Hands-on with Samsung’s newest foldable phones and accessories

At Samsung Galaxy Unpacked back in August, the company unveiled new devices to front their foldable phone and accessories line. It’s an intriguing line-up of products, and before their public release, we got the chance to go to the offices of Samsung Singapore to try out each and every one of them. Here’s our experience:

Galaxy Z Fold3

Samsung Unpacked August 2021 Hands-on: Galaxy Z Fold3
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3

Samsung’s Fold series has always been to strike the balance of being a smartphone and a tablet all at once. Now on its third iteration, the Galaxy Z Fold3 is mostly about refining everything that works for the device.

That probably explains why the Galaxy Z Fold3 visually looks almost identical to its predecessor; it wasn’t something that needed to be overhauled. Instead, Samsung has opted to implement other things into the device, such as IPX8 water resistance, which allows the phone to be submerged in water at a depth of over 1 metre for up to 30 minutes. While we couldn’t test this out, it still is a remarkable achievement considering how many moving parts there are.

We were able to try out the new S Pen support feature though, specifically the new one made for the Fold3 (there’s also a Pro version). When unfolded, the stylus comes in about the phone’s width and is suitably light to carry and write with. In addition, these styluses are special in that they have retractable tips to ensure that force is limited while it is pressing down on the screen, limiting any potential damage. From my experience, the display remained fine even after putting considerable pressure with the S Pen, so this implementation looks to be working in the short term at least.

Samsung Unpacked August 2021 Hands-on: Fold3 S Pen
The Galaxy Z Fold3 with the Fold Edition S Pen

Unfortunately, the S Pens don’t come with the Galaxy Z Fold3, and you’ll have to buy an additional case for it since there is no natural way to store the stylus as the Note series could do.  

But the Fold3 is all about bringing the benefits of tablets over to a smartphone, so let’s talk about that. You get this huge 7.6-inch screen to play around with when unfolded, but there’s still a visible crease right at the middle. Luckily it isn’t too much of an issue when you’re looking at the phone dead straight. Utilising the full size is great for the most part; everything appears bigger, making reading on the phone a great joy with the extra flexibility. The same applies to watching media, even if it is a little strange; the aspect ratio throws me off somewhat.

Samsung Unpacked August 2021 Hands-on: Fold3 Full Display
Watching media on the Galaxy Z Fold3

While some apps aren’t updated to take advantage of the larger display, Samsung has implemented a feature to force it to fit properly. It’s a workaround, but it works rather well and emphasises the tablet-like feel of the device. 

There are more ways to use the display other than using its full size. Multi-tasking is quite intuitive on the device; apps can be split into a layout of up to three windows by dragging and dropping the corresponding icons from the sidebar. From there, you can resize the windows and switch it from portrait to landscape if you like; they aren’t confined to a specific viewing option. Layouts can be saved as well if you have a preference. Folding it halfway also has some additional quirks for apps. For example on YouTube, the top half displays the video while you can view related videos or the comments at the bottom, all while it sits up by itself.

The Galaxy Z Fold3 is still very much a two-handed device when it is unfolded. Though Samsung has made settings to allow one-handed use, like having resized keyboards at the side and customising the 3-button navigation location to fit your dominant hand, holding the device on one hand isn’t as comfortable as a typical smartphone.

For the Galaxy Z Fold3’s outer screen when folded, they’ve also added the 120Hz refresh rate on it to ensure that the experience of using it isn’t compromised. In general, using the phone in a folded position should function as a regular smartphone should. However, it comes with a few caveats, namely the narrower screen being a little harder to type and the device being chunkier to hold compared to others. So while I wouldn’t describe it as being the optimal experience, I can anticipate that it is something that you probably will get used to over time.

Finally, there’s nothing much to say about the main cameras if you’re at all familiar with what Samsung usually does. Simply put, they are perfectly serviceable. Of course, they aren’t the absolute best that smartphones can offer, but they work well enough for the general consumer in terms of sharpness and colours. 

Instead, I’ll talk a bit more about the new under-display camera that Samsung is using for the front screen. Quality-wise, the 4 MP is very mediocre with colours looking washed out; you shouldn’t be using this to take any flattering shots. There will also be some slight distortion you might notice during video calls due to how the technology works. 

Samsung Unpacked August 2021 Hands-on: Fold3 Under-display Camera
The under-display selfie camera

In terms of it giving the appearance of a full display, it also isn’t very effective. It is pretty apparent on brighter backgrounds and at certain angles, to the point where it can be more distracting than actually masking it.

Galaxy Z Flip3

Samsung Unpacked August 2021 Hands-on: Galaxy Z Flip3
The Galaxy Z Flip3, with its various colour schemes

Despite being called the Galaxy Z Flip3, it is actually the second Flip series phone by Samsung (we don’t know why they skipped number two), and now, they come in more visually appealing lilac and green shades. Compared to the Galaxy Z Fold3, the device is all about sticking to the status quo of regular smartphones in an enticing smaller package when it is folded. 

And it largely delivers in that respect. When the phone is unfolded, it functions exactly as a typical smartphone would do, and when you don’t need to use it, you can just close it up, and now it is a smaller device that better fits in your pocket. The only real blight to the illusion is the visible crease at the right at the centre of the screen. You can definitely feel it when your finger goes over it, and it is very apparent at an angle, so it’s something that you will have to get used to, which to be fair, wasn’t something that proved very distracting when I wasn’t actively paying attention to it.

In essence, the Galaxy Z Flip3 is much like the Galaxy Z Fold3 in terms of performance. Both have the latest Snapdragon 888 and come implemented with IPX8 water resistance and a 120Hz refresh rate on the screen. The 12MP cameras at the back are likewise okay, giving good enough visual fidelity to satiate the regular consumer in terms of colour and sharpness. Still, they cannot compete with the best around.

Instead, the most significant improvement has been made to the outer screen. Samsung has made it much bigger and now comes as a bar that stretches across the upper tip of the device where the rear cameras are. When not in use, it helpfully displays the date, time and battery percentage at a glance which is really useful. 

Samsung Unpacked August 2021 Hands-on: Flip3 Cover Screen
The newly improved larger cover screen

But with the bigger screen, there’s more things it can show, such as notifications or the music player. Different functions can be accessed by swiping on the screen, and you can also customise what goes on there, though there is a limited selection of up to six slots. 

You can even use the screen as a selfie-taker by double-tapping the side button to bring up the camera. If you wave, the camera automatically detects it and does a countdown before taking a shot which is really cool. However, take note that photos captured through this method have a different aspect ratio than if you were to take them normally.

Overall, though there still are things that you’ll need the full display for, the outer screen mostly does a good job at giving you the minor stuff without you needing to unfold the device. 

As a foldable phone, covers may be hard to come by at most shops, so your best bet is likely to be from Samsung themselves. They have a few variations on offer, including one with a loop at the back to tuck your fingers in. But, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what the idea behind it is. So instead, you can go for the more routine cases, like the one with a ring to act as a keychain.

Samsung Unpacked August 2021 Hands-on: Flip3 Case
There are several variations of covers, with one coming with a loop for your fingers

Galaxy Watch4 Series

Samsung Galaxy Watch4 Series
The Galaxy Watch4 Classic (left) and Galaxy Watch4 (right)

The Galaxy Watch slate is getting a slight revamp. The regular Watch model is now called the Galaxy Watch4 Classic, while the previous Watch Active option has been changed to be the Galaxy Watch4. It might be a little confusing, but essentially, Classic means it is the better version.

So what is the difference between the two? Basically, the Galaxy Watch4 Classic has a slightly larger watch face, uses better build materials, and retains the rotating bezel from the previous iterations. The Classic looks and feels more premium for sure, with the metal rotating bezel producing little clicks when you turn it; it feels really satisfying to use for navigation.

In contrast, the Galaxy Watch4 uses an aluminium casing with a touch-sensitive bezel. Unfortunately, as it uses touch controls, it isn’t as accurate as a physical rotator, and sometimes it doesn’t detect the input. For a regular smartwatch, it is enough to use without being too much of a hassle, but if you want an experience with no compromises, you’d have to pay extra for the Classic.

Samsung Unpacked August 2021 Hands-on: Galaxy Watch 4
Galaxy Watch4 features a touch-sensitive bezel

Otherwise, both smartwatches are functionally the same. Samsung has now included a special Wear OS implementation onto the devices, and my impressions after the short experience with them is a positive one. Going through the various functions on both of them feel really snappy and responsive, and now, there are services like Google Maps from the get-go. Rest assured though, it still carries the One UI look, and other Samsung features like Samsung Pay are still around if you’ve gotten used to the whole ecosystem.

For the health features, other than the tentpole heart-rate and step tracking functions, there is ECG functionality for atrial fibrillation checking, blood oxygen level detection, body composition measurement, and intriguingly, blood pressure tracking as well. For the body composition measurement in particular, it is done by placing two fingers on the watch’s side. Then, it sends electrical signals into them to measure all sorts of things like body fat percentage.

Keep in mind that the latter features aren’t meant to accurately determine these health aspects, so it is best not to rely on them. In addition, the blood pressure function as a caveat also requires your own pressure monitor device to fully work as intended.

I couldn’t thoroughly test out the full scale of the battery life for the watches, but a representative at Samsung tells me that both have similar life spans of around 40 hours.

Galaxy Buds2

Samsung Unpacked August 2021 Hands-on: Galaxy Buds2
All colour variations for the Galaxy Buds2

The new Galaxy Buds2 replaces the previous Galaxy Buds+ as the entry-level wireless earbuds from Samsung. It launches with a selection of vibrant colours coated within the interior of the charging case.

These wireless earbuds are touted as the smallest and lightest earbuds among Samsung’s slate, which was very apparent when I was wearing them. They are feather-light and hardly noticeable in your ears which made for a comfortable experience. The buds also now have an egg-shaped design which makes them more inconspicuous in the ear. Unfortunately, this new design means there isn’t any room to accommodate wingtips, which may concern some who fear that the earbuds may fall out. From my experience though, they fit snugly and were never at any risk of falling out of my ears.

Active noise cancellation is the new feature of the Galaxy Buds2, and they are pretty decent. You can activate it by tapping and holding either earbud or through the Samsung Wearables app, and they’ll immediately isolate the surrounding noise around you. I want to preface first that the room I was testing was not terribly noisy, but I did feel a noticeable difference in the noise level when it was turned on. 

For letting in ambient sound, there are three levels included within the app. The default level is probably the sweet spot, with the lowest being a little soft while the maximum level sounds robotic in general. 

Samsung Unpacked August 2021 Hands-on: Buds2 and Flip3 Lilac
The Galaxy Buds2 is small and its size pairs nicely with a folded Galaxy Z Flip3

The entry-level Samsung earbuds pack some punch with bassier hits while they retain clarity in the mids. They aren’t the best sounding wireless earbuds you can find, but they are good enough to please many ears.

The Galaxy Buds2 presents a good all-rounded option for wireless earbuds. The only real gripe I have with them is the slightly finicky touch controls; sometimes they don’t register, which can get annoying. Still, it is one of the most comfortable earbuds I’ve worn thus far, and the added ANC feature is certainly a plus.

Our time ‘unpacking’ Samsung’s newest revealed more evolution than revolution. But that isn’t a bad thing. If anything, on first impressions, these new additions have proven to be of enough beneficial effect for the devices to be a suitable entry point for people who have been thinking of jumping in. It’ll be good to see where Samsung goes from here.

All of these devices will be widely available come 10 September. If you’d like to order any of them, you can head on over to Samsung’s online store or to your preferred consumer electronics store. 

Photos by Darren Chiong of the DANAMIC Team.

Russell Matthew Loh

Watcher of films and player of games. Dabble with writing in between.

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