The search engine giant maybe good with software, but has now taken a huge plunge into the hardware zone by slapping its name on one of the finest smartphone hardware out there. The Pixel, an incarnation of the previously known Nexus, which was always manufactured by a collaborated manufacturer till date, is now undertaken by Google directly. Manufactured by HTC, the Google Pixel caters to the Android platform. As known, the Nexus smartphones are created for the highest stock Android experience and the first update from the Android kitchen is always served to the Nexus device. Now that Google has killed off the Nexus brand name and is out with its own ‘Phone by Google’ Pixel, the tech giant seems to fight its own battle with the iOS rival. The Google Pixel comes in two sizes (Pixel and Pixel XL) and two variants in each size. While the only difference between the two sizes are the display (5-inch and 5.5-inch), and the battery rating (2770mAh and 3450mAh), the rest of the hardware engine below is identical. We had the Google Pixel XL with us for a while and were amazed with what it can do. Though there are very minor shortfalls in the phone, we must admit that Google has done a remarkable job of creating its first Android smartphone.
The Pixel XL sports an 8.5mm thick body and has just a few millimetres of difference in height and width in comparison with the Pixel. Google has opted to go with a QHD (2K) AMOLED display for the Pixel XL on a 5.5-inch panel, while the smaller sibling gets a full HD (1080p) AMOLED display on a 5-incher panel. Both the variants feature a 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass 4, which won’t need any screen protector for sure. The chassis is made using an aerospace-grade aluminium body which is sturdy and firm. Sadly, the smooth surface could spell out an expensive service should it slip off your hands and get the screen cracked. If you are opting for one of these babies, make sure you spend a miniscule amount and get a soft silicon case for additional protection.
Moving further, the AMOLED panels are 100 per cent NTSC with a super contrast ratio of 100000:1. Powering the phone from within is a beastly Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 chipset, which features four 64-bit Kryo processors (2 x 2.15GHz + 2 x 16.GHz), and clubbed with an Adreno 530 GPU along with 4GB of RAM. As mentioned earlier, the internal storage options available are 32GB and 128GB in both variants.
Moving on to the imaging area, the Pixels feature a 12.3MP rear camera with a large f/2.0 aperture and supported by Phase detection autofocus and laser detection autofocus along with a dual-tone LED flash. The camera can capture videos at 4K resolutions with up to 30 frames per second and can go all the way up to 240fps with 720p videos. Onboard sensors include Proximity / ALS, Accelerometer/Gyro, Fingerprint biometrics (rear mounted), Barometer, Hall effect, Android Sensor Hub and X-axis haptics. The device charges off a USB 3.0 Type-C port using a Type-C 18W adapter. Unfortunately, the Pixel supports just a single micro SIM and has no option for a second SIM card or memory expansion slots. Connectivity options include support for up to CAT 12 4G VoLTE, Wi-Fi ac with 2x2 MIMO, Bluetooth v4.2, NFC and GPS. The Pixels sport Android v7.1 Nougat straight out of the box; however, you may need to update it again for a few OTA security patches that Google has been rolling out since the device’s launch. Lastly, the Pixels come in two colour variants — Quite Black and Very Silver. Wonder where they get those colour names from....
As for the looks, the Pixels do not show any significant design awe — one would have expected Google to compete with the looks similar to what Apple and Samsung do with the flagships. The Pixels are simple smartphone-looking handsets, which anyone would confuse with a regular one out there. The only giveaway would be the dual-tone plastic-metal finish on the rear with a Google logo on it. The Pixels have rounded borders with a large forehead and chin. The matte-finished exterior is pretty smooth and slippery, but what can keep it safe is the top glossy surface on the rear panel.
The power and volume rockers take their place on the right side, while the (single) SIM slot is on the left. The headphone jack is placed on top and the mic, USB Type-C port and a mono speaker is found on the bottom edge. As mentioned earlier, Google seems to have a wasted space on the chin with absolutely no buttons — the space could have incorporated the home, menu and back buttons instead of using up precious UI space. The forehead has the front camera tucked on the left corner, while the earpiece and the sensors take their place in the centre. The rear panel sports the camera, sensors and the LED flash towards the extreme left top corner, while the fingerprint sensor is conveniently plated for the index finger while in use. Overall, the phone does look elegant, but Google could have done better with the design, considering the device is priced at a high premium. The design is definitely generic and probably understated. Last, but not least, make sure you use a case for your Pixel since these expensive babies are prone to scratches and dents, should they take an accidental beating. Unfortunately, the Pixels also do not sport a waterproof body, so make sure you keep them far from any liquids.
While the Pixel does show off its strength in the operating system, hardware and camera sections, Google has opted out of a few elements that was expected from them. A missing IR port, which almost seems to be a norm today, an optical image stabiliser for the camera and a wireless charging option could have definitely raised the bar for the Pixel.
Coming to the user interface, there is no smartphone out there that can beat the Pixel with Android. The first of every Android update rolling out of the Google kitchen will be catered first on the Pixel. The stock Android operating system will definitely put the Pixel in the fast lane when it comes to performance on the present hardware being used.
The user interface is the main USP for Google at this point. With the latest operating system fused with the best artificial intelligence, Google is riding completely on Assistant, which is presently only available on the Pixel, apart from the Google Home smart speaker. Unlike Google Now, the Assistant is far more advanced and gets even more personal with the user. It means that unlike OK Google, you can have proper conversations with the Assistant. You can simply and easily command the Assistant to make your daily life simpler. You can simply talk to your Assistant. For example — set timers, add calendar events, make to-do lists, find your route, know traffic details and a lot more, by simply talking to it.
The user interface on the stock Android is even better than before. The Pixel launcher brings with it a new theme with round icons and colours. The new UI also incorporates Apple’s iPhone-like 3D Touch feature which allows you to perform tasks (related to the app) without opening it. For example, long-press or touch and hold on the Gmail app icon and you can see options such as compose a new email hovering above it. Or maybe if you do the same to the Maps icon, you can see option to get to your saved labels.
The display on the Pixel XL is crisp, bright and definitely something that will help you enjoy your games and movies, both normally as well as in VR. The display also has no legibility issues when used in direct sunlight. Under the hood lies the current generation Snapdragon beast, which is snappy and robust. The device’s performance is at par with almost all similarly powered handsets, shows no lag, whatsoever. Using multiple applications at once also did not show any significant lag or sluggish behaviour — the Pixel won’t disappoint you for sure. The Pixel is presently the only handset that comes as close to where iPhones perform on iOS. Just like the iPhone, the Pixel hardware and software meet to create an excellent piece of personal communication device. With the best Snapdragon out there and with the purest form of Android on it, the Pixel can give you the most reliable and smoothest Android handset out there. As far as the storage is considered, we were a bit disappointed — with just 32GB onboard, you are destined to get it filled within a few weeks of use. No doubt there is a 128GB version out there too, but the price is exorbitantly high. A micro SD card slot could have done wonders to the user. However, you can opt for an OTG flash drive, or sync your data to the cloud.
The Pixels sport a 12MP camera, and you won’t find any other camera that can perform like these. Presently, the iPhone 7 and the Samsung Galaxy S7 are the only two strongest contenders to the Pixel and you definitely will be surprised with what the Google variant can do. While the Pixel does lack in additional features such as OIS, there are other areas where the camera excels. For example, videos can be shot with frame rates of 120 and 240.
The primary camera captures images that will surprise you. Images are sharp, detailed and sport an excellent dynamic range. Photos look natural, life-like. Night or low-light photography is good too, but the lack of manual controls over the camera could end up with you taking multiple shots just to be sure you did not lose your subject. Nevertheless, with the Pixel’s camera, you definitely won’t be disappointed. Check out some of the images we have put together that shows the performance of the camera in different environments — from broad daylight to low light. The laser-assisted autofocus ensures that your subject is quickly captured with the sharpest details.
Videos too are great — though the Pixel lacks optical image stabilisation, the onboard electronic stabilisation feature does a fairly good job. You may need to keep your hands as still as possible while recording videos, but it is not as bad as you would see on other smartphones without OIS.
Click on the images below to check out the slow motion captured at 240fps.
As for the battery life, the 3450mAh battery powering the XL is bound to give you around 6 – 8 hours on an average. It is almost impossible to gauge the exact run time since each person has a different set of behaviour tweaked to his daily usage. While some may use a lot of apps, others may consume data and many may snap photos. However, if you keep your settings tweaked, manage your usage well, you won’t be running too often to the charger. As for our usage for around two – three weeks that we had it, we received an average of around 10 hours to the max. The Pixel supports rapid charging and with the original charger, you should get an average of 50 percent charge within 30 minutes.
The Pixel is by far the best Android smartphone we have used till date. It is the closest contender to the iPhone in terms of performance and user interface, and comes at par (and at times even better) with regards to the photography area. With a new user interface, an intelligent Assistant, the purest Android operating system, one of the best cameras, a 2K AMOLED display and a powerful snappy hardware, the Pixel will definitely be on the top recommended Android phone list. However, the only part that disappoints the most is the price tag. A whopping Rs 67,000 for the 32GB version of the Pixel XL seems like burning a hole in your bank balance. No doubt you would be paying for the best Android experience for at least another few years ahead, but the price is a bit too high, especially when considering that the iPhone retails similarly close. Nevertheless, we have to say that Google has done an excellent job on the Pixel and with the coming years ahead, the search giant is destined to send the rivals back to the drawing board.