Google Pixel Fold review: closing the gap

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The Pixel Fold is a powerful device with an entertainment-friendly inner screen, but it feels like it’s at least one generation away from greatness.

The Google Pixel Fold is a lot of phone. It’s heavy, expensive, and often great. But it’s also every bit the first-generation product that it is, and it’s not ready to take the foldable fight to Samsung just yet.

It’s the first foldable I’ve used with a camera system I feel like I can really trust. And its wider format outer screen fits apps more naturally than Samsung’s tall-and-skinny cover display. But if you’re going to spend $1,800 on a phone, then you better get a lot out of using it. I haven’t felt that from the Pixel Fold the way I did when I used the Galaxy Z Fold 4.

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To Google’s credit, the Pixel Fold is a much more approachable device than the Z Fold 4. Rather than overwhelm you with possibilities, the Pixel places guardrails around what you can and can’t do, like limiting multitasking on the inner screen to two apps. It’s a friendlier device to someone who’s fresh to foldables. But I have a hard time believing that anyone seriously considering the Pixel Fold (or any phone nearing $2,000) is afraid of a little complexity. 

There are a couple of practical concerns that came up in my testing, too. Battery life was hit-and-miss, and the phone seems to drain more on standby than it should. I also have some concerns about long-term durability — first-generation Google hardware and all.

Still, I don’t want to dismiss what Google has achieved in the Pixel Fold. It’s a phone and a small tablet all in one device, and it’s a gadget I think most anybody could pick up and feel comfortable with right away. Walking to a coffee shop, unfolding the phone, and playing a game on the big screen, then folding it back up again for the walk home is just straight-up delightful. The form factor is lovely and familiar, and it allows you to do some of the things you’d normally have to put down your phone and pick up your laptop for. But it’s also fair to ask for more from this device, especially at $1,800, because right now, it doesn’t quite deliver.

A photo of Google’s Pixel Fold smartphone.

A photo of Google’s Pixel Fold smartphone.

There’s virtually no gap between the two sides of the inner screen when the Fold is closed.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

Google managed to make a folding phone that closes flat like a book with no visible gap between the halves — an impressive accomplishment that Samsung hasn’t figured out just yet (but appears to be correcting soon). It’s nice, and the Pixel Fold, on the whole, feels like a sturdy piece of hardware. The hinge is fairly stiff, but it opens and closes without a sound and supports the phone in any configuration up to 180 degrees. In fact, when you open it up, there’s kind of a “stop” just short of 180, and you have to give it a little extra push to open it all the way. You don’t need a ton of force, but it makes me a little queasy every time I do it, even if it seems totally harmless.

Like Samsung’s Fold, the Pixel Fold also manages an IPX8 rating — “X” marks the lack of dust resistance — so it’s protected against full immersion in water. That’s no mean feat for a phone with moving parts and some peace of mind if you’ve ever lost a phone to a watery death. There’s Gorilla Glass Victus on the front and back, a stainless steel hinge, and a shiny aluminum frame. No corners cut here.

Here’s the downside: the Pixel Fold is heavy as heck. It’s 283 grams — 70 grams heavier than a Pixel 7 Pro and a full 20 grams heavier than the Galaxy Z Fold 4. Holding it in one hand and using the outer screen, I feel every bit of that weight difference. It’s a little more comfortable with the phone open and the weight distributed in two hands. But I haven’t stopped noticing how heavy this phone is over the past week that I’ve been using it. 

A photo of Google’s Pixel Fold smartphone.

A photo of Google’s Pixel Fold smartphone.

The outer screen fits content well, but the Fold’s weight means it can be uncomfortable to use for long periods of time.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

I have other bad news. After just a few days of using the Fold as my daily driver, I discovered a tiny hairline scratch on the factory-installed inner screen protector. That’s not exactly confidence-inspiring. One of my co-workers discovered a chip in the plastic bezel on his review unit, too. These are far from catastrophic, but the almost-year-old Z Fold 4 review unit that I have on hand doesn’t show any scratches as prominent as the one on the Pixel Fold. It suddenly makes more sense why Google didn’t make the Pixel Fold compatible with a stylus.

Foldable phone repairs tend to be more complex and expensive than on a traditional phone, too. Google offers a two-year protection plan for $279 (or $15 per month), which is a fair bit more than the $199 cost for other phones like the Pixel 7 Pro. With this plan, you’ll pay $29 for a screen repair at a walk-in Asurion uBreakiFix center (or a brick-and-mortar Google Store if you happen to live in New York City). Other covered repairs cost $129. If you don’t live in an area with a uBreakiFix location, you’re stuck sending your phone off to Google, although you’ll get a replacement shipped to you next-day — likely with a hefty $1,800 hold on your credit card. These are important things to consider before purchasing a Pixel Fold, and it would be wise to consider the cost of Google’s repair plan if you’re pricing one out.  

A photo showing the software features of Google’s Pixel Fold smartphone.

A photo showing the software features of Google’s Pixel Fold smartphone.

The inner screen allows you to run two apps at once.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

The screens themselves are nice enough: the outer is a 5.8-inch 1080p 120Hz panel, and the inner display is a 7.6-inch diagonal 2208 x 1840 OLED — also with a 120Hz top refresh rate. They both offer a peak brightness mode that’s bright enough for use outside in direct sunlight, though the inner screen protector is plenty reflective. I used the big screen comfortably on a sunny day in some shade, but it wouldn’t be the best experience in direct sunlight.

Compared to the narrower Galaxy Z Fold 4, the Pixel Fold’s outer display feels a lot more natural to use. Apps look normal, and the keyboard feels like it’s the right size, not all smushed together. Using just the outer screen, the Pixel Fold feels almost like a normal phone — except for the weight. If I use it in one hand with most of the device’s weight balanced on my pinky finger, it gets quite uncomfortable after about five minutes. I ended up shifting it around in my hands every so often for some relief. This made me more likely to open the phone up to do anything more than quick tasks, like replying to a text, just to distribute the weight more comfortably in two hands.

A photo showing the software features of Google’s Pixel Fold smartphone.

A photo showing the software features of Google’s Pixel Fold smartphone.

Google has optimized a lot of its own apps to use the inner screen’s real estate well.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

Google has optimized a bunch of its own apps to work in the Fold’s unfolded tablet mode, and they’re great. Gmail, YouTube, Photos — they all make use of the full screen by putting information in sidebars and vertical columns. Chrome has a desktop-like interface, complete with tabs at the top of the window and the ability to load the full versions of websites. Google Meet readily moved a tiled view of attendees to the top part of the screen when I set the phone up in an L-shape, sliding the controls to the bottom half of the display. I didn’t have to fiddle with anything — it just worked. 

A lot of third-party apps don’t take advantage of the whole inner screen, though, which stinks. Instagram is just a phone-sized app with black bars on either side. Same with Twitter, Facebook Messenger, and even Google-owned Fitbit. You can double-tap the blank space on either side to quickly slide the app to the left, right, or middle, which is nice. TikTok plays its vertical videos in the middle of the screen but at least uses the extra space on either side to move all the text that’s usually right on top of the video out of the way. Even so, it feels like a lot of wasted space when you’re not watching a video or multitasking.  

Apps that do stretch across the screen don’t always do it in the most useful way. Slack just unhelpfully spreads the phone app across the whole screen instead of utilizing multiple columns, which results in a lot of unused blank space. My colleague Chris Welch discovered an outlier — Lightroom’s tablet app is super slick on the Fold’s big screen. I would most definitely use it regularly for quick photo edits if this was my forever phone.

A lot of the app display issues boil down to Google’s choice to give the inside screen a landscape-first orientation versus Samsung’s portrait-first approach. Apps that launch with black bars in the phone’s default position look much more normal once you rotate the whole device 90 degrees. But turning the phone every time you encounter an app that doesn’t know what to do with the screen is tedious — and it’s something you end up doing a lot on the Pixel Fold.

A Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 next to the Google Pixel Fold.

A Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 next to the Google Pixel Fold.

The Galaxy Z Fold 4 (left) uses a portrait-first orientation, while the Pixel Fold (right) is landscape oriented.
Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge

Much of the appeal of a big screen like this is being able to use multiple apps at once. Google provides an easy interface for opening two apps side by side: you can swipe up on the handle at the bottom of the screen to pull up a taskbar and drag the app to the side of the screen you want to run it. This is an area where the landscape orientation of the screen is useful: the two apps are effectively the same size as they are on the cover screen. You can also adjust the split of the apps so one takes up two-thirds of the display, and the other fills the remaining third. 

But that’s the extent of the window multitasking options. While Samsung will let you run up to four apps at once in custom window sizes, Google only officially supports two apps in split screen. On the Galaxy Z Fold 4, I can open multiple apps and pop-up windows to cross-reference my credit card activity, Starbucks card history, and my calendar to file an expense report in Concur all on the same screen. Not so on the Pixel Fold.

Don’t get me wrong: the big screen does come in handy. I ran Google Maps next to Chrome when I was on the bus looking for somewhere to eat in the neighborhood I was headed to. It’s soothing to my soul being able to open a restaurant website without tabbing away from the map view. I can’t explain why. But overall, I noticed fewer of these instances of “holy cow, look what I can do on this phone” using the Pixel Fold than I did when I reviewed the Galaxy Z Fold 4. 

A photo showing the software features of Google’s Pixel Fold smartphone.

A photo showing the software features of Google’s Pixel Fold smartphone.

The Pixel Fold’s inner screen is ideal for entertainment.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

The inner screen might just be best suited for entertainment. I thoroughly enjoyed playing Pocket City 2 on the big screen (I plan to never shut up about how much I love this game). Video content in the YouTube app also moves seamlessly to the top portion of the screen when you put the phone in an L shape like a laptop — very handy when I want to watch something while eating lunch or folding laundry. And the wide proportions of the Pixel Fold make watching a video like this more comfortable than the narrow, letterbox-y laptop mode of the Galaxy Z Fold.

Naturally, the Pixel Fold uses Google’s Tensor G2 chipset, which is paired with 12GB of RAM. I very rarely saw a blip or stutter as it cut through intensive tasks, but I did notice the phone getting awfully warm. This never seemed to affect performance, and using it out on a warm summer day didn’t push it over the edge, thermally speaking. The base model includes a healthy 256GB of storage, too, and Google promises five years of security updates for the Pixel Fold. This all points to a good long-term outlook — at least as far as software is concerned. 

I haven’t quite been using the Pixel Fold for a full week, so it’s possible that the phone is still settling in and learning my habits, but battery stamina thus far has been patchy. I spent a morning using the phone for everything I’d normally do on my laptop, including calling into a meeting. I felt pretty smug about getting almost to lunchtime without opening my computer — and then I noticed I was down to 65 percent battery. Not ideal when you’re planning to spend most of the rest of the day away from an outlet. 

I ended up making it through that day with about 25 percent left at 10PM, but without the late-morning recharge, I would have been hosed. Our team also noticed unusually high battery drain from the Pixel Fold in standby, which could be a bug. On other occasions, I got through a day of moderate use on a single charge just fine. I think we’ll learn more from long-term testing, but as it stands now, I’d keep a battery pack or a charger handy if I planned to spend a long day out of the house using the Pixel Fold.  

A photo of Google’s Pixel Fold smartphone.

A photo of Google’s Pixel Fold smartphone.

The Fold’s rear camera array is one of the best on a folding phone.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

For a phone that’s geared toward entertainment and productivity, the Pixel Fold offers a surprisingly versatile camera system. Can you answer emails while calling into a video meeting? Yes! Can you photograph a ferry boat in the distance framed by some foliage in the foreground? Also yes! It contains multitudes. Here are the important hardware specs:

  • 48-megapixel f/1.7 main camera with OIS
  • 10.8-megapixel f/2.2 ultrawide
  • 10.8-megapixel f/3.1 5x telephoto with OIS
  • 9.5-megapixel f/2.2 cover screen selfie camera
  • 8-megapixel f/2.0 inner screen selfie camera

The three rear cameras are roughly similar to what you get on the Pixel 7 Pro, but they’re not exactly the same camera modules — you get a smaller 1/2-inch type 48-megapixel sensor on the Fold rather than a bigger 50-megapixel sensor on the 7 Pro, for example. Foldables of all shapes come with camera hardware tradeoffs compared to their slab-style peers, which is understandable but kind of sucks when you remember you’re paying top dollar.

All this is to say that the camera system on the Pixel Fold is not quite as powerful as what you get on the Pixel 7 Pro, but it’s damn good by foldable standards. It’s not the most comfortable phone to use for photography, but it will turn in a good photo in a lot of situations that are tricky for any phone — folding or not. The 5x telephoto is particularly nice to have, and for a more portrait-friendly tele, there’s a capable 2x super res zoom from the main camera sensor. 

As far as image quality goes, it’s a Pixel camera, through and through. Color and details in bright lighting look great, with processing that leans a little cool. It handles dim light well, even when subjects are moving a bit, and night mode comes in handy, as always, for very low light. Portrait photos from the main camera look convincing, but I still hate the crunchiness of the 2x portrait setting, and there are some real weird artifacts in one of my shots in this mode.

On the flip side, you can take portrait selfies with the main camera and use the front-facing screen to frame them up. It’s one of the benefits of a folding phone since the main camera is way better for portraits than the selfie cam, and it’s a nice option to have in your back pocket.

A photo showing the software features of Google’s Pixel Fold smartphone.

A photo showing the software features of Google’s Pixel Fold smartphone.

Pretty much every camera is a selfie camera on a folding phone.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

You can shoot up to 4K/60p with any of the rear-facing cameras, and HDR 10 is available if you drop down to 30p. There’s a modest crop if you keep the video stabilization enabled, which I did because it’s pretty good. 

It’s overall a better camera system than I’ve seen in other foldables, and you get the nice Pixel features like a long exposure mode, Magic Eraser, and Face Unblur. Just know that it doesn’t offer exactly the same quality as the cameras on the Pixel 7 Pro.

A photo of Google’s Pixel Fold smartphone.

A photo of Google’s Pixel Fold smartphone.

With a little extra polishing, version two of the Pixel Fold could be a real gem.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

The Pixel Fold is one of the year’s most highly anticipated phone releases, but it comes on the heels of another: the Motorola Razr Plus. The Razr is a flip-style foldable with a big 3.6-inch cover screen — basically the first of its kind. I spent a week prior to using the Pixel Fold with the new Motorola flip-style foldable, and I think the contrast between those experiences kind of sums up the Pixel Fold’s problem.

With the Razr Plus, I kept uncovering new use cases where I felt the phone was truly saving me time and effort or letting me do something I couldn’t do with a traditional phone. While the Pixel Fold impressed me in many ways, I didn’t get that same sense of “I can’t believe I’m getting away with this.” Watching YouTube with the phone propped open while I eat lunch, gaming on a big screen, cross-referencing Chrome and Maps on the same screen as I plan out my day — these are all unequivocally excellent experiences on the Pixel Fold. But it all left me with an impression of “That was nice” rather than “I must have this in my life.” 

The Pixel Fold’s heaviness plays a big part in this. It’s uncomfortable to use it folded for very long, even if the outer screen format feels more natural than the remote control-esque Galaxy Z Fold 4. You notice its weight in your pocket, tote bag, purse — however you carry it on your person. If I felt like I was getting an incredible experience in exchange for carrying the extra weight around, I wouldn’t mind it as much, but that’s not the case.

First-generation foldables are tough. The Pixel Fold is far from disastrous, which you couldn’t say about Samsung or Motorola’s first foldable attempts. But those companies are several generations in now and have ironed out a lot of the kinks. Google seems to have learned from some of those early failures, too, but the Pixel Fold feels like it’s still at least one generation away from realizing its potential. It’s a delightfully gadget-y gadget, and it’s probably best suited for someone who wouldn’t mind the weight and would utilize a big screen for on-the-go entertainment consumption often. But if that sounds like more of a nice-to-have — as it was to me — then I think you’re better off waiting to see what the next generation has to offer.

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