I used the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 to replace a laptop — here’s what happened

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 being used a laptop with a Bluetooth keyboard.
(Image credit: Imad Khan)

Squeezed in the window seat of a Southwest Airlines flight, I had a revelatory moment with my Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3. While the person next to me had conked out, I was typing away, writing an article about why 49-inch ultrawide monitors transformed how I work. The irony of writing about monitors that are almost four feet wide on a display that's merely 7.6 inches diagonally was not lost on me. Still, during a recent flight with the Z Fold 3 as my primary device, I couldn't get over how far technology had come. 

My task was simple: use the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 as a laptop on a short domestic flight. In this case, I was flying three-and-a-half hours from Houston to New York for a work trip. Instead of taking out my Microsoft Surface, I would set up a Z Fold 3 on a tablet stand and use the iClever BK08, a squat foldable Bluetooth keyboard, as my primary input tool. The experience was surprisingly usable, even if Android still has some hiccups with mouse support. 

While the plan was to use the Z Fold 3 to accomplish all my editing duties, Southwest Airlines' abysmal Wi-Fi made doing anything almost impossible. Even loading Slack messages was maddeningly futile. Instead, I opted to open Microsoft Word and type our the opinion piece linked above. 

The typing experience on Word for mobile running on my Z Fold 3 was fine — not as robust as the desktop version would be, but that was to be expected. Using the iClever BK08's trackpad worked like any other mouse on a laptop. The cursor appeared just as I would expect. 

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 being used a laptop with a Bluetooth keyboard.

(Image credit: Imad Khan)

Multitasking like a laptop on a Galaxy Z Fold 3

The great thing about the Galaxy Z Fold 3 was its ability to snap multiple apps on the screen at once. I had a Word document open on one half of the Z Fold 3's main display, while on the other, Slack was there, telling me it was unable to connect.

Apart from in-flight Wi-Fi woes, I ran into some odd quirks that still need to be ironed out in Android. For example, using the mouse to highlight over text is impossible with a trackpad. Android wants you to highlight with your finger against the touchscreen. It's one of those things that pulls you out of the experience, and was a reminder I was using something that's still a touchscreen device first, and a laptop second.

In terms of battery life, obviously using the phone's full stretched out display for three-plus hours was a drain. But battery life wasn't dropping as exponentially as I thought it would. The percentage meter at the top right trickled down slowly. I still had an Anker PowerCore Slim beside me to give my phone an emergency top-off if necessary, but honestly, it handled things well.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 being used a laptop with a Bluetooth keyboard.

(Image credit: Imad Khan)

Eventually I did get some Wi-Fi during my flight, and was able to connect to Spotify for a few brief minutes. It made drowning out the cries of the screaming baby a few rows back a welcome reprieve, even if only for the length of a single song. 

But using Spotify in the background while typing away on my article worked on the Galaxy Z Fold 3 just as it would on an actual laptop. I found no issues when using both the Sony WF-1000MX3 earbuds and wireless keyboard on Bluetooth. 

The Galaxy Z Fold 3's impact

After graduating from college, I was working at a T-Mobile store in Austin while trying to get my journalism career off the ground. I was always surprised at the number of people who would walk into the store, those with generally bad or subpar credit, who would opt to get a Samsung Galaxy Note 3. The phone was often the most expensive device at our store, but still, these buyers were willing to pay half or the entire phone up-front to get it. It just didn't make sense to me. 

It was in talking to people who work in the fast food service industry did I realize that for these buyers, they weren't buying a Note to splurge — they were buying a Note because it was meant to be their primary computer. 

Oftentimes, having a separate phone and laptop is a luxury for those on tight budgets and minimum wage incomes. For those folks, the Galaxy Note was a multipurpose device — not just for watching videos or making calls, but as something they could take notes on. For them, screen real estate was everything as it directly equated to how much they could do.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 being used a laptop with a Bluetooth keyboard.

(Image credit: Imad Khan)

Once the Z Fold series does drop to the $1,000 price point over the next several years, I hope it will be a revelatory moment for more phone buyers as it has been for me. But until that happens, foldables are a fascinating bridge between phones and laptops for those who can pay the premium. 

Final impressions

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is not a perfect laptop replacement. It still feels very much like using an Android tablet, but with a mouse and keyboard. And both Google and Samsung will need to spend more time enhancing the user experience before we can start recommending that people stop bringing their work laptop with them on a flight. 

Samsung also needs to do more with Dex on the Galaxy Z Fold 3. Dex is an interface that changes the Android user interface to mirror a more familiar Windows desktop experience. But to access this interface, a Z Fold 3 needs to be connected to an external monitor. I believe Samsung should let you use the Z Fold 3 internal screen as that display, eliminating the need for another monitor. And I know Samsung can do it, as the Dex user interface can be enabled on other Samsung tablets. Extending Dex to the Z Fold 3 could truly replace a laptop during emergency situation. 

My Galaxy Z Fold 3-as-laptop experiment worked. But my use case was a lot less than what others might use their laptop for. If you just need a device that can check emails, send messages, listen to music and watch videos, then using the Galaxy Z Fold 3 as a temporary laptop works tremendously well. It's something that can only get better from here. Samsung has already laid down a solid foundation, giving the Z Fold 3 tremendous potential. 

Imad Khan

Imad is currently Senior Google and Internet Culture reporter for CNET, but until recently was News Editor at Tom's Guide. Hailing from Texas, Imad started his journalism career in 2013 and has amassed bylines with the New York Times, the Washington Post, ESPN, Wired and Men's Health Magazine, among others. Outside of work, you can find him sitting blankly in front of a Word document trying desperately to write the first pages of a new book.