Google Pixel Fold Hands-On: A Pricey Folding Pixel

Google Pixel Fold Hands-On: A Pricey Folding Pixel
Written by Techbot

Smartphone sales have been declining lately, mostly because the smartphones themselves have not been changing drastically year over year. A slightly better camera here, a nicer screen there—the technology has plateaued. The solution, according to tech companies? Folding smartphones that cost $1,799. That’s what the Pixel Fold is. 

Google isn’t first to the folding phone party—Samsung is well past its fourth iteration already—but the company knows that while smartphone sales may be down, smartphone usage is going up. (It also helps that foldable smartphone sales are going up too.) Brian Rakowski, vice president of product management for Pixel at Google, says he believes there’s “tremendous value” in a product like the Pixel Fold, as it opens up many more uses than a traditional single-screen smartphone. 

The company teased the Pixel Fold last week on its social channels, but it officially took the wraps off during the Google I/O 2023 keynote. The Fold isn’t available just yet, though preorders are now live, with the promise the Fold will ship in June. Google is also tossing in a free Pixel Watch with every purchase. Here’s everything you need to know about the Pixel Fold. 

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Enter the Fold

It folds book style instead of clamshell style.

Photograph: Julian Chokkattu

I had a very brief time with the Pixel Fold, but if you’ve ever tried a Pixel 6 Pro or Pixel 7 Pro, it feels exactly like that but … it also folds. The Google hardware design ethos carries through, firmly cementing this phone as a Pixel, though I wish there was a snazzy color option (it only comes in Obsidian and Porcelain). Most impressive is the thinness, which Rakowski says was a priority for the team. At just 0.5 inches in its folded state and 0.2 inches when unfolded, it’s just slightly thinner than the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4 (though slightly heavier). 

Is it drastically more pocketable or manageable than Samsung’s foldable? I don’t think so, but I’ll need more time with the phone to say for sure. It still looks big and awkward when you see it next to a traditional smartphone. It likely won’t fit in some pockets.

The 5.8-inch OLED screen on the front of the folded phone (which has a fast 120-Hz screen refresh rate) is decently wide and feels quite similar to a normal smartphone, if a little compact, when you’re using it. Open the Fold up and you’re treated to a 7.6-inch OLED panel with a 2K resolution (also with a 120-Hz screen). And yes, when you open an app on the front screen and unfold the Pixel Fold, it’ll launch immediately with no delay on the larger inside screen. 

The outer screen and the glass covering the rear of the phone are Gorilla Glass Victus, which should offer some decent durability, but the inner screen is made of ultra-thin glass with a plastic layer. The stainless steel hinge that holds it all together offers up to 180 degrees of movement. (Google says it has tested it by folding it more than 200,000 times with no issues.) You can position the hinge in a variety of different angles, and thanks to the flat sides, the Pixel Fold can stay upright by itself. This enables a few tricks, like propping the phone up to take a photo with the primary camera on the rear, while using the front screen as a viewfinder. No tripod needed!

The Pixel Fold is powered by the Tensor G2 chipset and has all the standard hardware you’d expect—12 GB of RAM, 256 GB of internal storage, wireless charging, and IPX8 water resistance. There’s a fingerprint sensor too, but unlike on other Pixel phones, this sensor is capacitive and baked into the side power button. (There’s also Face Unlock, though it can’t be used for banking apps or Google Wallet authentication.) The 4,821-mAh battery is larger than what you’ll find on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4, so I’m expecting it to cruise through a full day with ease. 

Camera-wise, the hardware isn’t the same as what you’ll find on any other Pixel phone. There’s a 48-megapixel primary sensor, a 10.8-megapixel ultrawide, and a 10.8-megapixel telephoto with 5X optical zoom. That’s similar to the camera system on the Pixel 7 Pro, but these sensors aren’t as large. Expect similar results, but the Pixel 7 Pro is likely the better camera phone. There are also two selfie cameras: a 9.5-megapixel camera on the front so you don’t need to unfold the device, and an 8-megapixel camera on the inner bezel for when it’s unfolded. 

Photograph: Google

One new camera trick? Once you place the Pixel Fold on a surface, open the camera, and see the viewfinder on the front screen, turn on the timer and raise your palm. The camera will recognize the gesture and start the countdown, so you can snap a photo without having to touch the device. It’s been a staple feature for years on Samsung and other Android phones, so it’s nice to see it finally debut on a Pixel. 

Adaptable Android

The software is what makes or breaks large-screen devices and Google has been updating Android for the past few years to play better on bigger screens, and particularly tablets. Google has been optimizing more than 50 of its own apps for larger screens in an effort to encourage other developers to do the same. That means apps like Gmail will show multiple panes when it’s sprawling across the 7.6-inch screen. 

The interface on the Pixel Fold feels, dare I say, intuitive. It’s cleaner and more aesthetically pleasing than the software on the Galaxy Z Fold4. You can quickly move apps into a split-screen mode, pull up the taskbar at the bottom to launch a new app whenever you want, and even drag and drop files and photos between apps. In tabletop mode, where one-half of the screen is propped up at an angle, you can have a YouTube video playing at the top screen and playback controls (or comments) at the bottom. 

On the front is a 5.8-inch OLED screen. When you unfold the phone, whatever you’re viewing on this screen instantly appears on the unfolded larger screen.

Photograph: Julian Chokkattu

The full-size front screen affords a few new experiences too, like Dual Screen Interpreter Mode in Google Translate. (This is coming in Android 14.) While looking at the inner screen, you can say aloud what you want to have translated, and the person you’re speaking to will see the real-time text translation appear on the front screen. They can then tap that screen to respond. Rakowski says the team is still exploring more ways to take advantage of these extra screens—I wish the company came out swinging with a few more ideas for the launch. As folding phones become more prominent, expect third-party developers to come up with some creative uses. I quite like the idea of using the front screen as a teleprompter as you film with the primary camera. 

We’ll be taking a deeper dive into the Fold in our review over the coming month. At the end of the day, it’s still just an expensive phone, but it does have the potential to improve your day-to-day workflow, just like Pixel phones have been doing with all of their software smarts. Whether you should buy one just depends on how you feel about foldables, and whether the unique experiences enabled by dual screens are worth the higher price—especially after Google proves that $499 is all you need for a great smartphone.

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