This week on the 4th of October 2016, Google announced their Pixel phones line, Google Pixel and Google Pixel XL, putting to rest all the rumours floating around the web and confirming one rumour that most Google fans had been hoping wasn't true - the Nexus line was no more and the last Google Nexus phones would be the Google Nexus 5X and 6P. From here on it is the Pixel brand, "Made by Google".
This is a new chapter in Google's journey, the first phone truly designed by them, bringing together hardware and software under their control. Up until now they have had to rely on partners to bring their Google Nexus vision to market, their first partner being HTC with their Nexus One device, and more recently LG and Huawei for the Nexus 5X and 6P, the last of the line. Some honourable mentions to Samsung and Motorola of course, also partners in the program.
Looking back at all these partnerships and all the different Nexus devices, there was definitely a direction they were trying to steer the Nexus program in, ultimately aiming to take ownership of the hardware side too.
In a way Google is emulating the competition (Apple). Their strategy with the Pixel range is very similar to what Apple have been doing for a while - target the masses with a "premium" price, sell them on the virtue of Apple controlling every single aspect of their product from inception to after launch support and up-sell them services and other products in the same ecosystem. It has worked for Apple very well these last few years, so why can't it work for Google also? I guess this is what we will find out in the following months, after the release of these new phones.
Both phones launched at the event are exactly the same internally, the difference being the size of the screen and the battery. Below we have the phones’ specification and you will see that there isn't any standout feature that other devices in the market don't offer, for the changes you will have to look under the hood, on the software side and it's integration with the hardware.
Model: Google Pixel / Pixel XL
Body: Metal Unibody, 143.8 x 69.5 x 8.5 mm, weight: 143g / 154.7 x 75.7 x 8.5 mm, weight: 168g
Display: 5.0" FHD1080 x 1920 pixels (~441 ppi) / 5.5" QHD 2560x1440 pixels (534ppi), AMOLED screen, 16M colors
Operating System: Android OS, v7.1 (Nougat)
CPU: Qualcomm MSM8996 Snapdragon 821, Quad-core (2x2.15 GHz Kryo & 2x1.6 GHz Kryo)
GPU: Adreno 530
Storage: 32/128 GB, 4 GB RAM
Camera: 12 MP, f/2.0, phase detection & laser autofocus, dual-LED (dual tone) flash, [email protected], [email protected]/60/120fps, [email protected], 1/2.3" sensor size, 1.55µm pixel size, geo-tagging, touch focus, face detection, HDR, panorama. Secondary 8 MP, f/2.4, 1/3.2" sensor size, 1.4 µm pixel size, [email protected]
Connectivity: LTE (Cat. 9-12), Type-C 1.0 v.3.0 reversible connector, 3.5mm jack
Sensors: Fingerprint, accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer
Battery: Non-removable Li-Ion 2770 mAh / 3,450mAh battery
Protection: Corning Gorilla Glass 4, Splash and dust resistant
Price: £599-£699 / £719-£819
So what exactly are people getting with these new Google phones (aside from an epic price tag)? They are getting the culmination of a long term goal, whereby Google has 100% total control of their product (I know HTC are the manufacturer of this device... isn’t it ironic that they have been relegated to the same nameless position as Foxconn). This means in theory this will be the best Android phone the consumer can buy, as Google are able to integrate the hardware with software creating a better experience for the end user.
With the introduction of the Pixel, Google are bringing some exclusivity on the software side, with Google Assistant only being available to Google Pixel phones for now, a new camera app, the much-leaked Pixel home launcher, unlimited online storage for all your pictures and videos taken with your Google Pixel phone and lastly Android OS 7.1. While we are on the subject of exclusivity, Google hasn't made many friends by limiting their potential buyers' avenues to purchase these phones - in the UK Google has partnered with the EE network and Carphone Warehouse, which means any user with another network other than EE will not be able to upgrade their phone unless they do it either through Carphone Warehouse or move to the EE network. With contracts starting from £50 per month plus a handset cost, it is a big ask. Of course you can always buy a phone SIM free directly from Google Store but who has that kind of silly money to spend in one go?
Google Assistant is an upgraded version of what you probably know as Google Now. It was initially unveiled at the Google I/O conference in May 2016 and combines artificial intelligence and Google's vast data knowledge. Google are trying to create a personal digital assistant for the masses, allowing the user to have a two way conversation and getting Google Assistant to act on the requested actions from the conversation just like any other assistant. An example of this use case would be to ask Google Assistance to get an Uber, because it knows the user's calendar it already knows the appointments the user has and their addresses. You can see a demo of this on Google Assistant website, but you can also try it out now on Google Allo app from the Play Store.
It should be noted that Google Assistant will not be limited just to Pixel phones, Google is also releasing a 'Google Home' device for the home which is very similar to Amazon Echo, allowing a user to interact in the same manner with Google Assistant using voice. Initially this device is limited to the US, there is no pricing or availability yet for the UK.
You might be asking yourself right now... what about the Nexus line? Well it is dead - accept it and move on forward. While while you are at it, you may be able to pick yourself a few bargain Nexus devices on the way, I highly recommend the Nexus 6P (it is this writer's daily driver and main phone alongside the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge). Joking aside, the Nexus line can be described as a line of phones with a few firsts, the first latest and greatest android OS, low price and great specs (who remembers their Nexus 4), but also as the unfinished phone, it always felt like with every Nexus phone it was never a finished, be it OS, Camera, Battery etc. It always had one major issue that made it the not quite the best in the market. It remains to be seen if Pixel continues this trend!
I understand why among Google fans, there are some very vocal in feeling "betrayed" by Google with this announcement, however I feel that you have to look at it from afar, the only thing that Google has done so far to Nexus users is that on the 20th of October the first retail devices on the market to be running the latest Android version will be a Google Pixel phone. Google has promised a beta for Nexus users coming some time later this year, everything else, Google Assistant, Unlimited storage, Camera app, these are all meaningless to current Nexus users. These were never features of your device when you bought your phone, you were never promised anything, apart from update support for 2 years, and monthly security updates for up to 3 years. What about the Pixel C? Will it get 'Pixel' features? That remains to be seen.
A google Pixel phone is not a Nexus device, although Nexus devices helped Google to get to where they are today. Should you be sad that the Nexus line is no more? Of course, this is why I will be keeping my Google Nexus 5 and 6P, because to me these were the devices that helped Google breakthrough into the mainstream market, from a niche developer market to the great retail market.
Will the pixels be a breakout hit for Google? This remains to be seen, the phones aren't out yet in the market and it will depend on the market reception to them and how price sensitive buyers are to them. Google is taking a big gamble here and it may have priced out a lot of buyers with their premium pricing, they absolutely took a page from Apple's playbook with their equal pricing to the Apple iPhone 7/ 7 Plus (UK) - it will be a very interesting few months for analysts as they dissect sales for Google and Apple.
As with every other gadget I look at, I tend to skip the first generation. For me the Google Pixel does not offer me anything that my current device doesn’t, there is no stand out feature that screams at me, "BUY ME", but as a product I feel it is definitely is a finished product and it is going in the right direction. I look forward to the Google Pixel 2 next year.
Let me know what your thoughts are on this announcement! What was your first nexus device? What is still your favourite Nexus device? And what would you have done to the Nexus line if you were Google?