Google stepped up its fight against the iPhone with its new Pixel smartphone, but has it found a formula that’s good enough to worry Cupertino?
The Pixel looks pretty at first glance, and it’s the first handset to offer Google’s latest Android 7.1 Nougat software. It also promises a great display, stunning photos, and peak performance. Here’s what the first reviews have to say about it.
Pixel was clearly inspired by Apple’s latest iPhones, but most reviewers agree that it’s not quite as attractive. In fact, Engadget’s Chris Velazco calls its design “yawn-inducing,” and says it lacks character.
“The iPhone comparisons are inevitable and not out of line, but even beyond that, there’s a distinct lack of character on display here,” he writes. “As I’ve said, though, Google’s true art is software, and one could argue this low-key design was meant to let that software really own the spotlight.”
“That, or Google just doesn’t have a great grasp on what beautiful hardware looks like yet.”
Gizmodo’s Michael Nunez calls the Pixel “ugly” and bemoans its lack of water-resistance, which is now commonplace on flagship devices — including the iPhone and iPhone 7 Plus.
“The Pixel is an ugly phone. The design is a little wider and taller than last year’s Nexus 6P, and the bezel on the bottom lip of the phone is much bigger. Yuck,” Nunez writes. “There’s also a big slab of plastic at the top of the phone’s back that feels sticky and a little uncomfortable to hold.”
“The design is nowhere near as sleek, clean, and easy to use as the iPhone 7.”
Ars Technica says Google’s hardware is “uninspired,” and says that while construction is “in the same ballpark” as the iPhone’s, Google’s attention to detail isn’t the same.
“The phones’ metal sides are flat, with a wide chamfer handling the transition to the display, while a round corner handles the transition to the back,” writes Ron Amadeo. “Mixing the two design motifs feels a little weird, and the look suffers in comparison to the iPhone 7’s rounded sides, which transition seamlessly to the glass panel.”
“The iPhone also feels substantially more “dense” and “solid” than a Pixel does. While the Pixel’s construction is in the same ballpark as Apple, Apple still gets more of the little details right.”
One thing Google did nail is the Pixel’s display. The larger model, Pixel XL, has a super-sharp Quad HD AMOLED screen — and everyone agrees it’s beautiful. But the smaller Pixel, which has a Full HD (1080p) screen looks just as good.
“The AMOLED display makes photos look better; even ones taken on an iPhone,” writes Joanna Stern of The Wall Street Journal. “Blacks are deeper, colors are more vibrant and the higher pixel density makes everything sharper.”
“If you were worried that Google would skimp on the screens, relax — both Pixels have great displays,” adds Engadget. “There aren’t any gimmicks here. No curved edges or tiny secondary panels; just crisp, bright AMOLED screens with the sort of punchy, vivid colors these kinds of displays are known for.”
Google has excelled itself with the Pixel’s camera, too. Reviewers are praising its stunning photos and crisp 4K video. Many, including Dieter Bohn of The Verge, even say it’s one of the best smartphone cameras available.
“Luckily for Google, the results on the Pixel are very, very good. I put it in the same ballpark as the iPhone 7 and the Galaxy S7 in most situations, which is not something I expected to say going in,” Bohn writes.
“Bottom line: if you wanted to agree with Google and call this the best smartphone camera, I wouldn’t argue with you.”
CNET mostly agrees, praising the camera’s speed and photo quality — but wasn’t too impressed with images taken in low light.
The Pixel “takes even better shots than the already stellar iPhone 7 Plus, which I consider to be the reigning champion of camera phones,” writes Lynn La. “The camera is fast, images are in focus and colors look vibrant. Close-up shots appear especially sharp and refined.”
David Pierce of Wired was just as pleased with the results.
“In every case, the colors, dynamic range, and sharpness matched or exceeded every phone I’ve used,” he writes. “You don’t get the cool zoom or soft-focus features of the iPhone 7 Plus, but you get killer photos nonetheless.”
Both Pixel phones pack Qualcomm’s newest Snapdragon 821 processor, and while it may not be as stellar as Apple’s A10 Fusion chip, it’s plenty fast enough for your smartphone tasks.
“The Pixel and the Pixel XL feel snappier and more responsive than most of the other flagship phones I’ve tested this year,” says Engadget. “Nothing, and I mean nothing, during this testing period managed to make the Pixel or Pixel XL break a sweat. Sure, they got a little warm from time to time, but their performance left me with no complaints.”
“With its Snapdragon 821 processor, the Pixel works fast and fluidly,” adds CNET. “I didn’t notice any lag with day-to-day tasks like launching the camera, quitting apps and calling up the keyboard. Graphics-intense games like Riptide GP 2 delivered sharp scenery and high frame rates.”
One thing reviewers don’t like is the Pixel’s speaker quality. Ars Technica calls it “mediocre,” and almost everyone agrees it’s a big downgrade from the Nexus 6P’s front-facing stereo speakers.
“The $500 6P had front-facing stereo speakers, while the $650-$750 Pixel phones has just a single mediocre speaker on the bottom edge of the phone,” writes Amadeo.
“The small opening is the only way the speaker can breathe, so if you block this with your hand, the sound disappears. The speaker downgrade is one of the Pixel’s biggest disappointments, given that last year’s was so good.”
It’s not all bad news, though. While the Pixel’s speaker may not be as good as the Nexus 6P’s, it’s still not terrible.
“As is smartphone tradition, only one of those grilles [on the bottom of the phone] actually has a speaker behind it, and the Pixel doesn’t do stereo audio through its earpiece like some rivals,” writes Alex Dobie for Android Central.
“Regardless, the quality is loud and clear at most volumes, only showing signs of distortion at the highest output levels.”
Very few reviewers had complaints about the Pixel’s battery life. In fact, The Verge called it “stupendous.”
“Over the week and a half I tested the phones, I got absolutely stupendous battery life, especially on the Pixel XL,” writes Bohn. “Last Sunday I streamed two hours of the Vikings-Texans game, used the phone throughout the day, and obsessively scrolled Twitter during the presidential debate. At the end of the day I was still at 30 percent.”
“The Pixel XL had no problem making it through my day,” adds Stern. “The smaller Pixel had a harder time keeping up, hitting 10% most days by 8 p.m. In my punishing lab tests, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus lasted an hour longer than the similar-size Pixels.”
“The Pixel survived a solid work day with medium to heavy usage, but needed a charge at the end of the day,” explains CNET.
“In our lab tests, the Pixel clocked in an average of 13 hours and 12 minutes of continuous video playback on Airplane mode. That’s longer than the iPhone 7,, and , but the Samsung Galaxy S7 outlasted all its competitors with a 16-hour run.”
The Verge call’s Google first smartphone effort “remarkably good,” and praises its speed, power, camera, and more. “The whole package is pretty incredible, and if you’re not put off by the premium price, you’ll be very happy with this premium phone.”
“With Pixel, the company finally delivers on what we’d wanted all along from a Google phone,” concludes Android Central. “With each cycle of Nexus handsets, it used to be a question of “What would they screw up this time?” We’re far beyond that with this new, singular vision of what a Google Android phone should be.”
“The Pixel represents a new era for Google phones, and it’s off to a strong start,” says CNET. “Unlike the Nexus’ of years past, you don’t have to be an Android enthusiast to appreciate it. The only thing you’ll have to be enthusiastic about is owning a phone that’s beautiful, takes awesome photos and has smooth performance. If you are, the Pixel’s for you.”
The Pixel phones “certainly have their share of shortcomings, like a drab design, wimpy water resistance and some hefty price tags,” adds Engadget.
“The thing is, Google had to start somewhere, and the foundation it built with these two phones is a surprisingly strong one. These aren’t just great first attempts at smartphones; these are great smartphones, period, and every other Android device maker out there should be a little worried.”