Google Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones are now official: with Google Assistant, Daydream VR, and rich camera capabilities
This is no leak story. It is not based on rumors or speculations either. At an official press event held in San Francisco, Google finally announced the long-rumored Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones. Yes, the Pixel branding is in full swing here, suggesting that the Nexus brand will be no more. But we'll get to the topic later.
At this point you must be wondering what makes Google's phones special. Well, to sum it all up, the Pixel and Pixel XL have been developed with a very important task in mind – to bring the best of Google to our fingertips. These are devices built by Google – both on the outside and on the inside. They are designed to be powerful, yet easy to use; good-looking, yet inviting and simple in nature. Do we have your attention already? Keep reading then.
Designed by Google
Now that we've touched on the topic of design, the two phones are made of polished aluminum, with glass covering the front and the upper part of the back. The curves and subtle wedges on the sides are there to make the handsets easier to handle, while the camera lens lies flush with the handset's surface.
At the back of both Pixel models resides a touch-type fingerprint reader – the Pixel Imprint, as Google calls it. Of course, its function is to protect your phone against prying eyes, but a few handy extras have been also built into the software. Swipe down on it, for instance, and your notification panel will be brought down.
Furthermore, the Pixel and Pixel XL will come in three peculiarly named colors: Quite Black, Very Silver, and Really Blue. Keep in mind that the last color option will be available in the US only. Live cases will be sold at the Play Store, in case you're wondering.
As you can probably guess, the Google Pixel will be the smaller of the two handsets. It is equipped with a 5-inch display of the AMOLED variety, with 1080 by 1920 pixels of resolution. As for the larger Pixel XL, its front is graced by a 5.5-inch, 1440x2560-pixel AMOLED panel. Oddly, both are protected by Gorilla Glass 4, even though Gorilla Glass 5 has been out for a few months. Perhaps Google chose the superior scratch resistance of the former over the toughness of the latter.
Under the hood
Pixel phone hardware specs were far from the highlight of Google's event, but we should include them here anyway. The "brain" of the Pixel and Pixel XL is a Snapdragon 821 SoC. As one of Qualcomm's most powerful mobile chips, it rocks two high-performance 2.15GHz cores backed by two low-power cores ticking at up to 1.6GHz. The 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM should prove sufficient, even in the long run. Both phones will come with either 32 or 128GB of storage – non-expandable, to no surprise.
Curiously, there's a Type-C to Type-A USB connector in the box. It can be used to connect various devices to the Pixel handsets, including USB drives and pointing hardware. The purpose of the adapter, however, is to make it easier to transfer data from your old phone over to your new, shiny Pixel phone.
By the way, the Pixel and Pixel XL feature 3.5-millimeter audio jacks. Just saying.
Software perks: Google Assistant, Daydream VR support, and more
Software is a key selling point for the Pixel and Pixel XL. Google's Phones will launch with Android 7.1 Nougat, as expected. On top of it will be Google's own launcher, and Google's Assistant comes baked into the experience. Think of the latter as Google Now on steroids, with the ability to interact with the user in a natural manner. You can ask it to send texts, to provide directions, to make reservations, and a ton of other cool stuff. And the more you use it the better it gets.
Both the Pixel and Pixel XL are compatible with Daydream VR, making them the first phones to support the feature. What this means is that software and hardware work in tandem to produce a next-generation mobile VR experience – with greater precision and responsiveness.
That's not the only software perk coming with the Pixel phones. For example, icons have this new circular shape, which is a rather odd change, if you ask us. In addition to that, we noticed that the Google Bar permanently stuck on the top of the home screen has been removed.
Camera: Smartburst, HDR+, unlimited storage for all your photos
Camera quality is a priority for most smartphone users, and Google brags boldly about the imaging capabilities of its Pixel and Pixel XL. Their snappers are built around the Sony IMX378 image sensor, which has 12.3MP of resolution and 1.55um pixels to capture more light. Phase-detection autofocus is supported, unsurprisingly, enabling near-instant snaps. The optics come with an aperture of F2.0, which isn't the widest we've seen on a phone, but should produce sufficiently bright night-time images. Hardware is just one half of the whole story, however.
The cameras on the Pixel and Pixel XL are controlled by some mighty fast and powerful software, it seems. Smartburst is one of the new features that have been baked in. As the name implies, it selects the sharpest, clearest images when shooting bursts – nothing new per se, but still nice to have out of the box. You just hold the shutter key to take a Smartburst.
Meanwhile, the refined HDR+ algorithms are now designed to work in a broader range of light conditions. With HDR+ enabled, a series of images at multiple short exposures are captured and fused into a single, enhanced image. As HDR+ produces no shutter lag, it is on by default.
Videos shot with the Pixel and Pixel XL can be enhanced by their advanced stabilization algorithms. No, there's no optical image stabilization at play, but the software stabilization promises near-excellent results. It works in tandem with the phone's gyroscope to correct for every shake of the handset.
Since Google expects Pixel phone owners to use its camera a lot, it is giving them unlimited cloud storage for full resolution image backup. That covers video as well. Yes, your 4K videos will be backed up in 4K, so that they don't eat up precious storage space on the handset itself.
Price and release date
The Google Pixel and Pixel XL will launch worldwide – both unlocked and via carriers. In the US, the two will be offered as Verizon exclusives starting at $27.08 and $32.08 per month, respectively. Both are up on the carrier's web page, in case you're interested. In Canada, you'll be able to grab the Pixel phones via Rogers, Telus, Bell, or Wireless Wave. For buyers in Europe, we'd suggest heading over to your local Deutche Telekom, EE, or Dixons Carphone outlet. And in Australia, Telstra will be the carrier to offer Google's new handsets.
Of course, the Pixel and Pixel XL will be available unlocked as well. Head over to the Play Store to get one, as pre-orders are already live in the US (with the blue one out of stock). Pricing starts at $650 for the Pixel and $770 for the XL. Add another $100 to get 128GB instead of the base 32GB. Retailers like Best Buy and Flipkart will also carry the phones in their brick and mortar stores.