Google Pixel Fold: 7 unfiltered thoughts after 8 days with the device

If you’ve followed my mumbly mobile musings for long, you probably know two things about me:

  1. I tend to view Google’s Pixel devices favorably, as a general rule. In fact, they’re the only Android devices I wholeheartedly recommend for most folks these days — both because of the unmatched overall user experience they offer and because of the unparalled level of post-sales support they provide.
  2. Thus far, I’ve been pretty wishy-washy on foldable phones, as a general concept. The technology around them is wildly impressive, without a doubt, but the forms they’ve taken to date have come with some significant compromises that make it tough for me to recommend ’em as advisable purchases for most people.

So when I got my hands on the shiny new Google Pixel Fold — which officially goes on sale this week for a whopping $1,800 (!) — I was both intrigued and skeptical, to say the least.

Could a folding phone made by Google itself, with its unmuddled Android software and form-specific optimizations built in at the platform level, actually be worth buying? Or is the cool factor of the folding form mostly just a novelty still, and do the compromises the technology requires make it an impractical purchase in most serious business scenarios?

The answer, as it turns out, is complicated — and with lots of nuance that might not be the same for everyone. So rather than try to give you a tidy 10-word “to buy or not to buy” summary that makes all sorts of assumptions about your preferences and priorities, let me tell you a little more about the experience of actually using the Pixel Fold, for better and for worse.

Here are seven objective truths based on my eight days with the device — truths I hope will help you reach your own subjective conclusion about whether the Pixel Fold might be the right phone for you.

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Google Pixel Fold truth No. 1: This folding form is far better than what we’ve seen before

All software-related considerations aside for a sec, the most striking thing about the Pixel Fold — especially for anyone who’s spent any time with Samsung’s Galaxy Fold equivalents — is how shockingly sensible Google’s take on the folding phone really is.

With its similarly sized foldable phones, Samsung has to date taken the approach of creating a tall and narrow, candy-bar-like form that then opens up to show a larger, almost square-like screen surface. Google, in contrast, created a more short and squat form that unfolds to give you a wide-screen rectangle on its inner display.

But in practical terms, what really jumps out is less the inside surface and more what’s on the outside. Here’s the thing you realize pretty fast when you’re carrying a folding phone: More often than not, you end up using that outer screen. Now, don’t get me wrong: The expanded inside surface is an interesting option to have when you want to sit down and really immerse yourself in something, be it some manner of active focused productivity or a more passive video watching or random stream scrolling.

Far more frequent, though, are the quick phone pick-up types of tasks — peeking at your email, looking at the weather, answering a text message, and so on. And with that sort of stuff, it’s far faster, simpler, and more natural to just use the phone in its folded form (especially when you’re doing something on the go and/or in a one-handed state).

Using Samsung’s Galaxy Fold in its folded form feels like trying to work on a TV remote. It’s awkwardly long and skinny, which means content is cramped and squished down in a strange-seeming way. It just doesn’t make for a great experience, and again, odds are, that’s how you’ll be using the phone most often.

With the Pixel Fold, using the phone in its folded form feels like using a smaller but still properly proportioned smartphone. In fact, the outer screen’s width is almost exactly the same as the width of my non-folding Pixel 7 Pro. It’s just also an inch or so shorter.

Google Pixel Fold front JR Raphael, IDG

That eliminates one of the core compromises this style of foldables has had to date, at least in the US, and makes the phone much more usable in its default, out-of-your-pocket state.

Google Pixel Fold truth No. 2: This phone is a chunky, chunky boy

With the positive of the Pixel Fold’s outer screen out of the way, we’ve gotta address the other truth about using the phone in that folded-up form: It is a seriously thick brick to hold in your paw and tote around all day.

To Google’s credit, it’s done a lot to mitigate this unavoidable folding phone reality. Unfolded, the Pixel Fold is impressively thin — a skosh more so than the Pixel 7 Pro, even. But folded up, the way you’ll always be carrying it and more often than not using it, there’s really no term that sums up the device more effectively than “chonk.”

Google Pixel Fold side JR Raphael, IDG

Interestingly, on paper, the Pixel Fold isn’t even all that fat of a gadget. Google’s official measurements put the Pixel Fold at 12.1mm when folded up and closed. The Pixel 7 Pro, for comparison, is 8.9mm thick. So we’re talkin’ a difference of just over 3mm — a measly tenth of an inch! That’s nothing.

But in practice, it feels like you’re holding a hefty phone in that folded-up state. It’s not uncomfortable, exactly, but it’s absolutely an adjustment. Part of that may come down to the weight in addition to the actual thickness of the thing: The Pixel Fold weighs in at 10 ounces, compared to the Pixel 7 Pro’s relatively svelte 7.5-ounce frame.

That’s a difference of 2.5 ounces — which, for perspective, is slightly more than the weight of a standard C battery.

So going back to the notion that you’re gonna be using the phone in its folded-up form most of the time, that means you’re giving yourself a thicker and heavier phone than you’d otherwise be palming — and one with a smaller screen than you’d have with a standard non-folding phone, to boot.

Google Pixel Fold truth No. 3: It doesn’t get more premium than this

Chonk factor aside, there’s no denying it: The Pixel Fold is one sleek and gorgeously designed device.

It really has a whole new level of premium, high-end feel, even more so than the standard Pixel 7 line before it. The outer surface of the phone looks stunning and feels downright silky. With full realization that this makes me sound like some sort of gadget-ogling pervert, I can’t stop running my fingers over it and caressing the surface.

Google Pixel Fold back JR Raphael, IDG

The outer hinge and frame ditch the soft matte vibe for a shiny, metallic-looking finish. And yeah, there are bezels on the inside — a favorite point of contention among the internet’s most prolific hot-take spewers — but y’know what?

(a) You don’t notice or think about ’em at all when you’re actually using the device.

(b) They serve a functional purpose by giving you a place to put your fingers when you’re holding the phone in its unfolded form.

(c) They allow the front-facing inside camera to exist inside that bezel area instead of either living under the screen and creating an awkward area where the display looks weird or requiring a blacked-out cutout where you can’t see any actual content.

Effective as the whole bezel thing may be for internet arguing amongst people who haven’t held the device, it really isn’t an issue at all in real-world use. If anything, it’s a sensible design decision that makes the product more practical and pleasant.

Speaking of which…

Google Pixel Fold truth No. 4: It’s surprisingly fun to use

This sounds like a silly thing to say, I realize, but one thing I keep thinking as I tote the Pixel Fold around with me in day-to-day life is how much I’m enjoying the thing.

Let’s be honest: In terms of physical form, at least, a phone is generally a phone these days. There’s not a whole lot to get excited about on the outside, and the act of pulling a phone out of your purse, pocket, or pantaloons and putting it to use tends to be more functional than fun.

The Pixel Fold is different. It’s functional, yes, as we’ll explore more in a second. But it’s also genuinely fun to use.

On the outside, you’ve got a pretty standard sort of smartphone experience. But being able to unfold the phone and enjoy that extended surface when you want to spread out a little is surprisingly satisfying. Dorky as I know this makes me, I’ve found myself taking pleasure even just in the act of unfolding the phone and then folding it back.

That could be a positive or a negative, depending on your perspective, as it does make you want to use your phone more. But it’s definitely a delight, in the moment, and as a certified tech-obsessed geek, I find myself drawn to that newfound sense of fun in a phone.

And on a more serious note…

Google Pixel Fold truth No. 5: The software is spectacular

All form-related considerations notwithstanding, one of my personal holdups with using a Samsung Galaxy Fold on any long-term basis has always been the software. Plain and simple, Samsung’s take on Android is a cluttered, inconsistent mess, both with the core interface and with all the confusingly competing elements and built-in bloatware Samsung bakes into the mix. (And that’s to say nothing about the very troubling privacy angle around Samsung’s data-selling habits. But that’s another story for another time.)

Using a Pixel Fold, in contrast, is exactly like using any other Pixel. You’ve got Google’s unmodified Android interface, which is pleasingly consistent with the core Google apps and the overall Android ecosystem. For the iFolk among us, it really is the closest thing to an iPhone-like experience on Android in the sense that there’s a single company controlling every aspect of the experience, which leads to a much more polished and cohesive-feeling environment (and with much better support for ongoing software updates) than what you’ll see in any other scenario.

That also means you get all the genuinely useful Pixel-exclusive extras — phone-related features like stronger call-spam protection, automated call screening, and the brilliant “Hold for Me” sanity saver along with assorted Assistant enhancements and other similarly helpful additions.

And, in a new twist that mirrors some of Samsung’s foldable features, you get some smart new productivity systems built into Android itself with the Pixel Fold’s extended screen in mind — namely around multitasking and making good use of that extra screen space.

For instance, anytime you’re using the Pixel Fold unfolded, you can swipe up slowly from the bottom of the screen to reveal a new on-demand dock that makes it as speedy as can be to switch to any other app you’re needing. The dock matches the row of favorites on your regular home screen, with one extra spot for a dynamically changing suggestion, and it has a shortcut to show your full app drawer right then and there for easy access, too.

In addition to simply switching to any other app, you can use that dock to drag an app up into either side of the extended screen and start a split-screen view on the fly. You can do the same by dragging down on a notification from anywhere in the operating system. It feels like such a sensible addition — and one that makes the long-buried and out-of-mind split-screen function front and center and integrated naturally into the operating system — that I find myself wondering how it didn’t exist within Android up until now.

Google Pixel Fold multitasking JR

And it really does open the door to some interesting new ways to get stuff done on the go, too, since it’s now easier than ever to view your inbox alongside a document or view a Slack chat next to a web page and interact with the two things together.

Now, would I still grab my laptop when I really want to dig in and get work done? Absolutely — no doubt about it. But for moments when that isn’t possible, this makes the phone form far less frustrating and more effective for taking care of business. And all in all, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how natural and intuitive these systems seem and how much I miss ’em when I move back to a standard Android device.

Google Pixel Fold truth No. 6: It’s still rough around the edges

For all the positives, it’s important to remember that the Pixel Fold is a first-generation product — and that’s true not only for the hardware but also for the software and the presence of this sort of extended-screen setup on the platform level.

On the latter front, while Google’s own apps are all thoughtfully optimized to expand into the Pixel Fold’s full screen and make good use of that added space, lots of third-party apps have yet to follow that model.

It’s a vexing chicken-and-egg sort of issue that’s existed on Android for ages now: Developers need some sort of motivation to justify investing the time and resources required to make those sort of large-screen optimizations. Until large amounts of people are using these products, it’s hard to see it as being worth their while to make that investment. But large amounts of people might not want to use these products until such optimizations are more common.

Realistically, it generally isn’t anything all that awful when you encounter an app that isn’t fully optimized for the Pixel Fold’s full unfolded display. Most apps just extend into a larger surface, which can be perfectly sensible and even enjoyable for something like reading text or scrolling through images.

But here and there, you do encounter an app that’s truly awkward in that larger-screen setup — like, for instance, Authy, a popular two-factor authentication code generating tool (and generally one of the best Android privacy and security apps available). Instead of expanding to take up the full Pixel Fold internal screen in any way, Authy gets weirdly centered in the middle of that display, with the option to tap on the left or right side to shift it over in either direction. The same is true for Instagram and other assorted titles.

Google Pixel Fold app compatibility JR

The centered placement is a clever workaround Google created for situations like this, when traditionally, an app would simply force itself into portrait orientation and require you to flip your device around to see it in a non-rotated way. It’s better than the alternative. But it certainly isn’t optimal.

Even with Google’s own apps, I’ve run into the occasional glitch with expected Pixel Fold functionality. When running Gmail and Chrome side by side on the Pixel Fold’s inside screen, for example, I’ve tried to drag an image from a web page into an email — something that’s supposed to be possible in that scenario. But every time I do, Gmail crashes.

All figurative rough edges and bumpiness aside, the Pixel Fold also has some literal rough edges and bumpiness in its physical form. Like most current foldables, the inside screen sports a very noticeable crease in its center that’s obvious to both the eye and the touch, whenever your finger slides over it. You do get used to it after a while, but it’s a glaring imperfection inherent to this form and something you’ll never not notice.

There’s also a slight bump and rough spot at the seam between the Pixel Fold’s inside screen and the bezel around it, particularly around the center area, where the hinge lives. It’s not a big deal, necessarily, but I’ve found myself briefly annoyed and turned off when my finger runs over that area — like when I’m swiping up from the bottom-center area of the screen, which is a core system gesture — and I feel that unpleasant roughness there.

Google Pixel Fold truth No. 7: There isn’t an easy, black-and-white answer with this

So we’ve got an extremely intriguing, premium phone with an exciting form that offers some genuine advantages — if also some very real drawbacks compared to a standard smartphone setup.

The question of whether the Pixel Fold is actually worth buying becomes pretty complicated as a result. And the price of the Pixel Fold only makes that even more apparent.

To be fair, you are getting a lot of technology for that $1,800 price, including two high-quality displays (one of which is massive and made of a cutting-edge flexible material) and two front-facing cameras (for the outer screen and the inner screen) along with the standard Pixel camera setup.

But be that as it may, consider: For the same $1,800 you’d pay for a single Pixel Fold, you could buy…

  • A full-priced Pixel 7 Pro and Pixel Tablet — and still have $400 left
  • A full-priced Pixel 7, Pixel Tablet, Pixel Watch, and Pixel Buds Pro — and still have $150 left
  • Three full-priced Pixel 7a phones — and still have $300 left

And let’s not forget, too, that despite all of Google’s assurances about the Pixel Fold’s durability, it’s hard to imagine a phone with a screen that folds will have the same longevity as a standard slab-style phone. At a certain point, it’s just a matter of physics. And what we’ve seen with other foldables certainly supports that (not to mention what at least one early reviewer experienced just days into using this device).

The Pixel Fold’s other compromises are relatively minor. The phone’s a bit slow on the wireless charging front, for instance (though its battery life has been excellent, in my experience). Its cameras — though exceptional! — aren’t quite as capable as what you get with the standard Pixel 7 Pro. And its fingerprint sensor is slightly awkward in its power-button position (though it is fairly fast and effective, and the presence of Face Unlock on the Fold largely does mitigate that).

As you can see, there’s an awful lot of “yes, but…” going on here. And to take that a bit further, you end up carrying a heavier, chunkier phone around when you’re actually using a smaller screen most of the time — and, of course, you end up paying far more for an inherently less durable phone that seems likely to last less long and have a much higher probability of problems as the months wear on.

If you tend to be near a tablet or a laptop, anyway, the added value of the extended internal screen may be questionable. Odds are, you’ll switch over to such a device when the need for a larger screen or more capable multitasking and productivity comes up, anyway — right? So you might be better off going with a more svelte and durable device that gives you a larger screen and a lighter, more comfortable form in the way you’ll be using it most of the time.

But in spite of all of that logic and all the undeniable realities around value, there’s no denying the fact that there’s something compelling about the Pixel Fold — something that makes you want to keep reaching for it when you have it in front of you and something that makes it hard to put back down.

For most of us, it’s not gonna be the most sensible device to buy or the most logical long-term purchase. It’s tough to justify on paper, especially once you start doing those pricing comparisons and thinking about what you could get for the same money.

And yet, I’d have a hard time telling you that you wouldn’t absolutely love this device and find it to be a true treat to use, with some enticing and unusual advantages.

The ultimate question is whether all of that outweighs all the logic pointing against a Pixel Fold purchase. That’s a question only you can answer for yourself — but for the first time with a foldable, I can actually see the argument for making the leap at this point. And as long as you’re aware of the asterisks and okay with the cost and the questions around longevity, I don’t think you’d be making any huge sacrifices or giving up anything of great consequence on a day-to-day level by going that route.

In fact, I think you’d be downright delighted — illogical of a decision as it may well be.

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