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Google might launch a foldable Pixel before the end of 2021

Published Feb 23rd, 2021 7:22PM EST
Foldable Pixel 6
Image: Google

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  • A report from Korea says Samsung might supply foldable OLED screens to three Android vendors this year, including Google.
  • A foldable Pixel 6 would feature a 7.6-inch screen, according to the report. It’s unclear whether the handset would resemble the Galaxy Z Flip or the Galaxy Z Fold.
  • The report notes that smartphones using the Samsung Display panels will be launched within the year, implying the foldable Pixel will be unveiled in 2021.

It was just days ago that I noted Pixel 6 rumors were conspicuously absent for this time of year. Android 12 does hide some clues that indicate Google’s Pixel 6 could support face unlock, under-display fingerprint scanning, and that it could come in an XL version. But in a matter of hours, two separate Pixel 2021 rumors emerged.

First, a leaker produced the purported design of the Pixel 5a that Google is expected to unveil this spring/summer, featuring the same design used on the Pixel 5. Separately, a report from Asia indicates that Google is working on a foldable Pixel of its own, which could launch this year. That’s equal parts exciting and troubling.

Google is certainly in the best position to make a foldable phone, as it develops the software that has to run on all Android foldables. It wasn’t a surprise to hear in November 2019 that Google helped Samsung develop the multi-app interface for its original Galaxy Fold. By actually making a foldable, Google would develop the Android features that other vendors would need for their own foldables.

However, Google doesn’t have a great history at building perfect Pixels. Each generation that Google launched featured some sort of issue. Some of them were hardware-related and could not be fixed via software patches. The Pixel 5 has a “gap” design problem of its own, one that Google dismissed as a “normal feature.”

Galaxy Z Fold 2
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 foldable phone launched in September 2020. Image source: Samsung

Foldable phones are more expensive to make and require plenty of research and development to get things right. The first Galaxy Fold showed that even a company as experienced as Samsung didn’t get foldables right the first time. And that was after years of teasing foldable phones and showing off concepts. The original Fold featured a couple of design issues that led to the quick destruction of the fragile foldable display during early testing. Samsung needed six months to fix those issues. The Galaxy Z Flip and Z Fold 2 that followed showed, however, that Samsung learned from its mistakes.

A new report from Korea now says that Google is among the handset vendors that might get foldable panels from Samsung Display. Oppo and Xiaomi, which showed off foldable concepts in the past, are also working with Samsung, according to The Elec.

“Smartphones using these panels will launch within the year,” the site notes.

The Oppo device is a clamshell device featuring an in-folding screen that measures 7.7 inches when unfolded. A 1.5- to 2-inch display sits on the outside. This is the equivalent of the Galaxy Z Flip.

Like Oppo, Xiaomi has also switched from out-folding display to in-folding tech. The company’s 2021 device features an 8.03-inch main display and a 6.38-inch external screen. The phone would be similar to the Galaxy Z Fold and the newly launched Huawei Mate X2.

The foldable Pixel would feature a 7.6-inch panel, the report notes. It’s unclear whether Google would go for the Flip or Fold design.

Revisiting the Android 12 findings from earlier this week, they would all make sense for a foldable Pixel 6 phone. Regardless of design, the phone would have external and internal displays, and Google could fit both 3D face unlock and under-display fingerprint sensors into such a device. The one-handed operation mode could also work well with a foldable Pixel. That’s assuming The Elec has accurate information on hand.

Separately, Samsung is also reportedly developing a custom processor for future Pixel devices. It’s unclear if Google will use custom silicon for its Pixel 6 phones. But there’s no question that a foldable Pixel 6 featuring a Samsung OLED panel and a Google chip would be an exciting proposition. It’ll also be an expensive one.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.