Google Pixel is the company’s ‘first’ attempt at a smartphone. Unlike the Nexus, there’s no co-branding with LG or Huawei. Sure the phone’s box says manufactured by HTC, but it’s like how iPhones are made by Foxconn in China. Pixel and Pixel XL are a Google-only effort from top-to-bottom. The company is tying up with distributors in India to get this phone into offline retail stores as well.
Google Pixel starts at Rs 57,000 going up to Rs 76,000. The phone highlights the best of Google: the Assistant, an excellent camera, unlimited storage for photos, and performance that’s top notch. So should Samsung be worried? Does the iPhone 7 have a challenger? We got the ‘Very Silver’ version of the larger Google Pixel XL, and here’s our review.
Specifications: 5.5-inch QHD AMOLED Display | Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor | 4GB RAM+ 32GB storage | 12.3 MP rear camera with f/2.0 aperture with HDR+ +8 MP front camera | Android 7.1 Nougat | 3450 mAh battery with Type-C USB charging
Price: Rs 57,000 onwards; Rs 67000 for 32GB version of Pixel XL
Google Pixel XL
Google Pixel XL is the bigger version. The Pixel has a smaller 5.0 inch full HD display with a smaller 2750 mAh battery. The Pixel XL given its display size can be considered as the rival to the iPhone 7 Plus and the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, both of which are the go-to premium flagship smartphones.
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Google is promising software updates to Pixel smartphones till October 2018 and this will come with regular security updates. The updates are downloaded in the background and installed at night, without bothering the user. On my phone, apps got automatically updated on WiFi.
The front of the Pixel XL looks a lot like the iPhone, and it’s all glass. So far I’ve not noticed any deep scratches, which is good because usually all phones are thrown unceremoniously in my bag with a bunch of wires and chargers. But Pixel XL is bulky. While I’m not a fan of the big display smartphones, I didn’t find this impossible to use.
On the back, Google has opted for a rather strange mix of glass and aluminium. The top half has a rectangular glass panel (a very white one in case of the Silver colour), and it just looks odd. You can see half cut antenna bands on the top, and wonder if the glass is there to hide these. The bottom half has a band running across it as well, and the G of the Google logo is placed just above it. The round fingerprint scanner is placed inside the little glass slab on the top, and the camera is on the top left corner with some space between the flash and the camera lens. Since Google hasn’t opted for OIS on this one, the camera module doesn’t jut out at all.
The volume rockers, power button are on the left, while the right side has the SIM slot. At the bottom is the type-C USB port with the speaker slots, and on the top is the headphone jack.
Pixel’s design is unique, but I like uniformity. I wish Google had made up its mind about going with glass or all metal. But overall the build quality on this phone is quite good, and I guess if it was all glass it would have been a lot more slippery.
So what’s good?
The phone is supposed to be the best of Google. And yes, Google wants to poach iPhone users. The phone comes with a Device Transfer, which has type-C USB port and a regular USB port on one-end. I used this to transfer all my data from the iPhone, which included messages, contacts, events, onto the new Pixel. It took around half an hour with the iPhone (no photos or videos were transferred) . Sure the Messages took some time to load, but it was done. It’s good to see how Google has made data transfer a seamless task, which is still a pain point for users when buying a new phone.
Pixel XL’s QHD display is top quality, and gives no reason to complain. It’s bright and crisp, and the backs are deep. I’m still used to the iPhone’s LCD display, but Pixel XL should appeal to most people. I kept the brightness at 50 per cent most of the time. The display is prone to smudges though, but it works well in bright sunlight too. Pixel also comes with Night Light mode, which turns the screen a lot more yellow to make reading easier at night.
Pixel’s 821 processor and 4GB RAM mean you won’t have any trouble with multitasking, opening multiple apps or tabs. It is one of the fastest Android phones out there. Animations are fluid, fast, and I didn’t have any app crashes as such. Gaming is not a problem on this device, and it didn’t heat up during a 10-minute session of Asphalt 8 or so. However, more on that later. In the PCMark for Android, Google Pixel comes out shining, although it’s still quite below in the Antutu rankings. The Pixel is my primary phone for now, and I don’t have much cause for complain.
Camera is where Google is touting the Pixel as the best ever. The Pixel XL’s 12.3 MP rear camera has EIS (electronics image stabilization) and software wizardry to give more stable results. The camera’s also got an HDR+ mode, which you can switch off, but it appears to be on by default. The annoying bit: After you take a photo, the camera app applies the HDR+ processing mode to the photos, and that takes a minute or so for the final image to render. You can tinker around with the exposure, the white balance (fixed settings), but there’s no manual mode as such.
The Google Pixel XL camera is really fast, faster than my old iPhone 6s and even a shade ahead of the iPhone 7 that I’ve also been using on the side. We’ll have a more detailed shootout comparing the two phones in a separate article as well. With Pixel XL, what you can expect are photos that are super vivid, sharp and social media ready. It can handle reds, pinks very well. I thought some of the pictures feel a bit too unnatural, a tad unreal, but it will boil down to personal preference. I prefer more muted, subtle highlights, but Pixel is all about jazz.
The low-light performance won’t disappoint the average user, but there is some noise on the outer edges of the photos once you zoom in. The Pixel’s rear and selfie-camera are top-league. However, when we took some photos with the Pixel XL and an iPhone 7 Plus with neon lights in a pitch dark disco, the latter outperforms the Google phone.
Pixel XL runs Android 7.1 with the Pixel launcher on top. You just need to swipe up from the home screen to get to the app tray. The settings also have the after support option built-in and India users get a 9 to 6 pm helpline where they can talk to the customer service.
Long press the home button and the Google Assistant is activated. Your Google Now cards are still there when you swipe right from the home screen and the Google Search bar is now just a Simple G logo. Google Assistant does perform a lot of the similar functions as Google Now, except this comes in the form of a conversation. It gets most things right but since third-party app support is missing you can’t order an Uber or Ola from it, like with Siri.
Still Google Assistant’s results are far more accurate and given this is machine learning it will get smarter over time. It’s also a quicker way of opening apps especially when your hands are occupied or dirty. However, I feel a lot of people will take time discovering or even using this feature. The Assistant is exciting as an idea, but it is not essential for most purposes on the smartphone.
Google Pixel XL comes with a 3450 mAh battery and in PCMark’s battery test it lasted 8 hours, 30 minutes, which is pretty good. On an average the phone would give me 10-12 hours. Since this was my primary phone, I used it for everything: WhatsApp, Snapchat, Facebook, gaming, my voice-calls, listening to music, etc. But it was not always consistent, which I’ll discuss next.
What’s not good ?
For a Rs 67,000 phone with a much bigger battery than the iPhone 7 Plus, I felt the phone was running out of juice quickly. The battery levels would quickly hit 50 per cent, and there were times when the phone reached the 20 per cent mark around 5 pm in the day. This when the phone was put on charge overnight with Internet off. For the price tag it demands, Google Pixel XL will have a tough time convincing S7 edge users that the battery life is significantly better.
My other concern is how often the device heats up, even when I’m just using for apps like Snapchat or Facebook. While charging from a power bank it got quite hot, and according to CPU-Z the battery temp had hit 44.5 celsius, which is not a good sign. There’s no one reason for the device to heat up. It could be a phone call, listening to music for a long time, taking pictures.
The top part of the device is what heats up significantly and I could not keep this phone in my jeans pocket at times. I’m hoping Google will have a software fix for this, should more people report this issue as well. This is not expected on a premium phone.
The privacy nightmare
Let’s not forget this is a Google phone and that comes with its own risk. The Google Assistant, while it promises to make life easier, is also a privacy pitfall. All requests to Assistant are sent to Google’s servers and the hope is it will learn your habits, mannerisms over time and give you exactly what you need. Don’t be surprised if the future Google Assistant can automatically suggest accurate replies to your WhatsApp messages.
For instance, the Google Now cards knew I was in Select City Walk and asked me to check-in and wanted to suggest a list of things to do. Incidentally, Google Now also figured out I was eating at a particular restaurant and asked me if I wanted to leave a review, but this was on the Moto Z. So yes, Google knows a lot about you and with Now and Assistant it plans to get even more information.
If that freaks you out, then the Pixel is not for you. Though remember, you need to give up Google services entirely if that bothers you at a deep level. Personally, I’ve grown dependent on Google Maps, Google Now, Inbox, etc to get out so easily. Still Google needs to figure out a way to balance this data overreach, one that doesn’t have me handing over my location, web history, etc all in one go.
Should you get it?
As the price tag makes clear, the Google Pixel is not for everyone. As a phone, it delivers on most fronts, though I’d say the design needs work. The camera is excellent, but not the best on a smartphone. The performance is what one expects on a premium device, though the battery management could be a bit better.
If you’re in the market for a premium smartphone, and budget is flexible, Pixel/Pixel XL are worthy options to consider. However, these phones don’t have a microSD slot like the S7 series and are not water/dust resistant like the iPhone 7, S7. So do keep that mind, but Google is giving unlimited storage for photos.
So does the Google Pixel/Pixel XL mean you can ditch your iPhone 6s or above or the Samsung Galaxy S7/S7 edge? It sure does deliver on the premium price tag, but I wouldn’t say it makes either of these phones redundant. The iPhone 7, 7 Plus are extremely capable device with excellent cameras; Galaxy S7, S7 edge look stunning and despite the Note 7 fiasco, are great flagships. For now, I’d say the Google Pixel phones join the list of flagships to consider, but doesn’t quite beat them.