Google Pixel phone review: We’ve fully tested this ‘Made By Google’ 5-inch smartphone, a premium mobile that just swaggered onto the scene with a mighty £599 price tag (and that’s only for the most basic model too). So is the Google Pixel phone worth that wallet-smashing price? Here’s our full Google Pixel UK review.
Google’s intent seems pretty clear with the Pixel and Pixel XL phones. These ‘Made By Google’ mobiles, which have completely replaced the old Nexus range, are direct rivals for Apple’s iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. You get the same best-in-class performance, premium camera experience, eye-catching design – and an asking price that’ll drain the savings account of the average consumer.
If you’re thinking of splashing out for the Pixel, here’s our full review of Google’s 2016 flagship phone, including what we think of Google’s latest version of Android (7.1), dubbed Android Nougat.
Check out our full Pixel XL review, Pixel camera review, comparisons and more in our Google Pixel and Pixel XL hub.
Google Pixel phone review: Design
Strangely, the Pixel seems to perfectly divide people with its rather unique design, which is a curious blend of metal and glass. Even here at Recombu HQ, some people love the original styling while others think it’s about as attractive as a particularly stubborn strain of Herpes.
Personally I’m a fan. The aluminium unibody may be rather chunky, just like the HTC 10, but it’s also solidly built with some neatly chamfered edging. That glass panel around the back breaks up the matte metal surfacing and adds an original touch, and thankfully doesn’t pick up fingerprints or greasy marks too easily either.
You get a choice of colours, with the silver and white model of Pixel looking particularly sleek. We’re fans of the crazy blue version too but that won’t be launching in the UK for a while, by the sounds of it. For now it’s a Verizon exclusive over in the US.
Mounted on the back of the phone is Google’s ‘Pixel Imprint’ fingerprint sensor and it’s a pleasingly fast and accurate method for unlocking your handset. The sensor is located exactly where your index finger naturally falls, and just a tap of your fingertip to the surface jumps you straight into your desktops. It’s rare for the scanner to fail, unless your hands are wet or grubby of course.
Google Pixel phone review: Screen and media
The standard Pixel phone packs a 5-inch AMOLED display and it’s one of the best smartphone screens we’ve ever seen.
Like the OnePlus 3 and Xperia XZ before it, the Pixel pumps out sharp, detail-stuffed visuals at Full HD resolution. Colours really pop across the range, while contrast levels also really impress. Blacks actually look black instead of a murky grey colour, while whites are also quite crisp. You don’t get the yellowing effect of warmer screens, nor is this a particularly harsh panel.
Top brightness levels are perfect and viewing angles are nice and wide, so you can happily enjoy a YouTube video with your bestie. Of course, if you’re planning on watching a lot of shows or movies on the move, then you might want to consider the larger Pixel XL model instead. That more spacious screen makes for a more comfortable viewing experience across extended sessions.
You get a single solitary speaker mounted on the bottom edge of the Pixel phone, just to the left of the USB port. That’s a serious step back from the likes of the HTC 10, which has a speaker at the top as well as the bottom of the handset for a more stereo experience. However, the Pixel’s built-in blaster is at least reasonably powerful.
On top volume you get clear distortion, but audio quality perfectly fine for kicking back with a quick video. You’ll want to use earphones for music, however.
Google Pixel phone review: OS and features
Android Nougat is a solid jump up from the old Android Marshmallow in many different ways, and you can immediately tell the difference. Quite a few of Google’s changes concern the presentation of the software, with better shortcuts and other time-savers packed inside, and we love the new look and feel – which is still familiar enough to please existing Android owners.
Check out our guide to the best Nougat features for an in-depth look at Google’s latest OS.
You get a choice of 32GB or 128GB of storage space, although that larger model will cost you an extra hundred quid over the 32GB version. £699 is a lot to stomach for a smartphone, but if you want to carry around a large selection of apps or don’t fancy backing up your photos and video to the cloud, you might want to consider that more expensive model. After all, the Pixel doesn’t support microSD memory cards.
Luckily there are other ways to expand the Pixel phone’s storage, if you’re really desperate. And if you’re a Cloud advocate, you get unlimited full-resolution backup of your camera shots on Google Photos, so that’s something at least.
Google Pixel phone review: Performance and battery life
One of the Google Pixel’s major bragging rights is the Snapdragon 821 processor tucked away inside. This is one of the most powerful mobile processors of 2016, which means you can expect the Pixel to be one of the smoothest smartphone experiences right now.
Everyday performance is perfect, with nary a stutter as you zip through the Android menus and get stuck into apps. Android fans should notice some obvious speed increases over many Snapdragon 820 phones like the Galaxy S7 and HTC 10. For instance, app installation is close to instant, and they flash up the moment you tap their icons. The latest games also play with a perfect frame rate, no matter how demanding the title.
You can also multitask with two apps side-by-side, a feature that’s better suited to the more spacious screen of the Pixel XL. Still, it’s a handy way to check a document or website while bashing out an email, for instance. And you can even enjoy a spot of YouTube on half of the display while messing around in another compatible app (note that it’s mostly Google apps that work in split-screen mode).
Battery life isn’t quite as impressive, sadly. The Pixel phone’s 2770mAh cell can keep you going for a full 24 hours if you don’t hammer it with non-stop camera use or video streaming, but not much more. Not a bad performance at all, but pretty average and beaten by plenty of rivals like the Huawei P9 and OnePlus 3.
Thankfully you can fast charge the Pixel quite quickly too. Half an hour at the plug gives you close to half a charge, while a full hour gives you just over 80 percent. That’s enough to get you through a full day, with a bit of restraint. So while charging the Pixel isn’t as quick as the OnePlus 3 with its Dash Charge feature, it’s at least as fast as most other Androids.
And as it’s a Type-C USB port, you get the benefits of reversible cables and fast data transfer.
Google Pixel phone review: Cameras
One of Google’s biggest brags is that the Pixel phone sports the best camera of any modern mobile, something backed up by its table-topping DxOMark Mobile score. That 12-megapixel snapper boasts a super-fast focus and captures crisp, attractive photos in almost any conditions. You can also shoot up to 4K resolution video, with Slow-mo as an extra option.
Around the front of the Pixel there’s an 8-megapixel selfie camera too, which can be quickly swapped to with a double-flick of the wrist.
For full photo and video samples as well as our in-depth thoughts, check out our full Google Pixel camera review.
Google Pixel phone review: Verdict
The Google Pixel phone comes packing the same super-premium price of Apple’s iPhone 7, but like Apple’s flagship handset it’s an absolute powerhouse. There’s nothing this mobile can’t do, from multi-tasking with apps to capturing detail-packed 4K video footage.
Of course, with that mammoth price tag, the Pixel phone is really aimed at anyone who demands the absolute best when it comes to performance and mobile photography. The likes of the OnePlus 3 boast a nippy processor and premium features too, at a seriously slimmed down cost. And for the everyday consumer, buying the Pixel phone would be like splashing out on the latest Ferrari for the weekly Tesco shop.