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Google Pixel Fold camera review: testing the one promising feature
Most foldable phones compromise on the camera, but the Google Pixel Fold has flagship cameras including, crucially, a telephoto lens with 5x optical zoom
I've been using the Google Pixel Fold for less than two days, and while I'm somewhat underwhelmed by most of the experience, there is one redeeming feature so far: the cameras.
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Google has proven over the past few years that it can do wondrous things to photos after you've taken them. Using AI, intelligent machine learning, and a ton of clever processing, the Pixel 7 Pro took amazing photos despite going up against competition that had better hardware on paper.
The issue for me was that the rest of the phone wasn't compelling enough to keep in my pocket, especially when equally good camera-centric phones like the Galaxy S23 Ultra exist. Samsung doesn't have as good processing as Google, but the 10X telephoto zoom and large 200MP main sensor were reasons alone I stuck with my Samsung devices.
The Pixel Fold takes a similar philosophy in terms of camera hardware but adds one crucial thing that helps it stand out: 5x optical zoom through the telephoto lens. 24 hours in, it's already become my favorite feature, and here's why.
The best zoom on a foldable
I've regularly switched between the Galaxy S series and the Galaxy Fold – and the Galaxy Note before the foldables came out – for the past decade. I love the Galaxy Z Fold 4, but its biggest weakness is Google’s strength: the cameras.
Pixel Fold is the first foldable with real flagship cameras
Most foldables feel like a downgrade in the camera department compared to traditional candy bar phones. The Galaxy Z Fold 4 has three 12MP cameras with 3x optical zoom, while the Galaxy S23 Ultra has a 200MP main sensor and two telephoto lenses offering 3x and 10x optical zoom. There’s a clear difference and downgrade in foldable cameras, and the Pixel Fold is the first foldable to help bridge that gap.
Foldable phones have a trade-off in price and features because there’s a second screen and a ton of engineering that’s added to the Bill-of-Materials cost (the BoM), which is essentially the cost of all the components inside the phone. All of these additional sensors in the Galaxy S23 Ultra add to the underlying hardware cost and provide additional constraints for the engineers and designers to work within.
Google’s aforementioned hardware approach means they don’t need to laden the phone with a ton of additional hardware cost in order to achieve the same goal. The 5x zoom is already proving to be my favorite camera feature in the Pixel Fold, and the phone does pretty well in the middle ground between 3x and 5x as well.
Do you actually need a telephoto lens?
It very much depends on your needs, and if you’re considering a phone like the Motorola Razr+ or the Galaxy Z Flip 5, you won’t have a telephoto option. But, if you do have a telephoto lens, it can prove to be incredibly useful in the strangest of situations.
Matt, Kevin, and I were walking around New York yesterday, and we stopped to have some lunch in the Staten Island Ferry building. The writing on the digital menu was pretty small, but zooming in at 5x on the Pixel Fold camera made it easy to read. This is especially useful for those with visual impairments, as it means far less straining to read what’s on the screen.
I have average eyesight (my prescription is -4.25), and one of my favorite use cases for the Galaxy S23 Ultra telephoto lens is when I’m flying. Have you ever found that elusive empty seat in the terminal or go to a restaurant, only to realize it’s too far from the flight display boards? I’ve used the S23 Ultra to zoom in at 5x-10x, and it’s clear to read, but when I’m using the Galaxy Z Fold 4, the 3x zoom doesn’t get close enough.
What about the other Google Pixel Fold cameras?
The rest of the cameras on the Pixel Fold perform as well as the Pixel 7 Pro from my limited testing so far. The colors produced are natural, so may appear less vibrant than Samsung devices which tend to punch up colors.
Magic Eraser is a great feature to have, especially with photos that only need a slight edit to be perfect. The ultra-wide lens works well, with no distortion at the edges. The portrait mode is particularly good, although it was still bested by the Galaxy Z Fold 4’s portrait mode.
The 5x zoom on the Pixel Fold is the right solution and sets the standard for what I want in a foldable phone camera. We’re working on a full Google Pixel Fold camera review in the next few days, and I am looking forward to testing out the Pixel Fold 5x zoom when I fly on Sunday. In the meantime, check out our Google Pixel Fold unboxing for more first impressions.