Google Pixel: The Perfect Flagship, One Year Late

Google has the Nexus program, to show how manufacturers should use Android. Well, not anymore. There is something new, with a similar, albeit slightly extended intention. The “Pixel” phones. Very simply called Pixel and Pixel XL, for the 5″ and 5.5″ versions respectively. However, these are supposedly not only “guides” for manufacturers and devices running stock Android for nerds, but they want to be a competition for the iPhones and highest-end Samsung phones. These are fully polished products.

You can clearly see pieces of Nexus DNA in the design though. The phones are not really bad looking, just terribly boring. I definitely prefer the black version. The other two colorways with the white front panel make the proximity sensor and unnecessarily large chin / forehead look a bit out of place. The same goes for the back. The glass window doesn’t really look attractive, but silly. It at least serves a function, letting signals through the otherwise perfect metal body. Underneath the glass window is a fingerprint sensor used mainly for unlocking the phone. You probably shouldn’t care about the looks too much, because most people rock their phones with cases anyway. The one design decision which stood out to me is the lack of a camera bump. Subtle, but that’s the way phones should be made.

I do not like talking raw specs, because that’s something anybody can Google. Just to be clear, it doesn’t matter which review you read, they all agree on this: Displays are very good. Performance is great. We can now move on onto other, more interesting stuff.

Like the camera. This is probably the first phone wearing a Google brand, which doesn’t have a somewhat decent camera, but fights with the top smartphones for the king of mobile cameras. It’s not perfect though. Remember how I liked the idea of not having the camera bump? There is a trade-off. Google wasn’t able to pack in a camera with optical image stabilization into a flush body. It has created software “electronic image stabilization”, which works with data from the gyroscope to create a sharper / less shaky image, but it can only go so far. It does a good job when for example working and recording a video, but the moment you start panning, the motion starts to look artificial. Is it worth it, to sacrifice OIS in favor of no camera hump? That’s only up to you.

Second interesting thing, speakers. Better said, speaker. There is only one and it’s bottom firing. Not the best solution, but should do in most situations. And this phone has a headphone jack.

Speaking of ports, there is also a USB-C port on the bottom, which is the best port available, period. Supports many uses, is reversible, should be more durable than micro-USB in the long run. It can also fast-charge, supposedly giving 7 hours of battery life from just 15 minutes of the phone being plugged in.

Google also bundles the phones with additional software and services. Like the Google Assistant, which is just a slightly smarter and much prettier version of the Google Voice Search. It is only a question of time, when will we see it on other handsets. Google Duo. A video communication app already available on other Androids and even iPhones. Android 7.1, which will be on most of the high-end phones released in the near future. There is only one special goody worth talking about. The unlimited backups for photos and videos into Google Photos in full resolution for free. 

This is my point. If you read through all the paragraphs above, it is undeniable, that the Google Pixel is a good phone. But so are many others. Yes, thanks to the hardware and software being developed by one company, the overall experience can be more integrated and the software can be buttery smooth, but…

Here comes the comparison. Google Pixel is a great phone aimed at a great user experience. So is the latest Apple smartphone, the iPhone 7. Not only that, but so is the iPhone 6S. Those are phones, which were established on the fact, that the hardware, software, and services are designed by a single company.

The point I am trying to make is that the Google Pixel should not be compared to the iPhone 7, but the 6S. List of the facts: both do not have OIS, stereo speakers, nor real water-resistance. Both have very good displays and silky smooth performance / user experience without any major hiccups. As a bonus, both have a headphone jack. And both luckily start with 32, not 16 GB of storage (which is not further expandable by a microSD card). What’s the main difference then? One is cheaper than the other, by $100. The real shocker that it’s Apple’s iPhone with it’s “premium” pricing which is the more affordable option.

People complain, that the Nexus line was great at keeping the price low, without any significant drawbacks on the phones. The Pixel is different, so it is understandable why it has a higher price tag, but it should have been on par with a comparable device.

As for the future, I am sure Google will come up with some more exciting features. That doesn’t matter, whether we look at the iPhone 7 or the latest flagship phones running Android. Water-resistance, wireless charging, OIS, stereo speakers, etc.

Given the relatively successful launch and sales, it is clear that Google is onto something. The Pixel product line will continue and we will see better successors next year, in 2017. Write this final part down: I bet, that in the coming years, we will see more manufacturers drop the headphone jack in favor of wireless solutions. Exactly the same way Windows OEMs started removing optical drives from laptops to achieve thinner and lighter designs. So all the iPhone 7 haters out there, you better get used to it.

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