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Samsung's Foldable Phones Are... Good

Samsung's Foldable Phones Are... Good
By Undigital.tech Newsletter • Issue #29 • View online
For a few years now, I’ve been intrigued by the effort smartphone manufacturers have put into creating new form factors. Mostly that has meant trying to figure out a way to take the experience of an all-screen device like an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy, and making it either smaller (or bigger) by making the device do something we all thought we’d moved past 15 years ago–fold in half.

I’m going to be honest, almost no one needs a folding device. In fact, in my Inc.com column, I explained that the main question around foldable phones is “why do they exist?” I think it’s a fair question, and if you’re wondering why they exist, Samsung wants the answer to be “yes.”
I know that’s confusing, but foldable smartphones are kind of like that. Here’s what I wrote then:
The Fold 3 and Flip 3 are very different phones that exist for very different reasons. The first is an almost normal-sized phone that can become a tablet when you need a bigger screen. The other is a normal-sized phone that gets smaller when you want to put it in your pocket or your bag. That sounds like a trick, and it mostly is, but it’s a very good trick, and one I suspect a lot of people will like – especially at that price point. 
Samsung’s goal is to make foldable phones mainstream. I’m not entirely clear if that means the company wants to normalize foldable phones as an option for ordinary people looking to upgrade or if the company really thinks that all phones will someday be foldable. 
To be honest, I’m not sure it matters. Regardless of which of those goals Samsung is chasing, having two very different examples of what a foldable device should be is a brilliant way to get there. The point isn’t as much about “this is what a foldable smartphone should be” as it is “if you want a device that folds – for whatever reason – we have one that does that.”
Existential questions aside, for the sake of this newsletter, let’s assume you’ve decided that a foldable device is something you want in your life–or you’re trying to make that decision. If you are someone for whom neither of those is true, my apologies, this probably isn’t for you. (That said, the conversation about why Samsung is trying so hard is still pretty interesting).
The most important thing to know about the Z Fold and Z Flip are that they’re very good. With the exception of poor battery life, which is a very real problem with the Flip, and a terrible software experience, which is still a real problem on the Fold, Samsung gets just about everything else right.
As for those two issues, that’s the trade-off involved when you make a phone fold in half. In the case of the Flip, it’s because it has the smallest battery of any flagship smartphone.
The terrible software experience on the Fold is definitely better than previous versions, but the biggest problem is that it runs Android, which doesn’t know what to do on a hybrid smartphone/tablet. Android is great on a phone, and terrible on a tablet. When you combine the two, it’s… exactly what you think, which is to say, meh.
I mean, it’s fine, but it isn’t great.
As for the other things you care about when you buy a smartphone, meaning the cameras, the Fold 3 has okay cameras. The Flip 3, less so, but again, you have to make sacrifices if the thing you care about the most is that your candy bar-shaped phone can fold smaller to fit in your pocket. At some point, it’s just physics.
Speaking of physics, the displays on both of these devices are very good, if you can get past the crease in the middle. That’s another unavoidable compromise, but in the case of the Flip 3, it actually seems less noticeable. Scrolling past it doesn’t seem to be as obnoxious as having it down the middle of your content.
Again, if you’re buying either of these phones, it isn’t because they have amazing cameras or the world’s most amazing displays. If that’s a priority, get an iPhone 12 Pro Max or a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. Or, save a bit of money and wait for the Google Pixel 6.
Maybe the most interesting thing is that Samsung managed to squeeze the Flip 3 into a sub-$1000 price point. The Fold 3 will still set you back at least $1800, but the fact that both devices not only exist, but are actually good, means that foldable smartphones might be a thing real people actually buy.
A few other things you might enjoy:
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 review: flipping into the mainstream - The Verge
Apple Just Made a Very Small Change that Could Fix the Worst Thing About Using an iPhone | Inc.com
You've Been Wearing Your Apple Watch Wrong All This Time | Inc.com
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