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Best foldable phones of 2021

best foldable phones
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The best foldable phones have undergone a shake-up. Now that LG has exited the phone business, taking its dual-screen devices with it, Samsung dominates the foldable phone category. But the latest foldables from Samsung prove that it would be the phone maker turn to even if there was more competition to be found.

The latest models from Samsung — the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and the Galaxy Z Flip 3 — deliver big improvements over their predecessors. We've reviewed both phones, and feel comfortable recommending them as the best foldable phones you can buy right now.

Samsung and other phone makers ultimately dream of taking the best foldable phones beyond niche devices and turning them into handsets with mainstream appeal. The lower price of the Galaxy Z Flip 3 could make that happen, as it's the first foldable phone to cost less than $1,000. The addition of S Pen support to the Galaxy Z Fold 3 might make that phone more appealing, too, particularly for fans of the Galaxy Note phablets. 

Samsung could soon have stepped up competition from the just-announced Microsoft Surface Duo 2, a dual-screen phone that debuts this month. And rumors continue to circulate that Google has a foldable Pixel in advanced stages of development, though it didn't appear at the company's Pixel Fall Launch event. So the following handsets remain the best foldable phones you can buy right now.

What are the best foldable phones?

Now that we've tested both the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3, we think the former is the best option if you want a foldable phone. It's got the more expansive screen and S Pen compatibility that lets you jot down notes and drawings on the 7.6-inch display. The Z Fold 3 also improves on its predecessor with better durability and an under-display camera.

For many people, though, the best foldable phone will be the one they can afford. And that's likely to be the Galaxy Z Flip 3, which finally drops the price of foldables below $,1000.

The jury's still out on the other major foldable phone release, the Motorola Razr 5G. While we certainly appreciate the blast-from-the-past design, the original Razr failed to live up to the hype. This updated model introduces several key improvements while also adding 5G connectivity.

The best foldable phones

best foldable phones Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3tom's guide top pick

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

1. Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

The best foldable phone overall

Main screen size: 7.6 inches (2208 x 1768)
Secondary screen size: 6.2 inches (2268 x 832)
CPU: Snapdragon 888
RAM/Storage: 12GB/256GB, 512GB
Size, opened: 6.2 x 5 x 0.25 inches
Size, closed: 6.2 x 2.6 x 0.56 to 0.62 inches
Weight: 9.55 ounces
Reasons to buy
+More durable with water-resistance+Dual 120Hz displays+More multitasking support from apps
Reasons to avoid
-S Pen isn't included-Still expensive

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 continues to set the standard for foldable phones, addressing some of the criticisms with previous models, while adding welcome new features such as a 120Hz refresh rate for both of its displays. We wish the price would have dropped a little more, but at $1,799, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 has a lower starting price than the Z Fold 2 did when it debuted in 2020.

The improved durability of this foldable phone — it now has an IPX8 rating for water resistance and a more durable screen — will ease the concerns some people may have had about whether the Galaxy Z Fold could stand up to the rigors of daily use. Samsung has also worked with more app makers so that their software is optimized for the Galaxy Z Fold 3’s unique 7.6-inch folding display.

S Pen support has been added to the Galaxy Z Fold 3, though it remains optional like it is for the Galaxy S21 Ultra. That means you have to pay extra for the S Pen as well as a case to hold the stylus since there’s no slot in the phone itself. But the big main display on the Galaxy Z Fold 3 gives you ample space for sketching and writing down notes.

If you want the most powerful foldable phone — and one of the best productivity-boosting devices overall — then the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is a good choice, provided you can deal with the lofty price tag.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 review.

best foldable phones: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

2. Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3

The first affordable foldable phone

Main screen size: 6.7 inches (2640 x 1080)
Secondary screen size: 1.9 inches (260 x 512)
CPU: Snapdragon 888
RAM/Storage: 8GB/128GB, 256GB
Size, opened: 6.5 x 2.8 x 0.27 inches
Size, closed: 3.4 x 2.8 x 0.63-0.67 inches
Weight: 6.5 ounces
Reasons to buy
+More affordable+Enhanced durability+Bigger cover display
Reasons to avoid
-Short battery life-No telephoto lens

Replacing the Galaxy Z Flip 5G, the new Galaxy Z Flip 3 does everything better this time around. Not only is the phone more durable than before, but the cover display is vastly improved. It’s larger and shows more information now.

The Flip 3’s design is more streamlined with squared edges and beautiful color options. It also has some internal upgrades, including the Snapdragon 888 processor. The cameras and battery remain the same, however — the Galaxy Z Flip 3 does not have a telephoto lens.

At $999, the Flip 3 is the most affordable foldable ever, but it does have its drawbacks. Notably, the battery life isn’t great whatsoever. The crease across the middle of the displays remains quite prominent, noticeable when dragging your finger over it or when the light catches it just right.

The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is probably the foldable most people will want to pay attention to due to its more affordable starting price. It’s a looker and folds up neatly to fit in most pockets. And if you're willing to pay $100 extra, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 Bespoke Edition lets you choose the colors of the front and back panels as well as the phone's frame.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 review.

Best Foldable Phones: Motorola Razr 5G

(Image credit: Motorola)

3. Motorola Razr 5G

A foldable blast from the past

Main screen size: 6.2 inches (2142 x 876)
Secondary screen size: 2.7 inches (800 x 600)
CPU: Snapdragon 765G
RAM/Storage: 8GB/256GB
Size, opened: 6.7 x 2.9 x 0.31 inches
Size closed: 3.6 x 2.9 x 0.63 inches
Weight: 6.77 ounces
Reasons to buy
+Quick View display supports gesture controls+5G-capable
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Won't work with Verizon's mmWave network

Motorola is hoping it can pull off the same trick with the Motorola Razr 5G that Samsung did with its Galaxy Z Fold 2 — follow-up a lackluster product debut with a more successful sequel. We haven't yet had a chance to review the Motorola Razr 5G, but having tested the original for our Motorola Razr (2019) review, the only direction Motorola can go in is up.

The original Razr was a sleek-looking phone that hearkens back to the flip phone designs of yesteryear. But the build quality didn't impress, the camera disappointed, and the phone petered out after just 6 hours on our battery test. Motorola looks to have addressed some of those issues with the 5G version of the Razr, which introduces crucial design changes like a tapered chin, durable hinge and teardrop folded display that keeps the two sides of the phone flush when it's shut. The exterior Quick View screen now supports gesture controls and you can use that screen to do more. A more powerful Snapdragon 765G processor should improve performance while adding 5G connectivity.

Will those changes help the Motorola Razr 5G live up to its $1,399 price? We'll know for sure once we test the new version once and for all.

What to look for in a foldable phone

Before you buy a foldable phone, you'll need to consider what that kind of device will be able to do for you that a standard phone can't. Even with the Galaxy Z Flip 3's $999 price, you'll still pay up for foldable phones, so unless you really need the extra screen real estate, you may be better off with a phablet or one of the other best big phones that we've tested.

If you do think a foldable phone will help you get more done, though, be sure to pay attention to the device's construction. Early foldable phones like the Galaxy Fold and original Motorola Razr had design quirks that led us to pan those handsets. With the Galaxy Z Fold 2, though, Samsung made some critical changes that made the phone more likely to withstand everyday use. (Even then, it's still not water resistant — that feature didn't arrive until the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3.) So research a foldable phone's hinge and just how many times a phone maker says the device will open and close.

There are two screens to consider when buying a foldable phone — the larger internal display and a secondary screen, usually on the outside of the device. Find out just what you can do with that exterior screen — can you run full apps or is it just there for notifications and a few other features? And does the screen support something like Samsung's continuity feature where the app you're using on the cover screen is waiting for you when you open the device?

Apart from size — you'll want to make sure a closed foldable phone is something you're comfortable carrying around — you're looking at a lot of the same criteria you'd use to judge conventional phones. That includes the processor, cameras and — especially — the battery life. After all, there are usually multiple screens to keep powered up on a foldable phone.

Be aware that foldable phones are a pretty new category in the world of smartphones, and we expect to see a lot of change come to this segment. Even after the August debuts of new versions of the Fold and Flip, Samsung is rumored to be  working on a device with a scrollable screen called the Galaxy Scroll

The Microsoft Surface Duo 2 makes its debut in October. This dual-screen phone features an 8.3-inch panel, which is larger than what the Galaxy Z Fold 3 offers, though Microsoft's phone features two separate displays. The Surface Duo 2 looks to improve upon its predecessor with a faster 5G-ready processor and better cameras.

Rumors persist that Google Pixel Fold is not only in development but gearing up for a launch this year; since it didn't appear alongside the Pixel 6, we're guessing that phone's still in development. We also won't see an iPhone Flip in 2021, though the rumor mill insists that work is proceeding on that phone for a future launch.

We'll definitely never see the LG Rollable going forward. While LG had promised a release this year after teasing the phone during a CES 2021 keynote, the phone with the expandable screen is a victim of LG's shuttered phone business. As a result, other dual-screen LG devices, like the LG Wing, are out of stock by now.

How we test foldable phones

We test for the best foldable phones the same way we review any smartphone. We conduct lab tests, including synthetic benchmarks as Geekbench 5 and 3DMark to measure graphics performance. We also run a real-world video transcoding test on each phone using the Adobe Premiere Rush app and time the result.

To measure the quality of a phone's display, we perform lab tests to determine the brightness of the panel (in nits), as well as how colorful each screen is (DCI-P3 color gamut). In these cases, higher numbers are better. We also measure the color accuracy of each panel with a Delta-E rating, where lower numbers are better and a score of 0 is perfect.

We run a custom battery test in which we have the phone surf the web over cellular with its screen set to 150 nits of brightness. We then time how long it takes the phone to run out of power. For foldable phones, we conduct this test on the phone's main display.

We also test the cameras on each foldable phone, taking them out into the field to perform comparative shots, usually with another device that features comparable specs. In some cases, that's a foldable phone or another device in the same price tier.

Philip Michaels
Philip Michaels is a senior editor at Tom's Guide. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics and old movies. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.