Google Pixel, Pixel XL phones are now official and the devices look exactly like what the leaks had indicated. With Pixel phones, the branding is all Google; the phones have been engineered and tested in-house by the search giant. Just like Apple and the iPhone, Google has complete control over the Pixel devices. Unlike Nexus phones, which had a co-branding with the OEM, Pixel is Google’s big foray into the smartphone hardware space where software is the focus.
In terms of specifications, here’s the list: Pixel has a 5-inch full HD AMOLED display, XL has a bigger 5.5-inch display with Quad HD resolution. Both phones come with latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor clocked at 2.15 (two cores) and 2.16 Ghz (two cores) along with 4GB RAM, 32GB or 128GB storage options. The camera on the back is 12 MP with f/2.0 aperture and a larger 1.5 micron size, while the camera on the front is 8 MP.
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On the battery front, the Pixel has a 2770 battery, Pixel XL has a 3450 mAh battery, and both phones support Quick Charge technology. Google is promising 7 hours of battery life with just fifteen minutes of charging. The port is Type-C USB, and yes the headphone jack is still alive on these phones.
With the Pixel and Pixel XL Google has gone for an aluminum casing with a bit of glass design. While the Pixel feels like a very light device when you hold, the bigger XL will remind you of the iPhone from the front. Except both phones have glass on the back; well half of the back has glass, and the rest has a matte-finish metal look. There are antenna bands on the bottom and muted ones on the top. The camera doesn’t jut out at all, and there’s a fingerprint scanner on the back. At the bottom, the letter G aka the Google Logo which is the highlight of this phone.
Yes the glass on the back is prone to fingerprint smudges, and you’ll probably need a case to ensure you don’t crack that bit. Both the front and back glass are Corning Gorilla Glass 4 for protection against scratches. The phones come in three colours: Black, Silver and Blue. The last is a limited edition one and won’t be coming to India initially.
Based on my time in the demo zone, I liked the silver the most. The black could be richer, though it is not as glossy as the iPhone 7’s jet black. The blue is quite a bright colour, and it would be a shame using a case to hide that if you buy it for the colour. From a design perspective, the new Pixel phones do stand out from the crowd, but the antenna bands at the bottom don’t boost the overall look. On the front of the phones there are no separate buttons. Google has gone for on-screen buttons with the new Pixel phones.
For Google, these phones aren’t just about hardware and specifications. Yes, the display is crisp and sharp; it is one of the fastest Android phones you’ll use, but for software is the crucial focus as we saw in the presentation. For starters, there are some features which are Pixel only.
The new Pixel launcher has all circular app icons, the app tray needs to be swiped up and the Google Search bar is now just the G logo icon. Long press on the home button in the centre and the Google Assistant appears. It looks like the Google Assistant is not coming to other Android phones yet, although it is available on the Allo app.
Google Assistant is pretty accurate as I experienced based on the limited time in the demo zone. Even in the din of various video recordings going on, the Assistant managed to figure out my requests. Google Assistant will be the focal point of this phone, and the search giant plans to allow developers to make use of this as well. Soon ordering an Uber via Google Assistant will be possible. Of course, Siri can already do that for you. Interestingly, the Hangouts app was not there in the new Pixel phones; looks like it is Allo and Duo all the way.
Pixel phones will have 24/7 live support from Google’s customer service. Users will be able to share their screen with the people at the customer service so that they can pin-point the exact problem. They have the option of pausing a screen share as well in the middle of a live chat with the customer service. The new option for Support is in-built into Google settings itself. The Support feature will be live in India too, and Google plans to have walk-in customer servicing options here as well.
With Pixel phones, Google also touted the new camera and its capabilities. The 12MP rear camera has an HDR + mode where Google is promising an improved experience of “bright daylight scenes and shadows.” In the HDR + mode, which is on by default, the camera will use software to break up the image into “short, multiple exposures in order to align pixels,” and give the best looking shot. Google also claims the camera has no shutter lag, and claims it is as one of the best ever built. And there’s 4K video recording with video stabilisation as well.
The SmartBurst mode takes a series of shots and then using machine learning, the camera suggests the best pictures from the range of shots.
Last year’s Nexus phones had a great camera to offer; personally I loved the Nexus 6P’s camera as it gave some excellent detailed shots, even in low-light. The Pixel phones are outdoing that and every other phone, claims Google. In the demo zone the shots looked good and bright, despite the low-light. However, Google hasn’t added other effects in the phone like say Bokeh or optical zoom, unlike say the iPhone 7 Plus.
Pixel phone users will get unlimited storage space for their photos on Google Photos, and this is for the full resolution version of the photo. This includes even 4K video which should come as a good news to those who buy these phones. There is no microSD slot on this device. Whether the Google Pixel camera can actually outperform the iPhone 7 or S7 edge, we’ll have to wait and see.
Finally these phones are targeted at the Apple iPhone series. This was expected and the pricing of $649 says just that. In India, the Pixel phones are coming before Diwali (pre-orders on Flipkart from October 13) and the price tag starts at Rs 57,000 going up all the way to Rs 76,000 for 128GB version of the Pixel XL. In India anything above Rs 55,000 is iPhone territory, and it’s not surprising Google has directly pitched its new phones as an alternative to that.
With Google Pixel and Pixel XL, the impression you get is ‘premium’; a new design language, top of the line specifications, and a software that is all tweaked and updated by Google itself. Whether many people go for this will be eagerly watched by not just analysts and the press, but also other OEMs as well.