Following months of rumors and speculation, Google has finally given a first look at their new phones, the Pixel and Pixel XL. Hitting the Google Store October 20th, these will be the first phones produced by Google not to use the Nexus branding, as Google is taking full credit for the design and explicitly using a “phone by Google” branding. While it would be easy to write the Pixel and Pixel XL as Nexus phones in everything but name only — indeed, they share quite a few similarities — the phones reflect Google’s new initiative to change how users interact with their smartphones. At first glance, the Pixel may look like just another Android phone, but Google wants you to believe it’s the next big thing in the smartphone market. Have a look at some of the specs and features that have been revealed so far and judge for yourself.
Pricing starts at $649 for the smaller 5-inch Pixel with 32GB of storage and goes up to $749 for the 128GB model. The Pixel XL starts at $769 for 32 GB and increases to $869 for 128GB. You can choose between a black and silver model, or a Verizon-exclusive “really blue” option that only comes in the 32GB format. For those following, these are the exact same prices Apple is selling comparable models of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus at, so the Pixel is certainly competitively priced.
Similar to Nexus devices, the Pixel will have little-to-no wireless carrier modifications, such as a custom U.I. This means that the Pixel offers the most “pure” version of Android you can get, which should appeal to users who enjoy Android’s customization options. This also means that updates will rollout quicker than on other Android devices, as they will come directly from Google.
Pixel will be the first phone with the new Google Assistant built in. In practice, the Assistant works similarly to Apple’s Siri, but it’s powered by Google’s search engine, which means that it can answer more elaborate questions and perform more complex operations. Some examples of Google Assistant’s capabilities include bringing up photos from a particular time and place in the past, playing whatever music you ask it to play, or making plans with friend. Yeah, it’s not the most exciting new feature, but Google is touting Assistant as the most advanced, artificially intelligent companion of any smartphone and it certainly seems like they have done just that.
Return Of The Backside Fingerprint Sensor
Last year’s Nexus 6P and 5X introduced a bit of a weird feature by placing its fingerprint sensor on the back of the device and it looks like both Pixel models are doing the same thing. Basically, this feature was put in to better accommodate the natural resting point of the user’s finger and in theory is more intuitive than placing your thumb on the home button.
It Has A Headphone Jack
Google may be hoping to attract some of the disgruntled folks who criticized Apple’s decision to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone 7, as both Pixel phones will have the 3.5mm stereo jack. While time will tell whether Apple’s decision to get rid of this long-standing feature was smart or ill-advised, the fact that the Pixel has a headphone jack could do Google some favors in convincing buyers who aren’t ready to make the switch to bluetooth audio to go with their device over Apple’s.
(And yes, I’m aware that’s a photo of an iPhone 6S below, but there aren’t really any good close-up shots of the Pixel yet).
Snapdragon 821 Processor
Google’s new phone is getting an upgrade in the hardware department over last year’s Nexus models thanks to the snapdragon 821 processor, which the Pixel and Pixel XL both run on. In practice, this means that the Pixel will be able to handle running 4K video and multiple apps much smoother than the Nexus 6P could. Both models also feature 4GB of RAM.
Believe it or not, the Pixel XL’s screen is actually smaller than the Nexus 6P’s, although only marginally so (5.5 inches compared to 5.7 inches, respectively). However, what the Pixel lacks in size it more than makes up for in display, as it not only has the same resolution as the Nexus 6P (1440 x 2560), but even has a higher pixel density, meaning that it should have a sharper picture overall. By comparison, the regular Pixel phone has a 5-inch inch screen that displays at 1920 x 1080, which makes it pretty much identical to the Nexus 5X.
Both Pixel models feature a 12 megapixel camera and Google is claiming that it’s the best camera phone ever made (the Pixel has reportedly earned an 89 DXO Mark Mobile rating; I have no idea what that means but it apparently that’s the highest achieved by any mobile phone ever). However, according to Gizmodo, the Pixel’s camera does have some drawbacks, as the f/2.0 lens should make it less effective at taking low light pictures than the iPhone 7 (f/1.8) and Samsung Galaxy S7 (f/1.7), so while it’s sure to be one of the best smartphone cameras on the market, it’s probably best to take Google’s claims with a grain of salt until it’s put through its paces.
The Pixel and Pixel XL will both use USB-C ports for charging, which gives it a bit of an edge over both the Goaxy S7 and the iPhone 7. Devices with USB-C are still rare, so the Pixel’s use of the protocol could help make it the new standard (assuming enough people buy the phone, of course).
Unfortunately, while Google is trying to make the Pixel go mainstream, they’re shooting themselves in the foot a bit by making the phone a Verizon exclusive in the U.S. Naturally, you can still purchase the Pixel unlocked from the Google Store, but given that most people take a contract when getting a new phone, having only one carrier to choose from will certainly limit its appeal.
In addition to the Pixel reveal this week, Google also announced the $79 Daydream View virtual reality headset, and the two gadgets are pretty closely linked. The Pixel will is the first phone with Daydream compatibility, and the Daydream View comes bundled with a tiny motion controller that tucks inside of the headset itself. Google’s goal with the Daydream View is to have a VR headset that people can get their phones into and out of in a matter of seconds and thanks to its attractive foam and fabric design and affordable price, it looks like it could give Samsung’s Gear VR a run for its money.