The original Google Pixel definitively proved that it’s what’s inside that counts. You would have been forgiven for thinking that gutting an HTC project with nine months to go, transplanting its HTC soul for a Google one and releasing it onto the world with a brand new skin could have turned out disastrously. But that did not happen.
The original Pixel was an unlikely triumph under a huge amount of pressure. Google had never made a phone by itself before and the Nexus line had never been a mainstream success. The new Pixel launcher was bound to be controversial considering its departure from stock Android, and the addition of several Pixel-exclusive features, to the exclusion of Nexus owners, was always going to upset Google’s most loyal fans.
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Fast forward a half year and the Pixels have firmly established themselves as worthy of the first “Google Phone” title. Google miraculously nailed smartphone photography on its first try, the software experience is even smoother (not to mention richer) than on Nexus phones, a massive marketing budget put the Pixels in front of millions of folks and they have already enjoyed far greater success than any Google smartphone effort in the past.
So with the Google Pixel 2 destined to arrive in a few months’ time, it’s time to start compiling our wishlist: what we want to see weighed against what we’re likely to see. The Pixel team has already shared a few hints of what to expect, while others are merely educated guesses. Regardless of the source, here are six things we’d like to see in the next Pixel phones.
A better design
While the Pixels have slowly grown on me, there’s still no denying they are far from the best designed phones in the pile. Their origins in HTC’s design lab is obvious, and even with that odd glass panel and Really Blue color option, they’re still more “quietly brilliant” than they are “phones by Google”.
With a full development cycle in its pocket this time around, Google should be able to deliver a Pixel successor that is every bit what they want it to be. No corners cut to save time, no shoehorning software into an existing design. The Pixel 2 should have plenty of time to become the first real “phone by Google” without having to rely too much on the manufacturing OEM.
Will the Pixel 2 follow in the design footsteps of the original, as inherited as it was from HTC?
But that raises a question: will the Pixel 2 follow in the design footsteps of the original, as inherited as it was from HTC? Nexus phones never maintained a design language and maybe Pixel phones won’t either, we’ll just have to wait and see. But if Google wants to play the same mainstream game Apple and Samsung are playing, recognizability matters.
Finally, a better lead-in time will hopefully also mean we won’t see some of the same design quirks the first Pixels shipped with. I’m thinking about things like the scratch-prone glass panel, the anodized color application that constantly seems to want to rub off and the giant bezels.
The body of the Pixel may have come from HTC, but it sure doesn’t sound like the speakers did. While having poor speakers is kind of common for a lot of Android phones, if Google wants to position the Pixel as every bit the equal of the iPhone, the Pixel 2 is going to need a better audio experience. Whether that comes via speakers, a DAC or a built-in amp, the only way to go is up.
The body of the Pixel may have come from HTC, but it sure doesn't sound like the speakers did.
Fortunately, Google has an intimate knowledge of various approaches to smartphone audio, having worked with multiple OEMs on Nexuses past. The Nexus 6P’s stereo front-facing speakers were received very well and when Google asked the Pixel community for feedback, stereo front-facing speakers were high on the Pixel 2 wishlist. With all the brouhaha about enhanced audio in Android O, as the official Google phone, the Pixel 2 needs to have better audio capabilities than the original.
The way I see it, we win no matter what. If Google decides that minimizing the bezels is more important than putting front-facing speakers on the Pixel 2, we get smaller bezels. If not, we get stereo front-facing speakers. Or… we get big bezels and the same crappy speaker, but I don’t even want to think about that possibility.
An even better camera
The Pixel camera may still have one of the best – if not the best – smartphone cameras around, but the camera game never rests and neither should Google. Dave Burke, Android’s vp of engineering and Android camera engineering lead Tim Knight have already indicated that the current Pixel camera was simply the first swing at bat and that the work was only getting started.
Low light performance and enhanced machine learning will be key to next Pixel’s camera, with rumors claiming the Pixel 2 won’t see a significant change in resolution count or hardware. Rather, the Pixel 2 camera will reportedly rely on advances in the image processing algorithm for its improvements. Considering how fantastic a job the Pixel camera team did under the gun on the first Pixel, I’m perfectly happy with this.
The Pixel 2 camera will reportedly rely on advances in the image processing algorithm for its improvements.
Even now, months after the original release of the Pixel, several options are still unavailable. This is the kind of thing we might have expected from first year OnePlus, but not from Google. The Pixel hype is real and the marketing is everywhere. But if those two factors can’t coalesce into a purchase then it means Google has dropped the ball hard on something it should know inside out: advertising. After all, you can’t sell something you don’t have.
Fortunately, Google isn’t the kind of company to worry about burning vast stacks of cash on all manner of whacky premises. So investing a truckload of money on as sure-fire a bet as manufacturing as many Pixel 2s as it can fit in the storeroom is a no-brainer. Perhaps the demand for the original Pixel was far greater than even Google could have projected. Fair enough. But now that Google knows it has a hit on it hands, we shouldn’t have to see the same mistake made twice.
Better battery life
Again, if the original Pixel was indeed a gutted HTC project, then major modifications to the chassis and internals may not have been possible if the phone was going to meet its deadline. That’s OK, but Google surely knows that the battle for the hearts and minds of mainstream consumers is waged on two main fronts: camera and battery life.
The Pixels are OK. They have average-sized batteries and last OK for phones of their size and display resolution. But there’s nothing earth shattering going on. Given Google’s complete control over the entire hardware project and the software that runs on it, there’s very little reason to expect anything less than the most perfectly harmonized battery life ballet in the Pixel 2.
When all is said and done, the Pixel 2 is likely to be one of the stand-out phones of 2017. Considering what Google managed to achieve in just three quarters of a year with the first Pixel is truly remarkable, so with almost two years to work on the Pixel 2, we shouldn’t be disappointed. No smartphone is perfect, but by the time the Pixel 2 arrives, it will have had plenty of time to get as close to Google’s vision of the perfect phone as it possibly can. The best part of all is that Google seems really open to customer feedback; if even a little of that gets added to the mix, we’re in for a real treat.
What have we missed? What else would you like to see in the next Pixel?