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Once You Try a Galaxy Fold, You'll Never Go Back

Commentary: The large screen on the Galaxy Z Fold series is so transformative, it's hard to switch to a traditional phone, even the new Pixel 7.

Samsung Z Fold 3
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is an absolute unit.
Sarah Tew/CNET

The Google Pixel 7 line saw strong reviews when it launched in October. Not only do the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro push photography to near DSLR levels, both do so for about $600 and $900, respectively. But even with all of those positives, there's another phone that keeps drawing me back. 

Though I've popped my SIM card into the Pixel 7 that Google provided for review, I just can't completely turn off my personal Galaxy Z Fold 3 -- Samsung's $1,800 foldable from last year -- with its large fold-out inner screen and skinny, candy bar-like outer display.

While a foldable and a traditional slab phone are already very different, both Google and Samsung have taken distinct approaches to both hardware and software -- and I believe that Samsung is doing it better. I know that's not a widely held opinion -- foldable still represent only a tiny fraction of the total market. But my experience with two wildly different flagship phones is worth analyzing, especially as people start comparison shopping and looking for phone upgrades for the holidays. 

The power of a big phone screen

Most things you can do on a 7.6-inch screen also work on a 6.4-inch screen. But the aspect ratio -- the measure of how square or skinny a screen is -- makes a powerful difference. The much wider Z Fold 3, when unfolded, offers a spacious, nearly square screen that makes the Pixel 7 feel cramped and compromised.

Instead of comics being squished on a traditional phone display, where you have to zoom in and out to see individual panels, the Z Fold 3 feels like reading an actual page.

Both the front and inner displays on Samsung's Z Fold 3 are high-resolution 120Hz Super AMOLED screens with deep blacks, rich colors and silky animations. The Pixel 7, at one-third the price, has a respectable 2,400x1,080-pixel resolution display that's 90Hz, and AMOLED that's competitive if not up to Samsung's level. Kudos for the Pixel 7's value, but playing Genshin Impact on a large, 7.6-inch display means a much richer game world.

Multitasking fun

On my Galaxy Z Fold 3, I can use four apps at once. It's cluttered, but it's also cool. I often use two or three apps simultaneously, with YouTube and Twitter in two corners and Reddit on the rest of the screen.

I've also written articles on my Z Fold 3 using a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, treating it like a small Galaxy Tab. On one side I'll have Google Docs open and on the other, Slack or a website I'm checking. It's not ideal, but in a pinch it gets the job done. 

Multitasking on the Pixel 7 feels awkward by comparison. The Pixel's user interface has larger gaps between two apps, using up precious dots of resolution that could instead be used to display information.

Samsung's software pulls ahead

Conventional wisdom says Google's Pixel line offers the definitive Android experience. After all, Google makes Android, therefore a Google-made Android phone would have the best software design with minimal gimmicks. But after using the Z Fold 3 for a year and the Pixel 7 since October, I find that Samsung's One UI is more intuitive and gets things done faster.

The fewer taps it takes to accomplish a task, the better. When opening Samsung's phone app to make calls, swiping right on a name places a call, and swiping left starts a text message. On Pixel, tapping a name opens a more cumbersome drop-down menu with options to either video call or text. To call, there's a separate telephone icon on the right.

And when in a call, the Pixel lacks a dedicated speakerphone button, requiring me to use another drop-down menu. These are just two small examples and are far from deal breakers. But they do show that Samsung has been paying attention to minute pain points to make an overall better experience. 

Foldables are the future

Foldables offer tremendous functionality in a relatively small size. Heck, it's possible to even use the Galaxy Z Fold 4 as a personal computer, albeit with some compromises. 

The foldable market is still an expensive niche. But I do hope that as prices go down, mass appeal goes up. And who knows, maybe Google will create its own foldable. Rumors are already pointing to a 2023 Pixel Fold release. Until then, though, the Z Fold 3 has my attention.