Samsung now has three high-end smartphones to choose from: the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra ($1,199.99), the Galaxy Z Flip 3 ($999.99), and the Galaxy Z Fold 3 ($1,799.99). We gave the S21 Ultra our Editors’ Choice award earlier this year. It’s an amazing phone with an amazing camera, and it’s the one I’ve chosen to use for most of the year.
So when should you pick the new models? The Galaxy Z Flip 3 and Z Fold 3 feel a bit like the S21 Ultra remixed into new shapes—it’s the shapes that are key here. The elegant Z Flip 3 recalls an old flip phone or (more clearly, to me) a makeup compact, rather than a big black slab. The Fold 3 opens up into a giant screen that I just can’t wait to look at Excel spreadsheets on. (Yes, I like Excel spreadsheets.)
I expect the Flip or the Fold to have similar performance to the S21 Ultra in many ways. My full reviews will come soon, but here are some first thoughts if you need to choose between the phones right now.
‘I Just Want a Good Phone’: Galaxy S21 Ultra
The two new phones have radical designs, but neither looks to have much different or better basic functions than the S21 Ultra. The chipsets and modems in all three phones are the same. The S21 Ultra has a gorgeous screen, solid battery life, terrific network and phone performance, and it runs apps well. Mostly, I’m just confident all of those things are true about the S21 Ultra right now, while I have yet to truly test the two new phones.
For the Fashion-Forward : Galaxy Z Flip 3
The Z Flip 3 is gorgeous. It’s better-looking than the Z Flip 2; it fits better in your hand, it’s slimmer, and that front panel is just beautiful. It will turn heads. The Galaxy S21 looks like every other slab smartphone ever, and while the Fold 3 is great-looking, it’s big and a bit lumpy. If you want the Snapdragon 888 power in something genuinely pretty, the Flip is the way to go.
For Productivity: Galaxy Z Fold 3
The Z Fold 3 looks amazing for high-end productivity. The big screen can legitimately handle multiple windows, with the ability to drag and drop between them. I’m interested in digging into Samsung’s list of apps with special big-screen experiences; for example, doing a multi-party Zoom call and being able to see several people and the chat at the same time will be great.
For Former Galaxy Note Owners: Galaxy S21 Ultra
The Galaxy Note is dead, at least for now. The S21 Ultra with its S Pen case is as close as you’re going to get. It’s about the same size and shape as a Galaxy Note, with a familiar experience. Yes, the S Pen doesn’t tuck into the body of the phone anymore, but I’ve been using the pen-case and it works well; you want a case on a phone this expensive, anyway.
The S Pen will work with the Fold as well of course. But the Fold costs $600 more and is a somewhat different form factor. The Fold is going to be even better for writing and drawing on, but it won’t feel as much like a Note as the S21 Ultra does.
If Camera Matters: Galaxy S21 Ultra
The camera is the one way the S21 Ultra is guaranteed to crush both of the new phones. The Fold 3 has the same cameras as the Fold 2, which are just okay. The S21 Ultra’s camera is genuinely great, with 3x and 10x zoom lenses that can change how you see and take photos of the world.
For Battery Life: We Don’t Know Yet
Battery life is always a top concern for smartphone buyers. Fact is, we don’t know how the new phones perform in terms of battery yet. The relationship between battery size and battery life is complex enough nowadays—especially on the Z Flip 3, with its presumably low-power front screen—that we just won’t know the answer to this one until we test it.