The “best smartphone camera ever made” and a super-intelligent assistant are what’s in store for Pixel owners
The jury is in: Google has managed to wow the smartphone world with its most impressive and refined Android smartphones yet, the Google Pixel and Pixel XL. With a high-end design and hardware under the hood to match – plus powerful new software driving the device with its new Google Assistant baked in – the Mountain View-based mega-company moves on from its Nexus brand in style and ambition. Connected spent some time with the devices to bring you our impressions and highlight some standout features.
Android enthusiasts can take their pick between two sizes of Google’s new smartphones: the 5-inch Pixel, with its 1920 x 1080 pixel Full HD AMOLED display; and the larger 5.5-inch Pixel XL, which sports a 2560 x 1440 Quad HD AMOLED display. However you distill that down, the displays on both sizes are mind- blowingly bright and clear, perfect for all the pictures and video you’ll be taking with its industry-leading cameras (more on that later). Responsible for all this hardware on both devices is a powerful quad-core Snapdragon 821 processor and 4 GB of RAM, making sure you’ll never even think about how it runs all the stuff it runs. Available in 32- or 128-GB capacities means ample storage for all your files, videos, apps and photos (not that you’ll need it – more on that, too). We’ve found the device to be quick and responsive, with apps and functions executing with zero delay.
Make no mistake: manufactured by HTC, the Pixel was designed through and through by Google from the ground up. Comparisons can be made to the iPhone, sure, but if that’s a bad thing I don’t know why. Its aluminum finish and slightly angled sides feel good in the hand and isn’t greasy or slippery. The top third portion of the back of the phone is coated in Gorilla Glass, which makes for a unique look that stands out from the iPhone 7 and other smartphones. The fingerprint sensor, called Pixel Imprint, is strategically positioned (according to Google) on the back where your finger would naturally land when the phone is taken out of your pocket. I tried this, and they’re right – it does. The fingerprint sensor can be used for things like unlocking the device and other gesture-based functions.
Android Nougat and Google Assistant
Google’s Pixel phones are the first devices to run the latest release of Android 7.1 Nougat operating system. And while it’s similar to the 7.0 version we’ve seen on the Nexus 6P, there are some subtle and elegant tweaks, such as rounded icons for Google apps (downloaded apps stay the same) and the loss of the traditional app drawer you used to tap for access – you now simply swipe up from the bottom. But the big game changer here is the introduction of Google Assistant, the company’s new and sophisticated personal concierge. Google says that the Assistant is designed to continuously learn about you – what you like, where you like to go, what you need – and to provide personalized answers to your queries. By long-pressing the home button or using the verbal cue “Ok Google,” the goal is to be able to ask Google Assistant whatever you want and have it find it for you and beyond. You could ask Google Assistant where a good restaurant is near you, for example, and then follow it up by getting it to book you a reservation there. At setup, you easily train the Assistant to your voice, and in our use of the device it worked seamlessly with pretty much everything we threw at it.
Probably the second-biggest buzz surrounding the new devices (next to Google Assistant) has been Pixel’s 12.3-MP rear-facing camera, on both Pixel and Pixel XL. At the Pixel launch event earlier this month, Google's VP of Product Management, Brian Rakowski, announced the camera as “the best smartphone camera anyone has ever made,” a claim that has been backed up by the highest mobile score ever given by camera and lens benchmark testers DxOMark. With an f/2.0 aperture lens and 1.55-micron pixel sensor, the camera performs incredibly well in low light and delivers clear, colorful images. Other features include a Smartburst mode for shots in quick succession and a Lens Blur feature that lets you blur out the background of your portraits for a pseudo-bokeh effect. On the video side of things, the camera can capture beautiful 4K video at 30 frames per second. Alternately, the front-facing selfie camera is no slouch either, with an 8-MP camera. What’s more, Google is offering Pixel users free unlimited storage for photos and video, shot at their original resolution, via Google Photos. Most impressive.
So, what’s powering all this innovation? The Pixel 5-inch device gets its juice from a more-than-competent 2,770mAh battery, good for up to 26 hours of talk time and up to 13 hours’ internet use over LTE. The larger Pixel XL gets a 3,450mAh powerplant with up to 32 hours’ talk and up to 14 hours’ LTE internet use time. Both devices have a fast-charging feature that nets you up to seven hours of use after just a 15-minute charge.