When Google announced the Google Pixel at their “madebygoogle” Event earlier last month, I think it’s fair to say we weren’t too impressed with the thing, which isn’t exactly surprising to look at the thing, on the surface. The device doesn’t exactly spring out as an exciting device at all, but that’s not where the Pixel shines, the Pixel shines once you power it on.
The biggest advantage to owning a Pixel over the wide array of other Android devices such as the Galaxy S7, LG V20 or maybe the HTC 10, is that with the Pixel you’ve not only got the Pure Android experience you’d previously expected from Nexus devices, but that seamless “Pure Android” experience now matches to both the hardware and software in harmony, which previously was unheard of.
Whilst we’re going to talk about the software experience later, we will say this much for those currently invested in Android, this phone is not designed for the full-on Android user who wants the everything you can get, that’s where phones like the S7 shine, but if you’re looking for a clean out of the box experience running silky smooth and simply getting you from A to B in the best way possible, or perhaps are switching from iOS, you are the customer the Pixel was made for.
IN THE BOX
- Google Pixel Smartphone
- USB-C to USB-C Cable
- USB-C Power Plug
- USB-C to USB-A (regular USB) Cable
- USB-C to USB Adapter for Smartphone, allowing you to plug USB devices in to Pixel at full power.
- Booklet including 2 months free Google Play Music inc. YouTube Red
One thing the Google Pixel won’t win any awards in is likely design, whilst we personally don’t mind the look of the thing, and much prefer the the Very Silver we’re reviewing to the Quite Black (the garish Really Blue is unfortunately US exclusive for those fans of out-there colours) as the colour is less of a surprise, and the back doesn’t look as unusual as it may to the other offerings. We will say one complain about the Quite Black model, which is the front isn’t Black, it’s dark grey, which really ruins what could have been a beautiful stealth look to the device, another reason for us opting Very Silver … or those two to you and me, Black and White, which they’ll be known as from now on!
Overall though, outside of the glass panel at the back which does grow on you and has actually become one of my favourite aspects of the design, the Pixel offers a nice, but nothing surprising, design which to some people is what they want, an understated design with software that delivers!
Yes, it’s got a headphone jack! This inept obsession with expressing that in new Smartphones is as old as it was new, though naturally a dig at Apple, or could be Motorola, who removed the port in favour of a single port set-up for design reasons.
The jack is at the top of the Pixel, which we will say isn’t where we’d of preferred it as having the port at the bottom allows for a much convenient feel when you put the device in your pocket, or use it generally as having a wire sticking out of the top does make it awkward for lugging around in certain situations when plugged in. May not affect many, and is a small niggle for us, but something to mention.
It also wouldn’t hurt to put the headphone jack on the bottom, as whilst their are two grills, only the left is a speaker, and whilst normally you’d expect the other to serve as a speaker, according to our sources it’s literally aesthetics. The decision to place to speaker on the left side is also one of concern or us, as it does mean when you hold the device in landscape you’re guaranteed to muffle the speaker, whilst that’s true if it was on the right side, having it on the right side at least means you can hold the device and cup it easily, not so with the left side. Obviously you can hold it differently to alleviate the situation, but just something to keep in mind.
The final area is feel in the hand, whilst the Pixel does feel solid and is clearly built well, only exception being the volume rockers, it is a bit sharp to hold in the hand, which is likely due to the three-way design with triple layering of metal, likely to make the tapered design less noticeable. The choice around this we perfectly understand, it means the device is thinner at the bottom, whilst being slightly thicker at the top to prevent a Camera-hump, which we really do appreciate, but that does lead to a less smoother feel in the hand than what you’d find on say an iPhone.
Speaking of that Camera;
The Google Pixel has a beautiful AMOLED display panel, either at 5 inch 1920 x 1080, or for the Pixel XL you’ve a 5.5 inch 2560 x 1440 display, either way they both look great. Whilst we do still give props to Samsung for the vibrancy of the display, it’s clear Samsung have well refined this market, the Pixel is still a very strong contender and likely doesn’t live up to the ultra-vibrancy of the Samsung panels as it prefers more true to life colours. Speaking of true to life colours, the Pixel also supports sRGB colour Pallet in the device settings for you to enable if you wish, though we are more than happy with the default.
The fact the Pixel has an AMOLED display is one of the biggest reasons we complained about the Quite Black colour option having a dark grey facia, as if it was a black one you would get that inky black look throughout the front of the Smartphone, which you won’t get on that Pixel model unfortunately. Thankfully though that doesn’t take away what a great Display it is and is a pure AMOLED panel.
If you are a lover of a lot of Brightness on your Displays though, the Pixel may not be the best choice for you as it doesn’t get as bright as other Smartphones do, a problem only really noticed in direct sunlight, so something to keep in mind. Other than that though, this is a fantastic display.
The Fingerprint Scanner doesn’t normally get it’s own section in a post, but we thought it deserved a mention as the Google Pixel has probably our favourite Fingerprint Scanner we’ve ever used on an Android device, matching that of Apple’s TouchID in terms of accuracy versus speed.
What we love though about the Fingerprint Scanner on the Google Pixel, is that Google decided to do something with it, rather than it just being something “there” you just use to unlock your device. We also love, after the stress of Apple getting rid of Slide to Unlock and the continuous Home button presses by default, that you can both wake and unlock your Google Pixel just by placing your finger on the Fingerprint Scanner, you’re just in, we love that.
The neat trick for us lies with the Notification Shade. If you have a Notification, or simply wish to get to your System-wide shortcuts at the top, you can actually use the Fingerprint Scanner as, almost a, mouse trackpad by swiping down on the Fingerprint Scanner first reveals the menu and any Notification, then a second swipe down opens it entirely, and a single swipe up puts it away, it’s that small attention to detail you find all over the Google Pixel and is one of the areas that really makes you appreciate it.
Where do we start? This is an incredible Camera on the Pixel. Whilst Google touted it as the best, you’d be right to question whether that’s true, as let’s not forget, every Smartphone Camera has been the best for years, though most never bourn fruit, but we can happily say, the Pixel delivers!
The Google Pixel has a 12.3MP Camera with 1.55µm pixel size, f/2.0 aperture, phase detection and laser autofocus, backed up with a dual-LED (dual-tone) flash. The Camera can record up to 4K UHD at 30fps and stabilises using the Gyro with EIS, and takes pictures by default with HDR+ and does so very quickly. The front Camera on the Pixel is an 8MP unit, capable of 1080p video, with an 1.4 µm pixel size, f/2.4 aperture. The front Camera is very, okay, perfectly usable for video conferencing and decent enough for those selfie takers, especially with the resolution.
Probably the best Smartphone Camera, before the Pixel, was found on the Samsung Galaxy S7, and remains one of the best offerings out there, especially after the iPhone 7 disappointed, though we have to mention their remains areas where the Galaxy S7 still leads the Pixel, which mainly come down the low-light performance. The Google Pixel does not feature Optical Image Stabilisation, though you really wouldn’t know as the EIS (Electronic Image Stabilisation) does such an unbelievable job by using the Gyro you’d think it had and betters stabilisation from it’s competitors, though where the OIS lack really shows is in low light photography where you simply can’t emulate.
It’s also worth noting a lens-flare issue with the Google Pixel devices, which Google is aware of and claims will be helped in a software update when using HDR+ (enabled by default)
Having said that, the Pixel just delivers and delivers in terms of image quality, we’ve a few in door samples of the Pixel below but trust us, this thing delivers everywhere you go on image quality. HDR+ is set by default but you’d hardly realise in terms of shutter speed, you take, it’s shot, it’s that quick, plus with the HDR+ results, we’ve kept it on for this review;
Video quality is also incredible on the Google Pixel, which is where the EIS really comes in to play, though whilst the video is the most stable video you can probably find from a Smartphone today, it does offer a robotic jerking motion when movements turn sideways. Video can be recorded up to 30fps at 4K UHD, though you can revert down to 60 or 120fps of 1080p, as well as up to 240p of 720p, with editing for slo-mo video also built in.
BOKEH ON PIXEL?
The Google Pixel has more tricks up it’s sleeve including a software take on one of the iPhone 7 Plus’ biggest feature, and whilst it is done by software, the end result is actually pretty good, though we’ll admit hit or miss.
As you can see from the Elephant example, click it to expand, this is one example where the bokeh-esc effect is pulled off perfectly and really sets the tone of a fantastic picture.
To take a shot like this, in the Camera app, swipe across to Lens Blur. Once you take a picture, or have it in focus, you will be asked to slightly raise your device for it to get the better depth of field, then wa-lah, it will process your image.
MINI-RANT ON BENCHMARKS VS IPHONE
You can view performance in many ways, with our iPhone 7 review, we mentioned how it basically champed the competition in benchmarks, still true today, and how even in real world tests (speed tests) it favoured above the rest! The Google Pixel isn’t going to be the phone to top a benchmark chart, but why does that even matter.
The iPhone 7 was a perfect example of how benchmarks really do mean absolutely nothing! The iPhone 7 was without a shadow of a doubt the most laggy, buggy and, quite frankly, average flagship we’ve reviewed all year, yet benchmarks would lead you to believe it’s somehow cream of the crop, so what gives right?! The problem lies in optimisation, which ironically is what the world was screaming back in the early days of Android.
It wasn’t too many years ago, every Android phone boasted off the chart benchmark results, whilst iOS devices looked like toys in comparison, but guess what, the iPhone was the better performer! Why? Because iOS was better optimised for it’s hardware and software, whereas Android (at the time) wasn’t, isn’t it funny how the tides have completely turned!
Now, with iOS 10 on the iPhone 7, the device lags, stutters and delays its way to any given task, whilst that may not be noticeable for those who don’t really care, though you should, it is a clear indication that Apple’s software quality has not only slipped, that started with iOS 7, but slumped to a new low. Problem is, Google’s has being constantly evolving since the introduction of Android 4.1 Jellybean with their “Project Butter” movement, which we can confirm now on the Pixel running Android 7.1 Nougat, beats out everything in terms of smooth operation based on Smartphones you can buy TODAY.
Is it perfect? No, you will get a stutter on occasion, and we wouldn’t say it’s equal to an iPhone 5 running iOS 6, but whilst Apple have slumped to rushing software out with no care, Google’s exceeded Apple now, not on feature as they passed that years ago, but now at Apple’s own game, hardware and software being in perfect sync!
BACK TO PERFORMANCE
The Google Pixel is one of the first off the shelf with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821, which is more or less just an overclocked Snapdragon 800, but the emphasis is on power efficiency, something we most definitely love to see on any Smartphone, but we’ll get to Battery soon.
Needless to say however, after you’ve put the incredible optimisation we just spoke about, the Pixel just get’s the job done and it gets it done smoothly, and quickly! Whether you’re opening a Social feed, launching Games such as the latest Asphalt Xtreme (when Gamelofts servers don’t have issues), popular titles like Pokémon GO, or anything else, it just flies through. We will say though, that we do think the Exynos processor found in the Galaxy S7 does perform slightly better, especially in load time, than the Adreno from the Snapdragon, but once you get there it performs like a champ, as you’d really expect from a flagship. Where we noticed better performance through the Exynos was in emulation of Dolphin, where the Samsung ran it great, where the Pixel can’t deliver, which is more a Snapdragon issue than the Pixel to be fair, though worth noting.
I always say this, but I’ll say it again, one day we’ll have a flagship device reach our “Excellent” rating for Battery, but once again this falls short of that, though the battery life of the Google Pixel is very decent and is another one of those Smartphones that’s going to get you to the end of the day.
However, if you’re a heavy user, as in gaming all the time, screen on all the time, brightness on stupid bright setting, then sure you won’t make it through the day, but the Pixel has you covered there thanks to Fast Charging, and in our experience, this thing charges fast, whether a short top-up, to empty to full, and it’s nice that the included charger is the Fast Charger, unlike some that say they support it and tell you do out and get one.
It’s also worth noting that since Android 6 Marshmallow, all Android devices have a battery saving feature known as ‘Doze’, which is purpose built to saving battery life on standby, and it goes without saying that we’ve been very impressed with the results, losing just 30% on a light day. Though naturally, heavy usage varies.
Android 7.1 Nougat on the Pixel
The best way to describe Android Nougat on the Google Pixel, in one word, refined, from the small things around the edges to the performance throughout.
The ironic thing about the experience we’ve been having on the Google Pixel, is it takes us back to the classic days of iOS on the early day iPhone models, which is definitely a positive especially based on current events where that quality has slipped.
For the days and days and days we use the Pixel, we’re constantly presented with a delightful experience, as the phone just delivers pretty much everything you through at it.
As part of the Nougat update, system wide split-screen multitasking is now available on Stock Android Smartphones such as the Pixel, whilst we still think this is rather pointless on Smartphones, and is more better reserved for Tablets, we will say it works well though with apps which support it, if that’s your thing, though it’s not ours.
We do like the quick switch addition in Nougat, where you can double tap the Multitasking button to instantly swap between the current and previously used application instantly, which whilst doing always have a use case, when you do wish to use it, it works very well.
At the heart of the Google Pixel experience is of course the new ‘Pixel Launcher’, the successor to the Google Now Launcher still available in the Play Store, and available for more or less any other Android device. Whilst the Pixel Laucher is very similar in it’s execution from the Google Now Launcher, it does offer a collection of additions which just add to that neat experience out of the box.
One of the first things you’ll notice on the new Pixel Launcher is the new Widget, which whilst is non-removable, as well as the Google Now tab, allows you to display the current Weather in quite a beautiful simplistic way, though if you tap the Weather Widget, you’re left with a fantastic Weather app powered by Google Now.
One thing we will say about the Weather Widget is this, if you’ve got a Pixel and it’s only showing the Date, check the link below to sort that now;
The Pixel Launcher also delivers on what we think is the perfect way to experience an App Drawer. Whilst companies like LG have teased potentially removing it all together to save space on the Home Screen, the Pixel Launcher does the best of both by a simple swipe up from the Home Screen to get to your apps, and a swipe down (or push Home) to return, which just works how you’d expect, with those included hidden touches which have perfected the Pixel experience for us.
When Google announced the Google Pixel it didn’t seem that amazing on paper, and we understand that perspective many people have with the phone, but we mean it when we say once you actually get around to using this thing as your daily driver, it’s just incredible. The performance is silky smooth and performs every task you want it too, then add the fact that the Camera is incredible, the screens beautiful, what’s not to love right?!
Overall the most complete feeling phone we’ve used this year, which is coming from a very high bar.
Android has never performed this well, the combination of hardware and software has never been a merit to give to an Android phone … until now!
The AMOLED display panel is beautiful and makes everything just pop
Fingerprint scanner is very quick with neat tricks to make you want to use it more.
The Camera is quick, and near every shot you take is the one you want, not to mention incredibly smooth video
The Volume rockers are terribly built, and can easily make a shaking sound
The bottom speaker is acceptable but there’s only one and it’s not in the best place.
No Wireless Charging, though likely due to materials used.
Price (SIM Free)
£599 – 32GB
£699 – 128GB
Available in either Quite Black or Very Silver in the UK. Unfortunately, the Really Blue is a US exclusive.
– The Pixel is refined from everywhere you look. The software runs buttery smooth like we’ve never seen on an Android phone, and the end result makes the iPhone look lacking. This is THE Android phone of 2016 for us, display = beautiful, performance = excellent, camera = consistently great and decent battery life, that ticks all our boxes.