I always thought that the next major foldable phone, the one that would turn heads away from Samsung's valiant efforts to make folding devices a thing, would be from Apple.
It's not, but the Google Pixel Fold does have the potential to make the full-sized foldable smartphone as popular as your most expensive iPhone.
Google is possibly turning heads away from other foldable challengers by making the folded phone wider than its nearest competitor, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4, giving it an expansive, 5.8-inch outer screen. That might sound smaller than the 6.2-inch Galaxy Z Fold 4's outside screen, but that's the diagonal measurement; measured width-wise, the Pixel Fold is almost a half-inch wider. It does give the device a more traditional, if pint-sized, smartphone feel.
Also adding to the Pixel Fold's normcore feel is the surprising thinness of the device. Folded, it's 12.1mm. Unfolded, it's a svelte 5.8mm. The Galaxy Z Fold 4 is, by contrast, 6.1mm.
Finally, the Pixel Fold comes closer to folding fully flat when closed than previous foldables I've tried. In fact, at a glance, it reminded me of Microsoft's Duo 2, though much less so once I got my hands on it. Of course, that device has two screens and not one 7.6-inch flexible OLED screen on the inside.
If some of the announcement thunder was stolen by Google pre-announcing the Pixel Fold in a series of teaser videos, including on lengthy NBA basketball watch party video that essentially showed off not only the look but many of the device's best photo features (yes, it has Google's Magic Eraser), the product is still something of a surprise in the flesh.
From the back, the Pixel Fold shares some, but not all of the standard Pixel design aesthetic, but the more industrial-looking camera array is not the same. The Pixel Fold has 48MP, 10MP, and 10MP cameras, a setup that compares well to the Galaxy Z Fold 4's, though, again, the pixel counts are slightly lower. There is a more powerful inside camera on the Pixel Fold (8MP instead of the Galaxy Fold 4's 4MP).
Obviously, the Pixel Fold is not just about the cameras. It's also about the everyday advantages of having a pocketable phone that transforms into a tiny tablet.
The big screen enables multi-tasking with a wide range of core Google apps that have been updated and optimized for the foldable experience. Google is working with third-party partners to ensure their apps also take full advantage of that 7.6-inch screen.
Having a wider screen on the front like a more traditional smartphone and another tablet-sized one on the inside also enables experiences like switching a video call from the front screen to the inside screen, and taking selfies with the device's best camera.
Similar to the Galaxy Z Fold 4, there's a mode where you can keep the phone unfolded to 90 degrees, rest it on a table, and continue your video call.
Overall, the Pixel Fold is an important entry in the growing foldable space, but with an eye-popping price of $1,799 / £1,749 (at least you can get a free Pixel Watch when you preorder the Pixel Fold, but we should note here that Google hasn't confirmed when or if the phone will launch in Australia), and some unfortunate design and mechanics choices, this may not be foldable to rule them all.
To understand why, let's dig into the details of my hands-on experience with the Google Pixel Fold.
Google Pixel Fold: Price and availability
- 12GB RAM / 256GB: $1,799 / £1,749
- 12GB RAM / 512GB: $1,919 / £1,869 (Obsidian, only)
Google unveiled its Google Pixel Fold during its May 10 Google I/0 2023 developer conference keynote, at which it also unveiled its mid-range Google Pixel 7a Android phone, the Google Pixel Tablet and charging speaker dock, and a ton of new AI technology.
You can preorder the Google Pixel Fold now, with shipping set to commence on June 27, although exactly when you'll be able to get your hands on the phone depends on where you are. The Fold comes in two colors: Porcelain (off-white) and Obsidian (black). We spent most of our brief hands-on time with the Porcelain model.
Google Pixel Fold: Design
- Small and thin. A truly pocket-friendly foldable
- Premium look and feel
- Huge bezel around the big screen
- Doesn't automatically lie flat when unfolded
The first thing I noticed about the Google Pixel Fold is that it's far smaller than I imagined. I probably should have figured this out, since the outside screen is essentially the same size as a 5.8-inch standard smartphone.
Comparing it to a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4, which I brought with me, you can see how the Z Fold 4 towers over it. It's like they're not in the same class.
The instant win here is that the Pixel Fold's screen is so much wider – it's a half inch wider than the Galaxy Z Fold 4's, and therefore more usable than Samsung's offering. To be fair, I never minded the slightly narrow 6.2-inch Z Fold 4 display, but I understand the appeal of this one.
The 5.8mm-thick body, which even when folded is just 12.1mm thick, adds to the 'normal phone' feel. It's easily one of the best features of Google's first foray into foldability.
At 283g, the Pixel Fold is a noticeable 20 grams heavier than the Galaxy Z Fold 4. It does, however, share the Z Fold 4's iPX8 water resistance rating – that's rain and splash resistance, but not submersion.
There's fingerprint unlock on the power/sleep button, but no under-the-screen ultrasonic fingerprint reader. You can also unlock the phone using your face, but I wasn't able to test these features.
On the back of the Pixel Fold is a three-camera array that looks somewhat like the Google Pixel 7 Pro's, but also like it was designed by someone with more aggressive intentions. It's thick, with sharp edges and a brushed aluminum housing that shouts "Look at me."
The thin frame and hinge are made of polished steel, and the front screen is covered in Gorilla Glass Victus. On the inside, the 7.6-inch display, which has a small circular camera cutout in the upper-right corner, is covered in ultra-thin flexible glass.
It's by and large a very attractive smartphone. However, when I unfolded it, I was startled to find a large bezel surrounding the entire screen. Now, there's a functional reason for this: the flexible screen needs somewhere to move when you unfold and fold the device. Still, next to the Galaxy Z Fold 4, this is an embarrassingly large bezel.
I remember the early Samsung Galaxy Fold devices had similarly wide bezels, which Samsung has since trimmed back. While I think the Pixel Fold might need the extra bezel space because it folds flatter than the Galaxy Z Fold 4, I don't think that's any excuse.
The other issue is that the Pixel Fold does not automatically lay fully flat when unfolded. I almost wanted to stress it into a perfectly flat plane, but I worried that I would damage the device. Apparently, you can press it flat without issue, but I have no idea why Google didn't make sure the Fold automatically unfolds flat.
As for the crease where the flexible OLED screen folds, it's no better or worse than what Samsung offers on its folding devices. I can easily see it and feel it, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed.
If you enter a product category years after the competition, you simply must outdo that competition in every way, and Google has not done that.
Google Pixel Fold: Displays
- It's a good external screen
- This is truly a mini tablet in disguise
I get the feeling that when designing the Google Pixel Fold, Google started with the external display. Really, its 5.8-inch (139.7 x 79.5) dimensions define the entire product. It's clear that Google wanted a foldable that felt like a 'regular' smartphone first, and as a result this may be the first foldable to effectively be two devices: a standard smartphone and a hidden mini tablet.
The 2092 x 1080 display held up quite nicely in direct overcast skylight, likely due to the 1,550 nits of peak brightness (it ranges down to 1,200 nits). With a 120Hz refresh rate, this is also supposed to be a smooth display, although I didn't have enough time with the Fold to assess that.
Unfolding the device (a very smooth and satisfying unfold at that), you're greeted by the 7.6-inch 2208 x 1840 flexible display. Yes, that somehow makes this smaller phone the same size as the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 when unfolded. The secret? You have to turn the Pixel Fold 90 degrees to match the Galaxy's aspect ratio.
Even though I could see the crease and feel it, it quickly faded into the background as I used the phone to try out multi-taking and take some photos. With a peak brightness just a tad behind that of the external display (1,450 nits), it did just as good a job of beating back the overcast midday daylight.
I look forward to spending a lot more time using both screens.
Google Pixel Fold cameras
- A really nice collection of lenses
- Great to see 5x zoom on a foldable
- Selfie with the main camera is especially nice
Having had a chance to play with the Google Pixel Fold's camera, I can assure you that in no repsect has Google skimped on this phone's photography capabilities. From the main 48MP wide lens to the 10MP 5x zoom, it feels like you have all the photographic capabilities you could need.
Here’s the full list of cameras:
- 48MP Wide f/1.7
- 10.8MP Ultrawide F/2.2
- 10.8MP telephoto F3.05
- Front: 9.5MP f/2.2
- Cover: 10 MP f/2.2
- Main screen: 8MP f/2.0
I tried each of the cameras, and I was pleased with their speed, and with the quality and clarity of images. Still, this was only a limited test, and I look forward to putting the device through a range of more intensive trials.
Adding foldability to the equation instantly enhances some photographic capabilities. I loved, for instance, the ability to take a really high-quality selfie with the main 48MP camera. I did this by unfolding the phone, swapping the lens to the external main lens, and then holding the unfolded phone in front of my face. I made sure to look at the main camera, while also keeping an eye on the feedback of my face that appeared on the 5.8-inch external display.
Google Pixel Fold performance and specs
- Google Tensor G2
- 12GB of RAM and starts at 256GB of storage
Obviously, I couldn't run benchmarks on the new Pixel Fold, but the specs are certainly promising. Google's Tensor 2 chip is a solid performer, though not necessarily at the top of its class, and I'm glad to see that it's paired with 12GB of RAM.
In my brief hands-on time, the phone was nicely responsive, although I didn't play any games or run a bunch of apps or Chrome tabs.
The phone starts with 256GB of storage for your $1,799 / £1,749, which might seem a little stingy at that price. For 512GB, you'll pay $1,919 / £1,869, with this option only available in Obsidian. There's no 1TB option, which is surprising.
|Google Pixel Fold||Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4||Oppo Find N2 Flip specs|
|Dimensions (folded):||139.7 x 79.5 x 12.1mm||155.1 x 67.1 x 15.8mm||85.5 x 75.2 x 16.02mm|
|Dimensions (unfolded):||139.7 x 158.7 x 5.8mm||130.1 x 155.1 x 6.33mm||166.2 x 75.2 x 7.45mm|
|Main display:||7.6 inch (2208 x 1840) OLED||7.6 inch (2176 x 1812) AMOLED||6.8-inch 21:9 (2520 x 1080) 120Hz LTPO E6 AMOLED, protected by UTG|
|Cover display::||5.8 inches (2092 x 1080) OLED||6.2 inches (2316 x 904) AMOLED||3.26-inch 17:9 (720 x 382) 60Hz AMOLED, protected by Gorilla Glass 5|
|Chipset:||Google Tensor G2||Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1||MediaTek Dimensity 9000 Plus|
|RAM:||12GB (LPDDR 5)||12GB||8GB (LPDDR5)|
|Storage:||256GB / 512GB||256GB / 256GB / 1TB||256GB (UFS 3.1)|
|OS:||Android 13||Android 13||Android 13 w/ ColorOS 13|
|Primary camera:||48MP, f/1.7||50MP f/2.2||50MP, f/1.8, 23mm, 86° FoV (Sony IMX890)|
|Ultrawide camera:||10.8MP, f/2.2||12MP f/2.2||8MP, f/2.2, 16mm, 112° FoV (Sony IMX355)|
|Telephoto||10.8MP f/3.05||10MP f/2.4||Row 11 - Cell 3|
|Front Camera:||9.5MP f/2.2||10MP f/2.2||32MP, f/2.4, 21mm, 90° FoV (Sony IMX709)|
|Inner Camera||8MP f/2.0||4MP f/1.8||Row 13 - Cell 3|
|Charging:||30W (wired)||25W (wired)||44W (wired)|
|Colors:||Porcelain, Obsidian||Gray, Phantom Black, and Beige||Astral Black, Moonlit Purple|
Google Pixel Fold software
- Android 13
- Multiple multi-tasking options
- Makes solid use of foldability
The benefit of a Pixel phone is that you get the purest Android experience available. Still, the tablet-friendly version of Android is something different. I spent time with what felt like the standard Android on the 5.8-inch display, and then some time with the tablet-friendly interface.
Google has redesigned dozens of its core apps for the tablet experience, and I look forward to trying many of them over an extended period.
Based on my initial impressions, though, I can see how the multitasking would work, and it looks like the experience may be a cut above what Samsung currently offers with the Galaxy Z Fold 4.
Google Pixel Fold battery life
- 4,727mAh is a decent-sized battery, though we were hoping for 5,000mAh
- Fast wireless charging is good news, adapter sold separately is not
While we know that Google has split the battery between the two halves of the Pixel Fold, and that it has a fairly large 4,727mAh capacity, it's impossible at this early stage to assess battery life. Google is promising up to 24 hours, and if that's borne out it would be fantastic, but I'll wait for the benchmarks.
There's something quite compelling about a smaller-form-factor foldable. When folded, the Google Pixel Fold feels like a regular, if slightly thick, smartphone – and that's something that will attract many who are thinking about entering the foldable space.
The screens are bright and lovely, the cameras are clearly well above average, and Google has done some very smart software work to take advantage of the folding capabilities.
Still, I cannot get over that massive bezel, a crease that, well, just is, and the fact that the device does not automatically lie flat when unfolded. Consumers may force it flat or unduly flex it, and that can't be a good thing for the Pixel Fold.
While I'll reserve final judgment for now, I'm torn between being attracted to this excellent form factor, and concerned at how Google managed to enter the foldable race late without moving the foldable technology needle forward.
First previewed May 2023