Hands on: The Google Pixel Fold is bad

It's a device that's been rumored for a long time now, and frankly, the Google Pixel Fold is a device that we were all hoping would be good. After all, we've seen four generations of Samsung foldables now, along with plenty of competitors in other markets. With the Pixel Fold launching at I/O and OnePlus poised to launch a foldable in Q3, the US is finally about to get some choice when it comes to foldable smartphones.

The Pixel Fold starts at $1,799, the same price that you'd pay for a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4, one of the best foldable phones on the market. That means that Google wants to go toe-to-toe with a fourth-gen product, using its own first-gen product.

The Pixel Fold isn't as good as a Galaxy Z Fold 4, and it's not because of software

I'd love to change my mind about this product after reviewing it, but as it stands, I don't see why anyone should spend $1,799 on a Pixel Fold. If you watched the Google I/O keynote, you'll have noticed it showed things like touchscreen game controls on the bottom half of the screen, something we've been seeing on foldables for ages.

Google is treating foldable smartphones like a new product category, and it's not that. When I got to go hands-on with the hardware, I have to say that the device itself feels like it's the first in this category, too.

Pixel Fold unfolded lying face down

One of the first things I noticed is that the device doesn't unfold all the way. If you place it face down, you can press down on it and feel that it gives a little. It's really strange.

Because of this, it just doesn't feel right when you're using it while unfolded. The amount it's bent is tiny, but you can still feel that it's just a little off.

Google Pixel Fold (4)-2

This also means that there's a big crease in the display, and while some companies have put a lot of work into minimizing the crease, the Pixel Fold has one of the worst ones.

Again, this feels very much like a first-gen product, and these are things that will undoubtedly be fixed by the time the Pixel Fold 2 ships. But still, the product costs $1,800 and is competing with more mature devices. We can absolutely give Google a pass for making a flawed first-gen product, but that doesn't mean that you should spend money on it.

Close up of corner of Google Pixel Fold

One other thing I didn't like was that it has significantly raised bezels, something I don't think I've ever seen (to this degree, anyway) on a smartphone. This was certainly done on purpose, though, and it's an interesting choice. Devices like the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 have raised bezels around the edges, but these are nearly unsightly in comparison.

Google Pixel Fold (19)-2

Google includes raised bezels so that you can allow the screen to fold flat, allowing for the folded device to be thinner. After all, there needs to be a solution if something gets caught inside there when you close it. Just imagine being at the beach and accidentally closing your phone on a piece of sand.

There's a lot that Google is doing right too

One thing that I loved to see during the Google I/O 2023 keynote was the focus on the Pixel Fold camera. Indeed, the company promised that it's producing the best camera on a foldable, taking a clear shot at Samsung.

The camera on the Galaxy Z Fold 4 is bad, and Samsung does little to make it competitive with its premium traditional phones. It's hard to do, too, because the big and powerful sensors it puts in those phones don't fit in a foldable, which by nature has to be thinner since it's going to fold over on itself.

Google doesn't have that problem, though, because camera hardware has never been its focus. Instead, the Mountain View firm is renowned for its camera software prowess, enabling Google to do more with less capable hardware than its competitors.

Google Pixel Fold (12)-2

Not only does it have a 48MP f/1.7 main sensor and an ultra-wide lens, but it has a 5x telephoto lens with Google promising 20x Super Res Zoom. Samsung offers a 3x zoom lens on its foldable, but it's also not as good at computational zoom as Google is. This is absolutely going to have the best camera on a foldable phone.

Google Pixel Fold (3)-2

Even better is that this is the Pixel experience on a foldable. If you're a One UI hater, this is the device you've been dreaming of. I'm not going to lie and say I didn't run into bugs, but those can get fixed, and frankly, they're to be expected at this point.

Google Pixel Fold (13)-2

I played with the ability to take a selfie with the rear camera, and I had these weird bugs when I tried to swap the display from the inside to the outside and back, but that's fine. As far as the feature itself goes, it's pretty neat. I remember Samsung used to do a rear camera selfie feature too, and it's more or less commonplace these days across the foldable space.

Really, though, I do wonder if it's necessary. There was a time in smartphone history when front cameras were notoriously bad, but things have come a long way since then. The market has evolved to reflect that so many people use front cameras, and quality has improved leaps and bounds over time. Still, it's a neat feature.

This is what a foldable phone should look like

One thing that Google really nailed is just the dimensions and aspect ratios of these screens. And that's something that Samsung has failed miserably at. Using a Galaxy Z Fold device, you have two choices. You can constantly unfold the display to use it, or you can use the external display. The external display is narrow and frankly unpleasant. It doesn't feel like a full smartphone experience, and that's a significant flaw when that's the screen that you're doing the bulk of your tasks on.

Google Pixel Fold (8)-2

The external screen on the Pixel Fold is 5.8 inches at a 17.4:9 aspect ratio, which actually makes it feel like a classic smartphone from back when our devices had 16:9 displays. Alternatively, the Galaxy Z Fold 4 is 6.2 inches at 23.1:9. While that sounds like it's a bigger screen, it's not. Screens are measured diagonally so that a narrow aspect ratio on the Samsung translates to a smaller surface area.

Google Pixel Fold (15)-2

The aspect ratio of the unfolded display is 6:5, so it's still wider than it is tall. Samsung's foldables are still taller than they are wide, and it makes more sense to do it how Google is doing it here.

I want to love the Google Pixel Fold

I love foldable phones. Tablets aren't always practical, so the idea of one device that I can unfold into a larger screen for reading or watching videos is exciting to me. My biggest problem is that I don't want a Samsung phone. I don't care for One UI, and I don't like Samsung cameras, even ones that are higher-end than what you'd find on a Z Fold.

Google Pixel Fold (16)-2

So when we start talking about a foldable with Google software and a Pixel camera, I'm excited at the thought. It's just that, currently, the hardware isn't there.

This is undoubtedly a first-gen product in a market where Google's competition is making a mature product. Sure, I can give Google a pass for the fact that the Pixel Fold doesn't open all the way or that it has a big crease. What I can't do is recommend this product to anyone. I have complete faith that the Pixel Fold 2 is going to be great, and if you're as excited as I am for a Pixel foldable, you should check that out. But as far as this device goes, no one should spend $1,799 on it.

I do have one hope, and that hope revolves around the fact that the Google Pixel Fold doesn't ship for another month. There's still time for Google to fix it before it's broadly available.

Porcelain Google Pixel Fold on transparent background.
Google Pixel Fold

The Google Pixel Fold is a feature-rich device with a compact form factor, flagship hardware, impressive cameras, and a phenomenal software experience.