As I’ve noted in the past, smartphones are largely getting boring. They are utilities that we absolutely rely on and the stuff that was once mind-blowingly innovative has now become commonplace. Folding phones are a bit of a panacea to that stagnation, promising a new era of versatility, convenience and increased consumption abilities. However, after experiencing the the Pixel Fold for the past few weeks, I found myself unexpectedly relieved when returning to a standard, non-foldable smartphone. Let’s talk about a few reasons why.
Incompatibility with Apps and Web Content
While the concept of a larger, internal screen on the Pixel Fold (or any folding phone) is totally intriguing, it also presented a unique set of challenges over the past month or so for me. Mainly, those issues came down to apps and web content flat-out not being optimized for the screen size on the inside of the phone. I ran into janky, awkward layouts, stretched images, misaligned text and an overall web browsing experience that usually had me closing up the phone to just use the outer screen.
And the transition between the phone being folded and unfolded was not always seamless, either. Some apps would need to be restarted to work properly or in the instance of games, the gyroscope would be off by 90-degrees and become useless on the larger, more game-friendly screen. Combining this with the strange web content issues and plenty of apps that are just not great on the larger, internal screen, it was often a frustrating experience to do standard smartphone stuff on the Pixel Fold.
The outer screen is too good?
Because of all this, I found myself consistently gravitating towards using the outer screen for most tasks. I complained plenty about the too-narrow outer screen on the Galaxy Z Fold 3, and the more-traditional aspect ratio on the Pixel Fold’s outer screen is 100% better than what Samsung offers: but at an unforeseen cost. The outer screen’s layout provided such a familiar and comfortable experience that I ended up using it for nearly 75% of everything I did on the phone. As a small-screen smartphone, it was pretty great.
But no one is buying the Pixel Fold for a small-screen experience, and so I would constantly go out of my way to find things to do to purposefully engage the larger screen. Even though most tasks aren’t the best on that larger display thanks to those odd layouts I talked about a minute ago, I’d still force myself to use it simply because it is there. It’s an odd place to be, for sure.
Return to better processor, better connectivity, and better battery life
The Galaxy S23 Ultra, boasting a flat-out better processor than the Tensor G2 in the Pixel Fold, has been a breath of fresh air as I’ve gone back to using it today. Using my phone as I normally would, I’m sitting here at 3:00 in the afternoon with 80% battery. While the Pixel Fold wasn’t terrible on battery, it wasn’t a champ by any stretch of the imagination.
And then there’s simply the performance difference. For day-to-day stuff, there’s no issue with the Pixel Fold for me. But with games, I notice the difference constantly. Between graphic stutters in Call of Duty Mobile and the gyroscope issues with every other game I play on mobile, gaming was a real letdown on the Pixel Fold. Being back on the Galaxy S23 Ultra, I’m free to play the games I want, including a bit of Fortnite – which runs very, very well on the S23 Ultra and is basically useless on Pixel Phones at this point.
Lastly, the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s connectivity (mainly due to the more-established Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor inside) is just better. It’s been well documented for the past couple of years, but with the Tensor and Tensor G2 being based on Samsung’s Exynos SoCs, it’s no surprise that they are inferior when it comes to mobile connectivity. Qualcomm has simply been at this for many more years, and Google will have to figure that part of the equation out if they intend to truly compete in the smartphone market.
Why standard slab smartphones still win…for now
For the time being, big smartphones that do their core jobs well still win the day for me. I’ve said it in the past and I’ll keep saying it: I’m not really a tablet guy. I really thought that having a tablet form factor that stays in my pocket might change that, but it hasn’t thus far. And that’s not a knock to the Pixel Fold: it’s a knock to the entire segment.
Until we get to the point where apps and web content take advantage of this form factor, I just don’t know how to condone it. With the prices being so high for these types of devices, the user needs to get a whole lot out of the phone to make it make sense and that’s just not been the case for me. We’ve had slab-style smartphones for a long time, and our apps and content have grown to find a home that is deeply nested in that environment. For the folding psuedo-tablet phones to make a case for themselves, they have to provide utility that outdoes the modern smartphone with the stuff we all tend to do on our smartphones. For now, I just can’t find that utility, and my absolute relief in returning to the Galaxy S23 Ultra only proves the point that much further.