Long ago, Google entered the smartphone world in partnership with different manufacturers with a clear philosophy of not building devices on it’s own so as to prevent direct competition with its’ partners. The second intent was to continue to internally focus on technology transfer. Later they realised that it was a great avenue to grow Android by showcasing it on “pure-Android” devices. All that has now changed.
Google now has decided to take on the market and challenge the big guns lording over it.
Google released two devices recently – the Google Pixel XL and the Google Pixel.
In the past (ever since Apple triggered the trend with their iPhone 6 and 6 Plus duo), manufacturers provided some differentiating features in similarly spec’d phones and offered them in different segments so as to attract more customers across regular and large sized phones. But, these variants did indeed carry several differentiating elements.
Google just bucked that trend by launching two devices with fewer differentiating elements, save for the screen size.
In the Pixel duo, apart from the display and the battery, the spec sheet remains the same making the decision making exercise simpler.
We have already brought to you an in depth review of the Google Pixel XL, so now let us dig a little deeper into the Google Pixel.
The Pixel comes with a 5.5 inch Full HD AMOLED capacitive touchscreen with a 1920×1080 pixel resolution and a pixel density of 441 pixel per inch of the display.
The display of the device is the high point as it may very well be one of the best we have seen so far. This makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean yes, this device seems a little disappointing in terms of originality and innovation however as far as quality goes, it’s all there.
The display of the device is simply wonderful. Google claims that is covers the full NTSC colour gamut and the results are the proof of the pudding. The display renders colour very realistically.
The deep colours are truly deep while the lighter ones are very clear without the sort of tinge that we saw with the iPhone 7 display.
The screen is bright and the visibility outdoor in direct sunlight is not a problem as the saturation levels along with contrast levels being perfectly balanced.
The pixel distribution is very uniform with 441 pixels per inch. The device comes with an AMOLED screen, with true blacks and 16.77 million colours offering the users a vivid cinematic experience, making entertainment consumption a pleasure.
With approximately 69% screen-to-body ratio and a 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass 4 protection, the device is a ready for your indulgence.
The Google pixel shares its design language with the larger Pixel XL. Like its elder sibling the Pixel XL, Google Pixel too seems a mix of designs from different manufacturers and it leaves you feeling the dearth of ingenuity.
While there is not a lot to be excited about here since the design itself lacks any stellar or prevalent character, the device looks good and it’s chamfered edges do more than just improve grip.
The front panel is a 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass 4, protecting a 5.5 inch AMOLED screen. The bezels on top and bottom are relatively thick (~69.0% screen-to-body ratio) considering the fact that the navigation keys are on screen (like an iPhone).
There is a sensor window which houses the in-call speaker at the top along with a front camera and proximity sensors arrayed as its neighbors.
The back is a mix of glass and metal, something which has caught everyone’s eye. The top one-third is a glass panel while the rest (and the side panel) is a single-piece metal frame.
The glass panel houses camera with flash and the fingerprint sensor, the antenna runs along the sides and the bottom of the panel.
In some colors the combination of glass and metal appears to be a little patchy, like an automobile has been repainted over, however the white color variant is pleasing to the eye. It does bear a great resemblance to an iPhone 6s minus Apple’s iconic home button.
The phone is marginally broader at the top, which was not visible while casually viewing the while variant.
On the right is power button along with the volume rockers. The layout is somewhat familiar but the placement is rather awkward. The volume rocker is somewhere in the middle making it a little tricky to reach from either of our hands. Moreover, we did tend to engage the volume buttons inadvertently when handling the device, which was bummer. The left has the Nano-SIM card slot sans the micro-SD card utility. The top has the 3.5mm audio jack and the bottom has the USB Type-C port, a speaker and a microphone.
The design to me, is in no way a winner as some colour combinations, especially the bright colours undermine the construct. With the price it carries, the form factor could have included a more robust feel. And with Google’s renowned penchance for visual svelteness, the pioneering devices sure could have done with more effort towards creating an appealing and unique design.
Google might not have been creative with this device form, however, they haven’t held back in terms of the hardware driving this device. Under the hood, the Google Pixel packs a quad-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, 4 GB of RAM with an Adreno 530 GPU, exactly the same as the Google Pixel XL.
There is a catch, while there might not be a great difference between the Snapdragon 821 and Snapdragon 820 in terms of the manufacturing node and CPU design, Qualcomm may have increased the base clock speed of the Kryo quad-core processor in their 821 processor, giving the user only a marginal advantage over the 820.
This year we have seen flagship devices using Snapdragon’s 820 processor, which delivers incredible performance. However, the 821 is the newer and a more capable sibling. That said, while it (the 821) may be a tad faster, yet you’d be amiss to expect to dwarf other phones using the 820 processor.
Performance wise, the phone is at par with the usual 2016 flagship standard – it is snappy, runs smooth and can handle all your everyday tasks with ease. You will be pushing the device a little with 1080p games but then again, it is nothing the phone cannot handle. Multi-tasking is a walk in the park and the device never shows any signs of heating – which is always a relief.
The device comes with a fingerprint scanner at the back and works very well with some functionality added to it, with swipe gestures available now, thanks to the OS. The fingerprint scanner is fast and responsive, allowing the user to touch it at angles and still scan the print successfully.
The device comes in two storage options, 32 GB and 128 GB, while many seek the absent 64 GB variant. The 32 GB should be enough for a casual user, however, might not cut it if you are going to have a library of 4K videos.
All is not lost though, as Google has tried to facilitate cloud storage in a better way with this device.
The Pixel comes with a non-removable 2,770 mAh Li-ion battery. Google claims it’s good for a 456 hours standby time and a 26 hours talk time between charges. Though this is lower than that of the Pixel XL, it should be enough for you not to worry about charging the phone amidst your full day. In general, the battery seems pretty impressive and with practical usage the phone should last as promised.
The Google Pixel runs Android 7.1 Nougat which is a slightly tweaked and modified version of the Android we are used to. At the same time the attempt to not take it too far away from the familiarity if previous Android users is also prominent.
First off, the app drawer that was earlier behind a button that you could press and access all your apps has changed here. Now the apps are all stacked up in a tray that slides up from the bottom of the screen. It does take some getting used to but when you do get used to this it really feels convenient.
However I did feel longing for that extra window which indeed was the app drawer at times which may be precisely because it gave you the feeling of a deeper-rooted OS. It is like having a cupboard and you knowing that everything I need is in there but suddenly everything is now out on your bed and you no longer have that drawer.
The Google search bar that we are so used to has changed as well. There now is a widget icon on the screen that you can tap to open the Google search. Not a great change, to my estimation.
The other change here is the option of long pressing the app icons to pull up the shortcut options which let you resume or jump into the apps. This is much like Apple’s 3D Touch which is not surprising – what with iOS 10 hogging the limelight of late, and the blurring of lines between Android and iOS, more and more things are starting to look similar on both sides – which may or may not be a good thing.
Talking about which, here is something else that you may fancy. You get a split screen app support which enables you to work on two apps side by side while also allowing you to decide which of the two apps gets the lion’s share in the portrait mode (on landscape mode both get 50-50). Now, this may be a feature that may not be of regular use to everyone, but when you do need it, it certainly is very efficient and convenient.
While we’re at similarities with iOS, Android Nougat too, carries the Night Mode feature which provides the option of reducing the strain on your eyes by reducing the proportion of blue light in the display, so as to provide a warmer, more calming yellow tinge.
As a USP, the software now incorporates swipe gestures on the fingerprint sensor itself (a little bit like the keyboard in BlackBerry’s Passport). The gestures are similar to the gestures you’d make via the touchscreen itself (example: swiping down on the scanner to read your notifications).
The Pixel duo come with Google’s new Assistant which is an evolved version of the earlier voice supports offered by Google Now.
We found the Google assistant not being as impressive as Siri, but since it’s come a long way already (from Google Now), you’ll see it bloom in a few more iterations. Currently, you can have conversations back and forth with the assistant when the software s learning all the while. You can even ask what all can it do for you and it will tell you
However it works best when you are aware of its limitations because when you reach them you will be dumped into a plain web search (and that is no joy at all!).
The OS to me, has a new outlook to it and it suggest that things are changing and moving along. There are some changes here that are evidence of that and may suggest that while Android will change it will not be without considering its users. Changes will be incorporated step by step to ensure familiarity while creating a different ballgame along the way.
All in all, the OS on this device is really good. You cannot call this stock Android but it certainly has a refreshing perspective. The most important thing for me though, is the ever present familiarity and user friendliness that has always been the essence of Google Nexus devices.
The Google Pixel comes with a 12.3 megapixel primary camera with an aperture size of f/2.0 and also with a gyro-based EIS (i.e. Electronic Image Stabilisation which basically enhances images via electronic processing), phase detection & laser autofocus and the dual-LED flash.
Now upon a quick glance at the spec sheet you may find it to be all too similar to that of the Nexus 6P, but there are a few differentiating elements present here which we will talk about in a bit.
Let us talk about the picture quality in general and then track back to the reasons behind it.
The snaps taken from his camera look very good, in general. There is a lot of detailing available and the colours are very well balanced and seem very realistic as well. All that is impressive but the essence of these pictures lies in the noise reduction. In that respect the snaps really look different in a way that makes you notice the absence of noise from almost all the snaps.
The reason behind this is also a feature that separates this camera from the lot. The Snapdragon 821 supports the HDR+ mode. Now what this does essentially does is that it maintains a 9 frame buffer – the camera takes multiple shots automatically when you hit the shutter button and the software then select the least noisy snap.
Maintaining a 9-frame approach also means that you get the most detailed output with the best colour balance. All this does show in the snaps and I have to say that the picture quality in general has improved.
This also has an effect in night time photography as the issues that the HDR+ mode deals with are the ones that are most prominent with the night time shots. If you do wan to see the difference you can turn it off and you will have the usual noisy night time shots.
So be it night or daytime shots, the quality seems to have improved a lot thanks to the HDR+ mode. Be that as it may, it still is not the best camera out there. There are devices that can outperform this camera setup any day of the week.
There’s also an issue with the camera’s reaction when it encounters bright sources of light in or around the frame – sometimes a clear ring of light is visible in the ensuing photo. With a smaller-than-standard aperture, this should not have been a problem and it can only be explained by a flaw in the way the lens lets light in.
On the camera app front, it is almost identical to that of the Nexus 6P with a couple of additions such as the Blur mode.
The front camera is an 8 megapixel unit and is quite capable of clicking impressive selfies.
All in all, the camera on the Pixel can be looked upon as an improved version of that on the Nexus 6P. While that is a good thing but considering the price segment that the Google Pixel sits in, I am not sure if it is good enough. Also the device does not have optical image stabilization which is almost standard in today’s phones.
However, there is not a lot to complain about here and the camera performance will more than suffice from a general view point.
I can conclude saying that the camera is one of the best performers when it comes to night time photography and in general too, is very good.
You get Google music which at this point is very similar to the Apple Music on iOS 10. Unfortunately Google Music hasn’t arrived on Indian shores, yet.
The display is wonderful but being only 5 inches, it makes us yearn for a little bit more real estate. In that sense, the Pixel Xl with it’s bigger 5.5 inch screen has the advantage.
On the speaker front, while configuration for both devices is the same the bad news is that the speakers are not particularly impressive – the sound starts cracking at maxed-out volumes.
Overall, I’d rate the Google Pixel as an “average” on the entertainment front.
Business apps and setup follows the usual Android way – you can set up your account with just your username and password.
Additionally, cloud storage is supported.
That said, since the new Google Assistant is logging all that you ask of it, and (estimably) all that you do by way of interactions and actions on the phone – security concerns may crop up to those of you who are concerned about Google knowing so much about you and your habits.
For security while logging in, you get the usual fingerprint scanner – it is fast and it has more than one function. It supports gestures such as swiping down to view your notifications among others. This asset will be further utilised by the OS in the coming months, I’m sure.
You also have the usual pin, password or pin option for locking your screen up in addition, in case we forgot to mention it.