The reviews are in and to say opinions are split could be the understatement of the year. Most smartphones see first-run reviews that are generally pretty similar across the board; bloggers and technology journalists either like a phone for the most part, or dislike a phone for the most part. In the case of Google’s new Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones though, early reviews appear to be on opposite ends of the spectrum — gadget reviewers either really like Google’s first self-designed smartphones or the really, really dislike the phones.
Google’s new Android 7.1 Nougat software offers plenty of great features and Google Assistant is also well-liked thus far. That leaves the Pixel and Pixel XL’s hardware as the only real question, so let’s see what early reviews had to say.
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Engadget called the design “yawn-inducing,” but was among the more timid sites when discussing the phones’ design.
After years of experimenting with Nexus devices, Google finally decided it wanted to make a phone of its own. HTC might be assembling the phones, but Google designed and developed the Pixel from end-to-end. In doing so, it crafted a truly great smartphone that sadly looks a little dull. Still, the inclusion of a speedy new Snapdragon 821 chipset and a fantastic camera make the smaller Pixel a device to be reckoned with. Now, if only it were a little cheaper.
Gizmodo, as usual, was less gentle in its assessment of Google’s design. The site called Google’s Pixel and Pixel XL “too dumb and ugly to replace your iPhone.” Apart from issues with the design, Gizmodo wasn’t always impressed with Google Assistant either.
I was particularly disappointed with Google Assistant because it’s such a promising concept. Google is moving attention away from the search bar more than ever. Instead, the company wants you to “Google” by using the messaging app Allo or voice search in Google Assistant. Ultimately, the Pixel and Pixel XL are gateways for feeding the Google brain more information about yourself. As Google’s AI gets smarter, the Assistant will become more helpful. While some people might find this creepy, I think the idea is exciting, and it’s a letdown that the tech isn’t there yet.
The New York Times
Remember how much Google hyped up its camera during the Pixel unveiling. Well NYT called it “mediocre.”
Like pretty much every handset maker, Google proclaims Pixel’s camera to be the best on the market. Its rear camera has a 12.3-megapixel sensor, similar to the iPhone 7’s 12-megapixel sensor. So I took photos with the Pixel and compared them with shots taken with the iPhone 7 and Samsung’s Galaxy S7.
All the cameras took clear, visually appealing photographs with rich details, but there were major differences in color, even without any filters applied. The photos taken with the Pixel looked colder — they appeared to exaggerate cyans and magentas. The ones taken with the iPhone looked more vivid, though they appeared to slightly bump up yellows to make photos look warmer. The color in pictures taken with the Samsung phone looked oversaturated and unnatural.
Ars Technica called Google’s hardware “uninspired,” but had plenty of nice things to say about the software.
The Pixels’ aluminum unibody design does make them feel like products that belong in the $650-$750 range. Things get a little strange on the back, though, where another Gorilla Glass 4 panel at the top of the phone surrounds the rear camera and fingerprint reader. The glass panel is the device’s unique design decision, but adding more glass to a phone isn’t necessarily a positive. While the two-thirds metal back is easily superior to an all-glass Samsung phone, it’s a step below the all-metal backs you’d get from Apple or HTC.
It’s not clear what the reason is for the glass back panel, either. It might let signals in and out of the device—but the bottom of the phone still has antenna lines. And there’s no wireless charging or other features that might obviously justify the need for more glass. The design screams for attention, since the glass is never the same color as the surrounding metal, but at least there’s no camera bump. The back is totally flat, allowing the phone to sit on a desk without a hint of wobble. This is probably thanks to the phone’s wedge shape—it’s 0.8mm thicker at the top than at the bottom.
CNET had good things to say, but basically boiled it down to sure, buy one if you don’t want a Samsung phone or an iPhone.
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.
The Wall Street Journal
WSJ is in love, calling the Pixel “the Android iPhone you’ve been waiting for.”
Android people, please step forward. Good news! Your next phone-buying decision just got a heck of a lot easier. The Google Pixel is now the best Android smartphone you can buy. The other leading contender was disqualified due to spontaneous combustion.
iPhone people, it’s your turn. Ask yourself: Why do I have an iPhone? Is it because of its software, services and privacy policies? Or is it because it’s a very good phone for things like Google Maps, Gmail, Spotify and Facebook Messenger? If you’ve answered yes to the latter, the Pixel may be for you, too.
The Verge… was also in love, calling the phone a “home run.”
This is Google’s first phone, and for a first effort it is remarkably good. By almost every metric I can think of — speed, power, camera, smart assistant, you name it — it matches or exceeds the best phones available on the market today. And though the design is far from groundbreaking, it’s certainly approachable. The whole package is pretty incredible, and if you’re not put off by the premium price, you’ll be very happy with this premium phone. I prefer the XL, which isn’t huge and seems to get notably better battery life.
When I’ve shown the Pixel to iPhone users over the last week and a half, a bunch of them expressed interest in switching. That is a very good sign for Google. And yet I always asked the exact same questions: “Do you use iMessage a lot? How about group conversations?” The answer was inevitably “yes” and the light dimmed from their eyes a bit. In the US, at least, the Apple ecosystem platform lock-in is real and a big hurdle to jump.