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Foldable phones are finally becoming mainstream, but they still come with plenty of caveats. You’re not always getting the same level of durability or camera quality that you would on a traditional flagship, and even if you are sold on the concept, your only real option right now is getting a Samsung phone (Microsoft has the Surface Duo 2, but it’s hard to come by these days). The new Google Pixel Fold, the company’s first foray into foldables, could be a solution to both of these problems.

The Pixel Fold claims to have the best camera and thinnest build we’ve seen in a foldable yet, with a design that’s meant to preserve the classic smartphone experience when you’re using it with one hand and an expansive, multitasking-friendly tablet when you have it open. Those are big claims — which, combined with the Fold’s equally big $1,799 price — give Google’s debut foldable a lot to prove. Will it live up to the hype? It’s too early to say, but here are my early impressions after a brief hands-on session.

Google Pixel Fold preorders and availability

Google's first-ever foldable phone promises the thinnest design and best camera experience of a foldable, on top of the company's usual software smarts.

The Google Pixel Fold is available for preorder today (May 10) starting at $1,799, and is set to ship in June. If you preorder from Google, you’ll get a Pixel Watch thrown in for free. The phone will be available in Obsidian and Porcelain variations (basically black and off-white), and Google will be selling an optional Pixel Fold case that comes in Hazel, Porcelain and Bay for some extra protection and customization.

A foldable that’s not meant to feel like one

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The first thing that struck me about the Pixel Fold was how short and wide it is while folded up — it’s more Surface Duo 2 than Galaxy Z Fold 4. Its outer OLED display isn’t as tall as what Samsung offers (it measures 5.8 inches compared to the Z Fold 4’s 7.6 inches), but the slightly wider frame makes it look more like a traditional smartphone and less like the slim candy bar that the Z Fold becomes when it’s closed up.

Google says this is by design, and a direct response to the fact that the outer screens on these types of phones typically aren’t satisfying to use. When I held the phone with one hand, I could see how the Fold could appeal to folks who like a non-gargantuan device that fits comfortably into their palms. But while the Pixel Fold’s outside screen is nice and compact — and while Google claims the edges are the thinnest of any foldable — it still felt very chunky while folded up. Its sandwich-like design was notably bulkier than that of a traditional smartphone, and the large flat panel that comprises the outer hinge on the left wasn’t totally comfortable to grip.

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Opening up the Fold reveals its 7.6-inch inner OLED display, which, in my limited testing, is where Google’s foldable really shines. It’s a decently big canvas for watching movies, surfing the web or multitasking between two apps, the latter of which I found particularly easy to do, thanks to a foldable-optimized version of the clean Android experience you typically get on a Pixel. Opening multiple apps at once was as simple as dragging them to either side of the screen or activating split mode, which allowed me to smoothly scroll through the Underscored home page on one side while browsing YouTube on the other.

The overall software experience was pretty reminiscent of what you get on the Galaxy Z Fold 4 — all the way down to the Windows-esque taskbar at the bottom for easily switching apps — just without Samsung’s custom OneUI skin on top of it all. This could prove to be a big advantage the Pixel Fold has over the Z Fold, as we typically find Samsung’s software to be a little too busy and cluttered with extraneous apps you might not need.

Seriously cool camera and software tricks

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The Pixel Fold’s unique design also allows for some handy camera and multitasking tricks, even if we’ve seen them on other foldables before. When you fold the phone into tabletop mode, you can use the bottom half to control the camera and the top half to preview what you look like — this is perfect if you’re looking to film vlogs or YouTube videos and don’t have a tripod handy. And thanks to that outer display, you can take selfies with the phone’s rear camera, which should result in much clearer Instagram shots or TikTok clips than what you typically get from a front-facing camera.

Google says that the Pixel Fold’s camera setup (which includes a 48-megapixel main shooter with a 10.8-megapixel ultrawide lens and a 10.8-megapixel telephoto for 5x zoom) is the best of any foldable, which is a claim we’ll have to put to the test. But the shots I took in my limited hands-on time looked crisp, and you’ll get all of the unique software perks we already love about the Pixel series — including Magic Eraser for getting unwanted photobombers out of shots and Night Sight for making low-light photos pop with brightness and color.

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These are all features we’ve seen in some form before, but there’s one Google perk that could become revolutionary on the Pixel Fold: Live Translate. This feature has existed on Pixel devices before — simply speak into your phone, and you can automatically have it translated into text (or audio via your Pixel Buds) in a language of your choosing. The Fold’s two-screen design takes this one step further, as you can speak into your phone and have the rear display translate what you’re saying for the other person in real time (and vice versa). This could make it much easier to communicate with someone who speaks a different language, whether you’re ordering a coffee in a foreign country or helping out a visitor with some directions.

All of these smarts are powered by Google’s Tensor G2 processor, which really impressed us on last year’s Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro, thanks to its zippy overall performance. We’re eager to see how it stacks up to rivals like the Z Fold 4 on our intensive benchmark tests, but bouncing from app to app and using multitasking mode felt snappy in my short testing time.

The takeaway

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The Google Pixel Fold has a lot of potential, combining the versatile design of a device like the Galaxy Z Fold 4 with Google’s best-in-class Android experience and unique camera smarts. And while it doesn’t feel like the thinnest foldable (to its credit, the hinge is a bit thinner than Samsung’s when folded up), its compact screen could resonate with folks who want a true one-handed phone that happens to expand into a tablet.

Still, $1,799 — the same price as the Z Fold 4 — is a lot to ask for a smartphone, even one as versatile as what Google is promising here. We consider Samsung’s high-end foldable to be a good investment for power users (for everyone else, the $1,000 Z Flip 4 is our best foldable phone pick), but will the Pixel Fold follow suit? We’ll know for sure soon once we get a unit in for a full review.