With Google’s Nexus line a distant memory, this year the technology giant has just released their first ever smartphone in Google’s newly launched “made by Google” brand — the Google Pixel, both in a standard and an XL version.
The new Pixel line represents a smartphone category where Google has complete say in what goes into building the phone, something that wasn’t the case with the Nexus line. Now Google is able to build out a more complete vision of what they want in a smartphone and how it will best represent everything Google has to offer.
Is this an Apple killer? We think so. This top-tier smartphone is going head to head with the iPhone, and in addition, wants to punch the lights out of every other Android OEM as well. Let’s discuss why this new Verizon line-up could be the best phone out there on the market.
Google Pixel Design
While the last few years of smartphone design have been fairly uneventful, at least the Google Pixel has a nice elegant feel and weight to it. It has a somewhat thick bezel that surrounds the display covered in 2.5D glass. Although the top bezel is where you’ll find the ambient light sensor, front facing camera, and cloth earpiece grill, the bottom bezel is apparently just there for looks.
On the back, it get’s a little more interesting. Google has outfitted the back of the Pixel with both metal and glass. The top half of Pixel is covered with smooth 2.5D glass that has a pearly luminescence to it with matching fingerprint sensor in the middle. The larger bottom portion is all metal, separated by an antenna band.
Buttons have a nice tactile feel to them with a textured power button. The fingerprint sensor serves only one purpose: to read your fingerprints and does it with lightning quick precision. The more you use it, the more accurate it gets over time with less false reads.
Size-wise, the regular Pixel is actually slightly smaller than even last year’s Nexus 5X, and the XL is also lighter and all around smaller than the Nexus 6P. Differences between the regular Pixel and the XL model are few. The XL has a larger, higher resolution display and higher capacity 3,450mAh battery, which makes it about $120 more expensive than the regular model. Other than that, the camera, processor, and performance between the two models remains the same. And while neither model is water-resistant or water-proof certified, they can handle a quick dunk in water, and it does lend to better audio quality, which both models include a standard IP53 rating.
Display-wise, the Google Pixel has one of the best AMOLED screens in the business, with rich color and detailed black. As for the brightness, the Pixel shines very brightly, even more so on the XL. Viewing angles on the Pixel are also fantastic. The Pixel also gets a unique display feature called Night Light, which gives the Pixel display an extremely warm tint, filtering out harsh blue light. It’s much easier on the eyes and doesn’t interfere with the brains natural sleep cycles. When put to use, it’s actually really impressive, giving the Pixel display an e-ink like appearance in incandescent lighting.
For both the Google Pixel and the Google Pixel XL, they only come in 2 storage configurations: 32GB or 128GB for $100 more. It would have been nice to have a middle 64GB option, though. Additionally, the Pixel and Pixel XL are one of the few handsets that comes SIM unlocked (no matter where you buy it) with support for all 4 major carriers here in the US.
When it comes to audio, Google has included a new chipset, which makes sound quality great. The speaker is loud and crisp, although it can get a little distorted at max volume. The Pixel also has a 3.5mm headphone jack located at the top, which is a nice addition since many of the new flagship phones are doing away with it, and forcing users to rely on Bluetooth. The Pixel is also one of the first devices to support Google’s new Daydream VR platform, although the headset isn’t yet available.
Google is debuting Android Nougat (7.1) with the Pixel line. What you’ll notice immediately is enhanced notifications with quick reply, split-screen, improved Doze mode, and seamless updates. Google’s Pixels are the first devices to hit the ground running with Android 7.1, the absolutely latest version of Nougat which is currently only available in Developer Preview form for Nexus devices. Android 7.1 brings a few new features like app shortcuts, Smart Storage, image upload from keyboards, circular icons, and other developer items.
The Pixels run a stock version (no bloatware) of the Android OS, and gains a few exclusive features unique to Google’s new flagship line, like the new Pixel Launcher, which features a completely different UI from the Google Now Launcher on Nexus phones, and Pixels are also the first devices to come out of the box with Google Assistant baked right in.
The Pixel is the first phone to include Google Assistant as a standard app. With Assistant, you can quickly access it at any time by holding down the home button, but 90% of what Google Assistant currently offers could already be done with Google Voice Search. Assistant is supposed to be more personal, pulling in user data for a more conversational approach to Google Voice Search. It’s much like Apple’s Siri. For example , Assistant is supposed to remember the context of your original question, allowing you to followup with additional queries in a natural, conversational way.
Another nice software update is the fingerprint ID scanner on the back. In addition to the obvious function, the round sensor also supports gestures, so when enabled, you can simply swipe your finger down on the fingerprint sensor to pull down the notification shade.
Finally, let’s quickly discuss the included Google Quick Switch Adapter, a tiny dongle that comes bundled with each and every Pixel. This accessory allows you to plug your old smartphone directly into the Pixel, transferring over most of your old data like photos, SMS messages, etc., even if you’re coming from an iPhone. The whole process is relatively straight forward. Just use the USB cable from your old device and plug it into the adapter. Then, after connecting the adapter into the Pixel, plug it into your old device and follow the steps on-screen to begin moving your old stuff on over.
Camera, Stills and Video
Hands down, the camera on the Pixel is simply the best smartphone camera we’ve ever used. It’s equipped with a 12.3MP Sony IMX378 image sensor that features 1.55um pixels and an f/2.0 lens to help capture more light. Google has also worked hard to make the image processing of the camera state-of-the-art.
The Google Pixel also shoots in HDR+. A big advantage of using this mode for photos is that the camera doesn’t have to take a single long exposure like on other devices and a big reason why Google didn’t feel the need to include OIS on the Pixel.
Additionally, the Pixel can shoot 4K UHD video. To do this, the device uses a combination of the phone’s hardware (gyroscope) and software to help with the rolling shutter and smooth out video. Video with the front facing camera caps out at 1080p.
One of the best features with video capture is the option to pause in the middle of video, making it perfect for capturing an event without having to worry about splicing together clips after the fact. There’s also the ability to snap photos while recording video, but it’s just a screen cap of the video being recorded. All in all, video on the Google Pixel looks great. It’s clean, stable, and one of the best reasons to own the phone.
As far as the camera’s software goes, the camera app now allows you to manually adjust white balance and or lock focus/exposure. Once AF/AE is activated, you can manually adjust the exposure by sliding your finger up or down. It doesn’t give you a full range of exposure control, only 2 stops from where you initially locked it. Other available shooting modes include Slow Motion, Panorama, Photo Sphere and Lens Blur.
When it comes to auto focus, the Google Pixel uses a combination of phase detection and laser auto focus for really good photos. It’s quick and accurate, and it can also fire off bursts of photos by holding the shutter button, choosing the photo it feels is the “best” of 8 photo options. It’s called Smartburst, and this feature can also create GIFs from these bursts, or allow you to create a collage.
From brightly lit environments, low light, to video stabilization, the Pixel is a super versatile camera, largely thanks to HDR+, and we might go so far as to say it has the best smartphone camera on the market at this point.
Performance and Battery Life
General performance of the Google Pixel is in a word, high-octane, and should be the number one reason to buy this phone. The 2.15Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor shines on both the standard and the XL version, effortlessly speeding through apps, loading up videos, scrolling through the UI with little-to-no slowdowns or stutters. With high-speed UFS 2.0 handing storage, the Pixel is quite literally the fastest and most consistent Android device we’ve ever laid our hands on.
The speed of the processor makes multitasking a non-issue, thanks to the 4GB of RAM and the fact that it’s stock Android. That means no more custom versions of Android clearing out apps or taking up memory. Touch latency is also drastically improved, making Android 7.1 a true competitor to the latest iOS UI. In short, the Pixel’s performance is the result of hardware and software working together in perfect harmony. Upon first boot, you’ll notice the speed and responsiveness of the Pixel is unprecedented.
Battery life on both the Google Pixel XL and the standard Pixel lasts over 8 hours with everything on, around 22 hours without wifi or bluetooth on, and days on standby mode. The XL has a 3,450mAh battery while the regular Pixel settles in at 2,770mAh. Both the Pixel and Pixel XL feature Google’s Rapid Charging, using a standard USB 3.0 Type C cable and the included 18W adapter. You’ll be able to get 7 hours of usage from a 15-minute charge as well, which makes the Google Rapid Charge a good competitor to LG’s and HTC’s similar charger.
The Pixel is Google’s best crack at the iPhone, and they’re making a great run at the Apple icon. By having full control over both hardware and software, it allows Google the freedom to showcase Android in a very unique and effective way.
The Pixel offers supreme hardware and software (including Android Nougat 7.1), a great AMOLED display, and the company has optimized the OS in a way that it will run better now than anything currently out there or coming down the line in the next year.
At $650, the Google Pixel ain’t cheap, but it’s the best Android device out there, and probably for a couple years to come. The Pixel is monumentally important to Google, representing the company’s perfect vision for Android, and even if that’s not fully realized with their first attempt, Google sought out to create a premium, minimal, zero-gimmicks iPhone competitor and that’s exactly what’s been produced. The Pixel is simply the best Android experience you can get right now.
The Google Pixel comes in blue, white and black, and you can buy it through Verizon Wireless for $649.99 here. Also available on Verizon is the Google Pixel XL for $769.99