Just because Android is everywhere doesn’t mean that Google is everywhere on mobile. There has been a lot of talk about Google being more “opinionated” about what a phone should be, and Google’s opinion has always been hidden behind that veil. That situation might be okay at the low end, but at the high end (where all the profit and mindshare is), Samsung and Apple have expressed the only opinions that really matter. With Note 7s off the market and Samsung hedging its bets against Google’s services, that situation was going to become untenable someday.
Someday is today: Google has made a phone for the first time. It’s called the Pixel and it’s a Google phone inside and out, sold directly by the company to a mass audience for the first time. With Pixel, we finally get to see behind the veil and get an unmediated experience of Google’s very shot at a phone. All the excuses that existed before for Android phones not living up to their potential won’t work here.
No more bullshit.
here are actually two Pixels: the regular 5-inch screen version and a larger 5.5-inch version called the Pixel XL. They are identical in every respect except for the size of their batteries, the resolution of their screens, and, of course, their prices: the spectrum ranges from $649 for a 32GB Pixel and goes all the way up to $869 for a 128GB Pixel XL.
For people who have been following Google’s phone efforts so far, the best comparison we have are the Nexus phones spanning the past six years. That comparison has led many to experience sticker shock about the price, because Nexus phones were usually inexpensive. But the Pixel is different: although it is manufactured by HTC, it’s fully designed by Google. And Google designed it to compete at the top tier, so it’s priced to match the iPhone and the Galaxy S7. It has a couple incredibly obvious objectives in mind with this phone: make it familiar and make it powerful.
Let’s start with familiar and say the obvious thing: the Pixel kind of looks like an iPhone. Every high-end phone these days is designed with some combination of metal and glass, and so you could argue that there are only so many ways to make a rectangle. But even so, look at the bezels on the front, the curves at the corners, the antenna lines, and the placement of the speaker; the thing looks very familiar. After years of trying, Samsung managed to find its own, techier aesthetic. Maybe Google will do that eventually, but for this first try I think it wants the thing to look like what what people are used to. People are used to iPhones.
That said, there are lot of differences, and they add up to a phone that’s utilitarian and approachable. The biggest design element is the glass shade that replaces the metal on the top third of the back of the phone. Functionally, it might help with radio reception, but mostly I think it’s there to align the phone in your hand.
Neither Pixel is precisely flat, there’s a subtle wedge shape to them to accommodate the camera at the top. That means there’s no camera bump but also that they still feel relatively thin where you actually hold them .
Google puts the fingerprint sensor on the back, You can just rest your finger on it to turn on and unlock the phone, but it doesn’t serve as a home button. You can also set it up so that when you slide your finger down on it, it pulls down the notification shade.
The Pixel is not waterproof, which is dumb and annoying. I should also note that a very short fall managed to crack the screen on the smaller Pixel during our review. A sample size of one is obviously too small to say that these devices are less durable than they ought to be, but it’s not a great sign.
It fast charges via USB-C and there’s only one speaker — at the bottom. Luckily, it’s a pretty loud, decent speaker (a charitable person might say that’s why the bezel on the bottom is so large). There is, of course, a headphone jack on the top.
THESE ARE EASILY THE BEST ANDROID PHONES YOU CAN BUY
As for specs: they’re great. Both Pixel variants have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, 4 gigs of RAM, and flat-out gorgeous OLED screens with deep blacks and vibrant, punchy colors. And that’s important: at some point next month, Daydream VR will finally get released and you’ll want high-quality screens for that.
The Pixels are fast — noticeably faster than Samsung’s Galaxy S7. On performance alone, these are easily the best Android phones you can buy. For a phone made by Google, that’s absolutely the expectation — it’s just good to note that at its first time at bat, Google hit a home run.
For the first time, Google is arguing strenuously that it can make a better phone because it controls both the hardware and software. So I wouldn’t enjoy being another Android manufacturer right now. That’s not my problem nor yours, though. For us, the really important question is simply this: did Google take advantage of that integration to push the Pixel beyond what has been possible on other Android phones.
I’d say that the answer is yes. Google tells me that once again it did more work optimizing touch response to make the phone feel snappier. In fact, the company claims that under a high-speed camera it’s exactly as responsive as an iPhone. It doesn’t quite feel that way to me, but perhaps the differences come down to how the different operating systems tune their inertia on scrolling.
In my experience, the Pixels are lasting a couple of hours longer than comparably sized iPhones or Nexuses. That’s better than the “about a day” you get from most phones these days.
Besides the battery, Google says the other hardware component that benefits the most from Google’s assembly integration is the Pixel camera. The camera on the back is 12.3 megapixels with an f2.0 lens and two ways to focus: phase detect and laser auto focus. It has a two-tone flash, too, but unfortunately no optical image stabilization. Google product VP Brian Rakowski calls this “the best smartphone camera anyone has ever made.” Usually you don’t hear such bold claims, but he’s confident — DxOMark gave it the highest score it’s ever given a phone.
Pixel iPhone Galaxy S7
Google did add some video stabilization software that ties the camera sensor to the gyroscope. It can stabilize what you’re shooting as long as you don’t shake the camera too much. Walking down a wooded path: fine, the results are stable and don’t have a “jelly” effect, though the video does look vaguely artificial to me. Running down that path: less fine, this isn’t going to save you from shaky video if you really jostle it.
Bottom line: if you wanted to agree with Google and call this the best smartphone camera, I wouldn’t argue with you. Instead I would say that picking the best camera among the Pixel, the iPhone 7, and the Samsung Galaxy S7 is more a matter of personal preference than it is of pure picture quality. And I would add that I don’t think Google would have gotten this far if it hadn’t controlled both the hardware and the software from the start.
Google is also providing some bonus features for Pixel users. There’s chat and phone support built right into the Settings app on the phone. If you like, you can give screen-viewing capabilities to your support representative so they can walk you through your issue. You also get free, unlimited cloud storage for every picture and video you take with the Pixel.
As for Android 7.1, it’s a nice incremental update. It has support for Daydream VR, which I didn’t get to test. It also (finally!) has a Night Mode that shows less blue light so it’s easier on your eyes in the dark. It is aggressively, almost ridiculously yellow and I am not as fond of it here as I am on iOS devices, where it’s possible to adjust the strength of the filter.
Google has done more tuning to make Android feel more responsive to touch — and that work is much appreciated. But I don’t think that same attention to detail has been applied to the overall interface yet. Take the new keyboard as one example: it supports GIF search, but it’s buried deep in the keyboard and it only shows up in certain supported messaging apps. Sometimes it’s there, usually it’s not, and it’s basically guaranteed you’ll forget about it and never use it.
Those are going to be tomorrow’s standards. By today’s standards, the Pixel and Pixel XL are among the best phones you can buy.
• Long battery life
• Fast and powerful
• Google Assistant
• Not waterproof
• Pedestrian design
• Google’s take on Android needs more polish
NETWORK: GSM / CDMA / HSPA / EVDO / LTE
LAUNCH 2016, October 20
Dimensions 143.8 x 69.5 x 8.5 mm (5.66 x 2.74 x 0.33 in)
Weight 143 g (5.04 oz)
– Splash and dust resistant
DISPLAY Type AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
Size 5.0 inches (~69.0% screen-to-body ratio)
Resolution 1080 x 1920 pixels (~441 ppi pixel density)
Protection Corning Gorilla Glass 4
PLATFORM OS Android OS, v7.1 (Nougat)
Chipset Qualcomm MSM8996 Snapdragon 821
CPU Quad-core (2×2.15 GHz Kryo & 2×1.6 GHz Kryo)
GPU Adreno 530
MEMORY Card slot No
Internal 32/128 GB, 4 GB RAM
CAMERA Primary 12.3 MP, f/2.0, phase detection & laser autofocus, dual-LED (dual tone) flash
Features 1/2.3″ sensor size, 1.55µm pixel size, geo-tagging, touch focus, face detection, HDR, panorama
Video 2160p@30fps, 1080p@30/60/120fps, 720p@240fps
Secondary 8 MP, f/2.4, 1/3.2″ sensor size, 1.4 µm pixel size, 1080p
SOUND Alert types Vibration; MP3, WAV ringtones
3.5mm jack Yes
– Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
COMMS WLAN Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, hotspot
Bluetooth v4.2, A2DP, LE
GPS Yes, with A-GPS, GLONASS
USB v3.0, Type-C 1.0 reversible connector
FEATURES Sensors Fingerprint, accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer
Messaging SMS(threaded view), MMS, Email, Push Mail, IM
– Fast battery charging
– MP4/H.264 player
– MP3/WAV/eAAC+ player
– Photo/video editor
– Document editor
BATTERY Non-removable Li-Ion 2770 mAh battery
Stand-by Up to 456 h (3G)
Talk time Up to 26 h (3G)
Music play Up to 110 h
MISC Colors Quite black, Very silver, Really blue
Price:To be confirmed later for Ugx.
Chief editor:Albert kartel
Assisted by:Atukunda shallot