Samsung introduced foldable phones back in early 2019, and since then it’s led the charge. In fact, if you live in the U.S., 2023 is the first year that you could buy a non-Samsung book-style foldable. Now Google has finally joined a growing segment of its operating system by making a foldable phone – and you can learn all about it in this Google Pixel Fold review.
This was a move that was becoming more and more necessary for Google, and the company answered the call with very compelling hardware. But, like so many projects that Google undertakes, it’s a bit undercooked – a beta, if you will. Google ticked off a lot of boxes with its debut foldable, but not every box.
Overall, Google has more wins than losses with its first try out of the gate. I’ve been using a Google Pixel Fold review sample, provided by T-Mobile on T-Mobile’s network in Chicago for almost two full months, and I’m here to tell you about my experience so far. Oh, and if you want to know about how we put each phone through its paces, be sure to check out our how we test breakdown.
- Massive outer screen
- Fantastic camera
- Gorgeous design
- Responsive displays
- Software can’t take advantage of hardware
- Usual Tensor issues
- High price tag
With a starting launch price of $1,799 that goes up to $1,919 for the 512GB version, the Google Pixel Fold is an expensive piece of kit. Its MSRP sits around the same price as its main competitor, the Samsung Galaxy Fold5, which feels pretty steep for Google’s first foray into this space. However, it still manages to stand up against the Galaxy Fold5, as we’ll explain later.
It’s available across the best cell phone providers and retailers globally and comes in two colors – Porcelain and Obsidian.
Google Pixel Fold specs:
|Inner display||7.6″ Foldable OLED, 120Hz (1840 x 2208)|
|Outer display||5.8″ OLED 120Hz (1080 x 2208)|
|Chipset||Google Tensor G2|
|Battery capacity||4,821 mAh|
|Storage||256GB / 512GB|
|Cameras||Wide: 48MP f/1.8 with OIS
Telephoto: 10.8MP f/3.1 5x optical with OIS
Ultrawide: 10.8 MP f/2.2 with 121-degree FOV
|Dimensions||Folded: 158.7 x 139.7 x 5.8 mm
Unfolded: 139.7 x 79.5 x 12.1 mm
If you recall the Microsoft Duo 2, Microsoft’s dual-screened phone from 2021, there’s a lot of DNA from that device here, and it’s hard not to see it. The Google Pixel Fold is a little fatter and has a screen on the outside, but in terms of build quality and overall look, there are a lot of similarities between the two. Put simply, the hardware is gorgeous.
The phone is a beefy 12.2mm when folded and 5.8mm when unfolded, weighing in at 283 grams. On the inside, you get a Google Tensor G2 processor, 12 GB of RAM, and up to 512 GB of storage. This is all powered by a 4,821 mAh battery.
The hinge on the Google Pixel Fold is just as good as that you’ll find on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5. It holds its position at just about any angle, just like the Samsung device. The bezels on the top and bottom of the screen are large, but the design of the hinge also gives the Pixel Fold an IPX8 water resistance rating which is awesome to find in a first-generation foldable. That same hinge design also prevents the phone from folding perfectly flat, which is not so awesome. It’s not off by much – maybe two or three degrees away from flatness – but it’s a little off-putting.
The cover screen and the back of the phone are both covered by Gorilla Glass Victus, and you can find the Pixel’s signature large camera bump on the back, too. We’ll talk more about the camera set in a bit, but for now, just know that the camera bump has not gotten any smaller in this different form factor.
Both of the screens on the Google Pixel Fold are beautiful and color-accurate. They sport refresh rates of up to 120 Hz, and they both get very bright, meaning that using the phone outside is easy.
The cover screen on the Pixel Fold is particularly great because of its size and aspect ratio. At 17.4:9, it’s a squat and wide cover screen that is extremely usable when the phone is closed, unlike the Galaxy Z Fold 5. It’s a little ironic that one of the biggest value propositions is “How useable is the phone when it’s folded?”, but the Pixel Fold fulfills that value extremely well.
The wider aspect ratio isn’t very accommodating for one-hand use – the Galaxy Z Fold 5 still has that going for it – but if you’re the kind of person who wants to mainly use your phone closed and only open it when you need the larger screen, this will appeal to you.
Speaking of that inner screen, it’s very wide, to the tune of a 6:5 aspect ratio. This is really great for consuming content like watching movies or reading books. But one part of the experience falls short and we’ll talk about that in the next section. That being said, if you’re into movies and books, you’ll love this form factor. Multi-taskers will enjoy this inner screen too, as it also lends itself nicely to side-by-side app placement – but, that said, it’s not perfect.
It’s deeply weird to have to say this about hardware developed by the company that runs Android, but if there’s one major Achilles’ heel with this phone, it’s the absolute lack of utilization of that inner screen. On the face of it, it’s not bad.
When you open the phone on the home screen, you see the first two pages of your home screen combined into one. This makes a lot of sense. Even the fact that you can’t place a widget so that it spans the middle of the screen makes sense when you realize that Google is making two pages into one here.
Open up apps like Netflix and Kindle, and you’ll enjoy the form factor even more. While the 6:5 aspect ratio isn’t perfect for videos (which are typically more 16:9), it’s great for spreading out the pages of an ebook in the Kindle app.
But where the software hits a wall is when an app has not been optimized to spread out on this widescreen format. Multiple games, shopping apps, and more simply fail to take advantage of the space and resort to a side-letterboxed experience. This is not the worst thing in the world.
One thing Google did to compensate for this was to implement a system that moves the app to one side or the other with a double tap, making it easier to access with one hand or the other. This is not the best solution, and it’s one I basically never use, but it’s there, and it shows Google has put some thought into it.
The problem is that this is supposed to be the optimized version of Android on a foldable, and it’s not that good. I’m left wondering if Google considers foldables to be a fad that it had to show it supported with hardware, rather than a serious undertaking for the future. Whatever the case, it’s not a good look.
What is a good look is the view through the cameras. Pixel phones have long been the gold standard for photography and for the most part that’s the case here, but there are some foibles to address. First, let’s look at the hardware. Like the best Google Pixel phones, the Pixel Fold has a triple camera setup. But, also staying consistent with foldables, those cameras are a slight step down from what you’ll find on the Google Pixel 7 Pro.
Notably, there’s a 48-megapixel main camera with f/1.7 aperture, a 10.8-megapixel telephoto zoom lens with 5x optical zoom and an f/3.1 aperture, and finally a 10.8-megapixel ultrawide shooter with an f/2.2 aperture and 121-degree field of view. This is one of the better camera sets you can buy on a foldable smartphone.
During the day, the colors are bright and accurate, with little change between the three different lenses. I particularly enjoy macro shooting flowers and insects at close range. The Pixel captures a great amount of detail in macro mode and the bokeh behind the subject is quite good.
Video during the day is great as well, with smooth video when shooting in its default 1080p. The camera is also capable of 4K capture at 60 fps, though you won’t get the benefit of stabilization at that resolution.
One notable exception to this comes from the 5x optical lens. That camera can shoot very good social media shots – by which I mean the photos you take with that lens are great until you blow them up to full resolution. Once you hit 100% resolution, the picture has already started to pixelate, which is not great if you want a print of a photo. If, however, you’re limiting photo sharing to Facebook or Instagram, you’ll be fine.
At night, the Pixel Fold’s camera is mostly capable. When nothing is moving, most of the sensors will do a pretty decent job of capturing, though you might want to pass on the ultrawide camera. You definitely want to stick with the main sensor, especially if you have a moving subject, like a person or a pet.
In fact, don’t even try shooting anything moving with any other sensor – and that includes the selfie camera. When you launch the camera, you can open the phone and, with a tap of a button, you can use the cover screen as a preview to line up your shot. Shooting with the phone open is a bit awkward though, so be careful.
Video at night is fairly terrible with every lens, with the main lens being the only one capable of capturing usable footage. However, in daylight, one big positive is when you’re walking while shooting, the Pixel Fold is able to stabilize the judder you’d normally see with your footfalls. This works much better when there is a subject in the frame, but it even works when there isn’t. Don’t get me wrong; you won’t shoot your film school’s final project with it, but it’s passable.
All told, one of the biggest weaknesses of the Pixel Fold has to be the Tensor G2 processor at its heart. Like other Pixel phones that utilize the Tensor chips, there are some issues that make the phone sub-optimal. The most notable issue is its connectivity. This is a pretty difficult issue to quantify, but anecdotally, I can report that the Pixel Fold’s ability to connect to T-Mobile’s network is not great.
My home is unfortunately located in something of a black hole of connectivity for all three carriers, and this issue becomes emphasized on such occasions. Most flagships, such as the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra or the iPhone 14 Pro can maintain enough of a signal in my home to manage a phone call, but Pixels (going back to the Pixel 6) have always had a difficult time. That includes when I leave my home, too. I frequently find myself on LTE as opposed to 5G in the areas surrounding my house.
As for performance, my day-to-day activity doesn’t include a lot of gaming, but there is a fair amount of multi-tasking, and I’ve experienced no problems with the Pixel Fold in that regard. When I do break out the games, I typically play Genshin Impact on medium graphic settings or Call of Duty: Mobile on default graphic settings. Neither game stutters, nor does the phone get warm when playing for up to thirty minutes.
When it comes to the battery, the Pixel Fold is a one-day phone, and that’s assuming you don’t head out for the day. On a typical day where I spend most of my time in my office while only running the occasional errand, I’ll easily get to the end of the day with 20% left in the tank.
However, if I have the temerity to leave my house for hours at a time, the phone struggles to make it to the end of the day. This is not atypical for a foldable, but it’s something to be aware of. Additionally, the phone only accepts up to 21W wired charging and takes around 90 minutes to charge fully. Of course, the Pixel Fold does not ship with a charger in the box, either.
This is a great question and one that comes with no easy answer. The Pixel Fold is first-generation hardware, so it’s important to keep in mind that this is the first time Google has built a foldable. If you can ignore that, then yes, this phone stacks favorably against its competitors.
Personally, I would have liked to have seen Google gamble a bit by bringing down the MSRP on this phone so it can compare more favorably to the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5. I would also like to see Google take advantage of its position as the maker of Android to make apps work better on the inner screen.
When you take into account all the other things a Pixel can do — Magic Eraser, Photo Unblur, Call Screening, and a clean Android build, this is a very nice phone. But, like most other book-style foldables, it’s a bit too expensive to make it easy to recommend. If you have the budget for it, you can do a lot worse, and it’s one of the best foldable phones.
If you think that the Pixel Fold isn’t for you, but you’re still hoping to snap up one of the best foldable phones on the market, check out these alternatives.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold5
Samsung has been leading the foldable charge from the beginning, and as such, it has reached a point where the hardware is very good, the build quality is top-notch, the support system is in place, and perhaps most importantly, the form factor has been around long enough that many, if not most app makers have optimized their apps to take advantage of the inner screen. That’s the biggest thing the Pixel Fold lacks, and it’s noticeable.
More than that though, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold5 is very easy to use one-handed, which is desirable for a lot of people who are frequently using their phone on the go. Both phones are the same price, so it can be a tough choice. For more information to help you make the decision, check out our Samsung Galaxy Z Fold5 review. Or, if you want to check out its predecessor, head over to our Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4 review.
Xiaomi Mix Fold 3
If you don’t live in the U.S., you have other options and one of them is the Xiaomi Mix Fold 3 which comes with one of the best camera sets you can find on a foldable. Xiaomi is known for making high-quality but inexpensive hardware, and all things considered, this phone is not terribly expensive for this type of foldable (but it’s still expensive).
The Xiaomi Mix Fold 3 comes with two levels of optical zoom at 3.2x and 5x which gives you more options when shooting and actually takes really excellent product photos, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Plus, the phone is .5 mm and 1 mm thinner than the Pixel Fold, and lighter as well. It has a very respectable 21:9 aspect ratio on the cover screen, which falls in line with most Candybar phones these days. Overall, it’s a very respectable option if you don’t live in the U.S.