Google Pixel Review – The Phone That Google Built

In my opinion Google have knocked it out of the park with the Pixel phone, and here’s why.



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‘The edges have a clear HTC lineage that you can trace all the way back to the M7’

When I picked it up, the first thing that struck me about the Pixel was its weight. At 143g this is a very light phone. The second thing that struck me is how good this phone feels in the hand. The materials, gorilla glass, and anodised aluminium, feel entirely premium and complement the phone’s minimal design nicely.

The Nexus 6P, the Pixel’s primary predecessor, felt solid, well built, and premium. The Pixel feels all of those things, whilst having the ergonomic contouring we’ve come to expect from the likes of Samsung, Apple and HTC. Combined with the 5” form factor, this is by far the best feeling smartphone I have held to date. The edges have a clear HTC lineage that you can trace all the way back to the M7. From the chamfering to the ergonomic feel, this is more comfortable, and less slippery than an iPhone or Galaxy S7, whilst feeling just as solid as either.

‘All in all the Pixel feels fantastic in the hand. It is light, sturdy, and satisfying to hold.’

The porting glass that houses the fingerprint scanner, camera, flash, and sensors, feels like the back of the Nexus 4, and I’ve actually grown to like how it breaks up the look of the phone. The Pixel isn’t the thinnest phone I’ve ever used, and I’m glad Google didn’t spend ages trying to slim it down. It feels exactly where a phone of this size should be – a thinner phone is not always a better phone when held in the hand. The Pixel’s sleight wedge shape, which removes any need for an unsightly camera hump, is barely perceptible, and I’ve only noticed it when trying to balance it on its bottom edge for recording panning shots for my Youtube videos. All in all the Pixel feels fantastic in the hand. It is light, sturdy, and satisfying to hold.

The chin on the Pixel has been a great cause for debate, concern, and outrage. However, I really don’t notice it with everyday use. The one time it is irritating, is when you use the phone one handed. If the bezel was smaller I would almost be able to reach to the top corners of the Pixel with my thumb, (and I have small hands) however with the chin I have to shuffle my grip slightly – it’s doable and you get used to it quickly, but it is a tad annoying. The one positive of the chin is that in landscape mode it gives you a bit more to old when playing a game or watching a video, you aren’t going to accidentally interact with content when you don’t want to.

I went for the ‘quite black’ variant of the Pixel. In part, because I don’t like the look of white bezels (especially with the chin), and also because the black front is better for VR. The Pixel looks ‘quite grey’ under studio or video lights, as well as in direct sunlight, but it person, under indoor lights or outside on an overcast day, it looks pretty close to black. The other consideration when choosing the colours of your Pixel is that the white version has a sensor above the screen which is essentially a large black rectangle. Apple has shown that you can hide sensors in a white phone, and Google’s decision to have this so prominently on display is bizarre, and a little irritating.

All in all I really like the design of this phone, it has been called uninspired by many people, but I love its understated looks. If you think it looks ugly you need to try one out in person, this could very well be the least photogenic phone I’ve ever used. You have see it in the flesh to appreciate it’s minimal design. It has a little of the 6P, a little HTC, a dash of Samsung and Apple, and Google has come up with a design that allows the software of the Pixel to come to the fore – which is where this phone shines.

In terms of durability I’m not about to throw my new phone down a flight of stares, but head over to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18nJ3hjUCTw to see exactly how durable this phone is. (Hint, it’s very durable.)

The power button on the Pixel is textured, ala the 6P, which makes it easy to find in the pocket.


Check out my full Video Review:


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‘The way the screen curves almost imperceptibly into the chamfered edges of the phone is gorgeous’.

The screen on the Pixel is great It might only be 1080p, but this translates to longer battery life and that is a trade I am happy to make. The Pixel XL might have a nicer panel, but the AMOLED panel on the Pixel is still gorgeous, and consuming media, reading text, and playing games is a pleasure. The viewing angles are great, and the colour saturation is exactly where I like my screens to be, colours are a little more vivid than real life, with greens and reds looking especially vibrant. The way the screen curves almost imperceptibly into the chamfered edges of the phone is gorgeous, it feels great in the hand, and when the light hits it (if you’ll spare me poetic moment) it looks beautiful, premium, and smooth.


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The speaker on the Pixel is pretty good. About comparable to the iPhone 7+. My main complaint, is that is is not front facing. A design choice that boggles the mind, seeing as you could fit about three of the 6P’s front facing speakers into the chin on the Pixel. This means that when playing games or watching media without headphones it is very easy to muffle the speaker with a finger to the point of it being useless. This is especially irritating as the speakers aren’t stereo, and there is a vanity grill to the right go the usb c charging port which serves no other purpose than looks. The speaker is good enough to listen to music in the shower, but if you want to use it as the heart of a party, you are going to be disappointed.

In terms of call quality the Pixel performs better with poor signal than the 6P ever did, and it generally sounds crisp and warm.

Although I do feel that the fuss kicked up about the speaker is largely overblown – I pretty much always use headphones or a Bluetooth speaker with my phone – it is irritating Google didn’t include them with its flagship. It’s not a deal breaker, but the positioning especially, is something that would have been an easy fix, and would have made the Pixel closer to the perfect phone.

 


BATTERY LIFE

The Pixel charges pretty fast, not as fast as something like an One Plus 3 with dash charging, but certainly quick enough to keep you topped up, and it removes the necessity to charge the phone over night, every night. The battery life is also fantastic. I can easily get through the day with charge to spare – which is impressive considering I spend so long using my phone for reading, writing, gaming, snapping photographs etc. The latest version of Doze works really well to keep standby use minimal, and the phone looses only a couple of percent when left on over night.


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‘The software is where this phone really shines, and this is clear when using the camera… even under low light the Pixel can snap crispy DSLR looking shots in a few seconds.’

I love the camera on the Pixel. It shoots some of the most consistent photos I have ever experienced with a phone. Compared to the iPhone 7 colour reproduction is not quite as realistic, but the added saturation is something I prefer in my shots. You can adjust the ISO with a slider on the go, as well as within videos, which makes it easy to capture images under difficult lighting. The low light performance on the camera is fantastic, and they consistently look better than anything I’ve taken on an S7 or 6P, and they have slightly less noise than on the iPhone 7+.

The auto-focus on the Pixel is blisteringly fast, and in both 4K video and camera mode the pixel can pick out a subject and soften the background. And if the effect isn’t enough you can use the built in lens blur mode.

This blur mode has been standard in the android camera app for a few years, but it works on the Pixel as on nothing else. I could never get it to work on the 6P unless the conditions were perfect, however even under low light the Pixel can snap crispy DSLR looking shots in a few seconds.

The software is where this phone really shines, and this is clear when using the camera. The shots look about 20% better than the best photos I could get on the 6P, but the consistency of the images is staggering. It’s remarkably difficult to take a sub par photo on the Pixel. As well as the image quality, the whole experience of using the camera is buttery, lag free, and showcases the power of Android 7.1 twinned with Google’s hardware specs. HDR photos render in seconds, and don’t hang like they occasionally did on the 6P. Similarly the camera app will automatically make gifs and collages in real time as you take photos, with no detriment to the speed of the camera app. Burst mode, slow motion (up to 160 FPS), panoramas, and fish eyes are quick to produce and render with minimal time.

The lack of OIS is something I haven’t noticed. As I said, it’s hard to take a bad photo on the Pixel, and whatever software magic Google has used to tie the video stabilisation to the internal gyro is beautiful. Video looks like it’s shot on a gimble, to the point that it often looks slightly unnatural. It smooths out the motion of walking, for example, with ease. Even trying to shake the phone results in smooth images, like most things with the camera you have to really try to not get a good result. Over all the video quality is as close to cinematic as I have produced with a phone’s camera.


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‘This is the fastest Android phone you can buy.’

This is the fastest Android phone I have ever used. Hand’s down. I don’t care about spec shoot outs or bench-marking. I care about a phone that feels fast day to day. Animations, scrolling through webpages, using the camera, switching between apps, gaming, writing, the Pixel consistently performs with a level of smoothness that rivals, and perhaps exceeds, that of an iPhone 7. Forget the Galaxy S7, or the One Plus 3, this feels so much smoother with everyday use. This may well change months down the line, but I pray that it doesn’t. And two weeks into using the phone it is showing no signs of slowing, even loaded up with over 20 GB of apps and music (I have the 32 GB variant). The bottom line is that this is the fastest Android phone you can buy.

And that is really what you are paying for. Google has made it clear that this is the phone they built. At the launch event, in their marketing copy, even in the literature that comes with the phone there is no mention of HTC, anywhere. Sure the Taiwanese company put the thing together, but the synchronicity of hardware and software is pure Google, and is an approach Apple has always sworn by. Now it’s Google’s turn, and my god the results are amazing.

Gaming on the Pixel is also a dream. It can run anything you can throw at it. I’ve had it hooked up to my TV, emulating a ps2 or running some of the latest Gameloft titles, connected to my GameSir controller via bluetooth and it does’t miss a beat. Plus, it barely even gets warm when gaming, something I couldn’t say about the 6P, or the likes of the LG G5.

 


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The main changes to Android 7.1 is speed – as mentioned above the Pixel kills it in this department. However there are several other note worthy improvements. The ability to swipe across the fingerprint scanner to open the notification draw is incredibly useful, especially when you re going to be using this phone one handed a lot of the time.

The quick settings tiles that live in your notification shade are also pretty useful, and expandable with several third party apps. I only wish you could swipe left from them to open up a panel of widgets. I use an app called snap swipe drawer which allows me to access my widgets from any app, but having this nestled in the notification shade would be great. Night mode is something I’ve used Twilight to achieve for a long time, but having it baked in stock Android is a more elegant solution. You can turn it on and off from your quick settings tiles, and unlike apps like twilight that draw over the screen, night mode doesn’t interfere with the installation of apps and the accepting of permissions.

Google Assistant is pretty good. It’s underwhelming if you were expecting it to completely re-frame how we interact with out phones, but as an improvement to Google Now and Now on Tap it’s moving in the right direction. And all the animations and loading times have been polished so that asking your phone for information is easier, quick, and yields more useful results than ever before. it consistently pulls up more useful results than Siri, although I have found that the voice recognition struggles on weaker wifi or data connections, to an extent that is more noticeable than on an iPhone 7.

 


OTHER STUFF

I love that it comes with a usb otg dongle that lets you attach media and other usb devices as well as performing switches from iOS to a Pixel. it’s a great piece of kit for expanding the usefulness of you phone, and having one out of the box is a great addition.

This will be irrelevant for most people but external microphones, like the RODE SmartLav+work with the Pixel, something that was lacking on the 6P.

The Pixel launcher on the phone is also pretty good. It’s what we’ve seen before but circular – unfortunately, as the icons on the Pixel are one of the few things Google got wrong. They are inconsistent, poorly sized, and adhere to a standard that third party developers aren’t using yet. It’s a small thing, but the icons on the Pixel are just ugly. Some icons are enlarged and then cookie-guttered into circles, some are just vaguely circular (hangouts and duo) and some, like the calendar, are just an old icon slapped onto a white, circular background. The fact that the calendar icon is live is awesome, but Google needs to sort them out, and add notification badges, and custom icon pack support. The new quick actions, accessible with a long press, are useful – somewhat like iOS’s 3D touch but without the screen tech. The Pixel launcher is the best “stock” experience we’ve had on Android, but it’s still not enough to stop me immediately installing Nova or Action Launcher on the Pixel.

THE GOOD

-Solid, great feeling hardware.
-The fastest Android experience to date, with future proofing.
-An amazing camera, combined with fantastic software.
-Great Battery life.
-VR capability.

THE BAD

– It’s expensive.
– No waterproofing – even though the Pixel has been shown to stand up to being submerged for prolonged periods, I still don’t have the confidence ( or warranty) that comes with an IP67 phone such as the S7 or iPhone 7.
– The speakers leave a little to be desired.
– No removable battery and SD card. Although I have to say I have used phones with both these and I rarely, if ever took advantage of them.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Pixel is expensive. And it slightly lacks the fullest suite of specs that we have come to expect from flagships in terms of waterproofing and speakers. That being said, this is the fastest Android phone (I’m tempted to say phone in general) that you can buy. It has seamless updates, and it is future proofed to the hilt in terms of software, and the internals should also stand the test of time. If you can settle for a slightly slower experience, without the latest bells and whistles from Google you can get a great Android phone for half the price. However, if you are looking for the best Android experience you can get – surfing the wave of the bleeding edge, than the Pixel is well worth the price tag.

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