Recently, I turned on Google’s new Pixel Fold smartphone, unfolded it like a book, and transformed it into a small tablet similar to the iPad Mini or Amazon Fire. Then something unexpected happened.
For the next few hours, I found it difficult to let go of the device, as if I had been sucked into a great novel. The phone’s performance was smooth and fast, and the large screen made reading emails, watching videos, and reading comics even more enjoyable than on a normal phone screen.
I was surprised because I was wary of folding smartphones. Early models launched by Samsung, Motorola and Huawei about four years ago had glaring flaws. They were thick and heavy, had durability issues, and lacked software to take advantage of the new hardware. But we quickly learned that his Pixel Fold, Google’s first foldable phone, was different.
When the device was folded, a second, 5.8-inch outer screen lit up, transforming it into a regular smartphone that could be used with one hand. Importantly, it’s not too bulky, and when folded it’s about half an inch thick, slightly larger than my iPhone. Therefore, it was comfortable to carry in a pocket.
Announced last month and launching Wednesday, the Pixel Fold proves that when cutting-edge technology arrives, it’s wiser to wait before spending your hard-earned money. In just four years, Google has solved most of the foldable phone problems and turned a gimmicky concept into a product with a compelling purpose.
What Google failed to do was make foldable phone technology cheaper. The Pixel Fold costs $1,800, about $400 more than similar smartphones launched a few years ago. Google said part of the device’s cost is due to the engineering challenge of packing quality components into a device that thin, including a camera that’s on par with other Pixel phones. (When unfolded, the Pixel Fold is thinner than a typical smartphone.)
That’s too bad. Most people wouldn’t spend this much on a cell phone when there are so many cheap and great options out there. But it can be recommended for its target demographic: those with high disposable incomes and who rely heavily on their devices.
Still, advances in folding technology are good news. A few years ago, devices from companies like Apple and Samsung seemed to have peaked. Their flagship phone was already incredibly fast, the screen was big and bright, and the camera took great pictures. The entire smartphone industry has become an almost indistinguishable pile of black rectangles.
What’s left? In 2019, Samsung was the first to launch a foldable phone, but it poisoned the well by rushing to market. The screen of an early review sample of the Galaxy Fold broke down, forcing the South Korean manufacturer to postpone the product. Samsung and others have since released a few more foldable phones, but none have appealed to me.
Google’s market entry is important. Reflecting Apple’s tight control over iPhone design, Google designed both the hardware (including the computing processor) and software that power his Pixel Fold. This means that the device’s software is tuned to work with the device, it has great battery life and blazingly fast performance.
Beyond the big screen, Google has come up with smart reasons for how and why you should use a foldable phone.
First, the Pixel Fold folds diagonally like a laptop, making it a great video player to take anywhere.
When cooking in the kitchen, I played YouTube videos with recipes and folded the device at a 90-degree angle. The top half of the screen showed the video and the bottom half the description listing the ingredients. In some ways, this was better than a tablet that had to have a stand on the countertop to be viewed at the right angle.
What else can foldable do? We ran two apps side by side with the device unfolded. This was useful for reading web pages while typing email.
Google also demoed how its translation app can take advantage of two screens. Consider a situation where you, an English speaker, are trying to communicate with a Chinese speaker. If you speak English into the microphone with the phone unfolded, the other party will see the text translated into Chinese on the phone’s outer screen. When a Chinese speaker responds, you can read the translated text on the inner screen.
This feature won’t be released until the fall, so I wasn’t able to test it. But this is an interesting use case.
After all, this device is packed with advanced technology without major trade-offs, which makes it expensive. In my testing, its camera produced sharp, vibrant images on par with photos taken with Apple’s latest iPhone and Google’s Pixel 7 Pro, his $900 smartphone with a great camera. .
The Pixel Fold’s price tag makes it out of reach for most people, but it was an exciting glimpse into the next step for smartphones. Over the past five years, as cell phone screens have gotten bigger, we’ve voted with our wallets to show that we prefer bigger screens, as long as they’re on a device we can take with us everywhere. Pixel Fold does just that.
I suspect that within a few years, foldable phones will probably come down in price and replace current phones with the ‘pro’ label, occupying the new high end of the market. When that happens, I see a future where myself and many others will switch to foldable devices and tablets will become obsolete.