The Google Pixel Fold is easily one of the most eagerly anticipated phones of the year. It's the first true competitor for Samsung for the best foldable phones crown in the U.S. And this phone was also rumored for years before its debut.
Now that the device is almost here — you can preorder the Pixel Fold now, and the phone ships in June — and we've posted our Pixel Fold hands-on review, a lot of people are wondering why it costs $1,799. After all, Google is known for undercutting the likes of Samsung and Apple by hundreds of dollars with their flagship phones. For example, the Pixel 7 Pro costs $899 vs. $1,099 for the iPhone 14 Pro Max and $1,199 for the Galaxy S23 Ultra.
So why charge the same amount for the Pixel Fold as the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and presumably the Galaxy Z Fold 5 launching later this summer?
I had a chance to sit down with George Hwang, product manager for Google Pixel, during Google I/O 2023, and I asked him directly about the pricing strategy for the Pixel Fold and a lot more.
"When we thought about this phone and we worked on it, we really wanted to make sure we brought the best of Google forward," said Hwang. "And so we balanced everything from the design to the camera to the hinge. Our focus was on ensuring that we brought the best device all around."
Hwang said that the Pixel Fold really "delivers on the promise that we wanted to and bring the greatest experience for a foldable phone to our users."
Thinnest, most durable foldable
That experience includes a design that's the thinnest yet on a foldable when the device is open. It's a feat that doesn't seem like Samsung or anyone else will be able to beat anytime soon. And it doesn't sound like it was an easy task.
"We had to rethink how we architected a phone, how we laid out a phone and even all the components," Hwang said. "So even things from like the haptics modules, the speakers and particularly the camera had to be all redesigned from the ground up to really ensure that we brought the great user experience that you would expect from us."
The key to enabling all this was the Pixel Fold's 180-degree, fluid friction hinge. And Google claims that this is the most durable hinge on a foldable yet, which means the company had to do a lot of testing so that it could make that sort of proclamation.
According to Hwang, it took "a lot of devices being dropped. Working closely with the engineering and the reliability teams to be quite rigorous... We were really thoughtful about this, making sure that when people buy this, they have confidence in the device."
Better front display, smart multitasking
Another big part of the Pixel Fold's design is its 5.8-inch front display. That' smaller than what you'll find on the Galaxy Z Fold series but the Fold's cover screen is wider, which means it's easier to use with two hands. in other words, it doesn't feel claustrophobic when you type on the cover display.
The first thing Google looked at was the data. They saw that most users unlock their phones 200 times per day. And most of those interactions are quite short, such as sending a text or changing the song or volume or setting an alarm. So with the Pixel Fold Google wanted to make those interactions as easy as possible.
"We really focused on giving a phone-first type of design here that's very similar to the phone that I'm sure you have in your pocket," said Hwang. "And then the benefit of that is actually when you unfold it, it gives you a large 7.6-inch display. That's really beneficial for things like media consumption as well as multitasking, which are key use cases if you think about how people use things like tablets."
From a multitasking perspective, Google deserves credit for making it simple to run two apps side by side on the larger 7.6-inch display, which is discoverable right from within the app switcher. And Google delivers multiple usage modes as well, including tabletop mode and a tent mode for watching video or holding video calls hands-free.
Peloton offers a great example of this — you can follow along with a live fitness class from across the room without having to prop up your devices. And, yes, you can pay attention to other stuff during work meetings.
"The thing that I like to do, if you're on a Google Meet call....is if I'm going to pay attention to the Warriors game, I'll have the box go on the bottom using a split screen," Hwang added.
Why wait 4 years after Samsung Galaxy Z Fold?
You can probably tell by the Galaxy Z Fold 5 rumors that Samsung is now on to its fifth-generation foldable. So why did it take so long for Google to enter the foldable phone arena?
Hwang said part of the reason was to make sure Google had the right silicon in place. The Tensor G2 chip lets Google do a lot of things other chipsets might not be able to handle. This includes features like Magic Eraser and Photo Unblur as well as an upcoming live translation feature that will leverage both the internal and external Pixel Fold displays at the same time.
So, AI capabilities had a lot to do with the timing of the Pixel Fold. But it's also getting the hardware, software and apps to work together, which honestly sounds very Apple like — even though a foldable iPhone like the so-called iPhone Flip isn't rumored to appear for at least another year.
"This has been a real cross-Google effort," said Hwang. "The things that had to come together to make this and make a device that we're really proud about and want to bring to our users, everything from the silicon to the hardware and all the things that we discussed here to Android and making sure that it's optimized across to the apps and the app partners and things like that.
"So we worked on all those different vectors to kind of bring it all together. And we weren't happy until we could actually do it to the level that we wanted to do it. And we feel like we're at that stage right now."