What I Learned After Using the Pixel Fold and Galaxy Z Fold 4
Here's what Google and Samsung each get right and wrong with their foldable phones.
Lisa EadiciccoSenior Editor
Lisa Eadicicco is a senior editor for CNET covering mobile devices. She has been writing about technology for almost a decade. Prior to joining CNET, Lisa served as a senior tech correspondent at Insider covering Apple and the broader consumer tech industry. She was also previously a tech columnist for Time Magazine and got her start as a staff writer for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide.
For years, Samsung has tried to blur the line between phone and tablet with its Galaxy Z Fold devices, which function as a phone when closed and a mini-tablet when opened. Now, Google is following suit with the Pixel Fold, the search giant's first phone with a bendable screen.
Both phones are incredibly expensive at $1,800, which is more than a monthly mortgage payment in some areas of the US. But they also each provide a glimpse at a future in which you don't have to jump between apps as often, squint to read an ebook or reach for your iPad to watch a movie on the go.
After spending time with both the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Pixel Fold, I've learned there are some ways in which Google succeeds over Samsung, and others in which the South Korean tech giant has the upper hand. The Pixel Fold's wider cover screen makes it much more useful when propped open, but Samsung's bold and vibrant interior screen is tough to beat.
Watch this: Review: The Google Pixel Fold Has Room to Improve
What the Google Pixel Fold does better
A wider cover screen
The Pixel Fold's wider cover screen may not sound like a big deal, but it makes a noticeable difference in a few ways. First and foremost, the Pixel Fold feels more like a regular phone when closed. Since it's roughly the same width as a non-folding phone, apps look more natural on the Pixel Fold's 5.8-inch external screen which has a 17.4:9 aspect ratio. While the Galaxy Z Fold 4's 6.2-inch screen (23.1:9 aspect ratio) is technically larger, it's longer and skinnier than the display on most traditional phones.
But the Pixel Fold's broader screen is helpful for more than just using apps when the device is closed. It also makes the Pixel Fold a better portable TV since it provides more space for viewing videos when propping the phone open halfway like a tent or a laptop. You also get a wider camera viewfinder on the Pixel Fold when snapping photos thanks to the shape of its screen.
An excellent camera
While the Pixel Fold's camera isn't quite as advanced as the Pixel 7 Pro's, it still delivers crisp and colorful photos that feel natural. In my experience, photos taken on the Pixel Fold looked more color accurate than those shot on the Galaxy Z Fold 4. My colleague Patrick Holland also found that the Pixel Fold's images had a wider dynamic range and were generally more color accurate and detailed than those taken on Samsung's foldable phone.
Both phones have triple-lens main cameras with wide, ultrawide and telephoto lenses, but the way each device processes images is much different. The hardware specifications also differ, as shown in the table below.
Google Pixel Fold vs. Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 Cameras
10-megapixel (cover screen); 4-megapixel (inner screen - under display)
You can check out our full in-depth camera comparison for more details. But here are some of my favorite images from the Pixel Fold that were taken for CNET's review and camera shootout.
A slimmer design that folds completely shut
Even though Samsung was among the first tech companies to release a foldable phone, it still hasn't designed a hinge that can fold entirely shut with no gap. That's not the case for Google. The Pixel Fold closes completely when shut, making it feel more slim and sleek when closed. It's a minor change, but given how cumbersome foldable phones already are, anything that makes the design feel sleeker and slimmer is much appreciated.
What the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 does better
Bolder and sleeker interior screen
Google may have the superior cover screen, but Samsung wins when it comes to what's inside. The Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Pixel Fold each have a 7.6-inch main screen, but the two companies take different approaches when it comes to design. Samsung's phone almost resembles a piece of paper in terms of shape, while Google's looks more like a landscape-mode tablet.
But Samsung's internal screen has much slimmer bezels than Google's, which gives it a sleeker look overall. I also thought the Galaxy Z Fold 4's screen looked bolder and more vibrant than Google's, which could make it more appealing for viewing photos, browsing the web and watching shows. The Z Fold 4's main screen also using Samsung's S Pen stylus for writing, drawing and interacting.
An extra year of Android software updates
Even though Android is a Google product, Samsung offers longer Android version support for its mobile devices. While both companies promise five years of security updates, Samsung pledged to provide four generations of Android operating system upgrades for phones in its Galaxy Z, Galaxy S and Galaxy A series in 2022. That's one year longer than Google's guarantee, which says the Pixel Fold will receive Android version updates until June 2026, or three years following its release.
With a device as expensive as the Pixel Fold or Galaxy Z Fold 4, you'll want to get as much as you can out of the device. Software support is a major part of ensuring that you can use your device for as long as possible without missing out on new features.
More polished software features
Samsung has been releasing foldable phones for four years, which means it's had plenty of time to refine the experience and consider how the phone's software should adapt to its bendable design.
That shows in some aspects of the user interface, such as the ability to open more apps on screen simultaneously compared with the Pixel Fold. While I prefer dedicating the entire internal screen to one app on phones like the Pixel Fold and Galaxy Z Fold, having the option to run more than two at the same time could be useful for those who constantly find themselves jumping between apps.
It's also easier to navigate the Galaxy Z Fold 4 when folded halfway like a laptop since you can use the bottom portion of the screen as a mini touchpad. While this feature isn't nearly as intuitive as picking up the device and using it as a regular phone, it at least shows that Samsung is thinking about updating the way we interact with our phones now that they can fold in half.
But Google frequently updates its Pixel devices with new software features over time, so I'm expecting to see this same pattern with the Pixel Fold. In particular, I'm looking forward to trying the dual-screen language translation feature that's coming with Android 14. This feature allows you to use both of the Pixel Fold's displays at the same time to facilitate conversations with foreign language speakers.
Should you buy the Pixel Fold or Galaxy Z Fold 4?
If you have the budget for a foldable phone, it's important to decide which features matter to you most when choosing between the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Google Pixel Fold.
If camera quality is a top priority, and you frequently prop up your phone to watch movies and TV shows, Google's phone is likely the better option. The wider cover screen also makes things like taking photos and typing feel more natural compared to Samsung's phone.
But the interior display on Samsung's phone is more vibrant and luminous, which may matter more to those who primarily plan on using their new device in tablet mode. You'll also get new Android features for a longer period of time since Samsung offers longer software support.
Before deciding whether a foldable phone is right for you, there are a few other critical factors to keep in mind. Durability is the most crucial one. Reports of broken Pixel Folds have begun to surface on Reddit, although CNET has not experienced this issue with its review units. And although Samsung has had four years to fine-tune its Galaxy Z Fold design, you'll still find Redditorscomplaining about malfunctioning screens. While it's unclear how widespread these issues are, it's worth remembering that durability is always a potential risk for foldable phones compared to standard phones.
The Pixel Fold is Google's first foldable phone, meaning the next model will likely be more refined as the company gathers feedback from current device owners and reviewers. Just look at the trajectory Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold line has taken over the last several years compared to the original 2019 model. Even the second generation Galaxy Z Fold 2 proved to be a major improvement over the first Galaxy Fold thanks to its larger cover screen. With that in mind, it could be worth waiting for the next version of the Pixel Fold.
As for the Galaxy Z Fold 4, it's worth remembering that Samsung is highly expected to announce the Galaxy Z Fold 5 in just a matter of weeks. It would be wise to wait and see what's new in the next model and whether the Galaxy Z Fold 4 may be available at cheaper prices after its successor arrives.