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2 weeks with the Google Pixel Fold made me glad I didn’t buy it

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

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This story is part of our Samsung Galaxy Unpacked 2023 coverage

Some of what you’re about to read is going to make it sound like I hate the Google Pixel Fold, but this is not the case. I’ve spent about two weeks with the phone, and there are multiple elements I really like (and even love). However, this is an $1,800 smartphone, and when something costs that much, it needs to come close to being exactly right — especially when there is a really fantastic competing product selling for the same price.

Contents

  • My most controversial opinion on the Pixel Fold
  • Now I’m going to be contrary
  • Why doesn’t it fold flat?
  • Yes, the camera is very good
  • Do I regret not buying the Google Pixel Fold?

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By the end of my time with the Pixel Fold, I had reached a surprising, but very happy conclusion.

My most controversial opinion on the Pixel Fold

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

It has only been a short time since I used the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5, but coming almost immediately to the Pixel Fold taught me one thing: The Z Fold 5’s tall, thin shape is more hand-friendly than the shorter and wider style of a folding phone. I had that feeling when I used the Z Fold 5 for my review, but the Pixel Fold really solidified the thought in my mind.

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Why? It’s all about holding the phone. Closed, the Galaxy Z Fold 5 is more comfortable to use because my hand can close around it, meaning my thumb can reach the most sensibly placed buttons without having to use two hands. This is much harder to do with the Pixel Fold, as my hand doesn’t get close to reaching around it.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The issue is exacerbated by the Google Pixel Fold’s weight. It’s 283 grams ocompared to the Z Fold 5’s 253 grams, and fatigue sets in far earlier when you’re holding it. The Pixel Fold may be ever so slightly thinner than the Z Fold 5, but any advantage is negated by the additional 15mm width and 30 grams of extra weight. The no-gap fold and tall, thin shape of the Z Fold 5 make it ergonomically superior to the Pixel Fold.

Not everyone will agree with this, with some seeing the more traditional phone width of the Pixel Fold as being the ideal foldable format, but it really isn’t the case. Does this mean I think the Z Fold 5 is ideal? No, as I’m about to explain.

Now I’m going to be contrary

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Watching video on the partially open Google Pixel Fold is better than it is on the Galaxy Z Fold 5, and a lot of it is due to the wider, shorter style. Annoying, right? It’s uncomfortable to use when closed, but better when you want to watch videos with the phone acting like its own stand. What’s more, Google has implemented its own “Flex Mode,” where video controls show on the lower half of the screen, not unlike what you get on foldable Samsung phones. Except this works better on the Pixel Fold than on the Z Fold 5.

Partially folded, the Pixel Fold is more stable than the Z Fold 5 too, and because the viewing area isn’t as compacted as the Samsung phone’s, it’s a more inviting viewing experience, and I’ve watched for far longer on the Pixel than on the Z Fold 5. Not only are the on-screen controls expertly laid out, but the physical volume controls are sensibly placed on the top edge of the device, unlike on the Honor Magic Vs.

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

I’m not much of a mobile gamer, but playing Pocket City on both big folding phones has been great. You have to rotate the Pixel Fold to view the game full-screen when the phone is open (if you don’t, it looks like a standard screen mobile app), and along with watching videos, it’s this kind of experience that makes me love big-screen folding smartphones. Whichever you buy, video and games are more fun and more involving than on a non-folding phone, and you’ll have to be careful as both these devices will make you play and watch more.

Why doesn’t it fold flat?

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Every single time I open the Pixel Fold, I wonder why it doesn’t fold flat. It’s close, but like the Honor Magic Vs, the hinge seems to give up a few degrees before it gets there. It doesn’t particularly affect the use, but it does look and feel a bit odd. I don’t like the way it makes me try to flatten it out, which probably isn’t all that good for the hinge, and even when I do put some pressure on it, the phone still doesn’t get completely flat.

The problem is the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 does open completely flat, and it looks and feels fantastic when it does. This is the worst part of the Google Pixel Fold’s hinge, though, as it’s entirely silent, the motion is smooth and linear, and it has a very secure magnetic locking system when it snaps shut. The rounded chassis makes it easy to open once you have the knack, which is to hold the top and bottom of the closed phone and pull it apart. Otherwise, the pull of the magnets is a little too strong to comfortably pry the sections free.


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A person holding the Google Pixel Fold showing the hinge.Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

A person holding the Google Pixel Fold showing the top of the closed phone.Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

A person holding the Google Pixel Fold showing the buttons.Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Once the Pixel Fold is open, I’m greeted by a very wide, very noticeable frame around the screen. Yes, it helps you hold the phone without touching the display, but it’s really unattractive. Combined with the way the phone doesn’t fold completely flat, it all feels a bit first generation.

It’s somewhat understandable, as it is a first-generation folding product from Google, but there’s currently no reason to put up with it as a consumer when the Galaxy Z Fold 5 exists — and is superior.

Yes, the camera is very good

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The camera on the Pixel Fold is excellent, and I love how reliable it is. Regardless of which camera I use — the main, wide-angle, 2x or 5x zoom — the photos it takes are colorful, punchy, and detailed. I can take it out of my pocket, ready to take a photo and be assured the result will be good. If it’s not quite right, the excellent editing suite in the Google Photos app should be able to fix it.

I haven’t been able to directly compare the Pixel Fold against the Galaxy Z Fold 5, but have taken shots with it against the Apple iPhone 14 Pro. The iPhone continues to struggle with exposure, white balance, and contrast levels, which isn’t an issue for the Pixel Fold, highlighting Google’s computational expertise and how well it assesses a scene. You can see examples of the two in the gallery below, along with other photos taken with the Pixel Fold.


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A photo taken with the Google Pixel Fold's main camera.Google Pixel Fold main camera Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

A wide-angle photo taken with the Google Pixel Fold.Google Pixel Fold Wide-angle Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

A photo taken with the Google Pixel Fold's main camera.Google Pixel Fold main camera Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

A photo taken with the Google Pixel Fold's main camera in Portrait mode.Google Pixel Fold Portrait mode Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

A photo taken with the Google Pixel Fold's main camera.Google Pixel Fold main camera Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

A photo taken with the Google Pixel Fold's 5x zoom camera.Google Pixel Fold 5x zoom Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

A photo taken with the Google Pixel Fold's 2x zoom camera.Google Pixel Fold 2x zoom Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

A photo taken with the Google Pixel Fold's main camera.Google Pixel Fold main camera Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

A photo taken with the iPhone 14 Pro's main camera.Apple iPhone 14 Pro main camera Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

A photo taken with the Google Pixel Fold's main camera.Google Pixel Fold main camera Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

A photo taken with the iPhone 14 Pro's main camera.Apple iPhone 14 Pro main camera Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Samsung has improved the Galaxy Z Fold 5’s camera, but mostly when you take 3x zoom photos, with the rest being quite similar to the Galaxy Z Fold 4. I never felt I could rely on it in the same way as the Pixel Fold. Whether it’s the Google Pixel 7a or the Pixel Fold, Google’s cameras just haven’t disappointed this year. It’s definitely the best camera I’ve used on a folding smartphone too.

Do I regret not buying the Google Pixel Fold?

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

I bought the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 instead of upgrading to the Galaxy Z Fold 5 this year, so has using the Pixel Fold made me wish I bought it instead? No, I still think the Z Flip 5 is the current folding smartphone for me. The Pixel Fold doesn’t improve over the Z Fold 5 in a meaningful way. If anything, it mostly just introduces different issues of its own that still put me off. Only the camera would push me toward it.

However, as I said at the start, I don’t hate the Pixel Fold. Using it has shown me the big-screen smartphone is still a work in progress, and there’s no single, one-size-fits-all design solution yet. Tall and thin, short and wide, or even inward or outward folding screens all have their advantages and disadvantages. This could change as the technology and designs are refined, but I almost don’t want it to. I prefer seeing alternatives, as it’s clear one simply won’t fit into everyone’s life.

My conclusion? For now, there’s a genuine, realistic choice for everyone in big-screen foldables, and there’s really no right or wrong one to buy. What a great position to be in.

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