As rumoured and leaked, Google unleashed a duo of premium smartphones at its product launch on Tuesday. What you’ll notice is the absence of the name Nexus, one many have known and come to love over the years. In its place is Pixel, in line with the gorgeous Pixel C 2-in-1 tablet it introduced earlier. Called Pixel and Pixel XL, the Google-branded pair touts top-of-the-line specs, including “the best smartphone camera” according to DxOMark. But they don’t come cheap.
“Premium” is a buzzword being thrown around a lot these days. Android smartphone makers like Samsung and Huawei have taken the lucrative premium route seriously, and Google too wants a piece of this luxury segment. It’s a segment dominated traditionally by Apple, which is less commodotised, unlike what we’ve seen in the mid- and low-end device market.
Pixel marks the first official Google-designed and Google-made smartphone, from ground-up. Well, of course you’ll argue that Google isn’t a hardware-maker, and has always worked with OEM partners to build its products. Case in point, the Nexus line – built by the likes of HTC, LG, and Huawei. Evidently, Pixel phones were built by HTC, and strangely they look like honor 8-iPhone hybrids. You’ll find no HTC branding on them though. Just a proud “G” on the back of the device.
To give it credit, Pixel looks beautiful with its curved edges (and 2.5D glass on the front). The metallic unibody comes in three intriguingly-named colours: Quite Black, Very Silver and Really Blue. On the back, over the upper one-thirds of the device is a glossy glass “Supervisor” layer that’s protected by Gorilla Glass 4. Not quite sure the design thinking around this, but this is bound to be a fingerprint magnet.
Build quality and finish looks top notch, although I’d reserve my comment until I get a proper hands-on. It does look good, I must say.
Pixel comes in 5-inch and 5.5-inch variants (hence the XL moniker) and both sport AMOLED displays protected by 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass 4. The 5-inch version touts a FHD AMOLED display that fires 441PPI, while Pixel XL gets a QHD AMOLED pushing out 534PPI.
Under the hood, the devices share the same underpinnings. That includes the powerful octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 (MSM8996 pro AB) with 4GB LPDDR4 RAM, 32 or 128GB of storage, USB Type-C, 3.5mm headset jack, single-SIM connectivity and sans microSD expansion.
Speaking about storage, Google is throwing in free unlimited storage on Google Photos (in original resolution) for all Pixel owners. A huge plus indeed (who needs microSD).
In the audio department, there’s a single bottom-firing speaker with 3 mics.
What Google is really proud of is in the camera department. The 12.3MP (IMX378) main shooter is the highest rated camera ever by DxOMark Mobile, scoring 89 points. Yes, ahead of the best smartphone cameras in the business – the Samsung Galaxy S7 and iPhone 7. Call me impressed.
The camera has a 1.55 micron pixel size, PDAF and LDAF with a f/2.0 aperture lens. On the front it gets an 8MP (IMX179) shooter with 1.4 micron pixel size and f/2.4 aperture fixed focus lens.
The main shooter is capable of 4K video capture @ 30fps, 1080p @ 30/60/120fps and 720p @ 30/60/240fps.
The 5-inch Pixel has a built-in 2,770mAh battery, while Pixel XL boasts a 3,450mAh. Both support fast-charging. Google claims you’ll get 7 hours of use from only 15 minutes of charging.
The new devices also feature a fingerprint sensor on the back, for quick unlocks and access to your notifications.
While you may be dazzled by its superior hardware, what makes Pixel really stand out is the built-in Google Assistant. As seen on Google Allo, Google Assistant is your digital personal assistant accessible right from the home button, just as you’d call upon Google Now.
If you’ve played around with Google Allo as I have, Google Assistant is the most useful bot you’ll find anywhere. Find restaurants, flights, find out football scores, set an appointment, you name it. By the way Allow and messaging app Duo are pre-installed.
Also, both phones will be the first to ship with Android 7.1 Nougat.
VR is growing trend on both mobile and desktop. Pixel is built for VR, coming built-in with Google Daydream and will work perfectly with the just-announced Daydream View VR headset.
Pricing and availability
Pre-orders starts on Tuesday in the US, Canda and Australia. India (what, really?) consumers can start pre-ordering from 13 October. Verizon is Google’s exlusive carrier in the US, although it is sold unlocked.
The base-level 5-inch Pixel starts at US$649/MYR2,688, while the Pixel XL starts at US$769/MYR3,185. Google Daydream View costs US$79/US$327. The Really Blue option is exclusive to Verizon in the US (limited to 32GB).
Will we see Pixel phones hitting Malaysian shores? Let’s wait and see, although I wouldn’t personally bet on it, not via official channels anyways.