It's June, which means that we're only a couple of months away from a new, delicious version of Android, and if history is any indicator, 4 to 5 months away from brand new Pixel phones.
Up until recently, we thought this year's crop was to be a fairly predictable update to last year's — two devices built by HTC with improved specs and a newer version of Android. But things change.
Walleye and Muskie
After the Pixel and Pixel XL were released in October, the rumor mill reformed to contribute some logical and some less logical propositions.
The first rumor that made sense was that HTC would once again be the manufacturer of two Pixel 2 models in 2017 and that perhaps the company had signed a multi-year contract with Google for the privilege.
The second rumor somewhat corroborated the code naming trend of previous years: references to devices named "walleye" and "muskie", two freshwater fish native to parts of the U.S. and Canada, continued the aquatic animal-based naming conventions of many Nexus devices as well as the Pixel and Pixel XL. Those devices were codenamed "sailfish" and "marlin", while the Nexus 5X was "bullhead" and the Nexus 6P "angler".
Both "walleye" and "muskie" were expected to be HTC-built devices, with updated designs similar to that of the original Pixels.
And until March, that's how we left things, until "taimen".
A Taimen in the wild
In March, it came out that a third potential Pixel device was being produced, codenamed "taimen", likely bigger than both "walleye" and "muskie".
At the time, we didn't know much about the device, but in recent weeks it's come out that "taimen" would be built by LG, not HTC, and would be larger than the "XL" version of HTC's Pixel sequel, "muskie." It was then revealed that Google in fact cancelled the "muskie," the larger of HTC's Pixels, for "taimen," leaving one HTC- and one LG-built Pixel phone for 2017.
We still know very little about what this LG-built Pixel looks like, or its specs, but we can speculate as to why Google added LG to the equation this year.
A long history of collaboration
Google and LG have a long history of collaborating, all the way back to 2012 with the Nexus 4. LG has built three Nexus devices over the years (Nexus 4, Nexus 5, Nexus 5X) and was the first manufacturer to boast a new phone running Android 7.0 Nougat in 2016 with the LG V20.
So the relationships are there, and the comfort is there. And with LG reaffirming its dedication to quality control — Google was also affected by the bootloop issues on the Nexus 5X — with the LG G6, Google probably feels more comfortable letting the Korean company take another stab at the project.
Earlier this year, it was revealed that Google wants to spend nearly a billion dollars with LG Display to secure OLED panels for its upcoming Pixel phones.
LG Display is a separate company from LG Electronics, which creates phones, but the two are connected, and it stands to reason that Google would give the latter a manufacturing contract to ensure the success of the former.
OLED displays are the future of screens, and Google wants a piece of the market.
OLED displays are the future of mobile optics, and LG is ramping up production for its own devices and to compete with Samsung Display, which largely has the market cornered. The first Pixel phones were affected by enormous and frustrating manufacturing delays, and though Google never specifically pointed to a shortage in OLED displays, experts believe that is exactly what was keeping the phone off the market for so long. With its sequels, Google wants to avoid that problem, and giving LG the rights to manufacture one of its Pixels goes a long way to making sure that happens.
Right now, we know almost nothing of the Pixel 2's design(s). One GFXBench listing implies that at least the smaller "walleye" will sport a 5.6-inch QHD display with a 2:1 aspect ratio — the same as the LG G6 — so it's expected that both units will have a low-bezel design, likely with a fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone.
That larger screen should address the main design criticism of the original Pixels: their large bezels, which look even sillier now that the Galaxy S8 and LG G6 are on the market.
Whether the new Pixels will be waterproof, have wireless charging, or possess dual cameras remain to be seen, but it would not be too off-base to assume that waterproofing would be on the table this year, given that both the HTC U11 and LG G6 are at least nominally water-resistant.
Expect at least a Snapdragon 835, if not something newer.
As for specs, we know a few things about the phones: that they'll run at least the Snapdragon 835 SoC — it's possible a newer Snapdragon 836 will be on the market by then — and have 4GB of RAM, which the market has settled on as the norm for most flagship smartphones.
It's also safe to assume that the camera will be another point of pride for Google this year — even with two different manufacturers, it's likely the "walleye" and "taimen" models will sport the same camera sensor, or sensors, and be optimized using Google's increasingly good HDR+ algorithms.
And given that the phones will have larger screens this year — the smaller Pixel 2 is expected to be 5.6-inches at a 2:1 aspect ratio, so expect a larger 5.9- or 6-inch "taimen" model of the same shape — it's possible they'll have larger batteries. The Snapdragon 835 has already shown itself to have considerably better efficiency than the 821 found in the original Pixels, so even with the same-sized batteries the new Pixels should have improved uptime, but we should also see slightly larger cells as well.
As for storage breakdown, it's expected that Google will keep the default size at 32GB, offering a 128GB model for $100 more. Last year's Pixel XL costs $120 more than the smaller version, and that difference isn't likely to go down this year, especially given the change in manufacturers. Expect the "taimen" version of the Pixel 2 XL to be $120 to $150 more than the "walleye."
Like last year, the Pixel 2 series should launch with Android 8.1, a version that will remain exclusive to the phones for some time.
That strategy allowed Google to roll out some great new features for all phones running Android 7.0 Nougat while keeping some exclusive features for the Pixels, which ran Android 7.1 when they launched a few months later. At the same time, Google's excellent Pixel Launcher remains unique to the lineup, as does Project Fi support, which should fall over to the phones, too.
We don't know anything specific about what we'll see in Android 8.1 right now, but we're keeping our ear to the ground and will update this as we know more.
Pricing and availability
Another piece of the puzzle for which we're waiting to hear more is pricing and availability. It wouldn't be out of order to think that the Pixel 2 lineup will debut towards the end of October or the beginning of November, and will maintain a $649 / $749 price point for the smaller and larger phones, respectively.
We're hoping that Google ups the default storage to 64GB and that all of our spec wishes come true, but we only have a few more months to wait before we find it all out.