Google has announced its new Pixel phone, which will initially be available for preorder in the U.S. exclusively with Verizon Wireless.
Google’s VP of product management, Brian Rakowski, described Pixel as providing an optimized Google experience building on the Nexus line of phones, which were developed and brought to market with hardware partners.
“Through Nexus, the goal was to work with these various partners to push the boundaries of what’s possible with a smartphone,” Rakowski wrote in a blog post. “We’ve now decided to take the next step and provide our take on the best Google experience, by bringing hardware and software design together under one roof.”
Two variants feature 5-inch and 5.5-inch displays made of 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass 4, which also is used for the back glass. Google Assistant is built-in to Pixel, and the 12.3-megapixel camera has f/2.0 aperture and 1.55 micron pixels, which are good for taking pictures in low light.
“Phones will get software and security updates as soon as they’re available, directly from Google,” Rakowski wrote. “We’ve also made the update process easier. When a new update is available, it can download and install in the background — no more waiting around for your phone to update.”
Pixel also is available unlocked, so it works on the carrier network of your choice, including Google’s own mobile virtual network operator play Project Fi, which uses the Sprint, T-Mobile US and US Cellular networks, as well as Wi-Fi hot spots to provide voice and data.
Pixel: One of the best Android phones
So what’s so great about the Pixel? Aside from the premium hardware, like the camera and processor, it packs new software features that are handy to use day-to-day.
As you can tell from its name, Google makes a big deal about the Pixel’s camera, and it is superb. It takes even better shots than the already stellar iPhone 7 Plus, which I consider to be the reigning champion of camera phones. If you want the full scoop on how these two compare, check out CNET’s feature, Google Pixel vs. iPhone 7 Plus: Which camera is better?
The camera is fast, images are in focus, and colors look vibrant. Close-up shots appear especially sharp and refined. Landscape scenes retain an impressive amount of detail and depth, even with objects that are far away.
Photos taken in dim lighting understandably weren’t as sharp and had more digital artifacts. But the camera did a good job at capturing available light and brightening up scenes. The flash made skin tones look natural as well, and if it hadn’t been for a few reflections in eyes, it would’ve been hard to tell in the photos that it was even used.
The front-facing camera is excellent, too. It has a wide enough lens to fit a lot of content (read: faces) in each frame, and it softened skin tones enough to look appealing without appearing too airbrushed.
The camera can shoot 4K video, and though it doesn’t have optical image stabilization, it uses a combination of the gyroscope and software to steady your videos all the same. This feature works well, and it’s useful when you’re moving while recording footage. But it does give your videos a sort of surreal, almost drone-like quality.
Google Assistant Helps Organize Your Day
The Pixel is deeply integrated with Google’s search services, and it’s the first hardware device to have Google Assistant baked in. Assistant is an AI bot that uses machine learning and Google’s vast search database to answer all kinds of questions you throw its way. It can schedule reminders, look up facts and places to eat, set alarms, give directions, translate phrases and more. And the more you use it, the more it’s supposed to learn about you and become more personalized.
Unlike Google Now (the company’s previous iteration of a digital assistant), Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana, Assistant is genuinely conversational. You can use your voice to speak to it in a natural, back-and-forth way, and it has a chat-like interface. After every interaction, there are suggested follow-up queries you can tap on to keep the conversation going.