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Since their release starting in 2019, foldable smartphones have been a niche, expensive intrigue. Rather than foldable phones, they’ve acted more like foldable tablets, and the traditional phone experience has felt like an afterthought with oddly shaped exterior displays tacked on to the front.
The exterior display on Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 4, for example, is awkwardly narrow and doesn’t offer a good experience when you want to use the phone like a normal phone. As a result, foldable phones have failed to be truly appealing.
However, Google is changing that with the Pixel Fold, the company’s first dabble into the foldable realm.
Make no mistake, the Pixel Fold is still expensive with its $1,800 starting price tag, but Google has successfully shifted the Pixel Fold from another niche intrigue into a viable device with one simple design decision — make the exterior display similar to a normal phone.
Indeed, the Pixel Fold achieves both a worthwhile traditional phone experience, as well as a stellar tablet experience; as a result, it’s the first foldable phone we can recommend without significant reservations.
Smooth, fast performance you’d expect on a flagship phone
The Pixel Fold runs on the same Google Tensor G2 processor that’s powering the company’s latest flagship phones, the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro.
According to benchmark tests I’ve run with Geekbench 6, that technically means the Pixel Fold isn’t quite as powerful as Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S23 series running on an optimized version of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. Nor is it as powerful as the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 running its main competitor, the Galaxy Z Fold 4.
In real world usage, however, it’s hard to tell the difference between the Pixel Fold and a Galaxy S23 or the Galaxy Z Fold 4 — the Pixel Fold runs quickly and smoothly and fully behaves like a premium device. I have no concerns whatsoever about its performance.
Typically excellent Google Pixel cameras
Three cameras are on the rear of the Pixel Fold, including a 48MP main camera, a 10.8MP ultrawide, and a 10.8MP 5x zoom camera.
In true Google phone fashion, the Pixel Fold takes excellent photos with natural colors, excellent sharpness, stunning depth and contrast, and proper lighting that keeps details in a photo’s brighter parts while maintaining details in darker spots.
Photos from Google phones, the Fold included, can appear darker than the competition’s. It’s because the phone isn’t artificially boosting photos with extra brightness and color saturation to make them pop, like Samsung’s phones do.
The exterior selfie camera is a 9.5MP shooter. It’s fine in a pinch, but you can unfold the Pixel Fold and use the rear cameras with the exterior display as a viewfinder for the best result.
The interior selfie camera is 8MP, which is also fine if you need to take a quick selfie (for some reason) in tablet mode, but its main job is likely for video calls, and it works just fine for that.
No complaints for battery life, but more testing is needed
I haven’t been able to put the Pixel Fold through our usual battery test, as the apps I use for the test weren’t available at the time of review.
However, I found no cause for concern while using the Pixel Fold as a daily driver during the review period. It easily lasted a full day with mixed usage, including in folded and tablet mode, like most premium phones I’ve tested.
A foldable phone that acts like a traditional phone
The Pixel Fold is an ultra-premium device with its sleek matte-textured glass back and solid metal construction, but that shouldn’t be surprising considering its price.
The Pixel Fold is the most familiar and usable of the foldable devices I’ve tried in folded phone mode thanks to its exterior display that functions more like a traditional phone screen.
While its 5.8-inch display is smaller than the Galaxy Z Fold 4’s 6.2-inch exterior display, the Pixel Fold has a more traditional 17.4:9 aspect ratio that makes it wider and more useful than the Galaxy Z Fold 4’s narrower 23.1:9 exterior display, which presents an awkwardly cramped and unfamiliar experience when using apps. As a result, I never felt the need to take the extra step of unfolding the Pixel Fold simply to get a good app experience.
It might seem counterintuitive for a device that offers the option for a larger screen, but I found myself using the Pixel Fold’s exterior display the vast majority of the time rather than the tablet screen — I only unfolded the Pixel Fold for specific purposes, like watching a video or getting a closer look at a photo.
The only compromise here is a common one with all foldable phones — the Pixel Fold weighs 9.98 ounces, and it’s rather bulky and hefty when folded, which defeats part of the allure of a smaller phone.
While I prefer lighter phones for comfort, the Fold’s weight was manageable, and I didn’t need to make many adjustments. For example, I was worried the Pixel Fold wouldn’t fit properly in my car’s phone cradle due to its thickness and weight, but it sits just fine. Your mileage may vary with your specific holders and cradles, though.
A slim and lightweight tablet in the body of a small phone
Once you unfold the Pixel Fold, a shift in your mindset occurs, and it turns from a thick and slightly heavy phone into an incredibly thin and lightweight tablet with a 7.6-inch display.
The Pixel Fold works beautifully for viewing content and using well-optimized apps that make full use of the unfolded tablet screen by offering more functionality. The Gmail app, for example, shows your inbox on the left side of the screen, while an open email occupies the right side. And the Weather app shows the long-term forecast on the left, with today’s forecast on the right.
Other apps simply look like stretched out versions of the phone app, which gives you more space, but doesn’t offer more functionality, and that’s fine.
However, many apps still haven’t been optimized to make full use of the tablet mode screen, and some appear like tall and narrow phone apps running on a wide screen, and they’re flanked by large black, unused spaces.
The partial solution to get unoptimized apps to appear larger, especially those designed for vertical scrolling like social media apps, is to rotate the Pixel Fold into portrait mode while it’s unfolded, which allows the app to fill up more of the screen. Black spaces can still flank the app, but they’re narrower, at least.
The ultimate solution would be for the apps to become optimized — that’s for Google and the app developers to hash out, and there’s no telling when or if it’ll happen.
Having a tablet handy with you at all times is a boon for productivity, too, or if you ever wished you could run two apps side-by-side. I often found myself streaming a YouTube video on the left side of the screen while doom-scrolling through Reddit and Twitter, searching something in Chrome, or going into the Google Home app to quickly adjust the thermostat.
Should you buy the Google Pixel Fold?
If you like the idea of having a small phone that can double as a tablet when you need one, Google’s Pixel Fold is for you — but whether you can comfortably set aside $1,800 for it is up to you.
I confidently recommend the Pixel Fold against Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 4, however, thanks to the Fold’s wider and more familiar exterior display.
Still, there are compromises to think about, like the Pixel Fold’s extra weight and thickness in phone mode. One of the benefits of a smaller phone is a comfortable, maneuverable light weight, and that’s lost on the Pixel Fold.
Nonetheless, the Pixel Fold is the best solution I’ve come across so far among foldable phones, as it’s the first to offer a proper approximation of a small phone that can unfold into a tablet.
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