[Academic Tech] Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 _basic_ review, and thoughts on what I’m looking for in a phone.

Yeah, ‘Academic’ here is more of a stretch than usual…

Having been locked down/working from home for however long it’s been (12 months? 18 months? a billion years?], and having been using the same computer, tablet, and phone during this time, I’ve been getting antsy for a new device, particularly one that either fills a new role, or one that can take over from more than one current device. Not very environmentally friendly I know, but I hear the economy needs boosting now.

And so I got the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3. Folding screens are new and exciting, and all the reviews were positive, plus Samsung were offering an exceptional trade-in deal for my Samsung S10e (they were giving £300 trade-in, even though I only paid £200 for it on eBay a year ago).

Upfront, let’s get this out of the way: I ended up sending the Flip 3 back after just a day. I didn’t really test it out at all – in fact I didn’t even log in with my android account or install any apps*, so this isn’t really a review… it’s more of a meandering stream of thought about what exactly I want from a phone, or other portable device.

*(this was partly because Samsung’s return policy says you should only test it out as much as you might in a store, and I didn’t want to take the piss)

What did I think?

The Flip 3 is gorgeous

I got the green one.

It looks great folded:

And it looks great open:

The screen is really high res, and it’s 120Hz, which means everything is just so smooth it’s wonderful. The feel of the screen is good – it doesn’t feel like soft plastic or anything, and the crease isn’t visible straight on (see image above).

The body is metal, it feels absolutely rock solid and sturdy. The action of opening and closing it feels great.

The little front screen looks awesome, and can show a range of widgets, music, notifications, time etc.

The Flip 3 is an awesome phone…. but that’s all.

Here’s the thing. The Flip 3 doesn’t do anything special except fold. Which is fine (though we’ll get to size in a little bit) – in fact one of the most common comments I saw in [proper, unlike this one] reviews online was that what made this phone special is that it’s an excellent phone that happens to fold. It does everything a phone should do. It has great cameras (I didn’t test this in any meaningful way, but yes, the pictures were very good). I didn’t run anything taxing on it, but I don’t need to – it has a snapdragon 888 and 6gb of RAM, which is about as top-end as you can get with an android phone.

…And it’s not a small phone.

And so here’s the rub, and why I sent it back. It doesn’t do anything that my Samsung S10e doesn’t do. Sure, the Flip 3 takes better photos (though the quality difference is only really apparent in low light/challenging conditions), and sure the Flip 3 can process photos, browse the web, or whatever else a little bit quicker than the S10e. But it can’t do anything new, except fold. Folding is cool, it makes the device smaller. Except it doesn’t really – the volume has to stay the same, so while it gets a bit shorter, it also doubles in thickness, and isn’t any more comfortable in the pocket.

You see (and this is late in the post to admit this), the reason I got the S10e in the first place was that it was (and still is) about the smallest phone out there. The iPhone mini might be a bit smaller, but that’s twice the price, and Apple. Next to the S10e, the Flip3 isn’t that much smaller even folded:

While in the hand, it feels (and is) significantly larger:

Here they are side by side:

Neither small enough, nor large enough

I was pretty bummed out about sending the Flip 3 back, because it really is a cool piece of tech. But it couldn’t let me do anything I can’t currently do with my S10e. And if it’s not adding any value to my day-to-day, then it’s certainly not worth £949 (£649 with trade in), not by a long shot.

I use my phone a lot – I’ll read twitter and reddit and deal with emails on the train with it. But I don’t need a bigger screen to do that. Nor do I need a faster processor, better RAM, or a better camera. I also carry my Surface Go 2 on the train every day, and so that’s there for doing tasks that require a bit more screen real-estate: e.g. multi-window email responding for complex responses, writing manuscripts, or reading PDFs. But the Flip 3 doesn’t offer enough screen for any of those tasks.

So what do I want?

An excellent question. Even if I am the one that asked it of myself. The answer is: I’m not sure. I simultaneously want to reduce my phone usage – twitter, reddit, whatever will rot my mind. I’ve considered moving to a dumb phone, but banking via a website is a massive pain in the arse compared to just using apps, I’d miss google maps/Here maps, and I’d miss being able to pay for things with my phone, and respond to emails and app-based messages (Signal, Messenger etc).

Maybe the answer is to go bigger – get something so large that it can replace both my phone and my Surface. I do find it a bit cumbersome to get the surface out on a moderately crowded train, and find myself sticking to reading twitter on my phone rather than reading a paper on my surface purely for that reason.

The problem is, when I don’t need that ability to read a PDF or write a manuscript, I want to carry as little stuff around as I can, so I don’t want a massive device – it’s why I went for the S10e originally. I’ve been considering the Surface Duo, but the new Surface Duo 2 is £1500 and has the ugliest camera bump ever, and the old one, while cheaper, has basically been completely abandoned by Microsoft (what a surprise, they dropped the ball on a great idea, again), meaning software is still full of bugs and the camera is poor so on-the-go photogrammetry would suffer. Also that big split between screens doesn’t appeal much – I don’t think it would help with reading papers on the train. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is another option, which is certainly far, far nicer than the Surface Duo, and looks stunning folded out (I can very much imagine reading a PDF on that screen on the train), but a) it’s also in the £1500 range, which is bonkers for a phone, even if it replaces two devices (my Surface Go 2, and my S10e cost me a total of ~£600), and b) if I got rid of my Surface, would Android be able to fill the gaps? Maybe…

So we’ll see what, if anything, fills this awkward use-case of replacing two devices, providing enough screen to read a paper or edit a manuscript, while also being small and portable.

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