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Samsung making headway with cheaper foldable phones

Peter Griffin, Contributor. 12 August 2021, 9:18 am

Samsung debuted its third-generation foldable smartphone and flip phone overnight with Tech Blog gaining an early look at the sleeker, cheaper devices.

The Korean phone maker has blazed a trail in the new foldable phone formats, particularly as chief rival and foldable phone developer Huawei has struggled, blocked as it is from running Google's apps due to being blacklisted by the US Government. Apple is rumoured to be working on new phone formats, but they are unlikely to debut this year.

Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold, a slightly chunky phone that folded out into an expansive tablet-like screen, arrived in New Zealand in late 2019, along with the Galaxy Z Flip, a throwback to the iconic Motorola Razr and other popular flip phones of the mid-2000s.

The first generation Samsung phones with foldable screens impressed chiefly with their ability to successfully fold a high-definition screen, an engineering challenge display makers had been working on for years. But the first generation of the phones lacked finesse and durability and was somewhat underpowered compared to Samsung's flagship Galaxy line-up and lacking the waterproofing phone owners have come to expect.

The second generation refined the two formats, but these third iterations of the Fold and the Flip offer the best chance yet of the formats breaking through to have mainstream appeal. That's chiefly due to sizable price reductions. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G drops in price $700 to $2,699, still an eye-watering amount to pay for a phone. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G, likewise drops $700 and is now more accessible at $1,599.

I spent a few weeks with the first generation of the Galaxy Z Fold and while I was seriously impressed at Samsung's ability to deliver an expandable screen with only a slight crease mark where the screen folds in on itself, the heft of the device, physically and in dollar terms, put me right off. A year of engineering refinements has made a big difference.

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The new Samsung Galaxy Fold 3

To Fold or to Flip?

The first thing I noticed about the new Fold is the expanded screen on its front, which now offers ample room for notifications when the phone is in folded mode. It's more compact and conducive to slipping into a pocket, with a slimmed-down hinge and overall sleeker feel.

You can now use an S Pen stylus on the Fold for the first time, which really extends its functionality as a productivity device and sort of makes the Samsung Galaxy Note redundant - Samsung is not releasing a Note model this year, but hasn't ruled out a return of the device which has a cult following.

At 271 grams this is the lightest Fold yet, but design improvements address my primary concern with the original - durability. Due to the folding screen, waterproofing wasn't available on that initial model, which had a large surface area for gathering dust and particles that ran the risk of damaging the screen. 

Debris, particularly sand and grit, could still cause a disaster with the Fold, but the phone now has an IPX8 waterproof rating so will survive a rain shower and even a brief dunk in the water up to 1.5 metres. That's a huge advance for a device with a foldable screen. Samsung will replace a broken screen for either the Flip and Fold for $199, which is reasonable.

The highlight of the Fold remains that 7.6 inch screen folded out and the way a growing range of commonly used apps from the likes of Google and Microsoft adapt to it with split-screen functionality.

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The new Samsung Galaxy Flip 3

That aspect also comes to the fore in the new Flip, which is being pitched as a fun and stylish device and at 183 grams, similar in weight to the iPhone 12 Pro. The Flip's refinements make it even more pocketable and this is the first time I'd consider trading my rigid smartphone model for a flip phone. With us all Zooming so much, the fact you can tilt the screen to your desired angle with the fold makes it ideal for video conferencing and multitasking. 

The most noticeable improvement is the functionality on the outside touchscreen that can be used to shuffle through notifications and control the camera. Camera specifications have also been upgraded for both phones. The ultimate result is that you don't need to make as many sacrifices when opting for a foldable phone anymore in terms of processing power, camera functionality, screen quality and battery life. It's all here, albeit with a mark-up for the flexibility of the Fold.

I'd opt for a Flip. There are precious few sacrifices you need to make now opting for a foldable and I love the idea of being able to slip it into my pocket with half the footprint when closed as my current rectangular smartphone. The Flip is a good-looking phone, particularly in the cover available for it, which comes with a big metal ring attached to it for easy access. You could even hang it on a lanyard around your neck, ideal if, like me, you are constantly misplacing your phone.

Incremental improvements in design and durability coupled with price reductions mean the foldable format is unlikely to fizzle out. Sure, these phones are expensive, but when you consider how much time some of us spend on our phones, for productivity and entertainment, I can see the appeal of foldable for flexibility, mobility and a little bit of bragging power too.



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