The Pixel: a very Google phone

Mala Bhargava | Updated on January 16, 2018
The Google Pixel phone is displayed during the presentation of new Google hardware in San Francisco, U.S. Photo: Reuters

Here to help Google’s Assistant is all set to be your best friend

Here to help Google’s Assistant is all set to be your best friend

A brilliant camera, a chatty assistant and a fast and clean Android 7.1 experience make the Pixel XL a big temptation. Except for the staggering price tag

I have seen prettier phones. I have seen more affordable phones. But never have I seen a smartphone that is so very Google.

From the front, the Pixel looks like any phone, which in turn looks like the iPhone because everyone has copied heavily from Apple’s design. From the back, the Pixel looks like no other. The top one-third is made of a glossy material with the camera on top and fingerprint sensor in the middle, and the other two-third is a smooth brushed metal look with a proud G in the centre. As you boot up the phone, the first thing you see is the Google logo and that should tell you that this device is really a home for Google’s services.

Squeaky clean feel

I like to capture those first impressions, before I lose myself in all sorts of features and specifications. Each phone has a personality — and sometimes phones have a distinct lack of it. The Pixel (I had the 5.5-inch Pixel XL for review) has an all encompassing clean feel about it. Just like the Google search page. The whole busy feel of phones made by others is mercifully missing, leaving it much more of a blank canvas. Right from the start, you have the option of increasing the text size or even using voice feedback in case your eyesight is not up to the mark. And since mine is not, I appreciated this very thoughtful touch. I am very conflicted about the physical design of the Pixel, but the squeaky clean feel on the inside is something I immediately loved. The look and feel is thanks to the Pixel launcher, which by the way, you can pick up from the Play Store for whichever Android phone you have. Of course, that will not get you the famous Google Assistant...

Out-talking Siri

Long-pressing the virtual Home button on the Pixel will pop up Google Assistant, ready to listen and asking how she can help you. I am afraid I quickly got rid of the Indian English voice and used the United States one because I have never reconciled myself to the former’s accent. It is the assistant who is the heart of this device and who outdoes Siri with her promptness and artificial intelligence. She can understand context much better and even though she is nowhere near perfect and can be quickly tripped up, she is easy to relate to and very useful. We just had a long chat about chamomile tea.

Wave privacy goodbye

If we had not already done so, I would have said you wave your privacy goodbye with the Pixel. Google will now know I like chamomile tea and it will not be surprising if I see ads for it somewhere. This privacy and usefulness trade-off is just probably too late to reverse in our technology driven world. There are many who will opt to stop worrying about it and give in to whatever services are being offered. I am probably one of them.

About that camera

The Pixel’s 12.3MP f2.0 camera became a talking point well before the device was out in the wild. Camera experts DXoMark rated it as the best smartphone camera leading to much skepticism given the iPhone 7 Plus and Galaxy S7 cameras a competition. But taking photos with it, and speaking at a surface and casual level, this camera definitely has something. First of all, it shoots fast. The burst mode, if you long press on the trigger, sounds like a cat purring, it is that fast and that smooth. Casual comparison it with the S7, iPhone 7 Plus and OnePlus 3, I found the Pixel’s images brighter and more vivid.

Shaky hands in very low light will still get you a blurry photo but for the most part images are pleasing — so it depends on what you want. The iPhone tended to have a slight pink tinge or warmer tones in some light conditions but it and the S7 and Pixel did well with the shallow depth of field effect. We constantly bemoan low light and that is where the Pixel is the one that shines. Using bigger pixels, as it were, the camera on the Pixel fills an image with light without introducing noise. Shooting indoors with this phone will not go wrong too often. There are a lot of other tricks with the camera that are most enjoyable. The camera is not perfect though and there is much annoyance over the absence of optical image stabilisation without which this phone seems to be doing pretty well.

Purely as a phone, there are many more pluses and minuses to be considered. There is no dual SIM version; no FM radio; no fabulous design. But there is Google’s own virtual reality readiness, Android 7.1, a 3,450mAh battery that lasts fine through the day and a buttery smooth experience. The biggest minus of all, however, is the price of the phone, starting at ₹57,000 for the Pixel and going up to ₹76,000 for the Pixel XL. So far it is just the iPhone that is ‘allowed’ to touch these price levels in India. Even if we are talking about Google, pricing a device that high unexpectedly is unlikely to be to the new phone’s advantage.

Price: ₹57,000 for Pixel and ₹76,000 for Pixel XL

Love: The vivid low light camera, prompt helpful chatty assistant, fast clean performance, no clutter

Hate: The prohibitive price tag, odd design

Published on October 19, 2016

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