JUL 3, 2022 / Android

Samsung’s new foldable phones: More robust and less expensive, but can they become the next big thing?

Australians love a smartphone, with research from Telsyte suggesting that there’s something like 21.6 million smartphones in use across Australia. Given our population is around 26 million, that’s a pretty compelling argument that they’re part of most of our lives.

The reality for smartphones, however, is that while that 21.6 million figure is impressive, up from about 4.4 million back in 2010, if you looked at a 2010 smartphone and then most 2021 models, you’d not immediately see a lot of differences.

Yes, modern smartphones are considerably faster, and they have much better camera capabilities, but still, the basic design of a rectangular slab hasn’t really changed all that much at all.

The one area where there’s significant change, albeit on a small scale, is in foldable phones. Samsung recently announced its next generation of foldable devices, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 and Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 at a virtual “Galaxy Unpacked” event. Samsung’s betting big that foldables will be the next big thing in smartphones – and it may just have a point.

As that 3 suffix might suggest to you, these are the third generation of Samsung’s foldable family of devices. The Galaxy Z Fold3 is the flagship foldable, with a 7.6 inch internal tablet style display that folds sideways into a more regular 6.2 inch cover display that works more like a regular smartphone.

The Galaxy Fold3 avoids many of the issues of the earlier models, especially around durability and the use of its internal screen. The first gen Galaxy Fold had to be embarrassingly pulled from the market because its protective internal screen peeled away easily, breaking the entire phone.

The Galaxy Z Fold3 has a more durable internal protector and an IPX8 rated level of water resistance. This is a foldable that (technically speaking) you should be able to retrieve if it falls into clean water without issue.

It’s also the effective replacement for the Galaxy Note series. Samsung’s seemingly not releasing a new Note in 2021, instead opting for S-Pen compatibility for the earlier released Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G, and now the Galaxy Z Fold3.

In fact, it’s compatible with two different models; a smaller, Fold Edition S-Pen, or the new Galaxy S Pen Pro that will work with other S-Pen compatible devices. Neither S-Pen is bundled with the phone however, and you’ll need some way of carrying it with you if that kind of stylus work appeals.

The Galaxy Z Fold3 is less expensive than the Galaxy Z Fold2 it replaces, but with pricing starting at $2,499, it’s still a seriously expensive device for the premium market.

Where Samsung’s been much more aggressive is with the smaller and more affordable (relatively speaking) Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3. Where the Fold opens like a book, the Flip more folds down like a makeup compact – or if you’re the geeky type, a Star Trek communicator.

The key folding idea here isn’t extra screen space, but instead a more compact device in your pocket, with a small external display that shows notifications but not much more.

Like the Z Fold3, the Z Flip3 is IPX8 rated so it’s capable of surviving if it gets accidentally wet. Where it differs beyond size, folding out only into a 6.7 inch phone is in its pricing, starting at $1,499. That’s still well within the premium space, but it’s comparable to a lot of existing flagship phones from the likes of Apple, Oppo and even Samsung itself.

That’s where Samsung may well see a bigger market for folding devices. The Z Fold3 – which I’m still waiting to go hands-on with at the time of writing – is the aspirational supercar of the bunch for those that can afford it.

The Z Flip3 is still pricey, and I’m currently testing one out to see if it can live up to that price, but there’s no longer a huge price premium attached to that folding mechanism. Even if it’s not for you, the likely reality is that in a year or two those prices will drop even further, bringing the new world of foldable phones to even more Australian consumers.

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Alex Kidman
Tech Journalist