Google Pixel Review: Pixel perfect

Yes it’s finally here! After years of talk and debates whether Google will make a phone to compete with the iPhone, Google has stepped up to the challenge. This is an innovative device, because unlike previous Nexus products, the phone has been through and through designed by Google. HTC provided the hardware support but Google has chosen the hardware, the materials used, etc. And boy oh boy hasn’t Google nailed it! The Pixel comes in two sizes: the regular Pixel and the Pixel XL. We shall be reviewing the smaller brother for now.

Design

The design has garnered a wide range of comments – from positive to average to un-inspirational. On first look, the device feels a tad bit like an iPhone/HTC hybrid, but I personally love the design. The blend of metal and glass and the two toned looks make it stand out compared to other full-metal or full-glass back phones. The glass and metal design helps to easily identify which is the top part of the phone when removing from the pocket. Similar to the HTC 10, the edges have chamfers, which keep the camera flush and makes the phone a little grippier than standard metal phones. It’s easily usable with one hand, which cannot be said of many flagship phones nowadays. There is a fingerprint scanner embedded in the glass panel, which is quick, albeit not as quick as the OnePlus 3 or iPhone 7. The biggest complain in the design department is the top and bottom bezel. They are huge and for no reason. If they used dual-front-firing speakers or a fingerprint scanner in the front it would be justified but maybe they saved that for Pixel 2.

Google Pixel Back

Display

The Pixel has a 5-inch FULL HD SUPER AMOLED Panel, which has great viewing angles, punchy colour reproduction and vivid colours. Unlike many other AMOLED panels, colours aren’t too oversaturated and blacks are deep and inky. Yes, it won’t be as crisp as a QHD panel, but for a screen of this size, it hardly matters. With this resolution though VR may not perform at its best, and folks looking for VR content should get Pixel XL.

Performance

If I had to say it in one line, it is: Google Pixel is the hot rod of Android devices!

The phone is extremely snappy and navigating through daily tasks is a breeze. Pixel is powered by the latest Snapdragon 821 paired with 4GB RAM. But the performance is majorly blazing fast because of the optimisations done by Google and it will be covered in detail in the next section. On traditional benchmark tools, the phone doesn’t rank as high as the S7 or the iPhone 7, but again this phone is all about the way Google has tweaked it. I have used the HTC 10, S7 Edge and OnePlus 3 and though all are in 90% cases blazing fast, there have been times when the phones used to stutter or show signs of slowdown. But with 3 weeks of using the Pixel, there has not been one instance where the phone has had a minor lag or stutter. From opening apps, scrolling to few tabs in chrome to playing games, it’s smooth as silk. Gaming performance is great, it takes a little more time to load games than say iPhone 7 or S7, but once the game is fired up, it performs as great as an iPhone 7.

The Pixel comes in two storage options – 32GB and 128GB. Unlike the iPhone, which has a slower 32GB storage drive, the Pixel storage on all models are speedy.

Software

This is where the Pixel shines the most. This is Android at its simplest and best, its fastest and most efficient. Google has set a benchmark for the other OEMs to follow and it won’t be easy. With Google having control over hardware and software totally, it has been able to eliminate the minor issues that some Android OEMs have. Google New Android 7.1 UI, is not just speedy but functional. It adds the new Pixel launcher, which doesn’t have a dedicated app drawer button, but a swipe-up gesture from below brings in all installed apps. Personally, I love it plus it gives space to add one more icon on the bottom dock.

img_20161115_1713517The biggest addition and the Superstar of the Pixel is the Google Assistant, which can be summoned by either saying “OK Google” anytime or just pressing the home button for long. Google Assistant is supposed to be your personal assistant to whom you can give voice commands to send messages, set reminders and alarms, and play songs from Spotify and videos from YouTube. Compared to Siri, Google Assistant is a lot smarter in context. Google Assistant can follow up from previous questions and it will intelligently understand that you’re still talking about the same thing. If you ask “What’s the weather today”, you can then say “how about tomorrow?” and it will know that you’re still talking about the weather. Bravo!

Google Assistant is better at understanding different accents compared to Siri. If you go on settings and change language to English (India), the assistant will have a new Indian style tone and recognize Indian names and movies better. With Assistant, you can play games by saying “I’m bored” and it will give you a list of things she can do for you.

Since the Assistant is still at 1.0 stage, there are a few flaws. It still doesn’t support many apps; sometimes it will just show a Google search result for queries but overall it’s good for a first attempt. As time passes, Google will surely push out more features and make Assistant even more functional.

Other notable features are using the fingerprint scanner to pull down notification panel and split screen multi tasking now comes as part of Nougat goodies.

Camera

There was a big buzz and hype around the Pixel’s camera when Google posted the highest ever score on the DxOMark benchmark. But as we know, benchmarks always don’t give the true picture (Yes, Sony *cough cough*) and real-world performance is what matters. And oh boy doesn’t the Pixel kill it in real life too. The camera is simply amazing. Specs are similar to the Nexus 6P: it still has a 12-megapixel rear camera with dual-LED flash, laser autofocus and 1.55-micron pixel completed with an f/2.0 lens. What it does have over the Nexus 6P is the new Sony IMX378 sensor (upgraded from the IMX377), which boasts native phase-detection autofocus, plus much faster HDR thanks to SME-HDR tech.

As a result of the upgrade with speedy CPU and software performance, the camera is a beast. It’s super fast and produces great pictures. Despite lacking OIS, it manages to battle with the best – S7 Edge and iPhone 7. It is easily one of the top 3 camera smartphones out there. Many cameras even with OIS struggle in low light, but the Pixel shines there too. It exposes light well; there is minimum noise in the photos and also brings out great detail.

Google by default wants users to use its HDR+ mode and I use it most of the time. Usually phones have that small processing lag with HDR shots, but with the Pixel images can be taken in an instant and there is no delay whatsoever. Advantage here is that the camera produces unbeatable dynamic range and a feeling of depth that even the iPhone 7 and S7 can’t produce.

The awesomeness carries on further in the video mode also. The camera can produce great 4K videos, but the main trick is how it uses the gyroscope to add in a fantastic software-based stabilisation. The footage produced is 99% of the time silky smooth and looks realistic.

There is a 8MP camera in the front and it’s pretty good because of the larger pixels. (More like the ultra-pixel types.) Selfies taken come out sharp and even in low light it performs decently. The final highlight is free uploads of all your images (at full resolution) and 4K content to Google Photos, which just happens to absolutely blow every other photo storage out of the water. It’s the cherry on the top and makes living with 32GB of storage more practical.

Battery

battery2battery1For a 5-inch phone packed with flagship specs, the Pixel has a great battery. With the 2,770mAh battery, you can easily go through a day. The phone has great stand-by time when your phone is doing nothing and the advanced Dose on the Go feature helps. To compare it with the iPhone 7, I watched one episode on The Flash over Netflix on both phones and the Pixel lost 9% of its battery while the iPhone 7 lost 16%. And that’s the case throughout in terms of browsing and multimedia consumption. The battery is good and will last longer than the iPhone 7. In the box is included a 2A fast charger, which takes the handset from dead to 50% full in about 30 minutes; a further 45 minutes will take it to 100%. The Pixel charges via a USB Type-C cable, and both a USB Type-C to USB Type-C and USB Type-C to regular-sized USB are supplied in the box.

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Type-C charging on the Google Pixel

Verdict

At this moment, there isn’t a better Android phone to buy than the Pixel or Pixel XL. Usually 5-inch screen phones come under-powered in terms of specs, but the Pixel trumps that and offers everything a flagship phone has in terms of hardware and software.

The S7 maybe better in a few ways – water-proofing, expandable storage and flashier design, but the consistent and pure Android software, top-notch camera and being always on the latest of Google makes the Pixel one of the best phones to buy.

The Google Pixel is for the tech-savvy and cash-rich who want the latest tech in their pocket without the overbearing presence of the 5.5-inch Pixel XL. 

It offers something different to the HTC10, Samsung Galaxy S7 and iPhone 7, which are more feature-led, with the Pixel instead designed to deliver a top-notch user experience and all the right tools in all the right places.