Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 vs Galaxy Z Fold 2: Samsung’s new foldable is better in many ways, but worse in two areas

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 vs Galaxy Z Fold 2: Samsung’s new foldable is better in many ways, but worse in two areas

Go through recent smartphone history and you’d be hard-pressed to find a phone that improved on the last generation as much as the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 upgraded from the original Fold. In fact, I personally think the Galaxy Z Fold 2 brought one of the biggest generation-to-generation hardware improvements in smartphone history. The Galaxy Z Fold 2 had a more durable, practical hinge design; a much larger outside “cover screen” that made the original look like a joke; and a cleaner, faster-refreshing inside screen with fewer interruptions. The Galaxy Z Fold 3, at first glance and touch, doesn’t bring as big a jump over the last generation.

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 uses virtually the same camera system, has the same screen dimensions, the hinge feels mostly the same, and one of its two selfie cameras actually got a downgrade in terms of megapixel count.

This doesn’t mean Samsung slacked off this year. The South Korean tech giant made tangible improvements to the Galaxy Z Fold 3 too. They’re just not as immediately noticeable this time around because these upgrades focus on improving practicality, to make the Galaxy Z Fold 3 more usable and approachable for more people.

Galaxy Fold 3 and Fold 2 standing straight up

Galaxy Z Fold 3 (left) and Galaxy Z Fold 2 (right)

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Fold 2: Specifications

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Fold 2: Specifications

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2
CPUSnapdragon 888Snapdragon 865+
Dimensions and weightFolded: 158.2 x 67.1 x 16.0mm
Unfolded: 158.2 x 128.1 x 6.4mm
Weight: 271g
Folded: 159.2 x 68 x 16.8 mm
Unfolded: 159.2 x 128.2 x 6.9 mm
Weight: 283g
DisplayMain screen:

  • 7.6-inch QXGA+ Dynamic -AMOLED 2X Display
  • 22.5:18 aspect ratio
  • 2208 x 1768
  • 120Hz

Cover screen:

  • 6.2-inch HD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X Display
  • 24.5:9 aspect ratio
  • 2268 x 832
  • 120Hz 
Main screen:

  • 7.6-inch AMOLED 2X Display
  • 22.5:18 aspect ratio
  • 2208 x 1768
  • 120Hz

Cover screen:

  • 6.2-inch HD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X Display
  • 24.5:9 aspect ratio
  • 2268 x 832
  • 60Hz 
Camera
  • 12MP Ultra-wide, f/2.2 ultra-wide, FoV 123-degree
  • 12MP Wide, f/1.8, Dual Pixel AF, OIS
  • 12MP Tele, 2x optical zoom, 10x digital zoom
  • 12MP Ultra-wide, f/2.2 ultra-wide, FoV 123-degree
  • 12MP Wide, f/1.8, Dual Pixel AF, OIS
  • 12MP Tele, 2x optical zoom, 10x digital zoom
Memory12GB RAM, 256GB/512GB UFS 3.1 storage12GB RAM, 256GB/512GB UFS 3.1 storage
Battery4,400mAh dual battery4,500mAh
NetworkLTE: Enhanced 4X4 MIMO, 7CA, LAA, LTE Cat. 20
5G: Non-Standalone (NSA), Standalone (SA), Sub6 / mmWave
Water ResistanceIPX8None
SensorsCapacitive fingerprint sensor (side), Accelerometer, Barometer, Gyro sensor, Geomagnetic sensor, Hall sensor (analog), Proximity sensor, Light sensor, Wacom layer for stylus inputCapacitive fingerprint sensor (side), Accelerometer, Barometer, Gyro sensor, Geomagnetic sensor, Hall sensor (analog), Proximity sensor, Light sensor
OSAndroid 11
ColorsPhantom Black, Phantom Green, Phantom SilverMystic Black, Mystic Bronze
PriceStarts at $1,799.99Started at $1,999.99

About this article: I tested a review unit of the Galaxy Z Fold 3 provided by Samsung along with a retail unit of the Galaxy Z Fold 2 I bought myself about a year ago. Samsung had no input in this article.

Galaxy Z Fold 3 vs Galaxy Z Fold 2: What’s different?

Looking at the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Fold 2 from afar, it’d be hard to spot differences other than different colors. The two phones share similar dimensions when folded and unfolded, although the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is a hair smaller in all three (height, width, thickness) dimensions, as well as 12g lighter. Truth be told, unless you actively hold both phones at the same time or back-to-back, you’re not really going to notice the Galaxy Z Fold 3’s slightly smaller form factor.

Still, this is progress in the right direction. Anytime a phone maker can shed weight and dimension without losing screen space, specs or features is great.

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 also gets the annual processor bump to the Snapdragon 888, and there’s a new under-screen selfie camera on the inside screen. The former is a necessary addition, but the latter is divisive, as Samsung’s under-screen camera technology is sort of half-baked. The camera itself is just a 4MP shooter, and the part of the display that’s supposed to be “covering” the camera has this weird mesh-like look that’s quite noticeable. Compared to Xiaomi’s implementation of the same technology on the Mix 4, this feels like two generations behind.

Z Fold cameras

The Galaxy Z Fold 3’s “under-screen” camera on top, and the Galaxy Z Fold 2’s traditional hole-punch selfie camera bottom

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 adds IPX8 water resistance (the former had none), and S-Pen support, although you need to buy a new S-Pen designed specifically for the Galaxy Z Fold 3. The Galaxy Z Fold 3’s aluminum bits are also supposedly stronger than before. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 should be more durable than the Galaxy Z Fold 2, and any other foldable before it.

S-Pen Pro in action on the Z Fold 3

The outside “cover display” has also seen its refresh rate double to 120Hz in the Galaxy Z Fold 3. Honestly, I’d be fine if Samsung hadn’t made this change (or had at least given us the option to turn off 120Hz on just the cover display), because the Galaxy Z Fold 3 has slightly worse battery life than the Galaxy Z Fold 2. On a heavy usage day like a Sunday out around town for 14 hours, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 would run out of juice by hour 11 or 12. The Galaxy Z Fold 2, from my year of use, usually could go at least 12 to 13 hours. Keep in mind I’m a very heavy user. For most, the Galaxy Z Fold 3’s battery life should be good enough that they don’t have to worry about finding a charger before they finish the day.

While the addition of S-Pen support, IPX8, and a newer Qualcomm SoC are all welcome additions, the two biggest improvements that benefit me the most personally are the new screen protective film that feels more like glass than the plasticky film of last year, and the Galaxy Z Fold 3’s hinge corner area, when folded, isn’t as sharp as the Galaxy Z Fold 2’s. The latter problem bothered me throughout my year of use, as the phone’s corner just poked at my palm in an uncomfortable way.

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 should be more durable than the Galaxy Z Fold 2, and any other foldable phone before it.

Galaxy Z Fold 3 vs Galaxy Z Fold 2: What’s basically the same?

Other than the ability to use an S-Pen (which requires a separate purchase), using the Galaxy Z Fold 3 feels very similar to using the Galaxy Z Fold 2. The phone’s lighter weight will only be noticeable if you actively hold both phones to “feel the weight.”

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Fold 2, front screens

One area that’s virtually identical is the main camera hardware. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 brings back the same triple-camera system as the Galaxy Z Fold 2. For the most part, photos captured by the Galaxy Z Fold 3 look identical to the Galaxy Z Fold 2.

However, the outer screen’s 10MP selfie camera of the Galaxy Z Fold 3 produces better colors consistently than the same 10MP selfie camera of the Galaxy Z Fold 2.

Still, the Galaxy Z Fold 3’s cameras, by 2021 standards, are just “pretty good”. It lags far behind any 2021 premium slab flagships like the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, Huawei P50 Pro, or Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. These glass slabs can produce far sharper zoom photos, and the main camera has more natural bokeh and takes in more light.

Conclusion: The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is refined and polished, but Galaxy Z Fold 2 owners need not upgrade

I can say with confidence that the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is an awesome device that changes the way you use a phone — because I could say the same thing about the Galaxy Z Fold 2, and the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is a more polished, refined upgrade.

For those interested in trying a large foldable and who don’t already own one, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is a no-brainer. It’s the best all-around and most polished foldable device out right now. If you already own the original Fold, I’d say it’s an easy choice to upgrade too, as the Galaxy Z Fold 3 will feel like a huge jump from the first Galaxy Fold.

But if you already own the Galaxy Z Fold 2? Then I’d say you should upgrade if you need either water-proofing or S-Pen use (or if you have disposable income or have an awesome trade-in offer). Otherwise, if you know you’re rarely around water and have no use for a stylus, I’m not sure the Galaxy Z Fold 3 brings enough differences to justify the upgrade. The camera performance is mostly identical — in fact, the inner selfie camera is worse. Battery life is worse. And while the Snapdragon 888 is great on paper, unless you’re a heavy gamer, you won’t see much of a difference between it and the Snapdragon 865+ that powers the Galaxy Z Fold 2.

    Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3
    The Z Fold 3 doesn't bring immediate jaw-dropping improvements over the Z Fold 2, but it does bring very practical improvements such as water resistance and S-Pen support. Plus it's cheaper than the previous Folds, so that's a win.

Otherwise, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is still a very damn good phone, one of the best foldables even in summer 2021, and will still give you that awesome tablet-in-your-pocket experience.

    Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2
    Even at almost a year old, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is still an excellent option. If you don't need water resistance and S-Pen support, maybe you'd be better off buying the Z Fold 2.

About author

Ben Sin
Ben Sin

I'm a senior editor at XDA Developers. I have been a journalist for a decade, the last five years covering the mobile tech scene closely, reviewing just about every phone and attending trade shows and launches. I also run a gadget review channel on YouTube.