The Pixel smartphone isn’t Google’s first smartphone but it is certainly the best Google has produced and a worthy competitor for the smartphones in the top tier of the market.
There are two Pixel phones in the family – the Pixel with a 5-inch display and the Pixel XL with a 5.5-inch screen.
Tech Guide had the latter for this review and, apart from the screen size, the smartphones are basically the same in terms of features and camera quality.
People we spoke to about the Google Pixel thought it was the first phone Google had produced – that was a combination of clever marketing and not mentioning the manufacturing partner.
In this case, it was HTC – but you won’t find that name anywhere.
There, in fact, have been seven Google phones before this one and made by companies including Samsung, LG, Huawei and Motorola (which Google used to own).
That aside, the Pixel still has a definite freshness to it.
The Google Pixel smartphone exudes quality. It has an aluminium body with the display covered by the tough Corning Gorilla Glass 4.
On the rear panel is more aluminium with the top half finished in the same glossy material that surrounds the display on the front.
It has a nice weight in your hand and is just 8.5mm thick.
The display on the Pixel and Pixel XL is AMOLED – full high definition with 441ppi (pixels per inch) and quad HD with 534ppi respectively.
Each Pixel’s AMOLED screen is stunning with super brightness and amazing colour (it can display 16.77 million colours and deep blacks) so your images and videos look amazing on the device.
You’ll find a headphone jack on the top edge, a SIM card slot on the left, volume rocker key on the right and a textured on/off/sleep button. Along the bottom edge are the speakers and a USB-C port. And the rear panel has the Pixel imprint fingerprint reader
What you won’t find is a microSD card slot. The device, unlike the iPhone 7 and Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, is also not water resistant.
Overall, the Google Pixel and Pixel XL have a pleasing design but lacks the finish you’ll find with the iPhone 7 and the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge.
The Google Pixel is running the latest Android 7.0.1 Nougat operating system but, unlike other Android devices by other manufacturers, it is refreshingly uncluttered and with easy access to all of your apps.
Another advantage the Pixel has is that it has all the keys to Google and the ability find whatever you want either from the search panel tucked away in the top left corner of the home screen, Google Cards which is a swipe away from the home page and Google Assistant.
Google Assistant needs to be set up and trained to your voice – don’t worry this takes 30 seconds – and you can ask it to find anything you want from files on the device, how busy your day is and the best place nearby to go for breakfast.
This is a really handy way to interact with the smartphone and real breakthrough for Android.
The Pixel Imprint fingerprint reader is also quite easy to set up. Being located in the rear panel of the phone, it makes sense to register each of your index fingers because that’s the finger that’s naturally going to come to rest there when you’re holding the device. And it unlocks the device instantly.
Now if there is one standout feature of the Google Pixel, it’s the 12.3-megapixel camera which, according to DxOMark, has the highest rating of 89.
Interestingly DxOMark hadn’t scored the iPhone 7 Plus despite it being released weeks before the Google Pixel was even announced.
But anyway, the Google Pixel camera is brilliant. Is it as good as the iPhone 7 Plus? You can judge that for yourself with the side by side comparisons in this review.
On its own, the Google Pixel camera quality is exceptional. Plenty of modes to choose from including HDR+, Lens Blur and Panorama. With an f/2.0 aperture it also takes some great images in low light as well.
It’s also easy to take a burst of shots simply holding the shutter key longer to make sure you nail the shot.
You can access professional controls to change exposure, adjust white balance and also lock focus on an object.
On the video side you’ve also got stabilisation to take the shakes out of your video. You can shoot up to 4K resolution and up to 60 frames per second.
Is it better than iPhone 7 Plus? For our money they’re about on par.
With a great camera you will be snapping away like made but even though there is limited on-device storage (32GB or 128GB) and no expandable memory – you’ll still have no worries thanks to the unlimited online storage of your photos and videos at full resolution in Google Photos.
It’s all done automatically and all of your files are organised and searchable through Google Assistant.
The Google Pixel is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 quad core processor with 4GB RAM so there’s no delay opening apps and getting to your content.
Combining that slick processor and the clutter-free operating system, the result is a device that runs quickly and smoothly.
There are nice shortcuts from the native Google apps that works a little like using 3D Touch on apps on the iPhone’s home screens.
With the Pixel you press and hold an app icon and you’ll see tabs pop open so you save a few keystrokes.
For example, if you press and hold the YouTube icon you’re offered three options – Trending, Subscriptions and Search – so you can save time digging around for those options.
Same thing for Settings – you get shortcuts to Battery, Data Usage and Wi-Fi.
Hold the camera icon and it offers quick access to take a selfie or shoot a video.
CHARGING AND BATTERY
Here’s another strength of Google Pixel – the battery. For our review, our Google Pixel XL easily ran for a day and half on a single charge.
The miserly battery use is excellent but even when it’s time to charge the battery again it can be charged very quickly through the USB-C port.
In fact, with just 15 minutes of charge you can add another seven hours of battery life.
This is a handy feature when you’re about to head out and see your battery is running low. A quick 15-minute charge and you’re good to go for an extra seven hours.
WHAT WE DON’T LIKE
The Google Pixel is a couple of features short of a home run starting with the lack of expandable memory.
Yes, we know you have unlimited storage with your photos and videos but being able to slip in a microSD card with your favourite content would have been great.
This would have been a nice point of difference from the iPhone which also doesn’t have expandable memory.
Not being water resistant also places the Google Pixel third after the iPhone 7 and Samsung Galaxy S7.
The Google Pixel isn’t cheap either. The pricing places it smack bang up against the iPhone 7 and the Samsung Galaxy S7.
We think the device would have been more attractive to customers of it was priced slightly below the Apple and Samsung battleground where it would see a lot more victories and not become a casualty.
But with the Samsung Galaxy Note7 pulled from sale, Android users looking for a non-Samsung alternative may find the Google Pixel as their ideal choice.
The Google Pixel and Pixel XL are available in 32GB and 128GB capacities and are priced at $1,079 (Pixel, 32GB) and $1,229 (Pixel, 128GB), $1,269 (Pixel XL, 32GB) and $1,419 (Pixel XL, 128GB).
The Google Pixel is without a doubt the best phone Google has produced – and also one of the best Android devices around.
It offers a number of new features you simply won’t find on other Android smartphones and, with the power of the Google juggernaut behind it, the Google Pixel is a product that will offer an excellent mobile experience.