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Foldables have a new segment of the Android market. While Samsung is working on the 5th generation of the Galaxy Z Fold, Google has been sitting on the sidelines frustrating the Pixel faithful. Google has been rumored to be nearing a release for years, but we finally have the Pixel Fold in-house.
I’ve been using the Pixel Fold for a few weeks thanks to our friends at AT&T and have many thoughts in our full review.
The Google Pixel is an engineering marvel even if it took them years to come to market against the competition. Long-term, I think this was a good move to adjust to feedback and Google’s own vision of what a foldable should be. This led to the Pixel being a much better phone than the Galaxy by design.
While it’s essentially the same idea of a dual-screen setup with one on the exterior and one double-sized on the interior, the Pixel Fold’s outer display is much wider and shorter aspect ratio than Samsung’s. I personally found myself to prefer this move. As mentioned, I never felt I fully utilized the Galaxy Z Fold’s smaller front display due to the tall/slender aspect ratio made it frustratingly cramped.
Alternative to the 6.2-inch with 21.6:9 aspect ratio of the Galaxy, Google equipped its Fold with a 17.4:9 aspect on a 5.8-inch screen. This leads to it being much easier to use, type, and navigate on the front display with the larger screen closed. Dimensionally, it’s very close to my iPhone 13’s display in functional spacing. It really hits the sweet spot of this type of device for me.
Conversely, I also prefer this “squatier” design when using the larger 7.6-inch display of the Pixel Fold. The same shorter ratio makes holding this and still reaching all corners much easier. To put it in perspective, if you have a passport laying around (the travel document, not the underrated BlackBerry device) the Fold is roughly the same size.
Both displays are crisp and bright. The folding inner screen is capable of 1450 nits with the outer pushing 1550 nits. The outer Pixel Fold display is made from Corning Gorilla Glass Invictus and has held up well in my testing. I don’t have any major blemishes.
Yes, the Pixel Fold’s inner display has a crease, you immediately will forget it in the first 30 minutes of usage like any other foldable. It’s also true that the ability to open it completely flat is debatable. You can kind of force it to, but it really wants to be more like 178 degrees open. I’m fine with that as it leads to less stress on the hinge. I can also only think the times you’d want this is on a table which is moot with the camera hump not allowing it to lay flat anyways.
Oh, and the last note on hardware is Google nailed the case. Just get it and thank me later. It has a smooth soft-feel texture and comfortably wraps the Pixel Fold in a silicone shield. There’s even a small strip of 3M adhesive to allow the case to stay in place around the hinge where it can’t physically wrap around the device.
It’s easy to just say this is a Pixel with another larger screen, but that’s mostly the case. You get a smooth interface with all the Google stuff and a stock feel. The key differences are when you open the larger display. Taking in media, emails, and videos seems so much better here.
Google’s native apps highlight this option with tablet-like UI elements for the inside of the Pixel Fold. Gmail gets a split view that’s really nice for instance. Reading feels the closest to reading a paperback than any other device I’ve used as well.
Videos are a mixed bag. With the 17.4:9 aspect ratio, you get black bars at the top and bottom regardless of orientation. While this seems larger than turning your normal phone sideways, it’s physically very little increase over the used space of my Pixel 6.
Much like our previous review the Moto RAZR+, the Fold allows the dual displays to also act as a stand by splitting the UI of apps like YouTube and the Camera app. The viewfinder on the camera and the video box of videos stay on the top portion while still showing other UI elements on the lower half.
Overall, I like what Google did here on the software side, but I do have a couple of wants in the next generations. First, the internal screen simply mirrors the external and can’t be customized as a separate entity. Once you alter an icon or widget on either it’s mirrored on the other. I think this is the right move for the casual user, but should be a toggle to use them separately.
Second, Google needs a DeX competitor. For $1,800 the line between phone and computer should blur. I should be able to utilize this powerful device as my primary computer if I wanted. It’s a niche case now, but I think as younger generations get away from the traditional desktop or even laptop paradigm, this desktop mode needs to be there if plugged into a monitor and keyboard.
I think that’s the overall difference between the Pixel Fold line and the Galaxy Z Fold. Samsung seems to be positioning its Fold as an iPad competitor in some regards. This approach sees that this may be your only computing device and should have hardware and software to support that vision.
Battery life is one thing that foldables can still improve on and the Pixel Fold is no exception. The Fold is capable of getting you through a full day without consuming a ton of media on the inside screen. It’s a double-edged situation because it really encourages you to. I have found that most days with my usage getting to 11 PM after a 6 AM start was consistent.
I’ll note that I’m not a power user and only really used it to watch YouTube/Plex videos on my lunch break. Those with longer commutes on a subway or public transit will most likely deplete the power banks sooner.
Thankfully, Qi wireless charging is onboard, even if only at 7.5 Watts. This is nice for maintaining a power rate or overnight but can still struggle with performance usage. When you need an extra boost, you get 21 Watt wired charging via USB-C. Again, Google seems to compromise by not allowing the more common ranges of 30-plus Watts here, but my guess it’s they want to have more maturity around thermal management with the Tensor G2 SoC.
This brings me to my last performance/battery callout. This thing gets hot. On a recent road trip, I had it literally shut off Android Auto, and notified me that it needed a “cool down” before it could proceed. The G2 is a nice iterative bump over the G1 in my Pixel 6, but Google needs to find a better common ground with the Pixel lineup in the next generations. Snapdragons have over a decade head start and it really shines a negative light on the Pixel models right now.
The Pixel Fold will look very familiar in picture quality if you’ve ever owned a Pixel before. For me, this is a good thing. I find very little difference in my results from a Pixel 6 to the Fold. Sensor-wise, it seems most closely related to the Pixel 7a.
Images are very detailed, low light performance is great, and I just genuinely find Pixel photos my favorite post-processed option on smartphones. I do like the ability to use the external cameras on the back for selfies and somewhat as a tripod. It’s a nice touch to have flexibility of not only the cameras but how the viewfinder is situated.
The price is the other muddling spec for the Pixel Fold. I think this is where the market needs the price to be right now with these devices, but it’s hard to justify at times. The engineering jump and investment most likely make the $1,800 price tag realistic, but I need Google to have more value-added via software updates or performance.
As mentioned under the software, this needs to be a more flexible device for the Fold to cost me more than a tablet and my smartphone. If the end goal is to replace those two devices, or even be my only computing device, I need more from it.
Google needs to bridge that gap to make it so blurry that I just buy the pocketable device for all my needs. It needs a desktop mode. It needs better battery life. It needs to not feel like it’s combustible. And I think the Fold will get there…eventually. For now, you need to weigh those pros and cons for yourself and your wallet.
I really liked my time with the Pixel Fold. Despite its shortcomings, I think it’s probably the correct step forward for the future of handsets. I also believe it’s in a weird limbo of devices much like the Microsoft Surface lineup. The Pixel Fold is another foldable proof of concept that’s pretty good at being both a tablet and a smartphone but not great at either at the same time.
At $1,800 it makes the choice even more murky, but thankfully our friends at AT&T can alleviate some of that. With an eligible trade-in and 36-month leasing, you can bring the price down to just $25 per month. Hit the link below if interested.