The Google Pixel 5 is one of the best smartphones you can buy today, but it’s also one of the most boring. You’ll snap one up because the camera is amazing and the Android software is guaranteed to receive version updates for at least three years, then grimace as you realize it looks and feels like a very ordinary phone from 2017.

This has been a dilemma for a while, but rumors gathering about a Google Pixel Fold coming this year have got me more excited about a new Google phone than ever before. A folding smartphone with a Pixel camera, and Pixel software? That’s more like it, and a device like this has the potential to turn Google into a hardware innovator and transform the Pixel from dull into delightful.

Folding smartphones are exciting

If you’ve not had the chance to use a folding smartphone, try to do so soon. It doesn’t matter which one, because they all have the same main advantage: A bigger screen for better multitasking, lovely video, and fun games, that folds down into a smaller, more convenient size. Live with a folding smartphone for a while and other benefits become apparent too, from editing photos in detail, to looking at the huge viewfinder screen when taking photos.

Galaxy Z Fold 2
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends

Folding smartphones really can be transformative, but let’s not skirt around the best thing about them: They look really, really cool. It’s absurdly satisfying to fold and unfold these devices, and each time you do it feels like you’re living a little bit further in the future than your non-folding-phone-holding friends. They’re fun, tactile, and engaging, and you really only get what they’re all about when you actually use one yourself.

When you use the Pixel 5, you start by putting your finger on the fingerprint sensor, which is located on the back of the phone — tech you don’t see on high-end phones today. It’s like going from the instant-on brightness of an OLED TV to the flicker of a CRT TV screen slowly warming up as it comes to life. This is a phone where the standout design feature is the different color power button. A design icon it isn’t, then. Even the modest screen size makes it look aged and low-tech next to most modern, high-end smartphones.

Although I mock the Pixel 5 (all Pixel phones, really, as they suffer in the same way) for being dreary, Google’s love of an understated design won’t matter at all if the phone folds. In fact, it’ll be a positive. A folding smartphone is all about the folding screen, and doesn’t need wild design elements taking anything away from it. Folding smartphones are new and take some getting used to, so a friendly design is very welcome. A power key in a different color could be seen as a bold styling decision on a folding smartphone, so it’s right up Google’s alley. Simply, Google’s conservative approach to design is the perfect match for a desirable folding smartphone.

Doing things the Google way

While doing some things on a folding smartphone is often faster and more convenient than on a phone with a smaller screen, it’s not always the case. The process of folding and unfolding brings many challenges on the software front, and not every app plays nicely with the hardware. It’s better these days than it was at the start, but there’s clearly work still to be done.

Google is uniquely positioned to seamlessly make the transition from small phone screen to folding screen, and its software update policy is a huge win for anyone taking the plunge and buying one. Google first publicly talked about exploring folding technology on phones during Google I/O 2019, but it was at Google I/O 2021 where it made its intentions far more clear.

“Users are seeing more value in larger screens, and the benefits of doing more with a single device,” Google developer relations engineer Oscar Wahltinez wrote in a blog post about what’s new in foldables. The piece goes on to explain how developers can use adaptive layouts so apps work across multiple large screen devices, and other essential tools for making folding smartphones more suitable for everyone, every day. It’s actively encouraging developers to get their apps ready, and this is really important to us living with these phones long-term.

It’s not just the direct link to the developer community where Google has an advantage. It’s also intimately familiar with how other companies have approached folding smartphones already. It has worked with Samsung on the Galaxy Fold series, Microsoft on the Surface Duo, and collaborated with Huawei on the original Mate X, giving it great insight into what works, what doesn’t, and where improvements need to come.

This means Google has the chance to produce a foldable smartphone with software that’s more mature than its competitors. What’s more, because Pixel devices get future versions of Android immediately, you’ll see any improvements made to it straight away rather than waiting for them to filter down into Android on a Samsung or other manufacturer’s device. This is really essential on cutting-edge hardware like a foldable, which the interface will evolve at a faster rate than a normal smartphone’s.

We know the camera will be good, let’s hope the price is too

A Google Pixel phone with a rubbish camera seems as unlikely as a Pixel phone with a jazzed-up design, so let’s assume any future Pixel Fold will also take stellar photos. The biggest unknown about any folding smartphone, and the largest barrier to anyone actually buying one, is the high price. This is new, complex, expensive tech, and it won’t be cheap for a while yet.

Galaxy Fold

The Galaxy Z Fold 2 costs $1,800, and the Galaxy Z Flip is $1,200, while the Microsoft Surface Duo was $1,400 at launch. Google has always priced most of its hardware competitively, with the Nexus phones being particularly inexpensive, and the Pixel 4a being exceptionally good value today. If you’re hoping for a cheap Pixel Fold, that’s probably not going to happen, but if it costs a bit less than the direct competition, it’ll be a win.

Let’s just recap. As a product the Pixel Fold, should it exist, will benefit from Google’s love of a minimalist design, likely have the most well-rounded piece of foldable-friendly software out there, the guarantee new Android versions will arrive upon release in the future, a top camera, and perhaps a value-driven price too. Nail these points, and a Google Pixel Fold could grab the limelight from Samsung and its new foldable models, and Apple with its almost certainly non-folding iPhone 12S/iPhone 13.

None of this seems like a stretch either, as Google almost doesn’t need to change what it has been doing, as the only real downside to the Pixel was its lackluster shape and design. Foldable smartphones are one of the most exciting new mobile tech products we’ve seen in years, and the prospect of Google getting involved in both a software and hardware capacity is truly tantalizing, and a Pixel Fold could further propel these cool devices more into the mainstream.

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