Google Pixel Fold leak tips worse cameras than Pixel 6

pixel fold concept
(Image credit: Waqar Khan)

The Google Pixel 6 and Google Pixel 6 Pro are both among the best camera phones, but it seems that Google will be taking a step backwards for the rumored Pixel Fold.

Digging into the code of the Google Camera app, 9to5Google has found evidence that the upcoming foldable’s main camera will use the same IXM363 sensor that Google used in its phones from 2018’s Pixel 3 to 2020’s Pixel 5. If correct, that’s a 12.2MP sensor — a big step down from the 50MP GN1 camera found in the new Pixel 6 line.

But it’s not a complete backwards step. 9to5gGoogle’s code investigation also found that the Pixel Fold will likely include the same 12MP IMX386 ultrawide sensor as the new Pixels. And it’s also tipped to come with two front-facing 8MP IMX355 sensors — which makes sense, as you’d want a selfie camera for both folded and unfolded states.

If true, Google’s apparent retreat to a three-year-old main camera sensor might be a practical decision, as the Pixel 6’s camera bar would make a bulky foldable even more bulky. Alternatively, it may be a cost-saving decision: foldables are already expensive, so any opportunity to save would be welcome. Google can arguably get away with this more than any other company: even older Pixel phones punch above their weight in the photographic stakes, thanks to its best-in-class image processing. 

And it’s not like Google would be the first company to hold back on top-end cameras for its foldables, either. The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 has weaker camera specs than the Galaxy S21 flagships, but commands a considerably higher price overall. 

The trick is ensuring that the other specifications go some way to justifying the high cost of entry for foldables. Samsung has generally managed this, but Motorola missed the mark with its 2019 revival of the Razr, which sold for $1,500, despite using the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 processor found in phones that cost a fraction of the price — like Google’s own $399 Pixel 3a.  

It seems unlikely Google would make that mistake. Now that the company is making its own Tensor chips, you’d imagine the Pixel Fold will be the next destination for Google's silicon, and the chip is very much holding up well against the competition.

While previous reports had indicated that the Pixel Fold could be one of a number of 2021 foldables, it appears that we’re now looking at a 2022 release date. The fact that we didn’t even get a teaser of Google’s foldable future at the Pixel 6 event pretty much confirms that the company’s mobile ambitions for the year are done, and 9to5Google’s code analysis found references labelled “isPixel2022Foldable”.  

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.