I just tested the Galaxy Z Fold 3's under-display camera — and it's not great

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 under display camera
(Image credit: Future)

I'm here to tell you that under-display cameras are the future of phones, but that future is not quite here yet. At least based on my time in our Galaxy Z Fold 3 review in progress thus far.

The 7.6-inch display on the Galaxy Z Fold 3 uses under display camera technology that applies a minimum amount of pixels on top of the camera hole. The goal? To increase the viewable area and (nearly) banish the punch hole so you get a clean canvas when watching Netflix, playing games or enjoying other apps. 

When you're using the under-display camera or UDC for taking selfies, it will appear as a small hole toward the right top part of the screen and then disappear when you exit the camera app. It's almost like magic. But just how good is this 4MP camera? Based on my testing, I'd say its decent — but not as good as I'd hoped. 

First, let's take these two selfies taken side-by-side outdoors, one shot with the 4MP under-display camera and the other the 10MP front camera on the Z Fold 3's cover screen. With the under-display camera, my face and looks a bit blurry and the overall image has a haze to it. It looks and feels like a photo from a much older camera phone. 

Meanwhile, the shot from the 10MP camera isn't perfect, but my skin tone looks more accurate and you can make more detail out in my shirt and hair. And the background and grass look sharper too, from the grass to the fence. 

Things look even worse for the Galaxy Z Fold 3's under-display camera when I moved indoors. The UDC produced an image I'd expect from a laptop webcam, with smoothed over features and a fuzzy overall look. It's not terrible, but it's close.

The 10MP front camera produced much better results in that it looks more like a photo than a painting. Seriously, the detail in and around my eyes and my teeth just looks so much better. I would much rather trust this camera with selfies.

So how about video? I called up senior writer Kate Kozuch on Google Meet via the under-display cam and she didn't love what she saw. She said overall the image quality was just "dull." While it wasn't fuzzy, she expected better in terms of camera quality. 

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 video call UDC

(Image credit: Future)

Kate captured a screenshot of our chat and as you can see I come okay, but there's just not much definition. And this was with a ring light turned on in front of me. 

Bottom line: The under-display camera on the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is a very intriguing innovation, but the image quality does not match up to the wow factor that having a disappearing camera provides. 

Update: For the best under-display camera, the ZTE Axon 40 Ultra is the one to go for, as we discovered.

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.

  • jonstatt
    Totally disagree with the conclusion. The impact of the hole punch on the screen was massive on the Fold 2. Now we have a solution for that which results in an internal camera that is acceptable but not wonderful for Zoom calls. It may not be great but it really is perfectly usable. The hole punch was a much bigger problem than the average quality camera of the Fold 3. Of course this will improve over iterations in design and possibly even software updates. But this is a win in my book!