The new Google Pixel smartphone is a bold move for the search industry giant, and one that may well lure premium hardware users from their faithful Samsung or Apple handset.
If you’re a dedicated Android user – be it LG, Huawei, Samsung or Sony, to name a few – there are many reasons to upgrade to a Pixel handset.
Superior hardware, including a gold standard smartphone camera, and Google Assistant are just the start.
If you’re swapping from iPhone, after an initial learning curve you’ll find the Pixel not only performs as well as iPhone 7, but also handles photography and video in an equitable way.
The key factor to keep in mind when looking at the Pixel is that both the hardware and operating system of this smartphone are designed by the same company; a formula that has seen iPhone performing consistently well for years.
Pixel has now made the line between iPhone and Android even less discernible. The day will soon come where the differences between the two are nothing more than personal opinion.
Here are my impressions from an extensive hands-on day with Google Pixel.
A familiar experience
Coming in at 5 inches for the Pixel and 5.5 inches for the Pixel XL, both handsets offer a familiar experience for the premium smartphone user – the market at which Google are tilting. In fact, the form factor is decidedly reminiscent of iPhone; circa 6, 6s and 7.
Pixel also comes with Nougat 7.1 OS straight out of the box, bringing all manner of improvements and refinements to Android, the biggest being Google Assistant, which is currently unavailable on any other handset.
The fingerprint sensor on the rear also makes for a smooth transition from ‘locked in your pocket’ to ‘retrieved and ready to go’ in your palm. While a nitpick, unlocking from a face up position on a table is bothersome, nay, a nightmare for some.
An Assistant that grows with you
Like many companies that make software products for other hardware manufacturers, Google has kept the best feature for itself: Google Assistant.
A digital personal assistant to rival Apple’s Siri, Assistant is a showcase of Google’s AI learning prowess. Slow to begin with, Assistant will gradually ‘learn’ from its user and supposedly get to the point where it preempts requests based on a lifetime of data.
In practice, this works surprisingly well (or maybe my expectations are low from using Siri). With a quick ‘Ok Google’ I had my current location, travel options home from Sydney and a reminder set to check in to my flight, all within seconds.
The 12-megapixel camera on the Pixel has already scored top marks with many reviewers and industry bodies, and with good reason. It’s a good all-rounder, with a few caveats.
In a side-by-side comparison with the iPhone 7, while low-light photos yielded a slightly noticeable amount of noise, all photos taken on the Pixel were brighter and displayed more colour.
That said, upon zooming in, iPhone 7 did capture sharper images in brighter conditions, with less detail lost to noise reduction. The Pixel’s image processing going on behind the scenes should prove beneficial for most users, but others may not be willing to sacrifice image quality for gains in overall brightness.
Outstanding industry test results or not, whether this is the smartphone camera for you will come down to personal preference.
Swings and misses
You’ll also find some welcome and interesting features that bring the Pixel appropriately in line with many leading premium features.
Long press a Google app icon on the Home screen yields new quick-launch options, such as instant directions home or start a new text message. This is Google’s answer to Apple’s 3D Touch; basically, a long press versus pressure. Once more third-party apps embrace this feature, it will be truly useful. For now, not so much.
Unlike a number of Android phones and the new iPhone 7, Pixel is not water resistant – a surprising oversight that will no doubt give many pause before taking to plunge. Considering the many features Google has developed into Pixel to bring it on par with other premium handsets, and for the price point, the lack of water resistance is frankly baffling.
For Android users looking to upgrade, Pixel is a perfect reason to make your move. Nougat features many refinements on the Android universe that complement improvements in performance and speed from smart hardware design.
If you’re an iPhone user with a wandering eye, chances are Pixel is the phone you’ve been looking for. You won’t miss the lack of water resistance (unless you’re currently on an iPhone 7), but you will find many familiar software features.
Google Pixel and Google Pixel XL are available from October. 20 Prices start at $A1079.