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25 October 2016

COMMENT: A Quick Look at Google’s Pixel Phone


The mobile phone market is so saturated with technology that each new device seems to only offer an incremental upgrade over its rivals and predecessors - it’s almost worth waiting three or four handset generations to ensure you get your money’s worth from a new phone. And Google’s new Pixel phone is perhaps the greatest evidence yet of mobile’s aimless direction – it’s an outstanding phone that does nothing new.

So, what does it do?
If you expect anything from a Google phone, it’s perfect optimisation for the Android operating system, and that’s exactly the area in which the Pixel shines. The addition of the Google Assistant, an artificial intelligence in the same mold as Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana, is a definite plus. It’s a more responsive and ‘human’ robot than the other two (ironically enough). Pixel, which runs Android Nougat 7.1, is also the first to include Google’s Duo and Allo social apps.


The Pixel is built around its two cameras (12.3 megapixels at the rear and 8 megapixels at the front) and a promise that the device can take decent pictures in almost any light. It’s true – the Pixel is arguably one of the best phones out there for amateur photographers, with some comparisons placing it above the iPhone 7’s camera. Pixel can also shoot videos in 4K, although that’s not a particularly new feature, while the device utilises a fingerprint sensor - Pixel Imprint - on the rear for secure unlocking.


Google has made no compromises as far as technology (and expense) is concerned, a fact that may alienate fans of the Nexus, the search giant’s previous phone, which had earned something of a cult following as an inexpensive powerhouse with developers. The Pixel is a sleeker, faster Android, ideal for business or productivity tasks. Specs-wise, it uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 CPU, which makes it a great option for the more graphics-heavy mobile games, as well as for apps that utilise Daydream VR. 
As mobile VR is likely to become more of an incentive to buy a phone in future, especially for gamers and online poker players, who have already adopted the Samsung Gear as the go-to for VR casino, the 821 is an important part of the Pixel. The Snapdragon draws less battery power, reducing the footprint of conventional apps like Angry Birds or Betway poker, as well as making famous battery hog Pokémon Go require less of an investment in pre-charging.
On the downside, the Pixel features one of the biggest design crimes since the smartphone era began – it has a partially glass rear. While the company claims that it has a function in improving reception, the presence of metal around the glass reduces its effectiveness (at least, according to science, it does), meaning that it’s a deliberate design choice, and one that looks entirely forced. It’s also not waterproof and only has a single speaker, making it a little awkward for entertainment purposes.

Is it Any Good?
Let’s get one thing out of the way – the Pixel is a fantastic device. If you're in the market for a new Android, you can do a lot worse than the Pixel or its bigger brother, the Pixel XL, which is being sold as an update to the Nexus 6P.
However, the fact that it’s impossible to separate the Pixel from comparisons with the iPhone 7 is a tragedy because, at best, the Pixel is the best Android phone on the market, and, at worst, it’s the closest Google has ever come to imitating the iPhone. Unfortunately, those two points combined qualify the Android platform as a natural second to Steve Jobs’ landmark device.
The Pixel and the Pixel XL have identical pricing ($649 and $849, respectively) to both versions of the iPhone 7, which suggests that comparisons to the latter are indeed the benchmark that Google was aiming at. It’s a ‘safe’ device, as far as Google is concerned; it’s far from revolutionary and it doesn’t do anything the iPhone doesn’t do.


Due to blind luck, it has come along at a perfect time, however, when Apple’s main rival in the mobile market, Samsung, is having a hard time stopping its phones from exploding.



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