The much-rumored Google Pixel Fold, which would be the search giant's first foldable phone, had been tipped to arrive this year. But right now, we may be lucky if the device even shows up at all.
While some people had anticipated the Pixel Fold showing up alongside the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro in October and others were looking at a 2022 launch date, a new report suggests Google may have pulled the plug on its foldable plans.
We were hoping to see Google take on the best foldable phones with the Pixel Fold. After all, foldable phones are a growing segment of the market with Samsung leading the way with innovative new devices. Imagine what Google could do, given that it could tweak the Android software to really take advantage of foldable designs.
But without any firm rumors about the Google Pixel Fold — other than talk of a huge 7.6-inch display — we have to resume that the product is definitely on hold. Here's what we've heard so far about Google's plans for a foldable phone.
Google Pixel Fold latest news (Updated November 15)
- A report claims that Google no longer plans to launch the Pixel Fold.
- A Pixel Fold leak suggests it would have a surprisingly out-of-date main camera, along with a pair of front-facing sensors.
Google Pixel Fold rumored release date
Rumors around the Google Pixel Fold release date have been bubbling away. However, with the Pixel 6 a no-show at the Google Pixel 6 event, 2021 is no longer a viable launch date despite multiple claims from several different leakers.
A Google advert on YouTube promoting the way Google apps work with Samsung's latest foldable phones, offered some hint that Google was paying attention to foldables. In October, Google unveiled Android 12L, a "feature drop" for its phone software aimed at devices with big screens. That includes Chromebooks, tablets... and foldable devices. Google expects to release Android 12L early next year, which could have been a further hint on when a theoretical Pixel Fold would show up.
But Display Supply Chain Consultants is throwing cold water on the Pixel Fold rumors, in a report that claims Google is backing away from the project. Based on comments from Google suppliers, the company is worried that the foldable phone segment is too small to justify the expense of a new phone release.
Google Pixel Fold price
If you think the Pixel Fold's launch is up in the air, there's even 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 3 is the most expensive foldable you can get, costing $1,799. Flip phones like the new Galaxy Z Flip 3 or Motorola Razr 5G are a little more affordable at $999 and $1,399, respectively — affordable being a relative term in this case.
The Galaxy Z Fold 3 costs $200 less than its predecessor, so Google will certainly want to be on par or below Samsung's latest offerings.
Google Pixel Fold design
Any details about Google's design plans for the Pixel Fold largely 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 3 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 original report claims that Google has ordered 7.6-inch panels, which just happens to be the size of the upcoming Galaxy Z Fold 3's internal display.
Another report from The Elec backs up the claim that the Google Pixel Fold will feature a 7.6-inch display.
In addition, Samsung will reportedly supply Google with its ultra thin glass layer, which has been a crucial component in making Samsung's own foldables more durable. The display will supposedly also use LTPO technology, meaning that it can scale up to 120Hz.
Designer Waqar Khan has floated several different concept designs for the Pixel Fold, with the latest Pixel Fold design drawing on both the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and the Pixel 6 for inspiration. Khan's concept design features an external display that opens up to reveal the larger screen, just like the fold. Meanwhile, the camera array on the back of the phone stretches horizontally — a design Google ended up using for the Pixel 6.
Google Pixel Fold specs and cameras
Given the fact that past Pixel devices have been mainstays among the best camera phones, we'd expect any Pixel Fold that ultimately ships to follow suit and put an emphasis on cameras.
That doesn't necessarily mean a lot of lenses on the Pixel Fold. Before the Pixel 6 Pro arrived, Google 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.
The only rumor we've got to go on right now is that there would be only a single 12MP rear camera on the Pixel Fold, and two front-facing 8MP ones according to data found in the Google Camera app. The single 12MP sensor, apparently the same one used in the Google Pixel 3, is disappointing considering the rival Galaxy Z Fold 3 has three rear cameras. However with its software powers, Google may still ensure the Pixel Fold takes the best photos of any foldable.
As for those two front-facing cameras, it's not clear how they're arranged. The obvious answer would be to have one on the front with an exterior display and another inside on the main unfolded display. However if there's only a single display on the Pixel Fold, perhaps the two cameras act as a main/ultrawide pair.
As for the processor powering the Pixel Fold, Google has a number of different options it could use. Current foldables rely on some of the most powerful processors available — the Galaxy Z Fold 2 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 — or a Snapdraong 898 if the Pixel Fold comes out later in 2022 — 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.
The latest rumors about the Pixel Fold suggest it could use Google's new Tensor chipset, which is the same silicon that powers the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. This makes sense for several reasons, and if true it would give the Fold advantages including enhanced AI and machine learning. And as our Pixel 6 benchmark testing found, the Tensor chip more or less matches the performance numbers of a Snapdragon 888-powered device.
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.
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.
That's where Android 12L comes in. An extension of Android 12, this update brings features aimed at foldable phones to Google's software. Specifically, you can expect devices running Android 12L to offer an interface that takes better advantage of the vast screen real estate that's available. There will be support for additional multitasking options like multi-window and a taskbar, too.
Google Pixel Fold outlook
Given the latest rumor about the Pixel Fold's status — that Google is dropping its foldable phone effort — we could be in for a longer than expected wait for more information. Perhaps the arrival of Android 12L will bring greater clarity, and it could well be that the DSCC report is wrong and Google surprises us with a Pixel Fold after all.
Should that happen, we've got 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. While the Pixel Fold's future is in doubt at this point, we hope more details emerge that suggest a Google foldable could still see the light of day.