The best anecdote as to how much I enjoyed Google’s new Pixel smartphone was that I used it to write most of this article.
The large screen and zippy software made it more convenient to use for banging out a few paragraphs at a time here and there instead of searching for my laptop. And as an Android fan, it was a top notch experience.
I truly enjoyed the Pixel, which is the first phone to be designed inside and out by Google. It breaks the cycle of the many years of Nexus phones, which were always a rotating partnership to highlight a great Android experience, but always felt compromised in some form. But Google went full iPhone with the Pixel putting in enhanced software features not in any phone and creating the entire experience itself.
As someone who attended Google’s event and was granted a Pixel, my aim here is to provide a few anecdotal observations about using one for the last several days. If you want a full-blown review with all of the proper diagnostic testing, check out my colleague Jason Cross over at Greenbot (where I write a lot about Android). I’ll also be contributing more Pixel coverage there in the coming days.
Pixel Perfect? Almost
In all, the Pixel is pretty fantastic. I was provided with a “Very Silver” Pixel XL from Google for evaluation. It’s been my primary smartphone during the past several days and I’ve tried to put it through the works as much as possible.
If you haven’t been following the rumor mill, you’ll find the home screen has changed quite a bit. You swipe up to get to the apps, and the elimination of the app drawer shortcut gives you an extra spot on the bottom dock.
The real star is the Google Assistant, which is essentially like a much smarter version of Siri. It’s the future of Google’s artificial intelligence and search efforts, turning everything Google knows about you into the closest thing yet to a true personal assistant. It’s not perfect, still delivering some questions as a web search instead of an answer. But the groundwork is being laid for something that can truly transform how you use your phone.
While it’s well built, it doesn’t have that dramatic look of the Galaxy S7 Edge or the Note7, before it went up in flames of course. It does look too much like an iPhone for my tastes. In fact more than once I picked it up to hand to my wife, thinking it was her white iPhone.
It looks less so when you examine the edges, which are clearly inspired from others in the HTC line (the company is the manufacturer, but everything in the phone is straight from Google).
The software, however, is the real star. The Pixel achieves what no other Android device has: its as smooth and fast as an iPhone. No matter how much RAM was crammed into a Galaxy Note or LG phone, it was never this good. Multitasking, split screen, games, you name it. This is what an Android phone should be instead of a bloatware-filled mess we usually get from a carrier-branded device.
Another featured star is the camera. Google executives were more than happy to proclaim how the Pixel took the top score from DxOMark. To be fair, the iPhone 7 Plus hasn’t been tested yet, but you can’t go wrong with beating out the Galaxy S7 Edge, iPhone 7, and others. Here are a couple of photos.
I haven’t done an extensive test, but I’m very happy with low light performance and how sharp the details look on some images. I look forward to trying it out on my next trip to see how well it performs in various situations.
As for improvements, I’d love a return to the lift to wake or double tap on the screen functionality that existed in the Nexuses of the past. It makes me think the software just wasn’t ready for it yet.
The XL is also a little bulky and slippery at times (though it seems all phones can be), so if you want less heft in the hand go with the smaller Pixel.
The bottom line is I can’t recommend the Pixel enough. It’s what an Android phone should be, and I’m glad that Google is finally taking more charge of the ecosystem. Too many carriers and manufacturers have botched the experience, likely driving people into the friendly arms of an iPhone. This is an exciting new chapter for Google, and I’m very much looking forward to where it goes from here.