The Google Pixel Fold is one of the most eagerly anticipated phones of the year. It’s Samsung’s first real contender for the crown of best foldable phone in the US, and this phone was rumored for years before its debut.
Now that the device is almost here — you can pre-order the Pixel Fold now, and the phone ships in June — and we’ve posted our hands-on Pixel Fold review, many people are wondering why it costs $1,799. After all, Google is known for shelling out the likes of Samsung and Apple hundreds of dollars with their flagship phones. For example, the Pixel 7 Pro costs $899, compared to $1,099 for the iPhone 14 Pro Max, and $1,199 for the Galaxy S23 Ultra.
So why charge the same amount for a Pixel Fold as the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and the Galaxy Z Fold 5 supposed to launch later this summer?
I had the opportunity to sit down with George Hwang, product manager at Google Pixel, during Google I/O 2023, and asked him directly about the pricing strategy for the Pixel Fold and more.
“When we thought about and worked on this phone, we really wanted to make sure we were bringing the best of Google forward,” said Hwang. “So we balanced everything from the design to the camera to the hinge. Our focus was on ensuring we had the best device around.”
Hwang said that the Pixel Fold really “fulfills the promise we wanted and delivers the best foldable phone experience for our users.”
The thinnest, most durable foldable
This experience includes the thinnest design yet on a device that folds when the device is open. It’s a feat that it doesn’t look like Samsung or anyone else will be able to beat anytime soon. It didn’t seem like an easy task.
“We had to rethink how we designed the phone, how we positioned the phone and even all the components,” Hwang said. “So even things from the touch modules, the speakers and especially the camera have to be redesigned from the ground up to ensure we deliver the great user experience you expect from us.”
The key to enabling all of this was the Pixel Fold’s 180-degree fluid friction hinge. And Google claims this is the most durable take on the foldable hinge yet, which means the company had to do a lot of testing to be able to make this kind of announcement.
According to Hwang, it took “dropping a lot of hardware. Working closely with the engineering and reliability teams to be very strict… We really thought about this, making sure that when people buy this, they trust the hardware.”
Better front screen, smart multitasking performance
Another big part of the Pixel Fold’s design is the 5.8-inch front screen. This is 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 both hands. In other words, don’t feel intimidated when writing on the cover screen.
The data was the first thing Google looked at. They have seen that most users unlock their phones 200 times a day. And most of these interactions are very short, like sending a text, changing the song or volume, or setting an alarm. So, with the Pixel Fold, Google wanted to make these interactions as easy as possible.
“We were really focused on bringing the kind of phone-first design here that feels very similar to a phone that I’m sure you have in your pocket,” Hwang said. “And then the benefit of that is actually when you open it up, it gives you a big 7.6-inch screen. That’s really useful 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 easy to run two apps side by side on the larger 7.6-inch screen, which can be discovered right from within the app switcher. Google also offers multiple usage modes, including tabletop mode and tent mode for hands-free video watching or video calling.
Peloton provides a great example of this — you can follow along with a live fitness class from across the room without having to prop up your equipment. And yes, you can pay attention to other things during business meetings.
“The thing I like to do, if I’m on a Google Meet call….is if I’m going to pay attention to a Warriors game, I’ll put the box down with a split screen,” Hwang added.
Why wait 4 years after the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold?
You can probably tell from the Galaxy Z Fold 5 rumors that Samsung is now working on the fifth generation foldable. So why has Google taken so long to enter the foldable phone field?
Part of the reason, Hwang said, is to make sure Google has the right silicon in the right place. The Tensor G2 chip allows Google to do a lot of things other chips may not be able to handle. This includes features like Magic Eraser and Photo Unblur as well as an upcoming live subtitle feature that should take advantage of both the Pixel Fold’s internal and external screens at the same time.
So, the AI capabilities have a lot to do with the timing of the Pixel Fold. But it also makes hardware, software, and apps work together, which honestly sounds like Apple — although a foldable iPhone like the so-called iPhone Flip didn’t appear for at least another year.
“This was a real Google effort,” Huang said. “The things that have to come together to make this and create a device that we’re really proud of and that we want to offer our users, everything from silicon to hardware and all the things we’ve discussed here to Android and making sure it’s optimized to include apps and app partners and things like that.
“So we worked on all these different vectors to kind of put it 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 point right now.”
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