This page focuses on a topical question, can the Samsung Z Fold 3 be a viable option for someone who has previously owner Samsung Note phones? Having owned 4 notes dating back to the original, I add my review, and links and selected quotes of other opinions.
The page includes my review from the perspective of The page has now been updated (26 Aug 2021) following first useful reviews of the S-pen case.
I will also plan to update the page review my history with mobile phones, which included the first ever Samsung Note, as background to my perspectives. But the history will be added later, with first a focus on what is needed for the Fold 3 to be able to replace a Samsung Note.
- Z Fold 3 vs Note: End of Samsung Premium Phones and of the S-pen?
- The Z Fold 3 S Pens: Problematic fail, end of the s-pen.
- Fold3 Review.
- Samsung Folds.
- International Versions: One Fold cannot travel the world using 5G.
- Fold 3: Beyond the pen and question on note replacement.
- Folds 1 & 2.
- Samsung Notes.
- Note 8
- Note 3, Note Edge.
- The Original Note.
- Phones Of Old: Pre-Note
- Nokia N900 and N9 – The Demise of Nokia.
- Before the Smartphone.
Z Fold 3 vs Note: End of Samsung Premium Phone.
Spiritual Successor? Two out of three? Or only one of three?
The question is, can the Z Fold 3 function as a replacement for the Samsung Note range of phones? The answer would only be yes if the S-pen is being phased out of the proposition.
When the Note first appeared, it had three main differences from other phones:
- It had a significantly larger screen than other phones, and was even called a ‘phablet’.
- A pen was provided, together with a pen enabled screen that could distinguish between pen and touch.
- As a premium phone, the Note had the best specification of all Samsung phones.
Two out of three aint bad? Except, number two may also be a fail.
The note was the ultimate Samsung phone, with maybe 1.5 from 3, the Fold is not.
Size: Fold is the new large screen phone?
I chose the first Samsung Note phone mostly because it had increased screen size, but on my caluclations would still fit well into all my pockets.
The pen was a bonus. The press at the time became an echo chamber on how large size made the device neither a phone, nor a tablet, and often described it is a ‘phablet’ hybrid of phone and tablet. Despite the many criticisms of the size of the device, I had verified that a device of this size would fit all my pockets just as well smaller phones, and though “why not”? Over the years since, many phones the size of that orginally declared ‘phablet’ have become standard, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max is now larger than that original note.. became the size of the note, the size difference has vanished as everyone else also realised the phone even slightly larger than the first note fit almost everyone’s pockets, and the size of the note became mainstream.
Today, ‘Fold’ phones could be seen as the spiritual successor to the Note range in terms of size, because they bring back the concept of a larger screen.
Pens and The Fold 3: One Step Forward, 2 steps back, ending the S-pen.
The key to a useful pen is that it is always there. It is not used everyday, just as most of us don’t use the phone camera every day, but it is still great to always have it with us. Phone cameras for most uses took over from dedicated compact cameras because the camera you have with you, is better than a higher quality dedicated camera you do not have with you. Note taking with a phone only works if you have the capability with you, without having to carry something separate.
The big step back, is that there is no practical way to easily carry an S-pen with the phone. The second step back is that lack of a pen with Bluetooth that charges simply by being stored, although this is a smaller step back as it is not core to function of the pen, and did not appear until the Note 9.
The one step forward is having an even larger screen and a large screen was always seen as key to pen functionality. It is hard to see how a larger screen will offset the lack of any convenient way to carry the pen.
What is also impressive is the latency for the pen, stated to be 2.8ms, which is faster than the 9ms for the S21 Ultra or iPad Pro.
Premium Phone: With that Camera system, Really?
The Note originally had specification one step above the premium Samsung S model of the same year. Gradually the gap was reduced to almost equivalence by the Note 20, but the Note was still the ultimate Samsung phone. With the Fold, all is not so clear. The fold has a camera system significantly less capable the than the S21 Ultra, and as camera, on paper suggests it would perform more on the level of a mid tier phone than a premium phone.
However, tests indicate the Fold 3 is at least competitive with the iPhone 12 and S21 Ultra.
To be a spiritual successor to the Note range, it seems an even more expensive Fold Ultra model would need to at least exist, even if the price meant few people chose it.
The Z Fold 3 S Pens: Problematic fail, end of the s-pen?
A Useful Note Pen: What are the uses and what is needed to make a pen useful?
The core use of a pen is for taking simple text and/or graphic notes that are impractical without a pen. A little sticky notes sized notepad that you always have with you. Taking notes like this is not an every day requirement, but having it when needed is great. In the same way phone cameras have largely taken over from dedicated cameras because the camera you have with you is better than a higher quality dedicated camera you do not have with you, note taking with a phone only works if you have the capability with you. A separate pen that is hard to carry is somewhat similar to shipping a pocket camera in the same box as the phone as the solution for photographs.
I have often seen articles suggesting that users of the Note phones, rarely use the pen. I would expect this is true, but misses the point of the pen. The pen gives the note a superpower, that even if rarely used, is extremely valuable when it is used. The pen allows users of the phone to do things either impossible or impractical without the pen, extending that tasks the owner of a Note device can achieve using their phone. The pen is as important to the Note devices, as a high top speed is to a Ferrari car, as it provides an extra capability that is always present, even if rarely used.
Examples of the ‘powers’ of the pen:
- The ability to record sketches and draw diagrams.
- The ability to take notes without the formality and disruptiveness of typing.
- There are many situations where notes taking is useful but you would not bring a laptop, for example to informal meetings.
- The ability to annotate photos.
- Some images a captured to capture the information rather than an appealing photo, and with such images, on image notes can be very helpful.
Even if rarely used, the fact that the feature is there changes is essential.
So how does this rarely used pen work those all important times the pen is needed? I find there are two modes of use:
- Standing, with the phone in one hand and the pen in the other taking notes.
- Seated at a desk, with the phone flat on the desk.
I have checked, and I was surprised. Standing and holding the Fold 2, open and in one hand, and in a manner ready to take notes, was far more comfortable than expected. Unlike one handed operation with a keyboard, the hand holding the phone does not need to be able to span the device. When using Note devices, I have always found the size adequate for the type of notes I take when ‘out and about’, so I had thought that I would prefer to use the cover screen to take notes when standing, but I will reserve judgement.
For using the pen on a desk, the larger size screen has to be a bonus.
However, with Note phones, the pen was always there because the body of the phone had a pen slot. Given the pen is a rarely used device, but it is important that the pen is always there, this raises questions as to the practicality of the pen with the Fold.
S Pen Fold edition and pen Case: Impractical?
The Z Fold 3 ‘Flip Cover with Pen’ case appeared from the outset to have a series of problems, and review after review online covers unboxing, but not using the pen when the pen case is fitted. The problems all relate to the case getting in the way of holding, taking pictures, or laying flat the Fold when the case is fitted. Out of around 12 reviews with a promising title, only 2 I have found so far, actual even try using the phone with the pen case fitted.
I am still exploring how practical the S-Pen is with the fold, and will soon have my hands on one to try. Already, there are alarm bells. The only way to carry the S-Pen together with the phone is the ‘S Pen Fold Edition’ together with the ‘Flip Cover with Pen’.
- When the case and pen fitted, the phone cannot be used flat on a desk, but maybe that is OK?.
- With with the fold crease aligned horizontally, the pen sleeve causes the rear of the phone to be elevated from the flat surface, which can be acceptable.
- With the Fold crease in the vertical orientation, the fold on a flat surface slopes left to right, with the right edge on the table and left elevated.
- Fully flat surface operation requires removing the pen sleeve from the case, and the sleeve is removable.
- Reports are that the case is unwieldy when using the cover screen, and this particularly applies when taking photos.
- With the case fitted, it appears use of the main camera selfie feature would become impossible.
- Using the main camera for ‘selfies’ requires having the phone unfolded with the main screen pointer away from the person taking the photo, and using the cover screen as a viewfinder, however in this orientation the phone cover ‘flap’ would normally cover either the cover screen or the main cameras.
- When closed, the Fold becomes wider and even bulkier than without the pen.
- This is hard to avoid, but if the design prioritised pen storage, the screen could have been larger in order to accommodate the pen.
The pen case would make the Fold wider than normal when closed, but given the phone is quite narrow, many could find this the least of the problems.
When the pen is in the case, it appears the pen would be under the hinge area when the phone is opened on a desk, and as there is no recess under the phone, the result would be similar to placing a pen underneath any phone. The device would be lifted off the surface and unstable. It is possible that when the pen is removed the ‘pouch’ for the pen can fold quite flat, but even without pen, could it be completely flat?
So far, while there are reviews where people use the pen and do show the pen case, no one seems to use the Fold with pen case fitted to phone.
Lots of negative reviews does not mean they are right, but it does mean there are negative vibes out there. First a positive reveiw, then the negative ones:
- Brandon Bodorfer: positive, but focus on planning rather than in-depth on use the case.
S Pen Pro: An extra burden to carry with no wireless charging??
The alternative is to give up on the pen case and carry a pen separately. This is the only option with the S Pen pro, as this pen is longer than the phone, and could never fit into any kind of phone case unless the case is way larger than the phone. Provided the pen has some charge, in theory you can at least find your the S Pen pro if you misplace it, but that brings us to the next problem. The S Pen pro cannot be wirelessly charged when stored as with previous note pens or with current rechargeable pens from Microsoft or Apple. This need for an inconvenient recharge is bound to result in the pen most often being flat, which will eliminate the Bluetooth capabilities. In reality, most of the biggest uses of Bluetooth capabilities of the pen could wait while the pen gets a quick charge…. except the locating feature.
Conclusion: End of the pen.
Could the lack of solution to carrying the S-Pen kill off the S-Pen? Maybe.
Neither carrying a separate pen everywhere, or living with a phone case significantly compromises using the phone, is going to be attractive. Even a percentage of Note owners, who desire to use the pen are not happy with these solutions.
This probably means that most people buy an S-Pen will normally not carry the S-Pen with them. Just like people no longer carry their pocket cameras and make do with phone cameras, people who previously used the pen will make do without.
Previously, if you bought a Note, you received the S-Pen, and it went with you everywhere. This meant it was so easy to try out an S-pen that some people tried, and discovered there compelling use cases they never would have discovered if they did not have the S-Pen with them. This means more people became S-Pen users, and once they did, many of them remained loyal Note customers. With less people brought into the S-Pen user ecosystem, the number of users is very likely to decline.
Everyone who buys an S21 Ultra or Fold3 is paying for the digitizer, even if they do not buy or use an S-Pen. With less people who have these devices actually using the pen then had been the case with the Note series, there is a real question as to whether the feature of pen capabilities will continue.
Realistically, Samsung will likely need to bundle the pen, or abandon it.
- ‘edge panels’ is in settings, and when not locked the handle can slide up or down or be moved left or right.
- battery life.
International Versions: Can one fold travel the world?
For me, the Folds have been my first 5G phones. When I researched 5G, I found that the number of ‘bands’ has exploded from the 4 main bands of the original GSM system. There are over 50 bands of 5G, and as most phones only support up to 9 bands, no phone supports every band. Each country supports typically 5 or 6 bands, so getting a phone to roam the world seems impossible.
Looking at this data for the Samsung S20, it seems there are 5 versions U (USA), W (Canada), N (Korea), O(China/Japan), and B (rest of the world).
For example the Canadian or US version have only 1 5G band in common with ‘rest of the world’, band n5, which currently is not used in Canada, nor by T-Mobile in the US and by only 1 of 3 networks in Australia. So a ‘B’ version from Australia cannot work in Canada or T-Mobile in the US, and a US Canadian ‘W’ version can only work on one network in Australia.
Note the B international model S20 seems to have no mmwave 5G, but this could have changed for the Fold3.
A Korean phone ‘N’ could work in Australia, but not in Canada or the US as there are no bands in common.
Of course, 4G still roams, despite is also being a soup of bands compared to 3G.
Fold 3: Beyond the pen and question on note replacement.
Fold3 International SM-F926B: 5G Bands 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20, 28, 38, 40, 41, 66, 77, 78 (SA and NSA)
New: The Pen, and role as a Note alternative.
Things not covered to my satisfaction in the many reviews on line are:
Is The Fold3 a note replacement, and does the pen work without a pen slot?
Beyond that, there are plenty of great reviews of the Fold3 online and on youtube already. Already covered is the contradiction of a premium phone with a sub-standard set of cameras.
Here are other reviews I feel may be useful:
- Getting started and data transfer.
- Mr Mobile, ‘4 pocket laptop’, and he is making it his day to day phone (at least for now).
- TechMeOut tips and tricks.
Fold2 to Fold3.
I am also in the process of moving to the Fold3, again in part due to upgrade incentives, but this time mostly due to the addition of the S-Pen capability.
The Fold3 is again declared as even more robust with an even stronger frame, a digitiser and thicker coating over the same ultra thin glass for the internal display, and to the big news of an IPX8 rating, meaning the device can now be immersed in water up to 1.5 metres for 30minute (the ‘8’), but has no dust rating (the ‘X’). Water may get into the hinge, but it will not cause damaged. In theory it is thinner and lighter, but in practice it is hard to notice any difference.
The front display has also been upgraded to 120Hz, maximum brightness for both displays improved but resolution and size unchanged part from the under display camera on the main screen. CPU from 7nm Snapdragon 865 to 5nm Snapdragon 888, wider availability of 512MB memory, Bluetooth from 5.0 to 5.2 (but without LE audio codec?) and WiFi from WiFi6 to WiFi6E. The internal camera drops notably in quality and resolution down from 10 to 4MP as a sacrifice for the under display. There are some more bands but still no mmwave in any but the US version as far as I can see.
The first fold was unveiled in March 2019, but following failures of review units in the hands journalist and other early reviewers, the device was withdrawn to be revised.
The revised unit was launched on 9th September 2019, and despite the revision the unit still came with warnings that the Fold should be handled with care.
I had full access to the original Fold, and to the successor, the Fold2, but both of them were ‘companion phones’, in the sense that there were not the devices with my ‘sim’. They did not go with me everywhere and they were more like portable tablets and media devices for me, with my ‘phone’ being a Samsung Note 8 at the the time.
Even the original Fold, with its three main camera setup, was an improvement on the Note camera.
Fold to Fold2.
Fold2 SM-F916B: 5G Bands 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 28, 40, 41, 77, 78
When the Fold2 arrived, the trade in available was compelling, so I traded to the Fold2, although the device was still too fragile for me to adopt as my ‘phone’.
The Fold2 was declared as more robust, added ‘ultra thin glass’ and 120Hz and 3% more pixels for the interior display, added UWB, faster wired charging, CPU from 855 to 865, USB went from 3.1 to 3.2 and the memory went from UFS3.0 to UFS3.1. However, memory was reduced from 512MB to 256MB in most markets, wireless charging dropped from 15w to 11w, the main camera lost the variable aperture, the wide camera dropped from 16MP to 12MP and the 8MP RGB depth sensor from the internal selfie was dropped, reducing the camera count from 6 to 5. Bluetooth 5.0 and WiFi6 versions remained unchanged.
Overall, not a clear spec bump, with minuses as well as the plusses.
While the Fold had the fragile screen inside
The cover screen was taller, but in fact not significantly wider, and width was the main problem. The notch became a hold punch, but with many applications the relevant area of the screen was often a ‘black bar’ anyway. The Fold2 also went backwards in memory
this section to be added.
The Note 20: Last Note?
The Note 8 (2017) again a gift, this time in early 2018, and has remained in until late 2021, which at around 3.5 years is not that long. The battery is starting to show its age, and I think now runs flat faster than older Note Edge or Note 3 does at this time. The glass case has cracks in the two opposite corners now, although neither of them affects the display. While the Note 8 came with a ‘protective’ clear case in the package from Samsung, perhaps without the metallic surround of the Note Edge or Note 3, it did need more protection despite the ever improving Gorrila glass.
The Note 8 again increased the screen size to now 6.3 inches, but at the same time made it narrower than my previous devices. From the Note 4 at 5.6 inches, this sounds like an increase of 12.5%, but in fact the display area of the Note 8 at 101.2cm2 is only 5% larger than the Note edge at 96.2cm2.
For comparison, the Fold 3 cover screen is nominally 6.2 inches, but with an area of 83.44cm is back to area of the original Note in 2011, and in practice is limited by the width, making is smaller to use than any Note screen. Although the fold mains screen at 7.6 inches only sounds 1.2x bigger than the cover screen, the area is in fact around 2.2x times larger. Screen diagonals just make really tall screens sound bigger than in practice.
Despite its limitation, the Note 8 has been a workhorse. The pen is better than previous Notes, the display clearer, and it was the first I had with wireless charging.
But the Note 8 also signals the stagnation of mobile device. It did not bring that much new to the table despite the 3 years since the Noted Edge. There was no Note 6, but the Note 5 was underwhelming and the Note 7 a fire risk, that may have contributed to the Note 8 being conservative, but the Note 9, 10 or 20 were small incremental improvements. Yes, cameras improved, but nothing really made me feel the Note 8 needed replacing to get some new feature.
I received the Note Edge (released 2014) , as a gift in early 2015, and there was also someone who knew I would receive the gift waiting for eagerly hand-me-down to use my Note3 (I did get the Note3 back when they later received their own phone).
Although technically 2mm wider, the overall phone was in practical terms the same size as the Note 3, and despite differences due to the curved edge, and technically a slightly smaller, but in fact slightly larger area and higher resolution display.
The Edge, which is also still around, was quite useful. I actually used the edge panel. Apart form the ‘party trick’ of a workable rule for measuring small things, the Note Edge panel also provided app short cuts in many ways similar to those now available on the Fold3.
I had the Note 3 (2013) with a flip case. In fact, I still have it, and it still works fine. I use it occasionally for testing software. Why did I replace the original Note? The Note3 raised the screen size further to 5.7 inches (89.6cm2) giving me an extra almost 7cm2 of space, while total size being in fact slightly smaller, and significantly, around 15%, thinner.
The phone also just looked more modern. It is possible my Note original was not LTE, which would have provided another reason to upgrade, but it was long ago and I was unsure. The Note 3 also added the ill-fated extended micro-sd connector, which allowed faster changing and data transfer, but soon was abandoned.
The Original Samsung Note.
The original note from 2011 revealed just how much of an echo chamber the technology press was at the time:
- It is ‘phablet’: half phone, half tablet which makes it something nobody wants.
- It is too big for a phone, can you imagine holding this to you face?
Reviewers were almost universally damming of the size of the device, and almost all declared the device was a crazy idea, and this size device did not really suit anyone (typical review “one size fits none“).
Over and over the same comments were echoed. I did not find a single review to support my own conclusions:
- This device actually fits in every pocket I need it too, just as well as previous phones.
- What is the problem with the larger phone screen if it fits?
- The size makes more sense than other phones.
- Pens are useful, I have had them on previous devices, and as long as there is also touch a pen is a bonus.
The original Note was my first Samsung device, and at the time, Samsung was an ‘up and coming’ rather than established brand. However the huge “5.3 inch” (83cm2)display, rather than being “one size fits no-one” proved to be the future, and now a display this more likely to be considered too small.
Smartphones Of History: Before iPhone and Android.
Nokia N900 (2009) and N9 (2011)- The Demise of Nokia.
The N900 was arguably the first phone from Nokia, which in the language of 2020, could be described as a ‘smartphone’. The device was produce by a team in Nokia with a vision of a future with portable internet devices, who had not previously been permitted to produce a ‘phone’. Portable internet device yes. Phone no. Until the N900 and the follow up N9. The ‘phones’ group within Nokia were outraged: “How dare you rock the boat! We make phones”. Phones ran the ‘Symbian’ operating system, while these internet devices ran a version of Linux called Maemo and later Meego Nokia, which being based on Linux were more like Android than like Symbian. At one point the CEO of Nokia even warned people, it does not matter how successful the highly acclaimed N9 is, we will not be producing a successor. See Techcrunch, Phonearena, Mobilityarena and perhaps you can also find other links. No, Nokia, as declared by their ex-Microsoft CEO, was committed to dumping their own Operating System, and partnering with Microsoft.
If not for the early internal feuds with the Symbian team and the ultimate switch to Windows, would Nokia have stayed at the top of the mobile phone industry? Probably the real problem at lay in the dysfunction and factional disputes that lead to the issues and wars as to operating systems, rather than the choice of operating system itself.
The Demise of Nokia: The Symbian/Windows/Meego-Maemo Feud.
Still, the N900 and N9 were great devices at the time. The windows devices had fans also, but none ever reached the following of the N900 and N9. The N9 reached the status of top selling phone globally at one point while not even offered for sale in the USA. Plus the rare honour of the company CEO trying to discourage consumers buying the product.
Nokia CEO: Even If The N9 Is A Success, It’ll Be Nokia’s Only MeeGo Phone
Nokia N95 (released 2007).
Razr V3. (Released 2004)
Sony Ericsson T68: Colour! (2001)
One the first colour screen phones.
Alcatel One Touch Com (Released 1998)
A version of the Sharp MC-G1 which was descendant of the Sharp Organisers from 10 years earlier. The Alcatel was the first phone I had with pen input.
Nokia 2110/6110 (released 1994/1998).
Ericsson EH237. (Released 1993).
Motorola MicroTac: 1989
My first mobile phone: The MicroTac.
The was a special phone cradle that made use of an external antenna for improved coverage while driving.
At the time, I first purchased it, friends would declare, “I will never buy a mobile phone”, yet in a few short years, everyone had one.
to be completed, this page will continue to be updated from hands on experience with the Fold3, Fold2, Fold1 and Notes.
The Role Of A Smartwatch.
I receive my first ‘smart watch’ as a present. I had technical watches previously, but I had stopped wearing them. I was sceptical about my need for a smartwatch. However I persevered and it is now my habit to wear a smartwatch. I do use the watch from everything from seeing the time without needing to pull out my ‘pocket watch substitute’ mobile device, through to step tracking, and even occasionally looking at pulse data, although that data is observed less often than the ‘find my phone’ feature is used, and I am not really certain what to do with the pulse data.
In summary, I have come to find having a smartwatch useful, but I would not lose that much without it.
As a young child, my daughter has a Samsung Gear S as her first phone. With less of a risk of being dropped, or lost and no need to worry about how a child with no significant pockets or a handbag would carry it, the 3G Gear S was ideal, except Samsung never designed the watch to be used that way. As is still the case today, the watch had to be paired to a phone, and in this case, that phone did not have a SIM and did not leave the house. That part was a little clumsy, as the role of a communications device for young children, or even as alternative device for phone calls and text messages is overlooked by makers of smartwatches.
Now that the main use mobile devices is no longer making phone calls, the smartwatch could take over the role of ‘the device with the SIM’, with other devices acting as an appropriate size tablet making using of whatever network is available.
Researching battery life on the Watch4. How bad is the smaller version?
With battery tests, the results were 42hrs for 42mm and 35hrs from the 40mm which seems to makes no sense as these watches are identical internally. But test conditions were not identical, so this may be seen as two different tests with the 42mm test giving a longer time, as that test went over two full nights and one day, with sleep tracking off for one of those nights, while the 40mm test had two days and one night, and tracking was on during that night.
Again with the smaller battery, GSMarena reported 15% after one day of always on use, sleep tracking and a 90minute workout, and 40% remaining after a day without the workout.
Apparently, the Samsung unpacked event quoted battery life (40hrs).
Bezel: Nothing better.