The Google Pixel and Pixel XL are here, and in the afterglow of some positive reviews it’s easy to get caught up in upgrade fever. Question is, when the halo wears off, are you going to be left with a smartphone headache for the next two years? We’ve already comprehensively reviewed the Pixel XL, but here’s the low-down on why you should – and why you shouldn’t – buy Google’s new Android flagships.
Why should I buy a Google Pixel?
1. The camera is top-notch
Camera performance on Nexus devices has always been controversial. Yes, they’ve often been good, but they’ve seldom been great, especially in the face of what both the iPhone and other Android devices can manage. Happily, that’s all changed with this generation.
The Pixel and Pixel XL may sport a fairly minor upgrade on the core camera module versus the Nexus 6P, but a combination of that, plus better software and processing, makes a huge difference. More accurate colors, more natural contrast, and a lighter touch on post-tweaking all help make the Pixel directly competitive with what the iPhone 7 can capture. Best of all, the Pixel’s camera is super-fast.
2. This is Nougat at its smoothest and most delicious
Android enthusiasts know all too well that their much-anticipated OS updates can sometimes take longer than expected to arrive, but there’s another dirty little secret that many Android phones suffer. Often, out of the box, the Android experience is already subpar. Juddering animations, glitchy scrolling, and laggy apps can sometimes make you wonder whether you really have just bought a brand new device.
The Pixel and Pixel XL most certainly don’t suffer such problems. Yes, that’s partly down to the cutting-edge hardware inside, like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 processor and a healthy 4GB of memory, but – as we’ve seen time and time again – smooth performance takes more than just access to the latest parts bin. No, credit needs to go to Google’s optimizations.
Software fettling might not be as glamorous as a new chipset (if, indeed, a new chipset could be considered glamorous itself), but the result is an Android phone that really flies. Touch response lag is gone, apps load and scroll with alacrity, and the whole thing feels as responsive as you’d expect for a modern flagship. Other Android phones feel sluggish in comparison.
3. Pixel XL battery life is excellent
It’s easy to ignore power management in favor of more exciting features like the camera and screen, but at the end of the day, if your battery is dead, all those shiny parts aren’t much use. Google has clearly taken that to heart, and the Pixel XL puts in an impressive two days on a charge. That’s not with coddling or selectively turning on a low-power, frugal mode, either.
And the reasons against?
The Pixel and Pixel XL might be Google’s most compelling smartphone’s to-date, but neither is perfect. Sometimes jumping in with both feet makes sense, but there are times when it doesn’t pay to be an early adopter. That goes doubly when you’re dealing with smartphones in the $600+ price bracket.
That said, here are three reasons you might want to keep your credit card in your wallet or purse, and hold off on the Google Pixel…
1. Google Assistant still offers beta-level service
If your primary reason for buying the Pixel or Pixel XL is Google Assistant, it’s probably worth reconsidering – at least right now. Google’s latest way to turn its knowledge graph (or, in other words, the vast quantity of data about yourself, your schedule, your email, and your location, that you so willingly share with it) into a contextually-aware service definitely shows promise. All the same, it’s worth being realistic about what it can do today.
That means helping you find the nearest coffee shop, telling you when your next appointment is, setting alarms and notifications by voice, and entertaining you with whimsical cat videos, among other things. At the same time, you’ll inevitably run into its shortcomings, most often not understanding the context of your follow-up questions.
Is it better than Siri? Certainly, yes, but Google Assistant still isn’t something you can rely on to answer all your questions day in, day out. That’ll take time.
2. The design is fairly uninspiring
Nobody is going to raise the Pixel up as a striking example of 2016’s finest design. The HTC-made pair of phones are well-made and sturdy, certainly, but they’re hardly handsome. Best scenario is to take pleasure in the detailing – the chamfering around the edge is neatly done – because the glass rear panel and oversized bezels lack charm.
Maybe you’ll buy the Pixel and put it straight in a case. Even so, some of Google’s design decisions could still bite you later on. Not least is the absence of waterproofing, which means that – unlike the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7 – if you drop your Pixel in the sink, or try to use it in the shower, you can expect it to become an expensive paperweight.
3. The Samsung Galaxy S8 is just around the corner
Most of the Samsung chatter right now is how the company is handling the Galaxy Note 7 recall, but fans of the cutting edge know there’s something equally interesting in the pipeline. The Galaxy S7 may now be the company’s flagship Android device, but its replacement is fast approaching. That’s the Galaxy S8, and we’re expecting it early in the new year.
In fact, there are whispers that Samsung is doing whatever it can to bring the Galaxy S8 in sooner rather than later. That would certainly help fill the gap the unexpectedly discontinued Note 7 has left, which has all but gifted the holiday season to the iPhone 7. Don’t get too eager for an accelerated launch, mind: early 2017 is still the expected window.
The final verdict…?
These aren’t the affordable, budget-friendly Nexus phones of old. The Pixel and Pixel XL take on the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus directly, price point for price point, and for once you can’t be assured that the spec sheet on the Android side will comfortably out-pace what Apple is offering. Waterproofing, or the lack of it, is a good example of that.
Still, if you’re addicted to Google services and want the smoothest way of experiencing them, the Pixel and Pixel XL are the phones for you. No other device – even those running Android – offers the same blend of tight integration with Google’s cloud. Factor in the knowledge that the Pixel will be first in line for any new developments, and it’s a no-brainer.