Confusion and concern about the strange design of the Pixel Fold

The mythical foldable Google Pixel has appeared again in a leak, and this time, we get the first realistic look at its design. The leaked renders and videos, which come courtesy of OnLeaks, show us a familiar Pixel 7 -inspired aesthetic .

We’re looking at a pearl white rear panel with a massive camera bump rocking a metallic polish, matching that of the surrounding frame. A dark gray or black trim is also reportedly cooking up in Google’s design labs. On the front is a 5.79-inch screen, while the internal folding panel measures 7.69 inches wide.

 The second-generation Tensor chip is said to power the Pixel Fold, along with 12GB of RAM. Android 13  will handle things on the software side, while the retail price has been locked in at $1,799. What I really love is that this phone seems to be much more pocket-friendly, as opposed to the tall candy bar design of Samsung’s foldable phones.

A rather peculiar design

So far, everything looks pretty normal for Google’s next foldable phone. That is until you soak up the leaked dimensions and take a good look at the Pixel Fold’s rather beefy frame. The leaked dimensions are 158.7 x 139.7 x 5.7mm (8.3mm with the camera bump).

Google is pursuing a design where the width of the inner screen is more than its height. What you get when you open the Pixel Fold is a proper mini tablet with a 7.7-inch screen. Hopefully it’s an OLED panel with some high refresh rate magic.

By comparison, Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 4 unfolds into a tablet view that’s still in portrait orientation. You need to rotate it 90 degrees for a more natural landscape view. On the Oppo Find N, well, its inner screen is almost square, so there are no rotation issues.

I’m not entirely sure about Google’s design approach and UI optimization. For all its awesome tricks, the split-screen experience on the Galaxy Z Fold 4 still feels a bit cramped, because each half of the internal folding panel is a bit narrow for apps to scale properly.

If you’ve tried doing things on the outer deck screen, you know the drill. You should rotate the device to give apps a slightly wider window to scale in, which feels natural. But it does make a difference in the overall feel and appearance. On the square screen of the Oppo Find N, you couldn’t do anything about it.

It looks like the Pixel Fold is taking Samsung’s approach, but has flipped it sideways. When you unfold it, what you get is a proper tablet-style screen in landscape view that’s perfect for watching videos and playing games.

When launching apps in split screen mode, you’ll still have enough width on each half for apps to scale properly. Yes, you’ll lose some vertical space, but at least apps like Twitter and Instagram won’t look like cramped, poorly scaled messes.

Just take a look at Twitter running on the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s “regular” screen and half of the Galaxy Z Fold 4’s “narrow” folding screen (below). See how the same Tweet spans more lines and takes up more vertical space?

Depending on the scaling versatility hardcoded into the heart of each application, they can look better or worse. Letterboxing is a necessary evil for video-centric apps, while games tend to chop off UI elements. For apps like Asana and even Instagram, you don’t want to live with that weird visual experience.

Oppo implemented a clever system to avoid the scaling issue. You can run an app in its natural aspect ratio taking up a little more width than half the screen area. The rest of the area is blurred. You can also move the app window to either edge or keep it centered with blurred pillars on each side.

Google could go either way; we haven’t really seen an Android experience running on a foldable phone. One UI 5 has been heavily customized, and from my experience, it’s amazing. Oppo also did its fair share of dressing Android 12 in its ColorOS skin.

Android 12L gave us a glimpse of what Google wants to do on bigger screens, and Android 13 has continued to build on it. But what I’m really interested in seeing is the application scaling behavior. It would be reckless to say that developers should tune an app’s scaling behavior for every foldable phone.

This is because they all have a different aspect ratio for the inner screen. Can Google figure it out with a universal resizing approach for all apps at the code level? So far, we have not heard such rumors.

However, it’s safe to assume that the two-column view for Google’s core apps that’s currently available on tablets is also coming to the Pixel Fold. Microsoft did something similar with its highly customized Android skin that runs on the Surface Duo.

What Google has to do right

The Pixel Fold is Google’s first foldable phone, which means the chances of making a few mistakes are extremely high. Then there’s the infamous “Curse of the Pixels.” Google has really nailed the phone formula with the Pixel 6 and Pixel 7 series, but they’ve all run into some major issues in the immediate weeks after launch.

Assuming Google gets the hardware design and software optimization bits right, we need to take a look inside. The Tensor G2 within the Pixel 7 series still has performance throttling and heating issues that plagued the first-gen Tensor system-on-a-chip.

Due to its fundamental design, the Pixel Fold leaves little scope for using fancy thermal management hardware like a fancy vapor chamber cooling system. Also, it would be extremely difficult to determine battery efficiency, especially when you need to power two OLED displays.

Google may come up with some flashy new software tricks that make the most of its larger folding screen, but the Pixel Fold is a phone at the end of the day. The company can’t just polish off the fundamental flaws that affect performance and battery life, especially with a starting price of $1,700 per person.

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