It’s probably one of the most anticipated smart phone launches in years. Google’s new Pixel phone is now out on the market and I was able to get my hands on one in advance for testing and review. Pixel is the first ever phone designed end to end by Google and it launches October 20, 2016.
Its looks… familiar…
The first thing that struck me about this phone, is how much it reminded me of my iPhone 6 Plus. As an Apple user for many years, I have been attached to my iPhone, because it’s easy to use, versatile, and sexy. But once I unboxed the Pixel phone (my test model is the larger 5.5″ Pixel XL), I was surprised at how drawn I was to it. The Pixel phone is ultra slim, with soft rounded edges. A plastic plate on the back gives the phone just a bit of definition and contrast, and distinctive design from the iPhone.
Google Pixel Set-up
The phone was set up and ready to go in just a few minutes. Granted I was setting up this device from scratch, not attempting to move over years worth of apps, photos, and emails. Nonetheless I was ready to go fast.
Easy migration… even from an iPhone
As an aside, Google says it makes transferring your data easy.
Things I liked right away about the Google Pixel phone
Not to belabour the point, but as an Apple user for many years, that’s my only frame of reference when trying out a brand-new device. Consider me a total newbie to the Android platform, so while I may marvel at some things that are old hat to Android users, they’re new and exciting to me.
Right away I like the very clean home screen. All the apps are stashed in a tray that’s accessed by swiping up from below. I like not having the main screen of my phone cluttered with apps. Yes, there’s a way to move apps off the main screen of an iPhone too, but I like that this is designed to be clean. While you can stash some apps on a home screen you access by swiping right, it’s nice not to have everything overwhelming you on your main screens.
Haptic touch is a new feature for me as well. I really like the idea of it, and it means you don’t constantly have to look at what you’re doing on the screen to know it’s happening. It may just be me, but a weird thing happens when I’m using the vibrating touch option, it’s like the vibrations go straight into my eardrums direct from my fingers. It’s a very weird and slightly uncomfortable sensation. Can I tone this feature down? I’ll have to look later in settings.
The Google phone has Google assistant built in. You access it by saying “OK Google”, or touching and holding the home button to start. The assistant can search the Internet for you, get directions, make calendar appointments, and more. While I found the verbal command didn’t connect every time, when it did, the assistant was fast and responsive.
The camera.. oh, the camera
One of the first things I noticed one testing out the camera, was that it’s easy to capture a photo with the main subject in focus, and the background blurry, which creates a nice effect. Going even further, the outstanding “lens blur” feature allows you to take a photo and really have the subject pop while the background fades away. It’s an effect that’s easy to achieve with a proper digital or SLR camera, but not with many smart phone cameras until recently. I absolutely love this feature.
Free unlimited photo storage
Google also knows how to store your photos so you never run out of space. There is free unlimited storage (whaaaaat???!!!) for your photos and videos which are stored at full resolution in Google Photos. Everything is automatically backed up and organized so you can access it easily. I’ve been fighting mightily with Apple’s Photos system and the cloud, so I’m anxious to see how this works in more detail.
New exposure controls are also built into the camera. That includes HDR settings, adjustments for taking outdoor photographs on cloudy or sunny days, as well as different settings which will offset fluorescent or tungsten lighting indoors. There’s also the requisite panorama, timer and flash settings. But for a little more fun there’s also something called “photo sphere” which, for anyone who has ever use the app “360”, you move around a room or location to capture all 360° around you. It’s a cool a fact, particularly on stunning landscape shots, so it’s nice that it’s built in here.
Google is touting the phone’s camera as one of the best you can get in a smartphone, and they’ve flagged a review from DXOMark as proof.
“With an overall DxOMark Mobile score of 89, Pixel, the latest Google smartphone, is the highest-rated smartphone camera we have ever tested,” says DXoMark in it’s review (here). “Its image quality scores are impressive across the board, but it is particularly strong in providing a very high level of detail from its 12.3MP camera, with relatively low levels of noise for every tested lighting condition. It also provides accurate exposures with very good contrast and white balance, as well as fast autofocus.”
I liked playing with it and though I have no proof or expertise in photography I can tout, I feel like it takes nicer photos than my iPhone, and the lens blur feature was something I’d use all the time.
As for the specs:
- 12.3MP camera
- Large 1.55μm pixels: For great shots in any light.
- f/2.0 Aperture: For bright, even photos.
Other features of the Google Pixel Phone
No ‘Home’ button
Google has done away with the physical ‘home’ button, instead, creating a zone on the front of the screen that scans your fingerprint for secure access or unlocks the screen. It makes the phone look sleek and seamless and new.
Keeping your pixel phone secure is easy with fingertip scanning. Called pixel imprint, your fingerprint is used to unlock the phone quickly. Cleverly, there is also a fingertip scanner on the back of the phone where you would naturally hold it, so you don’t need to reposition your hand.
… AND a REAR fingerprint scanner
This is such a smart design feature I can’t believe I haven’t seen it before. In addition to there being a fingerprint scanner built int the front screen, there’s a small circular pad on the back of the phone that scans your fingerprint to let you access the phone without moving your hand. It’s genius, because it’s a pain to have to adjust your grip to scan your finger on the front centre of other phones. This is absolutely effortless and super smart.
Easy access to help
I was supremely impressed by one neat feature I found while clicking through the phone and it’s menus. I found there was an instant way to quick to get help on the pixel phone. Tucked into an easily accessible tab in the settings menu is google support by phone or chat. The menu says service is available 24/7 so I decided to access the help menu just to see what I could get. There’s a link to commonly asked questions, such as how to grab a screenshot on your pixel phone ( by holding down the power and volume down buttons at the same time) I was a bit disappointed to find, however, that there seems to be no actual way to get a human on the phone or through a chat window. Being as I didn’t actually need any immediate help anyway, I gave up.
I had the phone for several days before it needed recharging. My usage was quite minor compared to my regular phone, but even so. Google says the Pixel’s battery will give you up to seven hours of life with just 15 minutes charge! True enough, 15 minutes was all it took to get fully recharged, and the phone will even display the time remaining in its quick charging state when you check it while plugged in. I was suitably impressed.
Quick ‘Coles notes’ review
I enjoyed playing around with the Pixel phone. That might be because I found it so similar to my iPhone. Nonetheless, I didn’t feel the Google phone was missing anything major that I was accustomed to having. I’ve often thought nothing can pry me away from my iPhone, but if anything can, it’s going to be this phone.
The Google pixel phone comes in two sizes, 5 inches or 5 1/2 inches and is available in Canada in “quite black”, and “very silver”. Depending on the amount of memory you get and the size of the phone it retails for $899 all the way up to $1179. Find it on Google’s Pixel website.