have friends and colleagues who suggest that until there isn’t a crease, no one will ever buy it. My personal iPhone 12 Mini has a large black notch that eats into the display. I am far more bothered by that than by the crease on the Z Flip 3.

The Z Flip 3’s screen has a new protective film, which feels smoother than the previous Flip phones. It’s still not like using a phone with a glass screen, but it feels similar to a phone that has a glass screen with a plastic screen protector on it.

The display has a 120Hz adaptive refresh rate, which is lovely so far.

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The Z Flip 3 has a much larger cover display

Perhaps the most unusual feature on the original Flip was its tiny, pill-shaped cover screen. There’s a nice minimalistic quality about it. And if all you wanted to see was the time or the battery life percentage, then it was fine. But it was absolutely worthless otherwise. It couldn’t display entire messages, only the first part of them. So if a friend messaged you, the cover display would show, “Help! You need to come over right away…” which is much different than “Help! You need to come over right away, there’s pizza in the break room.”


On the left is the original Galaxy Flip. And on the right is the new Galaxy Z Flip 3.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Luckily, the Z Flip 3 gets a cover screen that’s four times bigger than the original. It can display up to four lines of text at a time. You can scroll through notifications. Samsung even added cover screen widgets for the weather, alarms, a timer, music controls, your daily step count and your schedule.

It’s such an improvement. The Z Flip 3’s cover screen is closer to the Quick View display on the Motorola Razr than it is to the screen on the original Flip. However, it’s still limited. For example, I can view entire notifications, but I still need to open the Z Flip 3 to interact or reply to a notification. On the Razr, I can take care of that without opening the phone.

When you double-tap on the cover screen, animated animals greet you. It’s an unexpected and silly delight. Technically they’re on the phone to match similar animals that are on the new Galaxy Watch 4. The animals do nothing but jump up and down. This makes me happy.

I’m only a few days into trying out the Galaxy Z Flip 3, and my full impressions will be coming in a future review.

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