Google Pixel review roundup: an iPhone running Android

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The Google Pixel smartphone marks a rather notable moment for the company, as Google sheds the Nexus label (temporarily or otherwise) and takes a bigger role in the hardware department.

Now that many reviews are out, what do experts think of the new smartphone?

The camera is the star here

Almost all reviewers had nothing but praise for the Google Pixel camera, going so far as to call it the best mobile camera around.

David Pierce of Wired wrote that the Pixel didn’t have the iPhone 7 Plus’s 2x zoom or depth-of-field trickery, but it produced “killer” snaps anyway.

“The iPhone faithfully reproduces the exact light of the image, even when it’s boring or flat or dark. The Pixel, like most Android phones, subtly enhances everything to make it a little brighter, a little more vibrant,” Pierce wrote, adding that it often took “a nicer photo than you’d expect”.

The Google Pixel cameras are right up there when it comes to low-light performance, reviewers found

Ars Technica‘s Ron Amadeo said Google’s claim of having the best mobile camera ever wasn’t quite clear-cut, but it definitely stood out when the sun goes down.

“Smartphone cameras are all so good now that there isn’t much separation to see in well-lit shots, but in low light the Pixel captures stands out when producing bright colours and preserving detail.”

Chris Velazco, writing for Engadget, found that the camera wasn’t flawless, but produced great results anyway.

“While not perfect, Google’s pair of Pixels can indeed capture fantastic photos — detailed and crisp, with mostly correct colours. It shouldn’t surprise you to hear that the Pixel and Pixel XL excel in bright conditions, but their cameras are actually remarkable in dim situations too.”

The hardware department

Google’s new phones pack some impressive specs, in the form of a Snapdragon 821 processor and 4GB of RAM, for starters. But what do reviewers make of the overall design?

“As for Pixel phones, they look… like any other HTC phone (most notably the HTC One A9 and the Desire 10). HTC’s recent lineup has been criticised for looking too much like the iPhone; the Pixel phones look like iPhones, too,” Amadeo noted, saying that they felt “cobbled together” from HTC parts.

The design department is arguably the weakest part of the package

Pierce also drew comparisons between the Google Pixel and iPhone.

“Yes, the Pixel looks like an iPhone, and that’s totally OK. My review unit is the 5.5-inch Pixel XL: a teensy bit smaller in my hand than the iPhone 7 Plus, but so similar that I confuse the two,” he wrote. Pierce added that the only real standout design features were the rear glass panel and rear-mounted fingerprint scanner.

Both Amadeo and Pierce lamented the lack of water-resistance, in an age where Samsung, Sony and Apple all have water-resistant designs.

That Google difference

Being Pixel/Nexus devices, this is as pure a version of Android you’re going to get from a major smartphone manufacturer. And the Pixels also comes equipped with Google Assistant and other extras.

In his review for The Verge, Dieter Bohn wrote that Assistant would sometimes amaze with its responses but occasionally serve up bewildering results to basic queries.

“What’s remarkably reliable is the Assistant’s ability to understand what I’m asking: it gets it right almost every time, in all sorts of noise environments, and even when my data connection isn’t very good.”

Bohn also noted that Assistant’s standout function was its ability to sift through Google Photos.

“I’ve asked it for whiteboards, pictures of my cat, pictures of my kitchen, pictures of my friends who I don’t ever remember tagging, selfies, locations, and more. Every time Google finds the pictures. It’s way more accurate and comprehensive than iOS and Siri.”

Reviewers reckon that Google Assistant is great, but not worlds better than Google Now

In his Engadget review, Velazco praised Assistant’s voice recognition smarts.

“I’ve been consistently surprised at how accurate its voice recognition has been too, since I tend to get a little mumbly from time to time,” the reviewer noted, adding that it was capable of “remembering” context as well.

Amadeo drew comparisons between the old Google voice functions and Assistant.

“While Google is a cloud service that is always evolving, the commands, factual answers, and abilities are mostly all the same. What’s really new in the Assistant is the on-screen interface and the humanising ‘fluff’ like telling jokes and playing games,” the Ars writer explained, adding that Assistant is much better at recognising your voice in a noisy setting.

“Overall, the Assistant feels faster and it more consistently answers the ‘Ok Google’ command, but again, it’s hard to tell if that’s hardware or software.”

Worth a buy?

In concluding the Wired review, David Pierce said that he was going to switch from an iPhone to the Google Pixel.

“The immediate joke everyone, including me, made on Twitter after the Pixel launch was that Google made an iPhone. Well, that’s true. As it turns out, an iPhone running Android is exactly what I’ve been waiting for.”

Velazco bemoaned the high price tag, lack of water-resistance and lacklustre design, but was ultimately won over.

“These aren’t just great first attempts at smartphones; these are great smartphones, period, and every other Android device maker out there should be a little worried.”

If you’re looking for an iPhone running Android, the Google Pixel might be for you

Ars Technica’s Amadeo found that the high price tag was Google’s biggest enemy.

“The price is the Pixel’s biggest downside, which gives some real breathing room to budget devices like the OnePlus 3. OnePlus offers a similar phone—an all-metal Snapdragon 820 device with nearly stock Android — for $250 less. With the Pixel phone, you’re paying more for a better screen, better camera, and better software updates. Both phones have competent out-of-the-box software, and either one is worth a purchase.”

The Verge’s Bohn said that the Apple ecosystem will be a big hurdle in the USA at least, but added that Google would need to step up its Assistant game to lure iPhone users.

“It would be nice if that great leap forward came all at once, in a shocking reveal. But that’s not what’s going to happen. Instead, Google will have to aggressively and quietly improve the Assistant until, sometime in the future, we look back and wonder how we lived with stilted and limited AIs,” Bohn explained.

“Those are going to be tomorrow’s standards. By today’s standards, the Pixel and Pixel XL are among the best phones you can buy.”



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