Software is Sexy Again: The Definitive Google Pixel Review

Google shows how software can be sexy again. Move over specifications porn! 

Tech News
9 min read

Google Pixel, Pixel XL

  • Flagship phone performance
  • Design Inspiration from iPhones
  • Excellent display
  • Has 3.5mm headphone port
  • Has Qualcomm’s Fast Charge for super quick battery charging
  • Google Assistant is artificial intelligence done right
  • Voice Assistant understands Indian English accent and also recognizes Hindi commands
  • Best smartphone camera. Period.
  • Not dual sim
  • No expandable storage
  • Not certified as water resistant
  • Heats up on using camera extensively
  • Lacks LED notifications
  • Speaker volume not loud enough for notifications
  • Premium price tag

Google Pixel Completely Blew My Mind

It’s been a week since I got my hands on the Google Pixel XL and the Google Assistant (which is Google’s ‘future of search’) is the single most revolutionary feature in this phone. It paves the way for smartphones of the present and future. The number of things that I have got done by just speaking to my Pixel is unprecedented. For someone like me, who’s scared to death about getting repetitive stress injury in my thumbs, this hands-free use scenario feels god-sent.

Google Assistant is artificial intelligence done right. (Photo: Ankit Vengurlekar/<b>The Quint</b>)
Google Assistant is artificial intelligence done right. (Photo: Ankit Vengurlekar/The Quint)

But I am not convinced Google will manage to change the smartphone game with a phone that costs Rs 57,000. And it is not only trying to beat Apple’s iPhones here. The ambition is much larger. The Pixel price is so counter-productive, I will need to spend 1000 words just to explain why this pricing and positioning strategy of a premium phone makes no sense, but I won’t. Google is the company that works towards democratising internet access. One of their new pet projects explains its aspirations in the name itself. Its ‘next billion users’ plans to create products, services and partnerships -- to get the next one billion non-users to start using internet, so they can use Google services.

I am not remotely hinting that Google should not aspire to make a premium phone.

I am just not convinced that the way to showcase the incredible Google Assistant and the revolutionary camera performance needs to be limited to a premium category. This should have been aimed at the Rs 30,000 – Rs 40,000 customer at best. It is in Google’s interest to get millions of users to use its artificial intelligence and machine learning apps. The more data this engine gets from a larger user base, the more refined the product gets for future updates.

Moral of the story: Google Pixel is revolutionary. Apple should be very worried, as should be Samsung. But I won’t be buying the Pixel. Read on to find out why.

How I use my Phone

My daily usage includes 4-5 hours of on-screen time; approximately an hour of music and web streaming each; clicking at least a hundred pictures and a dozen videos every day. That’s on top of my regular reading, WhatsApping, and general social media. I also edit a lot of my videos on my smartphone but have not used the Pixel for video editing in the past week.

Google Pixel looks very similar to iPhone 7 and that could be deliberate. (Photo: Ankit Vengurlekar/<b>The Quint</b>)
Google Pixel looks very similar to iPhone 7 and that could be deliberate. (Photo: Ankit Vengurlekar/The Quint)

Honey, I cloned the Apple iPhone

Pixel’s design is not original at all. Left on a table next to an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus, it is almost indistinguishable, except for the home button on Apple’s device. This is a good thing. In the week I used it, most people couldn’t figure out whether it’s an iPhone or a Pixel.

The rear design choice of half-metal and half-glass gives it differentiation, though. Why, one wonders, did Google let the Pixel look just like the iPhone? It had the incredible HTC designers to work with. The possible answer is that Google didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. iPhone is the single most loved hardware device in the world. Add Google to the list of brands who make an “iPhone-like” device.

The rear of Pixel is half-metal, half-glass. (Photo: Ankit Vengurlekar/<b>The Quint</b>)
The rear of Pixel is half-metal, half-glass. (Photo: Ankit Vengurlekar/The Quint)

Bye Bye Specifications Porn, Hello Sexy Software

The hardware specifications and design is almost immaterial on the Pixel. Because software is king in Pixel.

This is Google’s software Opera. Google Assistant that is powered by their Knowledge Graph, all the personalisation derived from the hordes of data you willingly give Google access to, and its machine learning AI engine put together a software experience that feels leagues ahead of Apple or any other competitor on this planet. Siri feels like an intern’s college project compared to the Google Assistant.

Pixel has the world’s best camera on a phone.

Pixel’s 12 megapixel rear camera sets a new benchmark for smartphone photography. (Photo: Ankit Vengurlekar/<b>The Quint</b>)
Pixel’s 12 megapixel rear camera sets a new benchmark for smartphone photography. (Photo: Ankit Vengurlekar/The Quint)

The camera benefits hugely from the software secret sauce too. So far, audiences and consumers were made to believe that the camera performance is almost solely the result of the hardware components packed in your smartphone, which might still be true for most part. But with the Pixel, Google has stuck to a rather plain vanilla 12 megapixel sensor; f2 aperture; has omitted the magical words Optical Image Stabilisation; does not have tricks like dual lens cameras; or a big camera bump to accommodate the lens elements etc.

Designers and engineers at Apple should be breaking into a big sweat. Because Google Pixel’s camera is absolutely fantastic. Dare I say it? Google Pixel’s camera with the software secret sauce is BETTER than iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus camera, which in itself is the world’s benchmark for smartphone cameras.

  • Shot on Pixel
  • Shot on Pixel
  • Shot on Pixel
  • Shot on Pixel
  • Shot on Pixel
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  • Shot on Pixel
  • Shot on Pixel

The combination of a gyroscope-powered image stabilization software setup, and a really intelligent image processing software give surprisingly awesome results. The phone reads and cancels the shakes from reading gyroscope data and allows for stable images and videos. It does not have moving hardware components that work on springs. The software just does its magic and 9 out of 10 times, it just works.

The default shooting mode on the camera is something called HDR+. It ensures highlights and shadows remain in check, all parts of the image are exposed accurately and focus is always on point thanks to super-efficient phase detection and laser enabled autofocus.

The flash is very well balanced and works fantastic with pictures and is a great video light too.

The colours are on the saturated side, just the way I like them. The iPhone, one may argue, produces more true to life skin tones and has more realistic true to life colour reproduction.

But if you’re the sort who likes to shoot a picture and upload it on social media with #NoFilter, then you’ll love the Pixel Camera. It doesn’t need post processing, except for cropping if you need to zoom in to any details etc.

And that’s because a fair bit of post processing is happening almost real-time as you shoot any picture. The software secret sauce at work again. And it just works, beautifully. The front facing camera has great quality too. Mic quality is fantastic and records stereo audio with video and is overall a great phone for video bloggers and instagrammers.

UNLIMITED Storage for Photos and Videos

One clear home run feature is unlimited storage for photos and videos for Pixel users on their Google photos account. This is such a relief, believe me, I am an iPhone user. When you buy an iPhone, depending on how many pictures or videos you shoot, you get 5 GB of free storage. That’s the cost of an entire phone! It is this stupid, mindless behaviour of Apple’s that gets my goat. I pay Rs 190 each month for my 200GB iCloud storage plan, of which I only have 40GB left. I shoot a ton of photos and HD videos; I am a video blogger after all. I am considering upgrading to the 2TB annual plan which mean I’ll have to shell out Rs 1,300 each month. That is Rs 15,600 for iCloud storage.

Google is giving this to me, to you, to everyone for FREE! Not just 2TB, UNLIMITED storage. For this reason alone, shut your eyes and buy the Pixel.

Google is giving this to me, to you, to everyone for FREE! Not just 2TB, UNLIMITED storage. For this reason alone, shut your eyes and buy the Pixel. But mind you, my calculation of the 2TB storage requirement is for my extremely heavy ‘HD video recording’ usage. You might be happy with the Rs 65 a month plan. The point is, you will have to spend some money if you want all your data saved and synced across all iOS devices, or you can always use Dropbox or Google Drive. But the seamlessness isn’t exactly the same as with iCloud. Apple, please scrap your ridiculous iCloud storage plans and make storage free.

Google Photos – Picture Gallery on fleek

Google Photos is not just a dumping ground for your pictures and videos. The software secret sauce is constantly running in the background and what you get is useful archives of your memories. On your Pixel, just say the command, “Ok Google, show me my selfies” and prepare to be blown away. The knowledge graph is constantly working in the cloud to scan your images and categorise it so you can retrieve it easily by simply giving a voice command.

This might spook you out, thinking, ‘OMG, Google is accessing all my pictures.' But to be fair, there is no human being sitting and checking your drunk shenanigans or nude selfies. A software algorithm carries this out discreetly.

If you aren’t okay with the intelligent results Photos gives you, and find it an invasion of privacy, please don’t read this review and go buy a Nokia 3310 or 1100.

Also you have an option of not giving it the permission to access your data. But then, why would you consider buying this phone if not to see the software secret sauce in action?

Android Nougat is delicious

Android Nougat is Android’s 7th version and boy, how it has grown. Android is now finally looking like a really refined, matured operating system. It has always been customizable and a favourite among geeks. But now it is simple, intuitive and feels effortless for everyone. Call quality is exceptional, as is the performance of other antenna and radios. WiFi, GPS, NFC experience is top-notch.

Pixel is NOT Perfect

Three areas for improvement are clear. The speaker volume is just not adequate enough for our conditions. The ringtone and notification sounds are soothing and thus not the loudest. Of course, you can use custom ringtones and sounds, but it does not even come close to the loudness of the stereo speaker touting iPhone 7, which is way louder than Galaxy S7.

India is a noisy country, we want our phones to ring loudly and blare out Kaala Chashma. Google Pixel disappoints in that respect. The second disappointment is the way Pixel handles notifications, there are no LEDs lighting up when you get a new social media ping or there’s a missed call. I am nit-picking, but hey, this is a flagship phone.

The third issue is water resistance. There shouldn’t be any phone in 2016/17 that is not water resistant. It might survive a spilled glass of water or a sudden shower, but Google isn’t certifying with any IP rating, so I wouldn’t take a chance. I hope to see Google work on these 3 aspects for the next iteration and I hope that happens soon.

iPhone still beats Android in Apps Ecosystem

Our smartphones are not isolated devices. They are a gateway to a host of experiences thanks to apps that developers build for that platform. For the creative fraternity, Apple iPhone is still the best platform. The quality of apps is phenomenal and for a video blogger like me, I have a set workflow for video editing and graphics work on iPhones. This is not really Google’s problem, but it is Android’s problem.

I still haven’t found reliable, intuitive and polished video editing apps on Android. I understand that this is a very niche requirement but with the surge in everyone becoming a content creator, Android needs to up its game.

So in spite of this being a mind blowing and in many ways revolutionary phone, it will NOT be my next phone. My requirements for a phone are very different from those of an average person, so I am going to stay with my iPhones for a bit longer, with the hope that Android’s creative apps deficit gets fixed soon. Then I’ll jump ship.

The Pixel offers a revolutionary new way of interacting with your phone and is the kind of innovation Google needs to put a foot in the door in this super crowded smart phone category.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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