The Google Pixel smartphone is Google’s new flagship product. Although it was built by HTC, it was designed by Google and as such, it has several unique features.
The Pixel follows the popular rectangular design. From the front, the 5.6 x 2.7 x 0.2 ~ 0.3 inch Pixel is almost indistinguishable from several other phones. Its metal uni-body has slightly curved edges making it easier to grip than many others (think iPhone!) Kudos to HTC for producing a sturdy phone with a lightweight aluminum body.
Unless you purchase the bright blue Pixel (other colors are gray and black), only when you turn the Pixel over to view the back will you see a unique look. There is a large, shiny glass section dominating the top third of the device. At the upper left corner is the 12.3 MP camera with dual LED flash, which has no camera bump.
At the lower edge of this third is a fingerprint scanner. Called the Pixel Imprint, putting my finger on this scanner felt a little awkward at first, but before long, I was wondering why anyone would want to put their thumb on the front of the phone when using your index finger on the back was so much easier. The Pixel Imprint was fast and accurate.
The top of the phone holds the NFC antenna for things like Android Pay and Android Beam transferring information. It also has a standard 3.5 mm headphone jack that is missing from the newest iPhones.
The bottom of the Pixel sports the USB-C charging port flanked by the loudspeaker (mono only) and microphone grills. This phone has only three buttons. On the right edge you will find the power button above the volume rocker. On the opposite edge is a nanoSIM card slot that opens with the included SIM tool.
The 5-inch AMOLED screen is impressive. It has a 1920×1080 resolution at 440 ppi and is covered with Corning® Gorilla® Glass 4. There are three on-screen buttons: Back, Home, and Overview.
The non-user replaceable battery is a 2,770 mAh battery listed as having talk time (3g/WCDMA) up to 26 hours and internet use time (Wi-Fi) up to 13 hours. Most impressive is the Fast Charging which produced up to 7 hours of use from only 15 minutes of charging.
The Snapdragon 821 64Bit Quad-Core processor at 2.15 Ghz + 1.6 Ghz with 4GB of RAM, makes this phone quite snappy. In my testing it was fast and responsive no matter what the chore. Launching, using and even switching apps is smooth and speedy.
Out of the box, the Pixel runs Android 7.1 Nougat, the newest Android operating system that right now is exclusive to these phones. The new circular icons are symbol of this OS which also includes a night light mode for reducing eye strain at night. In this OS, a long press on the home screen produces an easy way to navigate shortcuts, wallpapers, widgets, and settings. There is also the Android 7.0 features like split-screen multitasking, doze on the go for improvements in battery life, and a data saver mode.
“Moves” which can be turned on and off in the settings, let you double-twist the phone when you are in the camera app to change between the front and rear cameras. They also allow you to open the camera by double-tapping the power button and to swipe down on the Pixel Imprint on the back to get notifications. One of my favorite features is that you can swipe up from the bottom of the screen to get to all apps.
Much of Google’s focus has been on giving this phone a better camera than the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy phones. The 12.3 MP main camera with f/2.0 phase detection and laser assisted autofocus doesn’t disappoint. The 1/2.3″ sensor with 1.55 micron pixel size performs admirably in low light. Pictures have an excellent color range and detail and are crisp and clear. I was skeptical of the lack of Optical Image Stabilization, but with the hardware and software tweaks that Google put together for this camera, I didn’t miss the lack of OIS. Google’s Auto-HDR also produced photos with excellent dynamic range, even better than the iPhone and Galaxy. My side by side comparisons with the iPhone 7 and the Samsung Galaxy 7 show that all three phones take excellent photos.
The place where the Pixel excels is in videos. These can be taken at 2160p (4K) @ 30fps, 1080p @ 30/60/120 fps and 720p @ 240 fps. Google’s gyroscope-based software stabilization is quite impressive and not found in any other phones. This anti-shake mechanism noticeably improved the videos making them smooth even when the photographer was on the move.
Although there are no filters for improving selfies, the front-facing camera 8MP is still excellent.
One great feature is that with the phone, Google will throw in unlimited photo and video cloud storage. Photographers should jump at this offer.
Google also focuses on the artificial intelligence built into the Pixel. Just enable the Assistant option in the Settings and you can trigger the Google Assistant just by saying “OK, Google.”
The Google Assistant has access to all of the data in your Google account including Gmail, calendar, location, etc. The Assistant is certainly useful and smart. When she cannot answer a question, she is usually pretty good at giving a web link to the data. Yet, she is far from perfect.
While, because of Google’s vast storehouse of data, this Assistant has the potential to overtake Cortana, Siri, and Alexa this is not yet evident.
The Pixel that I reviewed here has an older sister, the Pixel XL. Its 5.5 inch screen is a QHD AMOLED at 534ppi and has a 3,450 mAh battery with longer use times. She shares most other specs with her baby sister.
The Pixel and the Pixel XL are exclusive to Verizon. An unlocked version is also available. Prices start at $650, very similar to their iPhone and Galaxy competitors. The base models have 32 GB of memory. You can upgrade to a 128 GB model.
The Pixel follows the examples set by Apple and Samsung offering no microSD slot and a non-removable battery. Both the Apple and Samsung offerings have waterproofing, but this isn’t included in the Pixel. There is no wireless charging as found in Samsung Galaxies. Also there are no stereo speakers as found in the iPhone 7.
Even with these negatives, the Pixel hardware is speedy and responsive. The operating system is a dream. The camera is excellent. So this phone definitely stands up to the competition. Those of us who have purchased the Google Nexus phones will find this phone to be even better, although it is pricey for a Nexus successor.