I've come to really love foldable smartphones over the last year. They're still prohibitively expensive for most, and the selection remains relatively slim — particularly if you don't have a taste for Samsung — but foldables genuinely offer unique advantages over more traditional phones. The Galaxy Z Fold 2 is still one of the best Samsung phones around, able to expand from a pocketable phone to a miniature tablet for split-screen multitasking and large media.
Conversely, the Galaxy Z Flip 5G and Motorola RAZR 5G feel a lot like any other phones when expanded, but fold down to half the height for dramatically better pocketability. This is great for anyone with small pockets that can't accommodate the landscape of increasingly large phones, though I'm far more enthusiastic about the former form factor.
If you've been following the rumor mill lately, you may have noticed that it's looking increasingly likely that there will be a Google foldable in the not-too-distant future. As a daily user of the Pixel 5, I'm beyond excited for this. Hardware that even remotely resembles that of the Galaxy Z Fold 2, paired with Google's ultra-clean and regularly updated software, sounds like a match made in heaven — but it'll take more than a software swap for this device to succeed.
Durable, IP-certified hardware
I'm happy that the rumors so far have pointed to a Galaxy Fold-style design, rather than something more akin to the Z Flip and RAZR, but Google will obviously bring its own design traits to the table, as well. While Google doesn't have quite as sterling of a reputation as Samsung when it comes to hardware, I've been more than happy with the aluminum body of the Pixel 5. I would love to see something similar on a folding Pixel — especially since it would still allow for wireless charging.
Presumably, an aluminum design would also make the folding Pixel more resilient in the face of drops and other impacts, as well, and I'd absolutely love to see some sort of IP certification. Even the Galaxy Z Fold 2 isn't IP-certified, despite the end caps on its hinge working to keep dust from entering the chassis and causing damage, and no foldables are as of yet water-resistant. The closest we've seen is the RAZR 5G, which features a water-repellent coating. If Google can figure out some way to truly protect its foldable from the elements, it would give the phone a huge leg up on the competition.
There's a lot of potential for this phone to be the all-out high-end Pixel that enthusiasts have been clamoring for over the last few release cycles. Foldables are expensive, after all — and as much as I'd love to see a "Pixel Fold 5a," so to speak, this sort of device has to be expensive, at least for now. The Snapdragon 765G is plenty good enough to power the Pixel 5, but how well would it fare when driving twice as many pixels for the large inner display of a foldable?
A four-figure foldable Pixel could be Google's chance to embrace excess and luxury, possibly packing the Snapdragon 888 or, depending on the turnaround time, possibly even something newer. Of course, it would make sense to include generous storage options and max out the RAM, since foldables are particularly advantageous for multitasking. I'd also love to see full 5G compatibility and a battery that lasts even a fraction as long as that of the Pixel 5, which I'm still unable to kill in a single day.
Better multitasking and window management in Android
Speaking of multitasking, Google's particular flavor of Android is still a bit lacking in the split-screen app department, especially compared to Samsung's One UI software. On the Galaxy Z Fold 2, you can juggle up to three split-screen apps at once, dividing the inner display in different proportions and even adding a fourth floating app window. Each is easy to resize, and you can save app pairings as presets and even jump from one pairing to the next using the Recent Apps screen.
On the Pixel ... well, multitasking isn't quite as seamless. Even on the Android 12 developer preview, opening apps in a split-screen view currently means accessing the Recents screen, tapping the icon of the first app you want to run, tapping split-screen, then finding the second app through either the Recents carousel or swiping home and opening the app drawer. You can't always resize the windows, nor can you swap them or save pairings to access later; it's extremely rudimentary in its current form.
For a folding Pixel to thrive, Google is going to have to seriously rework its multitasking system. Even a blatant ripoff of Samsung's One UI would be a huge improvement, but I'd love to see something entirely new and unique to the folding Pixel. Maybe Google could leverage Assistant in some way or add app pairings to the suggested apps that automatically appear in the bottom dock of the Pixel Launcher.
Larger camera sensors and faster image processing
We're long overdue for new cameras in the Pixel series. Google has been using the same 12.2MP primary sensor in every release since the Pixel 2, and while it's a great sensor capable of taking phenomenal images thanks to computational photography, it's starting to fall behind the competition that leverages software and hardware.
Suppose the folding Pixel is going to have premium hardware and specs (and I certainly hope it does). In that case, it could be the perfect launching point for a new, larger sensor — I'm thinking something similar in size to the main sensor on the Galaxy S21 Ultra. However, I think sticking to a roughly 12MP resolution would ensure the Pixel could still live up to its computational prowess. A larger sensor would allow the Pixel to naturally take in more light and create a more dramatic depth of field, and with the help of the Snapdragon 888 chipset, the slow image processing that plagues the 2020 line of Pixels could be a thing of the past.
A great warranty program
No matter how durable Google might be able to make the folding Pixel, there's no denying that foldables are inherently more fragile than more traditional smartphones. Samsung knows this and includes its Z Premier service with every foldable, which in part features an extensive warranty program. Google should plan to offer something similar with its own foldable, ideally matching Samsung's one-time free screen repair or, at the very least, offering repairs and replacements with reasonably low fees.
Foldables are high-dollar products, and giving owners the peace of mind that their purchase will be backed by a full-service warranty program can go a long way to instill confidence in buyers.
What do you want to see?
We've got plenty of ideas for Google's first foldable, and I'd be delighted if they all come true in the final product, but there are bound to be some things we might have missed. What are you hoping to see in the folding Pixel, and what would it take to pull you away from other foldables or even traditional smartphones?
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Hayato was a product reviewer and video editor for Android Central.