You may not think of Google as a hardware company, but some new products that the company announced this week might change your mind. In particular, Google's newest smartphone, the Pixel, picks up where the Nexus line leaves off, delivering all sorts of newfound smarts in the process.
Pixel isn't just another ho-hum phone that checks a bunch of boxes on the spec chart. We think it could be a very important phone this year. With that in mind, here are 17 key things we think you should know about the Pixel.
1. It’s Actually Two Phones
There are actually two models in the Pixel line. But in most respects, the Pixel and the Pixel XL are virtually identical.
The Pixel has a 5-inch display with an HD resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels. The Pixel XL packs a slightly bigger 5.5-inch, 2560-by-1440-pixel screen. The larger sibling gets additional battery capacity, too, to help power all those pixels.
2. It’s Google Through and Through
What else would you expect from a product marketed as being “by Google”? Both Pixel phones feature the latest version of Android as well as the full suite of Google apps, including Maps, Gmail, YouTube, Allo, and Duo. Additionally, the Pixel takes advantage of Google Assistant, the technology that also powers Google's new Bluetooth- and Wi-Fi-connected Home connected speaker. Bottom line: This is the smartest phone around.
You won’t hear it directly from Google, but HTC actually built the Pixel phones. This is just the latest collaboration between the two companies, in a relationship that stretches back to 2008 and the very first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1. HTC was also the partner tapped to create the Nexus One.
3. It Marks the Debut of Google Assistant
As the first handset on the market to feature Google Assistant, the Pixel leverages the search giant’s AI to help users in various ways. Whether the issue involves search, calendaring, app integration, or general requests, Google Assistant is not unlike a personal assistant that you have on call at all times.
4. It Comes in Three Colors
What will it be? Quite Black, Very Silver, or Really Blue? Yep, those are the Rather Overblown names Google gave the color options for the Pixel, though maybe we should be grateful that it stayed away from Great Grape and Very Raspberry.
Customers get the same three color three options for both the Pixel and the Pixel XL.
5. It Runs the Latest Version of Android
Although LG produced the first phone to launch with Android 7.0, the Pixels are a step beyond that with the 7.1 build of Nougat. Although Nougat 7.1 may be almost identical to the 7.0 release on the surface, it includes Google Assistant as well as a few less obvious tweaks.
6. Software Updates Are Much Improved
Gone are the days of downloading and installing software updates that render your phone inoperable for minutes at a time. With Android 7.1, software updates and security patches download to and install on your Pixel in the background. The next time you reboot your phone, it will be running the most current releases.
7. It Has the Best Smartphone Camera Ever
No, for real—that’s not just lip service. The Google Pixel scored an 89 on the DxOMark Mobile benchmark, making it officially the highest-rated smartphone camera to date. Users will enjoy less noise and blur and higher dynamic range in photos.
Speaking of which, because there’s zero lag in shutter and image capture, the HDR+ setting is enabled by default. As for sensor size, you'll find a 12.3-megapixel camera in back, and an 8-megapixel selfie camera in front.
8. Avalable Storage Capacity Is Big—and Really Big
The Pixel phones come with storage capacities of 32GB and 128GB. The former is on a par with what many of today’s phones deliver; the latter is at the maximum of current internal phone storage.
Choose the right storage for your needs and budget. Neither the Pixel nor the Pixel XL lets users add storage space via microSD expansion cards.
9. It Comes With Lifetime Unlimited Full-Size Photo Backups
But why worry about internal storage capacity when you can push your photos and videos to the cloud? Every Pixel comes with a lifetime account that permits unlimited cloud backups of your camera’s creations—even videos shot in 4K.
10. It’s a Verizon Exclusive, Sort Of
If you're looking to purchase the Google Pixel or Pixel XL with a carrier, you’ll have to go through Verizon. The Pixel retails for $650 (32GB) and $750 (128GB) while the larger Pixel XL carries price tags of $770 (32GB) and $870 (128GB). The duration of Big Red's exclusive isn't clear, but it could be at least a few months before other carriers get their version of the phone. But then again, there’s no evidence that the other carriers will ever offer the phones. So... maybe Verizon always? Time will tell.
11. But You can Buy It Unlocked
For people who prefer to pick their carrier, the Pixel is also available in unlocked versions.
Pricing is the same as you’ll find with Verizon, but taking the unlocked route frees consumers to hop between the various wireless networks, including Google’s own Project Fi.
12. It’s Not Waterproof
One increasingly common feature in today’s smartphones is resistance to splashes or dips in water. Unfortunately, neither Pixel models is designed with water in mind. If this is your next phone, you’ll want to keep a protective eye on it, especially around pools.
13. It Packs a Punch in the Processor Department
The Pixel is the first phone to draw power from the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, which makes it incrementally more powerful than its predecessors, and yet more efficient, too.
The pairing of the latest release of Android, (7.1 Nougat) with the strong but energy-saving processor means deeper device sleeping, better task management, and longer periods away from charging.
14. It Charges Up Crazy Fast
Worried about draining that battery because of all the pictures and video you’ll be shooting? Fear not: The USB Type-C charger and Qualcomm processor will have it back in play surprisingly quickly. According to Google, 15 minutes on the charger is enough to add 7 hours of usage to your phone.
15. It’s a Daydream Believer
The first smartphone equipped for Google Daydream VR, the Pixel can pair with the virtual reality headset in a second’s time.
Thanks to its powerful mobile processors and high-fidelity sensors, the Pixel is the benchmark handset to power great VR experiences.
16. Help Is Always Available
If you run into trouble with your Pixel, you can connect to a member of the smartphone's support team around the clock. You get 24/7 live care over phone or via chat; a screen share option is available, too.
17. It's Coming Soon
Luckily, you won't have to wait very long to get your hands on the Pixel or the Pixel XL. Both models are available for preorder through Verizon, the Google Store, and Best Buy. Verizon expects delivery to begin as early as October 20; the Google Store indicates that its shipments will start in 2 to 3 weeks.
There’s much more going on here than a simple announcement for a new phone. Prices for the Pixel phones are somewhat higher than for Google's older Nexus line, but the Pixel delivers more than the conveniences and capabilities of a high-end handset. For your money, you also get peace of mind and services that are hard to put a price tag on.
Photo credits: Scott Webster/Techwalla