Foldable devices started to hit their stride in the last year or two, and the competition is heating up in 2022 with updated foldable hardware from Samsung and Motorola.
Google could be preparing its own entry into this emerging market however, with the Google Pixel Fold tipped to arrive this year – though some reports suggest that the foldable phone may instead have been delayed or cancelled.
We round up all the news and speculation about Google’s first foldable.
When will the Google Pixel Fold be released?
There’s no solid information about any release date as yet, as Google hasn’t even confirmed that a foldable device will be launched.
9to5Google reported that it had seen leaked internal documents from Google that suggested a foldable device would appear in the fourth quarter of 2021, a prediction repeated by the likes of
Jon Prosser, and Korean site
The Elec. That obviously didn’t happen though, and the launch of the
Pixel 6 series came and went without any foldable.
9to5Google subsequently found code referring to “isPixel2022Foldable,” which seemed to confirm that the Pixel Fold is launching this year at least. Some had hoped to see it launch at Google’s I/O developer conference in May, but this didn’t happen, and subsequent leaks from both 9to5Google and display industry analyst Ross Young pointed to a launch alongside the flagship Pixel 7 in October.
There’s some cause for pessimism though. Young has revised his prediction, and along with Korean site The Elec and leaked Jon Prosser he now reports that the foldable has been delayed to spring 2023, meaning it could appear at next year’s I/O, perhaps alongside the Pixel 7a. Leaker Digital Chat Station also reported in August 2022 that the phone is still on the way, with Foxconn tasked with assembling it.
Is the Pixel Fold cancelled?
There was some speculation that the Pixel foldable had been cancelled.
reported last year that “Google has decided not to bring the Pixel Fold to market,” citing sources in the display supply chain that say Google has cancelled its parts orders for the foldable.
Young suggested that Google was concerned that “the product wouldn’t be as competitive as it needed to be,” as they’d be primarily up against Samsung “in a small niche market facing higher costs than their primary competitor.”
This looks unlikely though. Young himself has since reported that the Pixel Fold is back on track, and it looks like while the company did cancel parts orders, Young may have been a little rash in jumping to report that the phone as a whole had been scrapped.
What will the Pixel foldable be called?
To be blunt, we have no idea – though most people online have started calling it the Pixel Fold.
9to5Google reports that instead it will be called the Pixel Notepad, though acknowledges that this is only the “working brand name” so may still change.
The only thing we know from Google is the phone’s internal codenames: Passport and Pipit.
‘Passport’ has been spotted in various bits of Android code, including the first public beta of
Android 12, as spotted by
9to5Google. It appeared along with a model number – GPQ72 – believed to be tied to the phone’s Japanese variant.
It’s worth noting that this still isn’t conclusive proof that the Pixel Fold will ever launch. The same list also contained a model number for ‘Needlefish’, a Pixel codename from 2019 that was believed to be tied to a 5G Pixel 4 model that never materialised. Since Needlefish never launched, the Passport model number appearing here doesn’t prove anything – but it does add to the evidence that Google is at least working on a foldable phone.
More recently, ‘Pipit’ has appeared in Camera app code, a Geekbench listing, and parts of the Android 12L beta, and
9to5Google believes that this is a new codename for the same foldable Pixel phone.
What about the second Pixel Fold?
Before we get too far, it’s worth addressing the rumours of a second Pixel Foldable. First reported by
9to5Google, this phone is known only by its codename ‘Jumbojack’, which appeared in code related to Android 12.1, now known as Android 12L – the mid-cycle software refresh designed to include more substantial foldable phone support into Android 12.
The phone seems to include two displays, one of which becomes unavailable when the device is folded shut (which makes sense). We don’t actually know if it’s a real device intended for public release, or simply hardware used by Google for testing Android 12.1, though references to it as a ‘Pixel’ device in the code suggest the former.
As for the name, 9to5Google points out that it’s likely a reference to a cheeseburger from chain Jack in the Box. The site even suggests this may be a nod to the ‘hamburger’ folding format of phones like the Z Flip 4, rather than the ‘hot dog’ style of the Z Fold 4, though that might be a little more of a stretch.
How much will the Google Pixel Foldable cost?
This is another area where we don’t know too much. There’s no past record to go on and pricing is still somewhat nebulous for this class of device. One thing that’s pretty certain though is that it won’t be cheap.
9to5Google’s reporting unearthed a price along with the rumoured name and release strategy, and the site says that Google has a “target price” of $1,400 for the Pixel Notepad in the US.
That would be impressive if true, as it would undercut the phone’s chief rival – the Galaxy Z Fold 4 – by $400. That would certainly be enough to give Samsung pause for thought, and could force the Korean tech giant to in turn drop prices for next year’s Z Fold 5.
In any case, any foldable device Google launches in 2022 is likely to start at over a grand, so you might want to start making use of that old piggy bank in preparation.
What are the Google Pixel Foldable specs?
Displays and design
Obviously, the main addition to the Pixel feature set will be a folding screen of some kind. This looks likely to be the book-style approach adopted by the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Huawei Mate X2, rather than the vertical clamshell orientation used by the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 and Motorola Razr 2022.
Getting the display right will be crucial, as we’ve already seen how hard it is to avoid creasing in the display where it folds or the panels just outright failing as with the original
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold.
The Elec reports that Samsung is selling folding displays to Google – along with Xiaomi and Oppo – for new devices. Google has reportedly purchased a foldable 7.6in OLED – the same size as that used in the Fold 4.
In a follow-up report
The Elec stands by that prediction, and adds that the display will use an ultra-thin glass (UTG) coating. That’s the tech that Samsung has used in all of its foldables following the first Z Fold, and since Samsung is supplying the display here, it’s no surprise to see UTG will be included.
We know less about the outer display, but one tidbit comes from display industry expert Ross Young. He claims that Google’s foldable will feature a 5.8in cover display – smaller than the 6.2in screen on the Z Fold 4. That will include a wider aspect ratio, suggesting that the cover display will be a bit shorter and squatter than Samsung’s narrow panel.
The Android 12L beta 2 even included animations that seem to reveal the rough shape Google is using.
Spotted by 9to5Google, the two animations show how a SIM card could be inserted into the device (the second shows the phone in its closed form). We can see that it’s a wide book-style foldable, but interestingly the aspect ratio looks to be closer to the square-ish form of the Oppo Find N than to any of Samsung’s Z Fold designs, which could help the Google foldable stand out in western markets when it launches.
There are also a couple of different paths that Google could take in regard to the rest of the specs in its debut foldable. In terms of chipset, it was initially assumed that the firm will re-use the in-house developed Tensor chip that debuted in the Pixel 6 series, rather than return to a Qualcomm Snapdragon chip – it seems safe to assume Google will stick to its own silicon from now on whenever possible.
This was backed up by a Geekbench 4 listing for a phone named ‘Google Pipit’ – remember that Pipit is one of the Fold’s expected codenames. The
listing doesn’t specify the Tensor chip by name, but lists an octa-core ARM chip with a base speed of 1.8GHz and peak speed of 2.8GHz. Tensor is an octa-core ARM chip with its four efficiency cores clocked at 1.8GHz and its two fastest chips clocked at 2.8GHz, so it fits perfectly. It’s seen here along with 12GB of RAM, and running Android 12 as you’d expect.
The only doubt is that now that the Pixel Fold is expected to launch either alongside or after the Pixel 7 series, it’s presumably more likely that Google will have upgraded the phone to second-gen Tensor chip likely to debut in those phones. Samsung is already reported to be ready to mass-produce the new 4nm chip for Google, and it seems unlikely that Google would release its flagship foldable with old internals.
We think we know a little more about the phone’s camera specs, thanks to the 9to5Google report that unearthed the Pipit codename, mentioned above. The site found code that reveals the four camera sensors believed to be used in the foldable: a 12.2Mp IMX363, a 12Mp IMX386, and two 8Mp IMX335 sensors. The latter two are tagged with ‘inner’ and ‘outer’, suggesting they’re for a pair of selfie shooters.
For context, this essentially looks like a return to the sort of camera specs used before the recent Pixel 6 upgrade. The IMX363 is the same sensor used for the main camera in the Pixel 3, 4, and 5, while the IMX335 is also the same sensor used for the selfie cameras in Pixels up to the 6 – though not the 6 Pro. The IMX386 is also found in the Pixel 6, where it’s used to power the ultrawide.
A separate code dive by developer Kuba Wojciechowski reveals the same set of camera sensors, but also a Samsung GN1 – the current main sensor in the Pixel 6 phones, and expected to appear again in the Pixel 7 series.
All this suggests a camera setup that’s comparable to the Pixel 6, though lacking the telephoto found in the 6 Pro.
While some had hoped that Google might be trying out an under-display camera on the Fold, leaker Digital Chat Station predicts something rather different: a regular punch-hole selfie camera on the outer screen, and a micro-hole camera built into the frame on the inside. That would allow an uninterrupted main screen without the compromises in quality forced by cameras under the screen, though any camera small enough to fit into the internal frame might be pretty limited anyway.
We even have an idea of how that might look thanks to a patent discovered by 91mobiles, apparently filed in June 2021.
Still, there is a chance that Google will follow Samsung’s plans for an under-display camera in its foldable. LetsGoDigital spotted a Google patent for a novel solution to the tech, which uses a moving mirror under the display, capable of pointing either at a camera lens or at a second display. So when you need the camera, light is reflected into the lens, and when you don’t need the camera light is reflected from the auxiliary display to fill the gap.
More recently, Google has filed a second patent (also spotted by
LetsGoDigital) for under-display cameras using different (and likely more cost-efficient) tech to achieve the same result. This version relies on a multi-layered transparent display, which is more similar to implementations we’ve seen elsewhere.
Interestingly, the patent mentions by name one Sangmoo Choi – a former Samsung display engineer who’s now been at Google for over three years, but presumably had experience with Samsung’s early efforts at under-display camera tech.
There’s no concrete reason to believe that either patent is for the upcoming foldable, and it could only be intended for the Pixel 7 series – or even later phones – but there’s at least hope that it’s being readied for a flagship foldable.
The phone will also benefit from software improvements, including Android 12L, a new Android version that improves support for large screen devices like tablets – and foldables. It includes enhanced split-screen support for all Android apps, two-column notification shade and control centre layouts, and a desktop-style taskbar – all of which we can expect to see on the big screen of the Pixel Fold.
If you can’t wait to get the latest smartphone technology in your hands, check out our guide to the best phones coming in 2022 and 2023.