Google unveiled a slew of devices at its October 4 event, and two of them are smartphones — the Pixel and Pixel XL. You can pre-order both devices right now (if they’re in stock) and they’ll be available on October 20.
The smartphone market is saturated with big displays, but those who want smaller handsets usually must settle for budget or mid-tier specifications. There are exceptions, of course, like the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact and the iPhone SE, but flagship small smartphones are few and far between.
In comes Google’s Pixel, which shares nearly the exact same specifications as the bigger Pixel XL while retaining a 5-inch display. Last year’s 5.2-inch Nexus 5X was not nearly as powerful as the Nexus 6P, and that’s why it had a lower price tag. With the Pixel, you can finally expect flagship specs on a small display. You’re also getting the very best of Android — and near perfect hardware and software integration.
Unlike the Nexus lineup, Google handpicked specific parts from HTC — like how Apple uses Foxconn to manufacture the iPhone. Tighter integration between Android OS and the hardware can make all the difference. Below is our breakdown and analysis of the Nexus 5X and the Pixel, which can help you decide if you should cough up the dough to join Google’s new lineup.
143.8 × 69.5 × 7.3mm (5.61 x 2.74 x 0.31 inches)
147 x 72.6 x 7.9mm (5.79 x 2.86 x 0.31 inches)
5.04 ounces (143 grams)
4.80 ounces (135 grams)
5.2-inch IPS LCD
1,920 x 1,080 pixels (441 ppi)
1,920 x 1,080 pixels (423 ppi)
Android 7.0 (upgradeable to Android 7.1)
MicroSD card slot
Qualcomm Snapdragon 821
Qualcomm Snapdragon 808
4G LTE, GSM, CDMA, HSPA+, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
4G LTE, GSM, HSPA, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
12.3MP rear, 8MP front
12.3MP rear, 5MP front
4K at 30fps, 1080p at 120, 60 or 30fps, 720p at 240fps
It may look like the Pixel and the Nexus 5X share similar specs — they do, but the Pixel has a leg up where it really matters. Notably, it comes with the latest and greatest from Qualcomm — the Snapdragon 821. This processor supposedly offers a 10 percent increase in performance over the Snapdragon 820, which powered most of this year’s flagships, such as Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Edge, the LG G5, and the HTC 10.
In comparison, the Pixel is well ahead of the Snapdragon 808 processor in the Nexus 5X. You won’t have issues with daily tasks like web browsing, but you will see performance hiccups when doing slightly processor-heavy tasks, like playing Pokémon Go. Not to mention the 5X only has 2GB of RAM — it truly shows when you try to multi-task with several apps. The Pixel has 4GB of RAM and it’s better optimized to run Android, so you shouldn’t run into any issues.
The newer device also has better storage options, offering a standard 32GB and a 128GB model, whereas the 5X only comes with options for 16GB and 32GB of internal storage. Both devices also feature a fingerprint sensor.
Design and durability
Google’s latest phone is slightly smaller than the 5.2-inch Nexus 5X, but it’s also a little heavier — that’s thanks to the all-metal build, making the Pixel feel like a high-end device. The 5X is made of hard polymer plastic. Metal is better, but half of the Pixel’s back is glass, which may not make it as durable as the 5X — that’s double the glass you may have to repair.
And the glass back is one of the more unique design choices for the Pixel, which mostly looks like an iPhone. The glass is sure to attract fingerprints, but we’re not fans of the front due to the larger-than-usual bottom bezel. The Nexus 5X, on the other hand, has slim bezels, a sleek back with the stylish Nexus brand name, and a front-facing speaker — though it’s not too powerful. The Pixel’s speaker will likely be a little louder, even if there’s only a single, bottom-firing one.
Design is subjective, and we like the Pixel’s look but the Nexus 5X may edge out here. The metal build may also protect your Pixel a little more, but the glass on the back is has us worried that you may face a higher repair cost if you drop the device.
Winner: Nexus 5X
The Pixel’s 5-inch display still holds the same resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, but it has a higher pixel density at 441 pixels-per-inch — you will hardly be able to tell the difference. What will be easily noticeable is the screen as the Pixel has an AMOLED display, and the Nexus 5X uses an LCD one. The Pixel’s screen will likely be brighter and offer deeper blacks, as well as sharper colors.
The Pixel XL may feature a sizable difference in battery capacity, but that doesn’t mean the Pixel won’t be able to last you a day. Google claims the Pixel will give you up to 13 hours of internet use on LTE — that’s the same as Apple’s claim for the iPhone 7 Plus, and an hour more than the iPhone 7.
Compared to the Nexus 5X? You’ll get five more hours of battery life using internet on LTE with the Pixel. It’s surprising, considering the two have similar batteries. The Pixel has a 2,770mAh battery and the 5X has a 2,700mAh one.
The key is software and hardware optimization, and while we doubt we’ll actually get 13 hours of internet use on LTE for the Pixel, you can certainly expect a sizable bump of juice for the device.
Google’s proud of what it’s done with the Pixel’s camera — it has received the highest score on DXOMark for a smartphone. Google says it rebuilt the experience from the ground up — there’s no optical-image-stabilization, but the search giant has a proprietary gyro-based stabilization software for videos.
Google has also improved HDR+ processing, meaning the photo is captured much faster and it also processes incredibly fast. Not to mention that Google says its 12.3-megapixel rear camera on the Pixel has one of the fastest launch to capture times. Compared to the Nexus 5X, we can say this is true thanks to our brief time with the devices at the San Francisco event.
The camera on the Pixel also has a few exclusive features, such as white balance presets, exposure compensation, automatic exposure and automatic focus locking, and viewfinder grid modes.
If you own a Pixel, you’ll also get free unlimited photo storage in Google Photos at full resolution. This option already exists in the app, but storing at full resolution will eat up Google account storage space for non-Pixel owners.
The front-facing camera is packed with 8-megapixels, more than the 5X.
The Nexus 5X will get Android 7.1 Nougat in December, but the Pixel comes with it pre-installed. That means Pixel owners will have early access to new features like Night Light, a night mode; App Shortcuts, similar to iOS’ 3D Touch; improved touch latency; fingerprint gestures that allow you to swipe down to bring down the notification drawer; Daydream VR support, and Seamless A/B Updates.
And there are a few Pixel-exclusive features that Nexus 5X owners will not enjoy at all, notably Google Assistant. Press and hold the home button, and you’ll find Google Assistant come up, asking what you need help with. The Assistant can run search queries, order an Uber, and more. The feature may end up on Nexus phones as Google is “exploring” ways to implement it, but it’s unlikely it will come any time soon.
There’s also Smart Storage, which automatically removes backed up photos from your device, and the Pixel Launcher won’t be available on the Play Store — there are ways to implement a similar look via third-party launchers, though. You also get 24/7 support built into the phone, complete with screen sharing in case you ever run into an issue.
You can learn more about the differences between Android 7.1 Nougat in the Pixel and other Android devices here. Google’s Pixel smartphones are the future, so it’s certain they will endure longer-lasting support than the 5X.
Pricing and availability
The Pixel is a better phone, but we’re also comparing a device that has superior internals to one with mid-range specs. The Nexus 5X debuted for a little under $400, but you can easily find it online for prices ranging from $200 to $300.
The Pixel, on the other hand, starts at $650 for the 32GB variant. Google’s asking for a lot more, but it does offer the specs, build, and optimization to match the high cost.
The Nexus 5X isn’t sold on the Google Store anymore, but it’s still available from third-party retailers as well as on Project Fi. The Pixel is available for pre-order via Verizon, the Google Store, Best Buy, and Project Fi — you’ll be able to pay the full price or get on the device financing plan for no-interest monthly payments. It may be out of stock at the moment, though.
Winner: Nexus 5X
If you’re on a budget, there are more powerful smartphones you can get for a lower price than the Pixel, and the Nexus 5X is still a decent choice. You shouldn’t even be thinking about a Pixel, as it’s meant to be a high-end smartphone competing with the likes of Samsung and Apple.
Still, no-interest device financing options are a plus and you’re getting the latest and greatest of Android, with fast updates and 24/7 support. You’re getting a superior camera, battery, display, vastly improved performance, and the kind of software and hardware integration we have never seen before on Android.
What’s more enticing may be the fact that the Pixel may be one of the few high-performing 5-inch Android smartphones, and that’s certain to win over many of you.