Google is taking firm ownership of the flagship Android phones it produces each year. At an event in San Francisco on a crisp Tuesday morning, the search giant formally unveiled the Pixel and Pixel XL, two top-of-the-line smartphones made in partnership with Taipei, Taiwan-based electronics maker HTC.
The Pixel and Pixel XL may be produced by HTC, but they’re unquestionably “Google phones” — they’re the first handsets in history to carry the company’s new “made by Google brand,” in fact. And they’re an impressive first attempt.
Both phones, differentiated more by size than hardware, bear the hallmarks of high-end smartphone design: they’re dominated by glossy aluminum, Gorilla Glass 4, and an almost incidental amount of plastic to accommodate wireless radios. The Pixel and Pixel XL’s edges slope gracefully, as do its sides — a design language that not-so-subtly evokes Apple’s iPhone. And they’re pleasingly minimalist. On the front, selfie cameras and earpieces; on the right side is a power button and volume rocker; and on the rear is a dedicated shooter, LED flash, and circular fingerprint sensor.
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Google’s new phones aren’t just pretty faces, though: they’re powerhouses. The Pixel XL packs a 5.5-inch, Quad HD (2,560 x 1,440 pixels) AMOLED screen with an impressive density of 534 pixels-per-inch. The Pixel packs a smaller and lower-resolution AMOLED screen at 5 inches and Full HD (1080 x 1920 pixels), respectively, but squeezes it into a slightly more compact package.
Beneath those displays is one of the fastest mobile processors around. The Pixels have the distinction of packing Qualcomm’s brand-new, top-of-the-line quad-core Snapdragon 821 processor, a chip 10 percent more power efficient than the predeceasing Snapdragon 820. The variant in the Pixels is clocked at a 2.15GHz and paired with 4GB of RAM — more than enough to crunch webpages, benchmarks, docs, and games with ease, Google said.
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Those aren’t the only highlights. The Pixels share a pair of cameras that promise impressive captures in both daytime and dim surroundings. The rear-facing sensor’s a 12.3-megapixel model with f/2.0 aperture, 1.55um sensor size, and optical image stabilization, and the front-facing shooter’s an 8-megapixel specimen. And both Pixels sport Lithium-ion batteries of capacities that promise to last hours, if not days, on a charge: the Pixel XL packs a 3,450mAh battery, while the Pixel sports a 2,770mAh pack. Better yet, both support Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 standard, which on means they can reach 80 percent capacity in just 35 minutes of charging.
Familiar accouterments abound on both Pixels. Both feature USB Type-C connectors, Bluetooth, NFC, and 3.5mm headphone jacks.
Hardware is only part of the Pixels’ appeal, of course. Android 7.1 Nougat is the other, and it’s a doozie of an upgrade from the version of Android — 6.0 Marshmallow — that shipped on Google’s Nexus 6P and 5X. Launcher Shortcuts provide quick access to activities and settings menus within apps. Pressing and holding a Google Maps icon, for instance, might include entries for turn-by-turn navigation to saved locations; a Google Calendar icon might include buttons for quickly creating a new event or reminder; and a Google Play Music icon might include shortcuts to a saved playlist or recently played songs.
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Android Nougat may be destined for smartphones old and new, but the Pixels retain a few exclusive features. First is the Pixel Launcher, a proprietary Google-made home screen. Most notably, it features a “G” tab for quick access to the Google Assistant, Google’s AI-powered intelligent assistant. A pull-up dock provides quick access to apps, plus a search bar for quickly parsing through software previously installed.
The Pixels also ship with Allo and Duo, Google’s latest text and video messaging apps, pre-installed.
Android Nougat packs other changes, too. Android’s familiar navigation icons are now white and distinctly geometric: the middle home button has an extra ring around it. Notifications now wrap to the edges of the screen and sport Direct Reply, a feature that allows you to respond to incoming messages from Facebook, Hangouts, Whatsapp, and more straight from the tray. And a new split-screen mode lets you use two apps at once. (Check out our Android Nougat roundup for a full list of what’s new.)
Eager to get your hands on Google’s Pixels? It won’t be long. The flagship pair launches in brick-and-mortar stores later this month. They’ll be available in a variety of color and storage configurations: both ship in 32GB and 128GB flavors of black, silver/white, and blue.