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Google Pixel Fold hands-on: Finally, a real rival for Samsung’s foldables

Google's first foldable phone feels like what I always wanted from the Surface Duo to be.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

I’ve been using some version of the Galaxy Z Fold as my daily driver for the last three years. So, I’ve been waiting a long time for someone to come along and give Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold line a real challenge – especially in the U.S. where we can’t buy stuff like the Oppo Find N2. And after years of rumors, this summer that might finally happen when Google releases the Pixel Fold.

Google’s foldable phone features a different design than most. It has a wider 5.8-inch exterior screen with a 17.4:9 aspect ratio. This makes a huge difference, giving you a more usable screen on the outside allows the Pixel Fold to function like a more full-featured device before you ever open it up. In comparison, Galaxy Z Fold 4’s small cover screen feels like it's designed mainly for doing simple tasks like looking up directions or responding to texts. And in your hand, the Pixel Fold’s wider dimensions make it feel different too. It’s shaped more like a Passport than Samsung’s skinnier baton–like handset.

On top of that, the Pixel Fold’s heft is somewhat deceptive. Weighing 10 ounces or 283 grams, it’s actually heavier than the Galaxy Z Fold 4 (263 grams). However, because of its super slim design that measures less than 6mm thick when open (or 12.1mm when closed), it doesn’t feel nearly as dense. Then on the outside, Google created what it claims is the most durable hinge on any foldable yet. But to me the clever thing is that, by pushing all the moving parts as close to the outside of the device as possible, there’s less of a gap between the two halves of the phone, resulting in an almost completely flat device when closed.

As for its flexible main screen, we’re looking at a big 7.6-inch 2208 x 1840 OLED display with bright vivid colors. Now yes, there is a crease, and I can’t wait for the day when device makers can banish them for good. But at least on the Pixel Fold, it looks slightly less pronounced compared to some other devices. That said, the bigger differences are that Google’s foldable features slightly larger bezels and a wider landscape orientation by default, which is better for watching videos without rotating the phone. And instead of an under-display sensor like Samsung uses, Google has opted for a more traditional interior camera located in the top right corner.

By going with a 5.8-inch exterior display with a wider 17.4:9 aspect ratio, the Pixel Fold feels like a more full-featured device when closed.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Aside from its design, where things get really interesting is the Pixel Fold’s software and multitasking features. Even though I’ve only had a few minutes with it thus far, I love how snappy and responsive it feels. Switching from the front to the interior screen is super smooth, and I must admit the way Google syncs the movement of bird’s wings on the wallpaper with the position of the screen is a really nice touch. It even seems like Google has learned from Samsung a bit like with the inclusion of a disappearing taskbar that you can summon by swiping up from the bottom of the screen.

Google also says more than 50 first-party apps have already been optimized to run on devices with large screens like the Pixel Fold. You can see this in apps like Youtube, which automatically switches to a special UI when the phone is bent in half. And while Samsung offers similar tweaks in apps on the Z Fold line, it’s really nice to see continued development for adaptive UIs as they are going to play a huge part in making the next generation of foldable devices really shine. Google even showed off a new Interpreter mode that uses both the inside and outside screen at the same time, which works with the phone’s speech recognition so that people can see two different languages get translated in real-time.

Moving on to photos, despite the challenge of finding room for camera sensors in a phone this thin, you still get essentially the same great experience that we saw on the Pixel 7 Pro – including that 5x telephoto zoom. That’s really nice to see compared to the Z Fold 4, which doesn’t have nearly as good sensors and lenses as the S22 Ultra. And just like Samsung, Google included some nifty modes that allow you to shoot photos when the phone is half open or use the rear camera and the front screen at the same to capture super detailed selfies. Sure, these use cases are a bit niche, but they’re really nice for taking group shots without needing to carry a little mobile tripod around.

Finally, rounding out the Pixel Fold’s specs are a list of very premium components. We’re talking a Tensor G2 chip, 12GB of RAM, up to 512GB of storage and 120Hz refresh rates on both screens. You also get a side-mounted fingerprint sensor built into its power button, support for wireless charging and IPX8 water resistance, which remains a real rarity among foldable phones.

The Pixel Fold's wider exterior display and sleeker dimensions make it a bit easier to use compared to the Z Fold 4, even though the Pixel Fold is the slightly heavier device.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Unfortunately, the Pixel Fold also sports a very premium price of $1,799. I was really hoping to see the cost of big foldable phones come down a bit now that they’ve been around multiple generations, but considering that’s basically the same cost as a Galaxy Z Fold 4, it’s hard to be too mad. Long-term durability is another concern. It took Samsung several generations to create a foldable phone that can really survive daily use (and even now things aren’t perfect). And while I’m sure Google has learned a lot from Samsung’s mistakes, only time will tell how the first foldable Pixel will hold up.

In the end, one thing that really struck me is that, when I had a chance to talk to some of the Pixel Fold’s engineers, they told me that this phone represents Google’s best efforts to put its own spin on a big fancy foldable phone. And while I’ve only had a brief time to play around with it so far, I definitely get it. Between its wider screens and design, there’s no way you’re getting this confused with Galaxy Z Fold. But more than that, I like that Google didn’t cut corners with the Pixel Fold’s camera while also cramming more optimized UI layouts and features derived from Android 12L.

The Pixel Fold's interior display compared to the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Now if you’ll allow me to throw one last comparison in the mix, in a lot of ways, I feel like the Pixel Fold is an even more refined version of what I wanted the Surface Duo to be. It’s got a similar shape thanks to its sleek design, but with an extra display on the outside and way better software. And as a longtime user of big foldable phones, I can’t wait to test this thing out for real sometime later this summer.

Pre-orders for the Pixel Fold go live today on May 10th with official sales slated to begin sometime in June.

Follow all of the news from Google I/O 2023 right here.