Phone: Google Pixel (32GB)

The Google Pixel is a game changer.

For the first time, you can buy a Google-branded phone with premium specs and special features. That means you don’t have to compromise to get the cleanest, most up-to-date version of Android with special features from Google running on the best hardware. This is a new direction for Google. Not only is the Pixel a premium phone, it was reportedly designed completely by Google to capture their best vision for what an Android phone should be. HTC “assembled” the phone, but there is no HTC branding anywhere to be found. The branding is all Google.

As a phone enthusiast, I have used every major mobile OS available, from Android to iOS to Windows. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, but in recent months, I’ve come to really appreciate the latest versions of Android.

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L-R: Nexus 5X, Pixel, iPhone 6

My last phone was a Nexus 5X. I purchased the 5X for some of the same reasons I love the Pixel: pure android, the earliest updates, and a great feature set for the price. Pixel takes things a few steps further, though, with a several exclusives and a truly premium feel.

In the box: 32GB Very Black Pixel phone, wall charger (USB-C), Two USB cables (one with USB-C on both ends, one with USB-A on one end and USB-C on the other), USB-C adapter, 3-month pass to Google Music, brochure information, and key to open SIM tray.

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Setup was a little frustrating. There is a cable to connect the Pixel to your old phone in order to transfer your info, but it didn’t work with the 5X. So I had to do an over-the-air restore from my prior backup and then enter my ID in each app. That was mildly annoying. I presume they focused on building a transfer system that would work with iPhones and such, but I would have thought going from a Nexus to a Pixel would be buttery smooth; it was not. It took more time than it should, but in the end, everything works. So consider this a minor complaint.

Pixel is an excellent phone, but it is not perfect. Many reviews have complained about the large chin on the phone. Maybe it is bigger than it needs to be, especially given that there is only one speaker on the face of the Pixel, but it doesn’t really matter. In person, it looks fine and offers an easy place to hold/balance the phone. Others have complained that it is not waterproof. I’ll give them that. It is basically splash resistant, so it definitely lags behind several rival phones in this regard, and I do wish it were more resistant to water and dust. Some people don’t like the look of the phone with the glass tile on the back. That’s a matter of taste; I actually like it and think it adds a distinctive touch to the phone. Some people complain about the lack of an SD card or a 64Gb option for memory. I’ll give them that; I wish Google would be a little more flexible in terms of memory, but at least they did include a nifty memory manager with unlimited cloud storage for full-sized pictures and video (very nice add-on). I am slightly disappointed the phone doesn’t include wireless charging and the battery is a bit on the smallish side. Some people complain about the price, but this phone justifies the price when compared to the competition. It is not a Nexus; it is a new thing entirely, and it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best phones in the industry.

But when it comes to negatives, that’s it; and those are all minor issues relative to the overall function of the phone. And everything else about the Pixel is amazing.

The phone feels great in the hand. It is clearly a premium phone in terms of look and feel. I have the “Very Black” version (which strikes me more as a very deep gray, fwiw), and it is very attractive.

With 4Gb RAM, the new Snapdragon 821 chip, and Nougat 7.1, the Pixel flies effortlessly through any task. I haven’t found anything that makes it stutter. It is the fastest phone I have ever used, bar none.

The 1080p Super AMOLED screen with Gorilla Glass 4 offers a fantastic screen image with rich colors and great viewing angles. The glass also feels good. I don’t usually see reviews mention the feel of the glass, but I have used some phones where the glass just doesn’t feel as nice. This one feels great. And it has night mode built in. This is a terrific screen, although the Pixel XL does have better resolution than the 5″ Pixel. It can wash out a little in direct sunlight, so be aware of that.

The camera is AWESOME! I’m picky about cameras (those 20+mp Nokias with Carl Zeiss lenses spoiled me). The 5X had a decent shooter, but was VERY slow. Pixel improves the camera and is extremely quick about launching, focusing, and taking the shot. It is, quite simply, one of the best phone cameras on the planet. The camera includes a bolstered HDR+ mode that helps improve low-light performance, which was already impressive with the Nexus 6P and 5X. Additionally, Google includes electronic image stabilization, which has performed impressively thus far when taking pictures or shooting video, even in 4k. Google points out the phone doesn’t have a camera bump. To remove the bump, Google made the phone very slightly thicker at the top, so it tapers to the bottom. This allows it to rest flat when on a desk or table. I don’t actually mind camera bumps, but it was a thoughtful design touch. You might not even notice the taper if no one points it out to you. I will say the lack of a camera hump makes the phone just look more coherent than some others.

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5X, Pixel, iPhone 6

I love the fingerprint reader on the Pixel. It is similar to the one from my 5X, but it has a few more tricks up its sleeve. Most notably, you can swipe down on the fingerprint reader to open the notifications panel. It’s no wonder some reviews have called the Google fingerprint reader the best in the business. It has worked every time for me.

So far, the 2770mAh battery gets me through the day a bit better than the similarly-sized battery in my 5X did. Frankly, I would have preferred a slightly larger battery, though – say maybe 3000mAh. Google says it reaches 90% charge in 15 minutes. When I plug it in at 40%, it  takes about 10 minutes to reach 100%, so that is good. Plus, the battery appears to be safely of the non-exploding variety. 😉

In terms of software, Nougat 7.1 is an excellent incremental improvement with one serious wow factor that was initially exclusive to Pixel – the addition of Google Assistant. Assistant has recently begun rolling out to other Android phones with Nougat. While Siri usually just annoys me, I am a big fan of Cortana. Google Assistant is already better than both, especially in terms of recognizing a series of questions in a conversational manner. It was a lot of fun to just play with at first. Google Assistant scores extremely high in terms of recognizing what you say. Sure, it still makes a few mistakes, but the potential is very enticing. It can also provide you a snapshot of your day in the morning, which can be very helpful.

Pixel launcher is also pretty nice for a stock launcher due to the neat features (swipe up for the app drawer, easy access to Google Assistant, etc). But there isn’t much customization with the launcher, and that factor drove me back to using Nova Launcher Pro, which has since included many of the same features.

Several additional little software tweaks are much appreciated in Nougat. For instance, now it is easy to visually see how to initiate a 3-way call in the native dialer. It’s a little thing, but I’ve long griped about the dialer in Android. Also, you can use app shortcuts (Quick Actions), which is similar to Apple’s 3D Touch feature. Basically, a list of options will appear when you long press on an app icon. This can be very helpful.

It seems odd to include the fact the phone has a headphone jack as part of a review, but it is worth mentioning these days. The jack is located on the top of the Pixel. Some people seem bothered by the location, but I actually tend to prefer it there.

I should also note I am extremely pleased the 5″ Pixel has the exact same specs as the larger 5.5″ Pixel XL, other than screen size and resolution. A five-inch phone is right about the sweet spot for me, and my only regret with the 5X was the fact it was a lower tier phone than the larger 6P. I’m happy to see Google recognize that its “smaller” phone can be every bit the premium handset as its larger phone. The Pixel fits my hand well and is easy to operate with one hand.

Of course, the larger XL should be better for Google Daydream View (Google’s new virtual reality offering), given the higher resolution and larger screen; but the Pixel has been fine, too. My only complaint is that you can actual see the pixelation when watching content in a format that simulates watching it in a movie theater.  Otherwise, the Pixel does just fine. Yes, it runs a little hot and drains battery very quickly in VR mode. When using Daydream, I wear a nice set of BT earbuds, and that really adds to the experience.

It is worth noting the Pixel has 24/7 customer service built into the OS. That indicates to me that Google is serious about this being a long-term project. Of course, rumors about the Pixel 2 have already begun to surface.

At the end of the day, the Pixel is an excellent phone. It has performed every task flawlessly. Could it be improved? Sure, and I expect the next generation will have some welcome tweaks. But I’m very excited with this new direction by Google and think they’ve done a great job with the first gen Pixel. Very highly recommended.

Love:

  • Latest OS directly from Google
  • Speed
  • Great camera
  • Unlimited cloud storage for full-size pictures and videos
  • Solid, premium feel and appearance
  • Beautiful screen
  • Flagship specs
  • Responsive fingerprint reader
  • Daydream ready

Like:

  • Google Assistant
  • Exclusive Pixel software features
  • Quick charging
  • Easy one-hand operation

Hate:

  • Not waterproof
  • Single speaker
  • Lacks expandable memory
  • Smallish battery
  • No wireless charging
  • No 64gb option

Despite the mild negatives, the Pixel is a 5-star performer and deserves all the accolades it is getting in the press. I believe this is the best 5″ phone on the planet right now. If you want a top-tier Android phone, I highly recommend the Pixel. It has been my daily driver since I received it.

Final: Love

The Pixel was provided to me free of charge for review by Google through Best Buy.

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