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Google's Pixel Fold emerges as a true competition for Samsung in the folding phone market

Samsung's dominance in the folding phone market is evident with the Pixel Fold's debut, highlighting the significant lead the company has maintained for four years. While the Pixel Fold brings notable advancements to folding phones, it still falls behind Samsung in many aspects, unsurprisingly benefiting from Samsung's head start.

Google's Pixel Fold emerges as a true competition for Samsung

In terms of hardware and design, the Pixel Fold and Z Fold 4 differ in their approach to the concept of a phone-sized device that unfolds into a compact tablet. The most noticeable distinction is the orientation: the Z Fold 4 opens with a portrait-first approach, while the Pixel Fold adopts a landscape orientation. This disparity affects the user experience and the size and shape of the outer display. The Pixel Fold's landscape orientation results in a shorter, wider, and more functional cover screen, with apps running smoothly and convenient typing. On the other hand, the Z Fold 4's taller, narrower cover screen feels cramped, and some apps struggle to adapt to its layout. However, the landscape-first orientation of the Pixel Fold becomes cumbersome once it's unfolded. While it works well for apps optimized for this mode and offers an ideal experience for watching videos or playing games, many third-party apps are not designed for a landscape-oriented phone screen. As a result, these apps launch in pillar-boxed windows on the Pixel Fold, necessitating constant rotation of the phone for everyday tasks, which can be tiresome. In contrast, the Samsung device does not face this issue, as apps launched in its default orientation generally function seamlessly. For most users, who primarily engage with single, vertical-scrolling, portrait-oriented apps, the Z Fold's default mode proves more practical. The landscape orientation of the Pixel Fold does have advantages in its half-folded, laptop-like shape, which is useful for propping up the phone while watching videos. However, this feature is not extensively utilized by the author. The primary appeal of purchasing a phone like this lies in the experience provided by the inner screen, not the outer display. Although the Z Fold 4's outer screen may not be as impressive as the Pixel Fold's, it serves its purpose adequately during the limited time spent on it. Conversely, the Z Fold's inner screen is better suited for the majority of Android apps and delivers a more enjoyable user experience. The two phones compete in other hardware aspects as well. Despite having identical inside screen sizes, the Z Fold 4 is lighter and smaller than the Pixel Fold. This disparity in weight and footprint makes the Pixel Fold feel more unwieldy. Holding the Z Fold proves more comfortable. While there weren't significant performance differences observed between the devices, the screens on the Samsung device appeared slightly superior to those on the Pixel Fold. The Z Fold 4's screens are brighter, particularly noticeable when using the phones outdoors. It seems as though the Pixel Fold employs screens from previous generations, while Samsung has improved the brightness of its displays in the Z Fold 4. Battery life on the Z Fold 4 is more consistent and reliable than on the Pixel Fold, which displayed erratic behavior during the author's week-long testing. The Pixel Fold's standby time appeared particularly problematic across multiple test devices. Additionally, the Z Fold offers louder, higher-quality speakers, both positioned in the same "half" of the phone. This configuration reduces the chances of blocking the speakers while holding the phone—an important factor considering that watching videos is a common use case for these devices. One advantage the Pixel Fold undeniably has over the Z Fold 4 is its ability to close completely flat, without a visible gap between the halves. It is also noticeably thinner when closed, making it more pocket-friendly. However, reports suggest that Samsung plans to address this issue with the Z Fold 5, expected to be released in about a month. The Pixel Fold also boasts a superior camera system compared to the Z Fold 4, although camera differences in phones have become minute and relatively unimportant to the author. The Pixel Fold's 5x telephoto lens stands out, but both devices serve the author's needs equally in terms of camera performance. Regarding software and features, the Z Fold outshines the Pixel Fold in terms of abundance and capabilities. Samsung provides users with greater freedom, allowing them to go wild with customization options, while Google's approach is more restricted. The Pixel Fold offers a simple multitasking system, enabling users to run two apps side by side on the inner screen. It's easy to launch apps in this configuration, and users can drag and drop content between them and adjust the split screen. In contrast, the Z Fold allows users to split the screen with up to three apps and even launch another app on top of those in a floating window. While this extensive multitasking can be overwhelming, it offers flexibility and convenience not found on the Pixel Fold. The absence of a floating window option was sorely missed when using the Pixel Fold, as it allows for quick access to additional apps without disrupting the current workflow. The Z Fold 4 also supports Samsung's S Pen stylus, which is frequently used for note-taking or signing documents. The Pixel Fold lacks stylus support entirely. Additionally, the Z Fold 4 enables users to connect it to an external monitor, pair it with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, and enjoy a desktop environment with overlapping windows. The author even wrote, edited, laid out, and published their article using Dex mode on the Z Fold 4. The Pixel Fold lacks such capabilities, not even supporting simple screen mirroring over its USB-C port. Samsung has also developed various software features for its foldables over the years, making life easier for users. The Z Fold allows for different layouts of widgets and app shortcuts on the cover screen and inner screen, catering to their different usage scenarios. In contrast, the Pixel Fold mirrors the layout between its two screens. The Z Fold also allows users to save pairs of apps that will always launch together in a split view—a feature absent on the Pixel Fold. While Google could catch up quickly in terms of software, as the Pixel Fold launches with Android 13 and Android 14 is on the horizon with expected improvements, certain hardware design choices and features cannot be rectified easily. Only future generations of the Pixel Fold will reveal whether adjustments are made. A desktop mode wouldn't be particularly useful if the phone doesn't support external monitor connections in the first place. Samsung might also adapt its hardware to resemble the Pixel Fold, depending on the response to Google's device. Although it would be disappointing, it wouldn't be surprising to see a Galaxy Z Fold 6 with a shorter, wider cover screen and a landscape orientation for the inner display in the near future. While the Pixel Fold received positive feedback for its more usable outer display, the author's experience demonstrates that compromises come with it. Ultimately, the presence of competition in the US foldable phone market is a welcome development, as Samsung's progress with each Z Fold generation has been slow. The Z Fold 5 doesn't seem to differ significantly from the Z Fold 4, which itself had minor differences from the Z Fold 3 and so on. Another player vying for nearly $2,000 from potential folding phone buyers was desperately needed to shake Samsung out of its complacency. However, at present, Samsung executes the concept of a portable folding computer better than Google. The author is excited to witness further advancements in the future.

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