A breath of fresh Google air in a world of Android over-complication.
The Google Pixel is an excellent flagship phone that’s only let down by mediocre battery life and the still-developing Assistant. If you can stomach the price point, the Pixel is a breath of fresh Google air in a world of Android over-complication.
Supremely smooth performance
Bright, colorful full HD display
Comfortable one-handed use
Battery life could be better
Assistant yet to realize potential
Nexus is dead. Pixel is king. Say hello to the Google Pixel, a handset ushering in a new era of the search giant’s smartphone range.
It arrives alongside the larger (and even more expensive) Google Pixel XL, as the firm doubles up on devices for another year.
The Pixel takes over from 2015’s Nexus 5X as the smaller offering in Google’s lineup. The thing is though, it hasn’t inherited its predecessor’s price point, with the new Pixel sporting a decidedly more premium tag.
The Pixel comes in two variants, 32GB and 128GB, with the smaller storage option costing you a lofty $649 (£599, AU$1,079). Meanwhile the Google Pixel price for the 128GB model is a staggering $749 (£699, AU$1,229), pitching it against the likes of the iPhone 7, Huawei P9, HTC 10 and Samsung Galaxy S7.
In the US it’s exclusively available with Verizon on contract for $27.08 a month if you don’t want to pay full price, and it’ll get all the day one updates, too.
Don’t worry; the unlocked Google Pixel is also being sold on the Google Store for those of you who don’t want to be tied to a contract or carrier.
Previous Nexus devices had a leg-up over the competition with their slightly lower price tag, which helped users overlook a couple of shortcomings; but in 2016, with the new Pixel brand and a brave new price point, there’s nowhere to hide.
A sub-par camera, or patchy battery, for example won’t be easy to forgive as there’s no “oh, but it only costs XXX” – Google needs to ensure the Pixel sings every note.
If you’ve owned a Google-brand smartphone in the past you’ll appreciate the no-nonsense stock Google interface – and you’ll be glad to know it’s business as usual on the Pixel when it comes to the Android Nougat operating system.
For those who are new to Google’s handsets, things may be less clear. While HTC is the firm that has actually built the device, the search giant has made all the calls on what goes into the Pixel, and how it operates.
These handsets are aimed to showcase the best of Google and Android. They pack new features not seen before on the platform (Google Assistant and a ‘best-in-class’ camera in the Pixel’s case), and you’ll be first in line for an update when a new version of Android is launched – usually weeks, if not months ahead of the likes of Samsung, LG, Sony and co.
The Google Pixel sports a first for Google’s smaller smartphone – a full glass and metal body – along with a 5-inch full HD display, Snapdragon 821 processor, 4GB of RAM, 12MP rear camera, fingerprint scanner and 8MP front snapper.
On paper at least, then, the Google Pixel looks to be a flagship contender – but can it live up to the hype – and that price tag – in real life?
That detracts slightly from the overall appeal of the phone, although the bottom portion of the handset is cool metal – and that’s the bit which is in contact with your palm most of the time.
We’d put it below the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S7, iPhone 7 and HTC 10 in terms of looks, but it’s not too far behind, and the metal and glass construction does provide a solid, smart finish. There’s no water resistance though – something the S7 and new iPhone both boast – which is a little disappointing.
It’s more on a par with the larger, cheaper OnePlus 3, which also boasts a premium metal unibody – but with the Pixel being almost twice the price we can’t help feeling Google could have done something even more impressive here.
With its modest 5-inch display the dimensions of the Pixel are a palm-friendly 143.84 x 69.54 x 8.58mm. It’s a little chunkier than its rival flagships, but the depth tapers to 7.31mm at the base, which makes it easier to hold in one hand.
The wedge shape this creates is pretty subtle, but hold the Pixel upside down and you’ll notice the added girth of the top of the phone. This does mean the phone is a little top-heavy, but with its narrow width you can grasp the Pixel securely.
Bright and colorful – everything looks great on it. Full HD resolution not the best for VR
The Google Pixel screen is a bright, clear full HD offering stretched across five inches. It’s pleasant to view and everything looks great, with a Pixel density of 441ppi – in layman’s terms that means it’s pin-sharp.
That’s thanks to its 5-inch dimensions, with larger full HD screens tending to lose their clarity a little more – but the Pixel manages to hold it together well here.
We’ve been using the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus recently, and moving from Apple’s latest offerings to the Pixel we noticed the improved depth of color generated by the latter’s AMOLED display.
Some may find it a little over-saturated, but it does make the screen pop with color for a vivid viewing experience.
A day’s use with moderate to light usage
Regularly required a mid-evening top-up
The Google Pixel battery life is nothing special. If you’re careful with your usage you’ll get a full day out of the phone, but we found that given moderate use a mid-evening charge was required to ensure we made it to bedtime without a flat battery.
The Pixel squeezes in a non-removable 2,770mAh power pack. That’s bigger than the battery in the iPhone 7 (1,960mAh), but smaller than those in the Samsung Galaxy S7 (3,000mAh) and HTC 10 (3,000mAh).
That size difference tallies with general performance, as both the Samsung and HTC put in better battery showings than the Pixel, with the new iPhone in a similarly dicey state come the evening.
A very, very good snapper, but it doesn’t wow
Lens Blur is inconsistent, while low-light shots are okay
The 12.3MP rear camera on the Google Pixel is another big talking point for the search giant, which holds the title of the highest-rated camera ever on DxO – an industry standard for camera and lens image quality measurements and ratings. That’s quite the claim to fame.
The Pixel scored 89 overall in the DxO tests, putting it above all its flagship competition. The excellent Galaxy S7 Edge managed 88, as did the HTC 10 and Sony Xperia X Performance, while iPhone 7 came in a little lower at 86.
That’s all well and good, and it gives Google a strong marketing line, although we’ve found that DxO ratings don’t always translate into excellent camera performance day-to-day.
Should I buy it?
The Google Pixel is an excellent flagship phone. It combines a heap of power and a slick interface with a solid camera and premium design – a combo which will have almost universal appeal.
It doesn’t quite hit the high marks of the Galaxy S7 though, with the Pixel’s battery performance putting it below a number of flagship rivals, but as long as you’ve got a charging cable to hand you won’t be disappointed.
You are paying top dollar for the Google Pixel, and at this price point the competition is fierce. It’s not the best phone around – that honor stays with the Galaxy S7 Edge (and S7) for now – but the Pixel offers up something a little different for Android thanks to its simplicity.
The Pixel is a breath of fresh Android air in a world of over-complication, and you’ll feel rejuvenated using it.
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