I don’t care about the bezels. Let me get that part of Google’s new $1,799 Pixel Fold out of the way. They’re fine. And I’m definitely on board with the squat form factor: Feeling like a notepad in the hand when closed, this phone/tablet hybrid seems like a much better solution than Samsung’s tall boy.
The Galaxy Fold 4 is too narrow for people with large hands, and when opened the square inner screen leaves large black bars when watching videos. In his hands-on Pixel Fold, my colleague Dan Seifert found Google’s wider aspect ratio felt more natural for multitasking – and it should make for a better entertainment device too.
There’s actually a lot of promise about the Pixel Fold. I’m not worried about the software or cameras. It might not offer the same size sensor as the 7 and 7 Pro, but I still rely more on Google’s computational photography to get shots on the first try than phones from any other manufacturer. I’ve come to love Android’s colorful Material You UX, and I think we’ll continue to see developers release apps optimized for foldable devices.
But I do have some issues with this $1,800 gadget, and they boil down to performance, reliability, and customer service. At this point, all three remain total unknowns.
Google’s Tensor chips aren’t the most efficient and can get hot
Google’s own-brand processors routinely trail Qualcomm and Apple in benchmarks – sometimes by a significant margin – but they’re more than powerful enough to provide a smooth day-to-day smartphone experience. It seems that’s all Google ever really wanted. They are perfectly suitable.
Except for those times when they aren’t.
As someone who’s owned a Pixel 6, Pixel 6A, and most recently a Pixel 7, I can confirm that both the Tensor G1 and G2 tend to get hot. Not always. Some days are better than others. But when things get too hot, the Pixel phones often turn off features like 4K video recording or even something as simple as a camera flash. Do you use your device while it’s plugged in? Expect slow charging speeds if the battery percentage rises at all. The Pixel 7 hasn’t gotten nearly as hot as the 6 Series in my experience so far. Then again, these phones haven’t even made it through their first summer: the Pixel Fold is coming just as temperatures are rising in the US.
If you look around the highly active Pixel subreddit and other social media, similar reports are not uncommon. With Tensor G2, Google overcame the woeful mobile reception challenges some Pixel 6 and 6 Pro owners faced. But the simple truth is that these chips aren’t as efficient as Qualcomm’s latest and greatest.
When the Galaxy Fold 5 is released this summer, likely powered by a variant of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, we could see a significant gap between it and the Pixel Fold when it comes to thermal performance. A cooler processor tends to result in better battery life. And the Fold’s battery estimates already seem pretty optimistic when you consider that it packs two 120Hz displays that can get really bright.
Tensor’s quirks, usually attributed to the Exynos DNA, are somewhat excusable with phones costing between $400 and $900. But if a $1,800 foldable device overheats and disables software functions during normal summer activities, people will lose it.
If there’s one core element of the Pixel Fold that gives me pause, it’s the silicon. I’m trying hard to believe that Google has thought this all through, made some cool tweaks for this form factor, and it’s not going to be A Thing. We will find out at the end of June.
How do you fix this thing?
I’m quick to admit that those of us who live in or near New York City are downright spoiled for choice when it comes to easy solutions to our tech dilemmas. There are plenty of Apple stores within a few miles radius, the only two Google Store locations are located here, and Samsung 837 can do quick scheduled repairs, even for its foldables, replacing screen protectors – yes, the Pixel Fold has one – and other hardware issues.
But there will be plenty of Pixel Fold buyers who live far from this city, San Francisco, or any major metro hub. And their repair options for the Pixel Fold are very unproven at this point. Samsung may not have the same extensive retail presence as Apple, but at least it partners with Best Buy for authorized repairs.
In the past, Google partnered with uBreakiFix, owned by Asurion, for its extended warranty plan. That same scheme appears to continue with the Pixel Fold, with coverage at $15 a month or $279 for two years of coverage (including accidental damage).
Now I’m not exactly a champion of the Genius Bar or Geek Squad, but reviews for uBreakiFix tend to be mixed, and if you want the best experience, one pro tip I picked up is to make sure you pay a visit to a business Asurion location.
If you’re curious, here’s what Google says about repair call service charges:
For Pixel Fold, Pixel 7a, the service charge for walk-in screen repairs is $29. For Pixel 7, Pixel 7 Pro, Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, and Pixel 6a, the service charge for walk-in screen repairs is $29*, while the service charge for other repairs is $29*. or replacements (including mechanical/electrical defects and all other accidental damage) is $49 for Pixel Tablet, $49 for Pixel 7a, $129 for Pixel Fold, $49 for Pixel 6a, $79 for Pixel 7, $99 for Pixel 7 Pro, $99 for Pixel 6 and $149 for Pixel 6 Pro.
uBreakiFix says “most” repairs can be completed in under 45 minutes. But since the Pixel Fold still hasn’t been released, we don’t know if that applies to Google’s foldable. Only certain locations have the right parts and tools? Will Google’s default response be to send customers a new Fold, which is likely required another $1,800 held on a credit card?
For the money it’s asking, I hope Google will do well with Pixel Fold customers and focus on top-notch service. But the company has not yet built such a reputation. And given that the regular phones with plates continue to have problems – such as the camera glass randomly shattering on some Pixel 7 and 7 Pro units – a lot depends on how the Fold performs in terms of hardware reliability. If you spend more than $2,000 on a phone after tax, you deserve some serious white-glove treatment.
I still can’t wait to try one
Again, because of its design, streamlined software and surefire camera, the Pixel Fold immediately appeals to me more than Samsung’s Galaxy Fold. Want to give Google’s first foldable a spin? Definitely. I’m curious to see how other aspects of the hardware, such as the speakers and haptics, will shake out.
But I’m also lucky enough to update The edge, where I can spend time handling a Pixel Fold without parting with $1,800 of my own money. As it stands, and as tempting as the whole package looks, I don’t think I’d be able to hit the pre-order button if I didn’t. Perhaps that pause will disappear when the first reviews appear, and we can confidently take another step into the foldable future.