From the Pixel to the Pixel 2, google has covered some serious ground and made some really smart decisions.
By buying half of one of the world’s most competent R & D teams as far as smartphones are concerned, google has established itself as a formidable smartphone maker in a relatively very short period. I don’t think any other smartphone maker has pulled this off. Companies generally outsource stuff that they do not think of as very critical to their success and with this step, google has also shown its intention of how seriously the company takes this business.
The squeeze feature which enables the google assistant is another intelligent move. Since the companies seem to have standardized the basic hardware such as CPU, GPU, sensors, screens and memory across flagships, it is these kind of things that will differentiate manufacturers in the long run. And so I believe that the squeeze is just a first of many hardware related functionalities to come. I am calling it a masterstroke also because people will try the feature just out of curiosity and get used to it in the process, given that it is the fastest way to access the assistant. A great way to make buyers use more of the assistant.
With other assistants such as Amazon’s alexa, Apple’s Siri, Samsung’s Bixby getting increasingly competitive, Pixel users are of prime importance to google. So the company will offer them a great deal of services which will be either exclusive or available before anyone else to them. One example is the unlimited free use of google drive.
The theory from our essential phone review holds for the basic hardware. Google has selected the same set of hardware for both the phones as any other flagship. A Qualcomm MSM8998 snapdragon 835 chipset does duty along with an octacore processor and Adreno 540 GPU. There are two storage options – 64 GB and 128 GB with 4 GB of RAM.
Similar to the earlier generation, this one also does not feature card slot. The company attributes this decision to the fact that major memory is consumed by images and videos. But it is compensated by free and unlimited use of google drive.
The Pixel packs a 2700 mAh battery and the Pixel XL, a 3520 mAh one. Both are good enough for more than a day of normal usage.
All this in a IP67 standard case, which means it can tolerate 1 m depth of water for 30 minutes.
LOOK AND FEEL
Despite there being difference of a complete inch of screen size between the two phones, the actual sizes don’t seem to be that much different. This translates into bigger bezels on the Pixel, which is a big disadvantage when compared to its competitors. Pixel also appears boxier than the Pixel XL. I have to say that the XL model feels much more premium than the Pixel.
Google has retained the glass at top of the back, although a smaller one. The single camera protrudes just a tiny bit from the back of the phone.
The back of the just black model feels a bit grainy, more so than the other color models. I used to like the sandstone back of the earlier OnePlus models as it made the phone difficult to slip from your hands or pockets. The grainy feel of the just black model very minutely feels like that.
Both the phones house front facing speakers at the top and bottom of the screen and sound amazing. Google has followed Apple in removing the earphone jack and providing USB C-type to 3.5 mm jack inside the box. However, google is not shipping earphones in the box.
This has been one of the most discussed aspects of the pixel phone, and for good reason. Google has chosen to decrease the size of color gamut from which it can display colors (see diagram below). The reason, as per the company, is that android oreo understands color space of both the content and the display. This was not the case with any previous iteration of android. This entire exercise is aimed at giving content a more natural feel.
The consequence of this is that the colors on pixel screen appear toned down when you compare with other phones. Although the phone has a vivid color mode, it only slightly affects the colors.
The display will certainly take some patience and getting used to. But for those who really do not want to settle with this, google will soon be launching an update to the OS with “saturated” color mode. It will have no color management and the colors will be more saturated and vibrant, but less accurate.
Google claimed in the launch event that the Pixel 2 camera got DxOMark rating of 98, the highest for any smartphone. You can read our post on DxOMark ratings to understand how it works.
Such goodness of the camera is the result of hardware combined with google image processing and optical stabilization. The camera app itself is very basic, much like on stock android. There is no manual or any other mode to choose from. All that you can adjust is the exposure.
The Pixel also has a portrait mode with blurred background. Now you must be wondering how google pulled this off with a single camera in place of two for others. Google employs a dual pixel sensor along with segmentation mask to execute portraits. Dual pixel sensor enables it to look from the right and left sides of the camera separately, effectively acting like two cameras in one. This helps in making a depth map of the image. Segmentation mask, which is effectively machine learning, helps the phone decide which part belongs to the back and then blur it. Google claims to have trained its neural network on about a million pictures to spot faces even when they have accessories (hats, glasses, etc.) on.
Since the launch of the first Pixel, I have been consistently impressed by its capabilities and the regular android updates adding more functionalities (we will have a separate review for the Android Oreo). And I feel that the attention to detail that people talk so much about in the iOS has crept into android OS as well with features such as the size of text being different for different types of notifications, etc. And now the android team has started to work on things like color management (to enhance user experience and help content appear as it was intended to by the creator), now playing (the phone listens even in standby mode and shows the name of the song on the always on display), google lens (tells you about what you’re looking at when you point the camera towards it), etc.
The camera has always been great and it will only improve with machine learning. With things like these, I am pretty optimistic of the future of the Pixel line. And for those reasons, I certainly recommend a buy on this if you’re looking for a phone at this price point. And this is regardless of whether it is android or any other OS including iOS.