Google’s first ever non-Nexus smartphone is here – and with it, Google has ditched its previous “sell ‘em cheap” approach in favour of a “please pay lots of money for this premium handset” model.
Starting at a shade under £600, the Pixel is in the same league as the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Apple iPhone 7, so it needs to deliver the goods to achieve must buy status. As you’ll know if you’ve read our in-depth review, we don’t think it’s quite there – but there’s no denying that it’s an impressive effort in many ways.
So let’s get to it: here are five things we love about the Google Pixel, and three things we’re not quite so keen on…
We love #1: Nuts for Nougat
The Pixel is the first phone to offer the full fat Android 7.1 Nougat experience, complete with touches you won’t find elsewhere – at least not yet). Stuff like the voice-activated Siri rival Google Assistant baked in (more on that below…), a GIF-friendly keyboard and some clever UI touches such as the ability to swipe up on the home screen to summon your app drawer, swipe down on the fingerprint scanner to bring up your latest notifications, or long-press on app icons for a selection of shortcuts.
If you want pure, unadulterated Nougat, unadorned by the UI flourishes of third parties, the Pixel is the first phone to deliver it.
We love #2: There’s power in spades
Yes, the Pixel is pricey – but it does offer the sort of pure processing power that a flagship should. The first smartphone to come with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 CPU, it pairs that with a generous 4GB of RAM to produce the sort of lag-free performance that’ll have you downloading the most demanding mobile games with nary a thought.
Benchmarking app Geekbench puts the Pixel’s grunt at around the same level as the OnePlus 3’s – but power-fiends should note that the iPhone 7, with its custom-designed chip, remains the current top dog when it comes to pure, unbridled speed.
We love #3: It's a speedy charger
The Pixel’s battery life is solid, if standard. But how long it takes to charge that battery? That’s truly impressive: just 15 minutes hooked up to the juice can result in enough charge to run the phone for seven hours. Handy if you’re the sort of person who’s always on the go – or just a terrible planner.
We love #4: The camera is a belter
Increasingly, a smartphone’s camera is becoming its most important, most defining feature – and in the case of the Google Pixel, it’s a belter. While we’re not convinced that its DxOMark rating as the best smartphone camera in the world translates into real-life supremacy, it’s certainly one of the better snappers you’ll find on a handset, and the equal of those in the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Apple iPhone 7.
What do we adore most? Well, the electronic image stabilisation tech (shared by no other smartphone) keeps things beautifully stable and steady when you’re videoing and walking at the same time, while on the stills front the default HDR+ mode and fast, accurate autofocus ensure you can point and shoot and get fantastic results the majority of the time.
We love #5: Its stiletto-sharp screen
The 5in Pixel has a 1080p screen, which doesn’t sound like that big a deal in these days of quad HD/2K displays – but Google and its HTC partners have succeeded in delivering a screen that excels in both detail and punch. Whether you’re gaming, reading the web or streaming some Netflix, it’s not going to let you down.
We don't love #1: The inconsistent OS
While we do like the fact that the Pixel is first with Android Nougat, it rocks a few too many quirks and kinks – for example, that GIF-friendly keyboard we mention above only works with some major messaging apps (like Messenger) but not others (like WhatsApp). And when you long-press on an unsupported app icon, it thinks you’re trying to delete it. When you compare it to iOS, for instance, it just doesn’t feel quite as slick or well-supported.
We don't love #2: The “not quite there” design
If you’re spending £600 or more on a smartphone, you’re expecting premium build quality and thoughtful design. You’re probably also expecting waterproofing, in 2016. But the Pixel doesn’t deliver convincingly on any of these fronts, with its too-big bezels, its chunkiness and its overall lack of desirability. There’s nothing here that’s terrible, of course – but when you’re going up against the iPhone 7 and Samsung’s best-made phone ever, you’ve got to offer something special. And Google hasn’t managed to do that here.
We don't love #3: Its underwhelming Assistant
When Google demonstrated Assistant at the Pixel launch event, it was presented as a huge leap forward from Android’s previous voice-controlled helper Google Now – but in reality it’s more like a short hop. When you ask Google Assistant a question, you still have to word it a certain way in order to get a satisfactory response, and even trivia-style questions like, “Who are the nominees for President of the United States?” will often see you pointed at a Wikipedia page or news story. Not ideal.
Now, we’re not saying Assistant is bad – it isn’t. It’s just not as revelatory as we were hoping. Future updates, however, could help.