Foldable phones are still clunky, untested devices. But over the past three generations (with a fourth presumably on the way), Samsung has made great strides with its designs, paving the way for innovative (though sometimes quite expensive) alternatives to the typical glass block. And when you combine that with sales of nearly 10 million devices last year, it looks like Samsung’s foldables are finally starting to break into the mainstream.
But despite a number of improvements over the years, there’s one aspect of Samsung’s foldable that still needs a lot of work: durability. Last year, after purchasing my very own Z Fold 2, I documented some of the issues I faced after owning it for 10 months. And after upgrading to the Z Fold 3 last fall, I’m here to report on how Samsung’s latest foldable flagship is holding up a year later.
Now at this point some people might wonder why I upgraded. The bubbles that my Z Fold 2’s screen suffered from were certainly annoying, but they weren’t so bad that I considered going back to a standard candy bar handset. Instead, my main goal for purchasing the model (professional curiosity aside) was to get a foldable that could better survive a newborn.
Compared to typical smartphones, the Z Fold 2’s lack of water resistance was almost guaranteed to become an issue after my son was born. I felt like I had to keep the phone in a separate room, lest a small amount of spit or drool ruin the device. And that just wasn’t something I wanted to do, which is what drew me to the Z Fold 3 and its IPX8 rating. I figured that if a phone could handle sitting in water for up to 30 minutes at a maximum depth of five feet, it could also handle anything a baby might throw at it (or spit up).
Luckily, I think my strategy worked, because even though the upgrade cost around $800 after I traded in my Z Fold 2, that money has already paid for itself. My Z Fold 3 got pissed on, vomited on, and milk splattered all over, and it’s fine. The phone has also been gnawed on more than a handful of times to no effect. So while adding water resistance to Samsung’s foldables might not be that exciting, considering regular phones that have had it for years, it’s a huge improvement in usability. daily.
The rest of the phone’s body also held up well. There is a relatively large scratch on its frame and a few scuffs on its hinge, but these are just cosmetic knocks. I should also mention that I’m not someone who puts phones in skins or cases, this thing has been living bare bones since the day I got it. So even though I haven’t traveled much, the number of times this phone has been knocked over or dropped on the floor while I was rushing to grab my child after a nap is pretty impressive. Even dust and crumbs were handled by the extra bristles that Samsung placed inside its hinge.
The big exception to the Z Fold 3’s improved durability is again its built-in screen protector. For this model, Samsung says it switched from the TPU material it used on the Z Fold 2 to a new PET film while using a stickier adhesive, which was designed to prevent bubbles from forming between the protector and the screen itself. But in my experience, none of that helped.
For the first six months I had it, my Z Fold 3’s screen was flawless. There were no smudges, bubbles or anything. But one winter day, as I was walking down the street, I opened the phone and heard a crack. At first I feared the worst, thinking that its outer cover screen had broken or something important inside had broken. But upon closer inspection, I noticed that there was a thin line down the middle of the phone near the crease, as if the protector had been pulled or stretched.
And while I’m still not sure of the exact cause, my theory is that after I took the phone out of my pocket, the cold winter air made the screen protector unusually brittle, causing it to break instead of bending when I opened the phone. It’s a problem several other Z Fold owners have encountered, and once you suffer from that initial crack, it’s only a matter of time until bubbles start to form. Over the past few months, these bubbles have turned into an air gap that stretches across the middle of the screen, and no amount of pressure or smoothing attempt is having much effect. Recently, some dust got stuck between the protector and the screen itself, which is frankly disgusting. And because I’m trying to live up to Samsung’s insistence that the screen protector should only be replaced by certified technicians, I didn’t attempt to repair it myself.
Naturally, the next step was to take the phone to one of Samsung’s outlets for repair, at which point I found I’m far from the only person dealing with it. When I arrived, there were already three other people on the waiting list – and all of them were waiting for their Z Fold’s screen protector to be replaced. Admittedly, this is just an anecdotal observation, and I’m sure my choice to go to Samsung’s 837 flagship location in New York has something to do with the unusually high concentration of $1,800 foldable phones. .
But that wasn’t a coincidence either. After talking to two of the other customers, I learned that they were also having bubble issues around the six to eight month mark. On top of that, one of the Samsung Care+ reps I spoke to basically confirmed that this is a pretty common problem, saying screen protector replacements are the most common repair. frequently requested for Samsung foldables. Unfortunately, since it takes about an hour to replace the screen protector and I was fourth in line, I couldn’t wait for my Z Fold to be fixed. So here’s a pro tip, if your phone needs fixing, be sure to schedule your appointment online, to avoid the queue.
Ultimately, while I plan to return to have my screen protector replaced, my big takeaway after owning both a Z Fold 2 and Z Fold 3 is that there’s a good chance you’ll run into bubbles after six months. or. And without some sort of drastic upgrade to the screen construction, the company’s next generation of Z devices will likely suffer the same fate. It’s a bit of a shame, because having to sit around for hours to fix something that’s likely to happen again sucks. And that’s going to double or triple that for anyone who has to mail their device in because they don’t live near a certified repair location.
As it is, the bubbling is certainly annoying and not very pretty. Fortunately, the side effects are much less noticeable indoors or at night, so while it’s far from ideal, it’s tolerable. I will also admit that if I hadn’t planned on writing this story, I would have had the screen protector replaced months ago. And if you are having a similar problem with your Z Flip or Z Fold, I strongly suggest that you deal with any bubbling as soon as possible, before any other related issue arises.
But if Samsung wants its foldables to be as popular as the S-series or A-series phones, screen protector bubbling is an issue that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. As for me, while I haven’t decided yet whether I want to upgrade again or not, I just hope anyone on the fence now has a bit more realistic idea of what it’s really like to live with a foldable phone.