The Google Pixel Fold sounds like it's come a very left-field idea from a company not known for major hardware innovation. Nevertheless, if the rumor mill is to be believed, that's precisely what Google has in the works — and we could be seeing the Pixel Fold sooner rather than later.
Many rumor mongers have suggested that the Pixel Fold could debut as soon as this year, and they've got the leaks to back up their claims. If true, that means Google would be entering a field that smartphone makers such as Samsung and LG have already lept into. Even Apple is reportedly tinkering with a foldable iPhone, so obviously this is something that interests device makers.
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But will it interest smartphone shoppers, who've yet to really embrace the few foldables that are out there? And is Google the company that's going to make foldable phones more mainstream?
We can't answer those questions now, as specific details about the Pixel Fold are hard to come by. But we can share what we've heard so far about Google's plans for a foldable phone.
Google Pixel Fold release date
Rumors of a Pixel Fold picked up last August when a leaked internal Google document surfaced that revealed the company's 2021 smartphone release plans. There were the expected entries, like a Pixel 5a and a pair of code-named phones we assume are the Pixel 6 and a possible XL variant. But the document specifically mentioned a foldable Pixel device with a 2021 release date.
Well, it's 2021, and if anything, Google watchers expect the company to stick to its unofficial plans. Leaker Jon Prosser, who confirmed that the Pixel Fold is a "real thing," said in a tweet that he's expecting a late 2021/early 2022 launch. Display analyst Ross Young also thinks that a fourth-quarter launch for the Pixel Fold is likely.
Google traditionally holds a Pixel launch event around October when it shows off its new flagship phone. It would be easy to imagine a Pixel 6 sharing the stage with a foldable device this fall, if the Pixel Fold were ready in time.
Google Pixel Fold price
While everyone seems to be pinpointing a late 2021 launch for the Pixel Fold, there's less certainty on how much the device would cost. In fact, we've heard next to no chatter about a potential Pixel Fold price.
That leaves us to look at what other phone makers are charging for their foldables to get a sense of the direction Google might go in. Right now, Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 2 is the most expensive foldable you can get, costing $1,999. Flip phones like the Galaxy Z Flip or Motorola Razr 5G are a little more affordable at $1,199 and $1,399, respectively — affordable being a relative term in this case.
The least expensive foldables aren't really foldables. LG offers the LG Wing for $999, but that's really a multi-screen device, where the second displays swivels into place. Still, with Google traditionally pricing its flagship phones for less than what rival devices charge, we could see the Pixel Fold's Price being a lot closer to the $1,000 mark than the Galaxy Z Fold 2's astronomical price.
Google Pixel Fold design
Any details about Google's design plans for the Pixel Fold come from multiple patent filings the company has made for foldable devices. One such patent shows a device that opens on a hinge to reveal a larger screen, with the ability to slide out an additional display for added screen real estate. Another patent intriguingly teases a foldable that could fold in three places.
We don't know if these designs are anywhere close to reality — that's the drawback to relying on patents, which may cover products that never see the light of day. However, from the designs being teased in these filings, it seems that whatever Google has in the works has more in common with the Galaxy Z Fold 2 and the way the smartphone-sized device unfolds to reveal a larger display.
Adding fuel to that speculation is a report that Google has struck a deal with Samsung to get its hands on foldable OLED panels. (Samsung's a leading display maker and actually supplies the screens found on many phone built by its rivals, including Apple.) The report claims that Google has ordered 7.6-inch panels, which just happens to be the rumored size of the upcoming Galaxy Z Fold 3's internal display. That Z Fold follow-up from Samsung is expected later this year.
Adding further fuel to the Pixle Fold fire, YouTuber Waqar Khan has shown off a conceptual Pixel Fold from all angles in a new video.
Based on the design of the Pixel 5, the Pixel Fold looks familiar with the same camera array on the back and a similar-looking texture. The display folds inward, much like the Galaxy Z Fold 2, with an external display in the regular phone mode.
It looks a bit chunky in these renders. But considering that the Pixel Fold would be Google's first foray into foldables, that's not too surprising. It may not be as elegant or svelte as the upcoming Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3, but Google is not usually at the forefront of pushing the latest and greatest when it comes to hardware.
Google Pixel Fold specs and cameras
If we know very little about what the Pixel Fold might look like, we have even less idea about the foldable phone's specs. However, given the fact that past Pixel devices have been mainstays among the best camera phones, we'd expect the Pixel Fold to follow suit and put an emphasis on cameras.
That doesn't necessarily mean a lot of lenses on the Pixel Fold. Google has traditionally shied away from adding multiple cameras — the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a 5G only feature a main lens and an ultrawide shooter along with a front-facing camera. Depending on the Pixel Fold's design, Google could add more cameras, but the company seems to favor a less-is-more approach, instead choosing to focus on offering the best post-processing software for producing better photos.
As for the processor powering the Pixel Fold, Google has a number of different options. Current foldables rely on some of the most powerful processors available — the Galaxy Z Fold uses a Snapdragon 865 Plus, which was Qualcomm's best chipset at the time it released. But more powerful mobile processing platforms can drive up the cost of a phone, so you'd expect a Pixel Fold with a Snapdragon 888 system-on-chip to be on the expensive side.
In its recent flagship, Google opted for more modest processors, turning to a Snapdragon 765G for the Pixel 5. The company could go a similar route with the Pixel Fold, opting for something with less oomph than the Snapdragon 888. Of course, that can backfire — one of the biggest complaints about the original Motorola Razr was the fact that it used a Snapdragon 710 instead of a beefier chipset.
Google Pixel Fold software
Google's not exactly a stranger when it comes to foldable devices even though the Pixel Fold would be the first one it's built on its own. The company has worked closely with Samsung to optimize its own apps for foldable screens. And one of the many features introduced in Android 11 is better support for foldable devices, allowing app makers to adjust how their software performs depending on the position of a phone's hinge. (We've seen an aspect of this with Flex Mode on Samsung's foldable phones, where the screen is split between a viewing area and a control area for everything from video chat to taking photos.)
The ability to build more foldable-friendly features into Android and then optimize them on a Google-built phone probably explains Google's interest in developing a Pixel Fold. So we imagine that as more info comes out about both the phone and the upcoming Android 12 release, we'll hear a lot about potential software features aimed at multitasking and making the most of the unique design of foldable devices.
Google Pixel Fold outlook
We're still waiting for more information about what Google's cooking up with the Pixel Fold. But that's not stopping us from already coming up with a wishlist of capabilities we'd like to see. Our biggest needs skew toward the software side — no one's better positioned than Google to develop software features ideally suited for folding screens, and we're especially intrigued to see if the Pixel Fold's form factor opens up new possibilities for photography.
Finding the proper balance between performance and price will be key for Google. No one's going to want an underpowered phone — foldable screen or not — but few people have been willing to pay up for a foldable device thus far. Perhaps Google can find the right mix to make devices like the rumored Pixel Fold more mainstream.