Nexus is dead. Pixel is king. Say hello to the Google Pixel, a handset ushering in a new era of the search giant's smartphone range.
It arrives alongside the larger (and even more expensive) Google Pixel XL, as the firm doubles up on devices for another year.
The Pixel takes over from 2015's Nexus 5X as the smaller offering in Google's lineup. The thing is though, it hasn't inherited its predecessor's price point, with the new Pixel sporting a decidedly more premium tag.
It comes in two variants, 32GB and 128GB, with the smaller storage option costing you a lofty $649 (£599, AU$1,079). Meanwhile the Google Pixel price for the 128GB model is a staggering $749 (£699, AU$1,229), pitching it against the likes of the iPhone 7, Huawei P9, HTC 10 and Samsung Galaxy S7.
In the US it'll come exclusively to Verizon on contract for $27.08 a month if you don't want to pay full price, and it'll get all the day one updates, too. Don't worry; the unlocked Google Pixel at full price will be sold on the Google Store for everyone else.
Previous Nexus devices had a leg-up over the competition with their slightly lower price tag, which helped users overlook a couple of shortcomings; but in 2016, with the new Pixel brand and a brave new price point, there's nowhere to hide.
If you've owned a Google-brand smartphone in the past you'll appreciate the no-nonsense stock Google interface – and you'll be glad to know it's business as usual on the Pixel when it comes to the Android Nougat operating system.
For those who are new to Google's handsets, things may be less clear. While HTC is the firm that has actually built the device, the search giant has made all the calls on what goes into the Pixel, and how it operates.
Short of time? Check out our Google Pixel review video
These handsets are aimed to showcase the best of Google and Android. They pack new features not seen before on the platform (Google Assistant and a ‘best-in-class’ camera in the Pixel's case), and you'll be first in line for an update when a new version of Android is launched – usually weeks, if not months ahead of the likes of Samsung, LG, Sony and co.
The Google Pixel sports a first for Google's smaller smartphone – a full glass and metal body – along with a 5-inch full HD display, Snapdragon 821 processor, 4GB of RAM, 12MP rear camera, fingerprint scanner and 8MP front snapper.
On paper at least, then, the Google Pixel looks to be a flagship contender – but can it live up to the hype – and that price tag – in real life?
A smarter, more personal Google in your pocket
Has potential, but power isn’t fully realized yet
Can play games, tell jokes and read you poems
At the beating heart of the new Pixel smartphone is Google Assistant, which the search giant claims gives you a 'personal Google', accessible whenever, wherever.
Google is driving the Assistant angle hard, and is keen for it to not only be the center of your phone, but the center of your life. It’s currently only available on Google’s new Pixel phones – but you can expect to see it become more widely available on Android devices in the future.
Assistant is essentially an upgraded Google Now, with better conversational smarts – ask ‘what’s the time in LA?’ and then follow up with ‘what about San Francisco?’ and it’ll know you want the time in that location – and a fleet of new tricks including jokes, poems, facts, games and even funny videos.
As well as the fun stuff you can ask Assistant to do a host of more useful things such as make a list, send a text or check your agenda – which is helpful, but not that much quicker than jumping into the corresponding app itself.
You can use your voice to trigger Assistant at any point by saying 'Okay Google' – and this works even when your phone is locked. Sometimes it can take the Pixel a few attempts to pick up your voice, and we found it struggled in noisy environments, and even at home with some music playing.
If you have to say the 'Okay Google' command more than once the Assistant instantly becomes frustrating – you start questioning whether it would just be easier to tap your query/request into the Pixel with your fingers.
Asking ‘what can you do’ is a good way to find out what else Assistant can help you with, from finding out how the Packers got on last night (they lost, bad times) to diving into a Geography quiz which highlighted the gaps in our flags knowledge.
Generally, Assistant was able to comprehend our garbled commands, but there were several occasions when it got things wrong, or didn’t register our dulcet tones. It still feels a bit strange talking to your phone – and when you’re made to repeat yourself the novelty starts to wear thin pretty quickly.
There’s no doubting that Assistant has the potential to be a powerful tool; with the same smarts built into Google Home and support for the likes of Chromecast, and your smart lighting and heating systems, we're getting closer to the day when you can pretty much run your home with your voice.
Assistant also learns as you go, and the more you use it the smarter it will get – but that takes time, and patience, and you may find it’s easier to just use your fingers.
We’re still a little way off fully realizing the potential, and for now Assistant is a nice addition to the Pixel, but it’s not a feature many will be holding up as the stand-out reason to buy the phone.
What's in the box? Find out in our Google Pixel unboxing video
Premium, if slightly odd, looks
Rear fingerprint scanner is useful
Metal and glass build makes for a solid smartphone
The Google Pixel design is premium, if slightly odd. There's a metal body, but Google has added a block of glass around the fingerprint scanner and camera on the rear. While this gives the Pixel a unique look, the glass finish does look and feel a little like plastic.
That detracts slightly from the overall appeal of the phone, although the bottom portion of the handset is cool metal – and that's the bit which is in contact with your palm most of the time.
We’d put it below the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S7, iPhone 7 and HTC 10 in terms of looks, but it’s not too far behind, and the metal and glass construction does provide a solid, smart finish. There’s no water resistance though – something the S7 and new iPhone both boast – which is a little disappointing.
It’s more on a par with the larger, cheaper OnePlus 3, which also boasts a premium metal unibody – but with the Pixel being almost twice the price we can’t help feeling Google could have done something even more impressive here.
With its modest 5-inch display the dimensions of the Pixel are a palm-friendly 143.84 x 69.54 x 8.58mm. It’s a little chunkier than its rival flagships, but the depth tapers to 7.31mm at the base, which makes it easier to hold in one hand.
The wedge shape this creates is pretty subtle, but hold the Pixel upside down and you’ll notice the added girth of the top of the phone. This does mean the phone is a little top-heavy, but with its narrow width you can grasp the Pixel securely.
We were able to use the Pixel one-handed without issue, although the placement of the fingerprint scanner on the rear is a little frustrating if you want to quickly unlock when the phone is sitting on a desk. It’s a minor blemish, however, and the scanner is easy to reach and very responsive, with speedy unlock times.
And its usefulness isn't limited to unlocking the phone, as you can also swipe down on the scanner to pull down the notification bar on-screen – this is great for those with smaller hands, who may struggle to stretch a thumb to the top of the display. A swipe in the opposite direction will close the bar.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this gesture on the digit scanner – Huawei has built it into a number of its phones – but it’s certainly useful once you’re accustomed to it, and we heartily welcome it on the Google Pixel. It wasn’t turned on by default though, so you may need to head to Settings > Moves to enable it.
The power/lock key and volume rocker fall nicely under thumb and finger on the right side of the Pixel, while the nanoSIM tray is the only blemish on the left.
There's bad news for expandable storage fans though, as Google continues to shun microSD on its latest phone – you’ll have to make do with the 32GB or 128GB of internal space.
There is a silver lining to that cloud, however, as Google offers all Pixel owners free unlimited cloud storage for their photos and videos – and at their full resolution – which means you don't need to worry about them taking up vital space on your phone.
On the base of the phone the USB-C port is flanked by two grilles, although only one of those is a speaker – it’s not a dual setup, with the other grille hiding the microphone.
You can pick up the Pixel in three colors – Quite Black, Very Silver and Really Blue – with the cheeky names an obvious pop at Apple’s 'Black' and 'Jet Black' iPhone 7 color options.
Really Blue is a limited-edition option, and Google is still to reveal how you'll be able to get hold of it; currently pre-orders on the Google site are for the black and silver models only.
There's also good news for audiophiles: Google has kept the headphone jack on the Pixel. Its placement at the top of the handset isn't our favorite location – but at least it's there.
Bright and colorful – everything looks great on it
Full HD resolution not the best for VR
The Google Pixel screen is a bright, clear full HD offering stretched across five inches. It's pleasant to view and everything looks great, with a Pixel density of 441ppi – in layman's terms that means it’s pin-sharp.
We’ve been using the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus recently, and moving from Apple’s latest offerings to the Pixel we noticed the improved depth of color generated by the latter's AMOLED display. Some may find it a little over-saturated, but it does make the screen pop for a vivid viewing experience.
A slight mark against the display is the fact that the Pixel is Daydream VR-ready, which means it supports Google's new virtual reality platform. The fact that it supports Daydream isn't the issue – we're excited about that and the Daydream View headset – but the display resolution isn't optimal for VR.
Those who pick up the larger, higher-resolution Pixel XL will get a better Daydream experience, simply because the display can pack more pixels into your eyes for a more immersive view.
It's not a deal-breaker, and it won't result in a terrible experience if you do opt for a Pixel, but there will be a difference between the two phones.
You also have to consider that the Galaxy S7 and HTC 10 are a touch cheaper than the Pixel, and both pack a QHD display into a similar-sized frame, so it feels like we’ve been short-changed slightly with the Pixel.
The Google Pixel is lovely to use. It’s fast, intuitive and can handle anything you throw at it.
That's mainly down to the powerful Snapdragon 821 processor and 4GB of RAM, providing more power than you'll probably ever need from your smartphone.
The Pixel runs the very latest software from Google – Android 7.1 Nougat to be exact – and you get it exactly how the search giant wants it to be seen.
That’s the big plus point for Google, and for many fans of Android, as producing its own-brand devices mean there’s no manufacturer trying to put its own stamp on the operating system.
So you get a clean, fuss-free interface – and with the latest Android update Google has completely removed the traditional app drawer. Instead you get five app icons in the tray at the bottom of the screen (rather than four flanking a central app drawer button), with access to all your apps just a swipe-up away.
This takes a little getting used to, and during our first couple of days with the Pixel we were constantly hitting the Gmail app (where the traditional app drawer icon was); but once the muscle memory has been reprogrammed the swipe-up action feels natural – and, more importantly, faster.
Whether it actually is faster or not is hard to tell, but the Pixel certainly feels fast.
Something else Google has tweaked are the app icons, with its own applications sporting round images, while others you download from the Play Store will take the shape of their icon – WhatsApp is a speech bubble for example, while the NFL and Premier League apps keep the square look.
Long-press on an app icon and you may find the Pixel pops up a few quick links for you. It’s a similar feature to 3D Touch on the newer iPhone models, but where those phones use a pressure-sensitive display, the Pixel’s pop-ups are triggered just by holding on the icon a little longer.
Performing this action on Maps, for example, can jump you straight into navigation for your saved locations (work or home, for example), while for the camera app it brings up video and selfie shortcuts.
We didn’t find ourselves using these too much, but they are handy every now and then.
Music, movies and gaming
Great screen for movies and gaming
Built-in speaker not great, but there is a headphone jack
With a heap of power under the hood and a decent display, the Google Pixel is nicely set up for all your music, movies and gaming requirements.
Play Music is the place for music playback (unless you head to the Play Store and download something like Spotify), and as well as accessing any tracks you've put on the Pixel from your personal collection, it also gives you access to Google’s own pay-monthly streaming service.
If you fancy owning your music you can also nip to the Play Store, which has an extensive catalog of albums and singles available for purchase and download.
As we’ve mentioned earlier in this review the Google Pixel has a single speaker on its base, and this kicks out a reasonable volume. Clarity is passable, but it’s not going to wow people at a house party, and you’ll want to plug it into some speakers if you want to get people on the dance floor.
At least that’s easy to do, thanks to the 3.5mm headphone jack on the top of the phone – Google hasn’t followed in Motorola’s and Apple’s footsteps and ditched it just yet. Music playback via a pair of headphones is more than good enough.
Fire up a movie or TV show and the 5-inch AMOLED display brings the action to life with vivid colors and smooth playback.
Your own videos will be found in the Google Photos app, while any purchases or rentals from the Play Store are stored in Play Movies.
The Pixel is comfortable to hold for extended periods of viewing, and it doesn’t get too warm during movie marathons or intensive gaming sessions.
Speaking of gaming, this is another area where the Pixel excels, munching through any game you chuck at it. The graphically-intensive Real Racing 3, for example, runs fluidly on the Pixel, with swift load times across the board.
Performance and benchmarks
Super-slick performance all round
App multi-tasking handled with ease
You’ll already have a good idea of just how strong the Google Pixel's performance is, and it’s no surprise that it scored well in our benchmark test.
We ran Geekbench 4 on the Pixel, and it averaged a multi-core score of 4,029. That pretty much matches the equally powered Pixel XL, which clocked an average of 4,077 in the same test.
While those are strong figures it still puts the Pixel behind the iPhone 7 (5,311) and Galaxy S7 (6,500) – although in day-to-day use you’re unlikely to notice.
The Pixel also copes well when you have multiple apps open in the background, and it’s quick and easy to skip between them. A double tap of the multi-tasking button (that’s the square icon in the nav bar) will see you instantly return to the previous app you were viewing.
It all makes for an effortless user experience – and it’s that simplicity and ease of use that Google has improved hugely in the most recent Android updates.
A day’s use with moderate to light usage
Regularly required a mid-evening top-up
The Google Pixel battery life is nothing special. If you’re careful with your usage you’ll get a full day out of the phone, but we found that given moderate use a mid-evening charge was required to ensure we made it to bedtime without a flat battery.
The Pixel squeezes in a non-removable 2,770mAh power pack. That's bigger than the battery in the iPhone 7 (1,960mAh), but smaller than those in the Samsung Galaxy S7 (3,000mAh) and HTC 10 (3,000mAh).
That size difference tallies with general performance, as both the Samsung and HTC put in better battery showings than the Pixel, with the new iPhone in a similarly dicey state come the evening.
It’s not all bad news though, as the new Pixel boasts fast charging, giving you up to seven hours of usage from a 15-minute blast. That’s certainly handy when you’re about to leave the office and want your phone to survive the Clash Royale onslaught you have planned for your journey home.
You’ll need to make sure you have the charger that comes in the box on you though, as a standard USB-C cable and plug block won’t get you the same rapid recharge action.
We put the fast charging to the test, plugging in when we were down to 13% at around 6pm. Fifteen minutes later the Pixel was up to 27%.
It seems unlikely that an additional 14% of juice would get you anywhere close to seven hours of use – you’d have to turn off Wi-Fi, mobile data, Bluetooth and NFC, while turning the brightness way down and restricting your usage to basic applications.
If you are desperate to get the most juice from your top-up, turn the Pixel off and it’ll charge faster. While it was charging the Pixel quoted us around an hour and 40 minutes to fill the battery to 100%.
The phone achieved a surprising result in our battery video test though. We played a 90-minute full HD video on the Pixel, with screen brightness whacked up to max and the phone connected to Wi-Fi and syncing multiple accounts in the background.
When the 90 minutes were up the Pixel had lost just 15%, which is a very respectable result. It’s a result which also puts its bigger brother, the Pixel XL, to shame – although while that phone has a bigger battery it also has a larger, higher-resolution display.
That puts the Pixel on a level with the Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 Edge and Moto Z Force – which is certainly esteemed company. It’s just a shame it doesn’t perform as well as those phones throughout a whole day.
The Pixel just about gets away with its battery life, and if you keep your gaming and music streaming to short blasts you can expect to see almost a full day from a single charge. If you’re a heavier user though, you will need to keep a charger with you.
A very, very good snapper, but it doesn’t wow
Lens Blur is inconsistent, while low-light shots are okay
The 12.3MP rear camera on the Google Pixel is another big talking point for the search giant, which holds the title of the highest-rated camera ever on DxO – an industry standard for camera and lens image quality measurements and ratings. That’s quite the claim to fame.
The Pixel scored 89 overall in the DxO tests, putting it above all its flagship competition. The excellent Galaxy S7 Edge managed 88, as did the HTC 10 and Sony Xperia X Performance, while iPhone 7 came in a little lower at 86.
That’s all well and good, and it gives Google a strong marketing line, although we've found that DxO ratings don't always translate into excellent camera performance day-to-day.
Things start well for the Pixel, with the straightforward camera app making it easy to snap a quick picture. Shutter speeds are fast in good light, and the autofocus generally does a good job of getting your subject in focus – we found that a fast-moving kitten, however, did appear blurred in some shots.
The Pixel doesn’t bombard you with options in the camera app. There are toggles for HDR+, the timer, grid lines, flash and basic white balance settings (cloudy, sunny, fluorescent and tungsten) in the top corner, while a slide-out menu on the left provides a few more tools.
Slow Motion capture, Panorama and Photo Sphere modes are joined by Lens Blur, which is designed to create the blurred bokeh background effect you get with DSLR and compact system cameras, and the top-end camera on the iPhone 7 Plus – although with its small single lens the Pixel has to do this digitally, with mixed results.
Dip into the settings and you’ll find an equally humble offering, with resolution selectors for the front and rear cameras pretty much the only point of note.
You can adjust the brightness of your shots though – just place a finger on the screen and slide it up or down.
The HDR+ (High Dynamic Range Plus) mode is set to 'auto' by default, and we found that most of the time that was the best setting. HDR+ brightens up areas in shadow, reduces blurring and helps out in low-light scenarios.
We found it worked best at dawn and dusk, when the light isn’t at its most plentiful but total darkness isn’t hampering the camera. Snapping a shot with HDR+ working its magic at these times of day resulted in images looking brighter, but still well detailed.
Moving into the night and the Pixel struggled a little, with noticeable blurring and noise in our snaps. It’s certainly not as impressive as the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge in this scenario.
The Lens Blur mode isn’t anything new, and we saw the likes of HTC, Sony and Samsung battle it out a few years ago with this background defocus effect. On the Pixel the digital enhancement works okay, but it’s not a patch on a DSLR or a dual-lens smartphone setup like that on the HTC One M9 or iPhone 7 Plus.
We found the Pixel struggled to separate foreground and background elements well enough, resulting in blur bleed between subjects.
Day-to-day shots are very, very good – don’t get us wrong –- but the Pixel’s camera doesn’t tend to wow you. You’re unlikely to be disappointed with the shots you take on this phone, but they don’t have the same impact or color palette as those from some rival flagships.
Round the front, the 8MP selfie camera is serviceable, and can be accessed by twisting the Pixel twice in your hand – repeating the motion returns to you to rear camera, and it makes one-handed operation easier.
Pictures are bright and clear, although we did find that our selfies lacked clarity at times. There’s no beauty mode to speak of, but if anything we’re thankful for that, as those can often be overbearing.
The Google Pixel is a solid smartphone, but it takes a different direction to previous Nexus handsets. Its loftier price point means it’s under real pressure to perform in all aspects.
It's a phone we wanted to love, but we've not fallen completely head over heels for it. We are smitten though.
The design will divide people, the battery could be better, and the price will be a stumbling block for some, but the Pixel is a fast, slick, powerful smartphone which puts the best of Google in your palm.
The clean Android interface is a joy to use, the camera is strong, and the Pixel will happily gobble up any app you throw at it. Add in the fact that you’ll be first in line for future Android software upgrades, and Google has nailed many of the key points with the Pixel.
Who's it for?
The Google Pixel isn’t like its Nexus-named predecessors. This isn’t a phone looking to give you flagship specs for a cut-down price – it's a flagship phone, and it has a flagship price tag.
Google’s own line of smartphones are no longer aimed at those looking for a deal. We saw evidence of the switch with the Nexus 6P, which carried a larger price tag, and the search giant’s shift to battling with the big boys is now complete.
The Google Pixel is for the tech-savvy and cash-rich who want to feel the latest tech in their pocket without the overbearing presence of the 5.5-inch Pixel XL.
It offers something different to the HTC 10, Samsung Galaxy S7 and iPhone 7 which are more feature-led, with the Pixel instead designed to deliver a top-notch user experience and all the right tools in all the right places – which it does.
Should I buy it?
The Google Pixel is an excellent flagship phone. It combines a heap of power and a slick interface with a solid camera and premium design – a combo which will have almost universal appeal.
It doesn’t quite hit the high marks of the Galaxy S7 though, with the Pixel’s battery performance putting it below a number of flagship rivals, but as long as you’ve got a charging cable to hand you won’t be disappointed.
You are paying top dollar for the Google Pixel, and at this price point the competition is fierce. It’s not the best phone around – that honor stays with the Galaxy S7 Edge (and S7) for now – but the Pixel offers up something a little different for Android thanks to its simplicity.
The Pixel is a breath of fresh Android air in a world of over-complication, and you'll feel rejuvenated using it.