Today’s Google I/O 2023 event confirmed that Samsung is no longer the only major player in the foldable smartphone game. Google is ready to make the leap into the market alongside the Korea-based tech giant with the newest addition to its Pixel device library, the Google Pixel Fold.
The device itself has been one of the worst-kept secrets ahead of Google’s keynote on Wednesday, with the company even seemingly accidentally releasing a YouTube video featuring NBA and WNBA stars using it just hours before the keynote went live. But its unveiling Wednesday afternoon still felt like a big deal as the overall attitude toward foldables has shifted from curiosity and novelty to legit everyday use.
The Pixel Fold features a 7.6-inch OLED display when unfolded and a 5.8-inch external display, and both are built to perform and last. Both feature Google’s Smooth Display variable refresh rate (up to 120Hz) and are protected by Corning Gorilla Glass Victus. The company also touted the device’s thinness, saying its .5-inch thickness when folded makes it the “thinnest foldable available,” a key aspect of improving foldable devices across the market.
As with any new Pixel device, Google put a keen focus on the Pixel Fold’s camera array. The new phone boasts photo-editing tools already featured on Pixel devices, including Magic Eraser and Photo Unblur, while utilizing the new form factor to improve camera performance within its limited space. According to Google, the company completely redesigned the 10.8 MP telephoto lens to fit the new chassis without sacrificing photo quality. A 10.8 MP ultrawide and 48 MP camera join it to round out the rear camera array familiar to Pixel users.
The combination of screens also adds some versatility to shooting photos, especially selfies. As demoed during the keynote, users can use the external display as a viewfinder, unfold the device and take selfies with the device’s rear ultrawide lens, providing a lot of flexibility for capturing large groups and landscapes when snapping pics of yourself.
Of course, the most present worry with foldables is the durability of the mechanisms that allow it to fold in the first place. According to Google, the Pixel Fold’s hinge was designed to assuage those worries, calling it the “most durable hinge on a foldable device.” Samsung cut its teeth on improving hinge durability and decreasing how noticeable the crease of the display is to users, finally hitting a sweet spot with last year’s Galaxy Z Flip4 and Fold4. Constant improvement is the name of the game though, and judging Google’s first outing in that department won’t be exactly quantifiable until users get some hands-on experience next month.
The Pixel Fold features the same Tensor G2 chip featured in last year’s Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro, which played a big part in making those devices some of the best Android smartphones on the market in 2022. It packs in 12GB of RAM and the option of 256GB or 512GB storage. Google is also claiming that the Pixel Fold’s battery life exceeds 24 hours.
All of those internal components power the library of productivity tools that the foldable market made its name with, including split-screen app usage, saved pairings of certain apps and display flexibility utilized by the Pixel Fold’s UI. Users can drag and drop photos and videos directly into messaging apps (including third-party ones) and seamlessly open and move apps around the unfolded display to customize how they work with the device. It does lack some functionality of the Galaxy Z Fold4 in that it doesn’t support stylus input and isn’t compatible with external displays.
Tabletop mode is great for watching video hands-free and capturing starscapes. The Pixel Fold also utilizes its various displays with its Dual Screen Interpreter Mode to translate languages and display responses on either side of the device in real time. The demo of this was admittedly impressive, but real-life test cases need applying to see just how well this works when it goes live later this year.
All of that functionality won’t come cheap either. The Pixel Fold starts at $1,799, the same starting price as the Galaxy Z Fold4. It’s a high barrier to entry and positions the Pixel Fold in line with Samsung’s price point rather than following Google’s strategy of producing high-quality smartphones at prices that undercut its competitors. The Pixel Fold feels like a small shift in Google’s strategy yet could place it squarely in league with Samsung if it delivers on all that was promised.
The Google Pixel Fold is available for preorder now, which includes a free Pixel Watch, and will begin shipping in June