Google throws its hat into the foldable arena, but the Pixel Fold’s high price, weak performance and troublesome design hold it back
- Nicely sized with surprisingly thin dimensions
- Great cameras
- Beautiful, colour-accurate displays
- Incredibly expensive
- Thick inner bezels are ugly
- Noticeable display crease
Following years of speculation, Google finally unveiled its very first foldable smartphone in May 2023 – unoriginally named the Pixel Fold. Like most other folding phones, it’s a 2-in-1 handset and tablet, in the same vein as Samsung’s much-loved Galaxy Z Fold series.
Of course, its long-awaited release raises the question of whether or not the Pixel Fold can live up to the hype. Foldables might still be a bit of a fresh fad – with prices well out of reach of your average consumer – but Google faces stiff opposition, especially when rivals such as Samsung have been playing the flexi-screen game for a number of years already.
Google Pixel Fold review: What you need to know
Why should you take a punt on Google’s first attempt, then? The company is hoping that a few things will tempt you to part with your cash. Powered by the same Tensor G2 chip as the Pixel 7, the Pixel Fold has a wide 5.8in outer OLED screen with a 17.4:9 aspect ratio, which is less tall and thin than its foldable rivals. When unfolded, you get a 7.6in OLED display with a 6:5 aspect ratio. Both panels are 120Hz for quicksilver scrolling.
All eyes are on Google’s implementation of Android for the big screen, too. If anyone might finally nail the software side of things when it comes to foldables, it’s the Android originator itself. It’s here where the company has made some big claims about multitasking and the Pixel Fold’s unique usability features.
Being a Google-made phone, there’s also been a lot of fuss about the Pixel Fold’s cameras in the run-up to release. Google’s computational photography is among the best in the business, and the Pixel Fold is filled to the brim with lenses.
You get a 48MP f/1.7 main unit, accompanied by a 10.8MP f/3.1 5x telephoto and a further 10.8MP f/2.2 121-degree ultrawide. There are two selfie cameras, too: the front camera is a 9.5MP f/2.2 affair, with an 8MP f/2 unit on the inside, located above the flexible inner screen.
Google Pixel Fold review: Price and competition
Anybody hoping Google would introduce some much-needed competition on foldable pricing is going to be sorely disappointed. Starting at £1,749 for the model with 256GB of storage (the 512GB version costs £1,869), it’s a whole £100 more than the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 – a handset that’s been refined over four generations.
And with a successor looming, that really isn’t a strong look for Google’s first folding phone. Especially when you throw in the Honor Magic Vs, which like the Pixel Fold is a phone/tablet hybrid yet costs £350 less (starting at £1,400). These numbers really don’t tilt the dial in Google’s favour.
As you can imagine, contract prices at launch aren’t that cheap, either – 24-month contracts start at around £83/mth for a meagre 5GB of monthly data, skyrocketing to nearly £100/mth for unlimited usage. These early contracts have some high upfront costs to contend with as well, and at this stage you can expect to pay an extra £90 or so.
Google Pixel Fold review: Design and key features
Not including the rear camera bump, the Pixel Fold is the second-thinnest foldable yet at two-thirds the thickness of most rivals when closed. It was very nearly the thinnest on the market, but Huawei just beat Google to the punch. The £2,000 Mate X3, announced earlier this year, measures 11.08mm folded, to the Pixel Fold’s 12.1mm.
When open, the Pixel Fold is just 6mm thick – again, pipped by the 5.3mm Huawei Mate X3 – although Google claims this doesn’t make it fragile. The company says its 180-degree “Fluid Friction” hinge is the most durable on any foldable and it has IPX8 water resistance, so it should survive the odd dunking.
When closed, the Fold is closer in both size and appearance to Microsoft’s Surface Duo 2. Depending on your preferences, you’ll either love or hate its wide dimensions. I think it helps the Fold stand apart from the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and it makes watching videos in landscape orientation a much more enjoyable experience.
You might find, however, that it doesn’t fit as nicely in a slim trouser pocket, and it can be difficult to use one-handed if you need to reach across to the other side of the screen with your thumb. It’s also incredibly heavy at 283g, so you’re going to feel the strain whenever you’re making calls and need to bring the phone to your ear.
There are some other issues with the Pixel Fold’s design, too, which I would like to see addressed in the next iteration, should there be one.
The most noticeable problem is the thick display crease, which runs vertically down the middle of the inner screen. It’s much more prominent here than on other foldables I’ve tested of late, with a deep groove catching the eye, no matter what content you’re displaying on the screen.
The bezels surrounding that inner display are quite chunky, too, and make the Pixel Fold look more like a first-gen foldable from those early pioneering days. Compared with the Z Fold 4’s near edge-to-edge screen, it looks dated.
Weirdly, the Pixel Fold doesn’t unfold completely flat, either. Open it up to around 175 degrees and you’ll encounter a good deal of resistance, and while it is possible to unfold it fully if you apply a bit of extra force, this doesn’t seem wise. I certainly didn’t feel comfortable pushing from behind the hinge when unfolding, and I don’t think you will, either.
The rather chunky camera housing on the back of the phone was also a bit of an annoyance. It protrudes quite a bit, making for an awkward, wobbly tapping experience when unfolded and placed on a desk. A small hairline scratch also developed on the silver camera surround after using the phone for just a few days, which doesn’t bode well for its long-term good looks.
Google Pixel Fold review: Displays
The Pixel Fold’s dual displays are both 120Hz OLED panels with support for HDR10+ playback. The screen on the outside is 5.8in, with an aspect ratio of 17.4:9 and a resolution of 2,092 x 1,080. Unfold the Fold and you’re treated to a large 7.6in display, with a boosted resolution of 2,208 x 1,840.
For colour accuracy, these are two exceptional displays. Enabling the Natural setting in the phone’s Display settings, the Pixel Fold’s cover screen achieved an sRGB gamut coverage of 93.3%, with a total volume of 94.1% and a near-perfect Delta E score of 0.9. The inner screen is just as impressive, with a Delta E of 0.72 and a total sRGB volume of 94.8%.
Brightness on both screens is also pretty good, peaking at 1,067cd/m² on the inner display and 1,243cd/m² on the cover. In other words, the Pixel Fold incorporates two of the best displays I’ve ever tested on a foldable smartphone.
Google Pixel Fold review: Performance and battery life
The Pixel Fold is powered by Google’s own Tensor G2 chipset, which we’ve previously seen inside Google’s non-folding Pixel 7 and 7a smartphones. A flagship CPU clocked at 2.85GHz, the Tensor isn’t quite on the same level as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 (found inside the Z Fold 4), and the performance figures really bring this disparity to light.
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In the Geekbench 5 single- and multicore CPU tests, the Pixel Fold achieved 1,051 and 3,020 respectively, putting it behind the Z Fold 4 by a distance of between 20% and 30%. Even the Honor Magic Vs, which costs £350 less than the Pixel Fold, also outperformed Google’s foldable in the same benchmark.
Gaming paints a similarly alarming picture, with the Pixel Fold’s inner display pushing out just 35fps on average in the GFXBench onscreen Car Chase benchmark. Both the Z Fold 4 and Honor Magic 5 achieved an average frame rate of 58fps in this test – a huge 65% improvement.
Our final hopes rest on battery life, and it’s here where Google was keen to stress the Pixel Fold’s “beyond 24-hour battery life” during the launch event. That wasn’t quite the case when it came to our test, however, which involves playing a 20-hour looped video until the battery dies with flight mode engaged and the screen brightness set to 170cd/m².
When displayed on the inner screen, the Pixel Fold lasted 16hrs 43mins before needing a recharge. By comparison, that’s roughly an hour and a half less than the Galaxy Z Fold 4, although it does beat the Honor Magic Vs by almost four hours. Switch the video to the cover screen and things improve greatly, with the Pixel Fold topping out at just over 23 hours.
Things aren’t so bad in general use, either. I spent roughly four hours in Southwark Park taking pictures, using Google Maps for navigation and browsing the web, and the Pixel Fold dipped to 80% from full by the time I got home. That’s pretty good going.
When battery levels do drop to zero, the Pixel Fold charges via USB-C but only at up to 21W. That’s incredibly slow in this day and age, with rivals such as the Z Fold 4 supporting up to 25W charging speeds. That aforementioned 20% drop during my stamina testing required almost 45 minutes to charge back to full strength.
Google Pixel Fold review: Software
Google has a big advantage here because it makes both the hardware and the operating system. While Android on big-screen devices hasn’t historically been a great experience, Google has clearly been thinking about how a foldable is supposed to work, with the Pixel Fold’s “effortless” split-screen multitasking.
Over 50 Google apps have been optimised for large screens and the company has also said that it’s been working with partners such as Disney Plus, Netflix, Minecraft and Spotify to improve the big-screen experience, too.
What I do like about the Fold is that it does a great job at displaying key information on either side of the big screen in supported apps. This includes a choice of route options in Google Maps, your recently captured pictures and videos in the Camera app, or displaying the YouTube comments underneath the video you’re watching.
However, some of these third-party apps, such as Twitter and Facebook Messenger for instance, are pretty bare bones in their current forms. They aren’t using the increased screen size to its full potential, and in most cases are simply displaying the regular version of the app but on a bigger screen. There’s definitely a lot more that can be done here.
Some apps don’t even support the different aspect ratio, and can only be launched in portrait mode – instead displaying in the middle of the inner display with huge black bars on either side. This is really quite ugly and, while I appreciate this likely needs to be worked out on a per-app basis, it would have been nice to at least have the option to force the app to fit the entire screen.
The multitasking features, on the other hand, proved to be very useful. It’s easy to activate: you simply swipe up from the bottom of the screen to access the app toolbar, and from here you just need to select the two most recent apps you would like to place side-by-side. You can even adjust how much space each app uses by dragging the slider in the middle of the screen.
Google Pixel Fold review: Cameras
Google believes it has a strong claim as the best foldable for photography. That’s thanks to a triple-camera array featuring a 48MP f/1.7 main camera and two 10.8MP supporting sensors – one 121-degree ultrawide and one 5x telephoto with up to 20x hybrid zoom.
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It’s no surprise, then, that the quality of the photographs these produce is pretty darned great. Sadly, I no longer have the Galaxy Z Fold 4 for comparison but I took pictures alongside the Pixel 7 Pro and it’s obvious that the same algorithmic excellence Google is known for has also been applied here.
Still images look exceptional, with loads of intricate details and a particularly effective handling of dynamic range. Pictures are nice and sharp and they’re full of contrast – just look at this image I snapped of Southwark Boating Lake on an overcast afternoon. The reeds in the middle are practically jumping out of the screen and the feathers on a pair of nearby geese are as detailed as it gets.
Low-light performance was particularly good. I spent some time in the window-less Asteroid City exhibition, and the various props dotted around looked incredibly true to life, even when lighting was at a minimum and the phone’s back-end processing really had to kick in.
What impresses me most, however, is just how effortless the whole experience is with this recent wave of Pixel handsets. Capturing pictures is a breeze, with Google doing all the work for you – just point and shoot, and you can be fully confident that the end result is going to look great.
This camera has some unique party tricks enabled by the form factor, too. Pop the Pixel Fold into a tent shape, and you can enjoy astrophotography without a tripod. Alternatively, if you want better-quality group selfies, you can pop it on the table half folded and enable a shot via a hand gesture, Google Assistant or a paired Pixel Watch.
Video capture is also very good. The Pixel Fold can record up to 4K resolution at 60fps fully stabilised, but if you want to enable 10-bit HDR you need to dip the frame rate down to 30fps. Footage looked great in my tests, with a pleasing amount of detail and largely judder-free panning.
Google Pixel Fold review: Verdict
Despite this, I expected a lot more from Google’s first foldable smartphone. The Pixel Fold should have been a triumph of both design and software – especially considering the price – but the end result feels disappointingly half-baked.
And that’s inexcusable considering how much time Google has had to develop this phone. Samsung is almost five generations deep now, so you’d think Google would take inspiration and apply it to what could (and absolutely should) have been the best foldable money can buy.
Instead, we have a foldable smartphone that, notwithstanding its excellent cameras, is afflicted by too many issues. Its old-fashioned design, gigantic display crease and performance woes hold it back from earning any form of recommendation. My advice? Save yourself some money and buy the Honor Magic Vs instead. Or better still, wait until the successor to the Galaxy Z Fold 4 enters the fray.