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Google’s debut foldable makes a strong first impression. But if recent Pixels are anything to go by, the company has a lot to prove when it comes to performance and dependability.
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I don’t give a damn about the bezels. Just let me get that part of Google’s new $1,799 Pixel Fold out of the way. They’re fine. And I’m absolutely on board with the squat form factor: having this phone / tablet hybrid feel like a notepad in hand when it’s closed seems like a far better solution than Samsung’s tall boy.
The Galaxy Fold 4 is too narrow for us large-handed humans, and when opened up, its square-ish inner display leaves sizable black bars when watching videos. In his Pixel Fold hands-on, my colleague Dan Seifert found Google’s wider aspect ratio to feel more natural for multitasking — and it should make for a better entertainment device, too.
There’s a lot that’s promising about the Pixel Fold, actually. I’m not worried about the software or cameras. It might not offer a sensor of the same size as the 7 and 7 Pro, but I still trust Google’s computational photography to nail shots on the first try more than phones from any other manufacturer. I’ve come to enjoy Android’s colorful Material You UX, and I think we’ll keep seeing developers release apps that are optimized for foldables.
But I do have some hang-ups over this $1,800 gadget, and they boil down to performance, reliability, and customer service. At the moment, all three remain total unknowns.
Google’s Tensor chips aren’t the most efficient and can run hot
Google’s self-branded processors routinely trail Qualcomm and Apple in benchmarks — sometimes substantially — but they’re more than powerful enough to provide a smooth day-to-day smartphone experience. It seems like that’s all Google ever really wanted. They’re perfectly adequate.
Except in those moments when they’re not.
As someone who’s owned a Pixel 6, Pixel 6A, and most recently, a Pixel 7, I can attest that both the Tensor G1 and G2 have demonstrated a tendency to run warm. Not always. Some days are better than others. But when things heat up, the Pixel phones will often disable features like 4K video recording or even something as simple as a camera flash. Are you using your device while it’s plugged in? Expect sluggish charging speeds if the battery percentage climbs at all. The Pixel 7 hasn’t gotten nearly as hot as the 6 series did in my experience so far. But then again, these phones haven’t even faced their first summer yet: the Pixel Fold is arriving just as temperatures rise across the US.
If you look around the very active Pixel subreddit and other social media, similar reports aren’t uncommon. With Tensor G2, Google overcame the woeful cellular reception challenges that some Pixel 6 and 6 Pro owners encountered. But the simple truth of the matter is that these chips aren’t as efficient as Qualcomm’s latest and greatest.
When the Galaxy Fold 5 is released this summer, likely powered by some variant of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, we could see a significant divide between it and the Pixel Fold when it comes to thermal performance. A cooler processor tends to result in better battery life. And the Fold’s battery estimates already seem rather optimistic when you consider it houses two 120Hz displays that can crank very bright.
Tensor’s quirks, typically attributed to its Exynos DNA, are somewhat excusable with phones costing between $400 and $900. But if a $1,800 foldable starts overheating and disabling software features during normal summer activities, people are going to lose it.
If there’s one core element of the Pixel Fold that’s giving me pause, it’s the silicon. I’m doing my best to believe that Google has thought all of this through, made some cooling tweaks for this form factor, and it’s not going to become A Thing. We’ll start finding out in late June.
How are you supposed to get this thing fixed?
I’m quick to admit that those of us who live in or near New York City are outright spoiled when it comes to easy solutions for our tech dilemmas. There are plenty of Apple stores within a few-mile radius, the only two Google Store locations are based here, and Samsung 837 can provide speedy scheduled repairs even for its foldables, covering screen protector replacements — yes, the Pixel Fold has one of those — and other hardware issues.
But there will be plenty of Pixel Fold buyers that live far from this city, San Francisco, or any other major metro hub. And their repair options for the Pixel Fold are very unproven at this point. Samsung might not have the same expansive retail presence as Apple, but it has at least teamed with Best Buy for authorized repairs.
In the past, Google has partnered with the Asurion-owned uBreakiFix for its extended warranty plan. That same arrangement seems to be continuing with the Pixel Fold, with coverage running $15 per month or $279 for two years of coverage (including accidental damage).
Now, I’m not exactly a champion of the Genius Bar or Geek Squad, but reviews for uBreakiFix are often mixed, and if you want the best experience, one pro tip I’ve picked up on is to make sure you’re visiting a corporate Asurion location.
If you’re curious, here’s what Google says about service fees for repair visits:
For Pixel Fold, Pixel 7a, service fees for walk-in screen repairs are $29. For Pixel 7, Pixel 7 Pro, Pixel 6, and Pixel 6 Pro and Pixel 6a, service fees for walk-in screen repairs are $29* while the service fee for other repairs or replacements (including mechanical/electrical breakdown and all other accidental damages) is $49 for Pixel Tablet, $49 for Pixel 7a, $129 for Pixel Fold, $49 for Pixel 6a, $79 for Pixel 7, $99 for Pixel 7 Pro, $99 for Pixel 6, and $149 for Pixel 6 Pro.
uBreakiFix says “most” repairs can be completed in 45 minutes. But since the Pixel Fold still hasn’t been released, we don’t know if that will be true of Google’s foldable. Will only certain locations have the right parts and tools? Will Google’s default response be sending customers a new Fold, which would likely require another $1,800 hold on a credit card?
For the money it’s asking, I’m hopeful Google is going to do well by Pixel Fold customers and focus on top-tier service. But the company hasn’t yet established such a reputation. And considering its regular slab phones continue to exhibit problems — like the camera glass randomly shattering on some Pixel 7 and 7 Pro units — there’s a lot riding on how the Fold fares in hardware reliability. When you’re spending upward of $2,000 on a phone after tax, you deserve some serious white glove treatment.
I still can’t wait to try one
Again, owing to its design, sleek software, and surefire camera, the Pixel Fold is immediately more appealing to me than Samsung’s Galaxy Fold. Do I want to give Google’s first foldable a spin? Most certainly. I’m curious how other aspects of its hardware like the speakers and haptics will shake out.
But I also have the good fortune of working at The Verge, where I’ll be able to spend time handling a Pixel Fold without bidding farewell to $1,800 of my own money. As it stands, and as tempting as the whole package looks, I don’t think I’d be able to hit the preorder button if I didn’t. Maybe that pause will fade away when the first reviews hit, and we’ll confidently be able to take another step into the foldable future.