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Long-term Google Pixel Review: Twelve months with the Pixel phone

I’ve been using the Google Pixel as my full-time phone for a good chunk of 2017, complete with the fresh new Android Oreo in beta form. With the Pixel 2 set to hit the UK, now seems like the perfect time to re-review this pricey but still very lovable iPhone rival.

Let me begin this long-term review by saying that my stance on the Pixel mobile hasn’t changed at all in the past twelve months. It was certainly one of the best Android phones out there at the time of its launch – or rather, one of the best phones, full stop.

However, for the everyday consumer, buying one is akin to splurging on a Ferrari just to drive to Tesco and back twice a week. After all, you can grab fantastic Android handsets like the OnePlus 5, Honor 9 and the Moto G5s Plus for a fraction of the cost and they’ll still do everything you need them to, occasionally with features that you won’t find on Google’s flagship smartphone.

That said, the Pixel does offer a little something else. Premium design work, very clever camera tech and killer features like the Daydream VR support make for a very enticing package indeed. Plus Android has now been updated in the form of Oreo, offering even more functionality and behind-the-scenes smarts; available first on the Pixel and its bigger brother, the Pixel XL.

A new Pixel 2 phone is ready to launch, we know that much for sure. That of course means the original handset is likely to drop considerably in price. So, is the Pixel still worth picking up now we’re nearing 2017’s end? Here’s my full long-term review a year on, including comparisons with the biggest and best rivals launched this year, including the Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG G6.

Check out our Pixel phone hub for everything you need to know about Google’s branded handsets.

Google Pixel long-term 2017 review: Finely crafted

Part metal and part strengthened glass, the Pixel phone’s chassis is an attractive blend of different materials. Those aesthetics may be quite divisive in the real world, but I love the look of Google’s handset. From the chamfered edging to the textured power button, everything appears carefully considered to make the mobile comfortable to handle yet easy on the eye.

Comfort is one of the key factors here too. Returning to the Pixel from a 5.5-inch beast is almost always refreshing, as this phone seems quite compact in comparison. That said, Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and Note 8, as well as LG’s G6 and V30 have shown us how bezels can really be trimmed down, for a pleasing fit in the hand. The Pixel’s screen seems a little boxed in these days by comparison.

Still, I can’t fault the hardiness of the Pixel phone. This handset has suffered some serious pavement interactions in the past seven months, as I always seem to be using it when I hit the town for a few jars. Thankfully this blower is still fully functional. Besides a bit of paint scraping, no damage done.

My chosen model of Pixel is of course the Really Blue version, which stands out from the crowd beautifully. The only other handset that’s come close in terms of vibrancy in 2017 is the bright green Huawei P10.

Apart from those chunky bezels, my only complaint with the Pixel’s design is the lack of water resistance. Pretty much every other flagship phone, including the iPhone 8 and Samsung’s Galaxy S8, can now survive a stint in a bathtub or pool. Shame that Google’s blower can’t boast the same.

Google Pixel long-term 2017 review: Vanilla Android

One of the prime reasons to bag a Pixel over rival Androids is the fact that it gets the latest OS updates first. Right now you can try out the Android O beta, for instance, which is precisely what I’m doing.

We’ve already talked extensively about Android O in our full review and our round-up of the best new features. So far I’m happy with the latest update, although there’s nothing that demands a timely upgrade. In fact, the best bits are the more behind-the-scenes features, which help to improve general efficiency. More on this later.

The Pixel’s everyday experience is smooth and uncluttered, without any of the bolt-on tools and bonuses found on many other flagships. That said you do get full support for Google’s Daydream VR, which is still a rarity. This offers up a growing range of apps, games and experiences that pull you into a virtual reality world. With the nifty controller adding a fresh level of interaction, Daydream is a serious rival to Samsung’s Gear VR, which boasts a similarly immersive level of entertainment.

Check out our round-up of the best Daydream VR games for an idea of what awaits.

Google Pixel long-term 2017 review: Falling behind

When it comes to the Pixel’s media chops, this handset has sadly fallen well behind rivals.

That 5-inch Full HD panel is still absolutely gorgeous of course, boasting strong contrast levels and colours that really pop. However, there’s no denying that Samsung’s Galaxy handsets, the LG V30 and Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium sport superior displays. Not only are they sharper, packing more detail into every frame, but they also boast some of the latest screen tech.

The Xperia XZ Premium for instance can churn out 4K visuals, which is handy as the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video now offer a catalogue of Ultra HD content for mobile devices. LG and Samsung’s handsets meanwhile support HDR playback, as does the Premium. All three of these rivals also feature bigger screens than the Pixel, for a more comfortable viewing experience.

If you’re really into catching up on movies or shows on the go, the Pixel still does the job. But at this price point, we’d seriously wonder if that’s good enough. Factor in the lack of expandable storage and the Pixel is looking a lot less enticing for media fans.

Google Pixel long-term 2017 review: Peak performance

Still, when it comes to performance, the Pixel is still a Dependable David. That Snapdragon 821 processor backed by 4GB of RAM provides a perfectly smooth everyday experience. You can blast through the latest games without any dropped frames, while video streaming and the rest are just as satisfying.

Sure, the Pixel has been topped by the Snapdragon 835-toting flagship phones of 2017, which can load apps that split second faster. The 835 also offers other benefits, including support for up to 1Gbps download speeds and general efficiency updates.

Even without the efficient Snapdragon 835 on board, the Pixel’s battery life is still solid. In fact, that longevity has actually improved since I first reviewed this handset a year ago. When I first tested the phone back then, I managed roughly a day of life per charge. That was of course with pretty heavy usage, including camera snaps, lots of web browsing and media streaming.

However, various Android updates later and the Pixel now gives me well over 24 hours of life on a single charge. I can often make it to lunchtime the following day before the phone warns me that it’s practically out of juice. I can only put this down to the more efficient apps handling and other background changes that Google has implemented in Android Oreo.

Google Pixel long-term 2017 review: Who needs dual lenses

One of the finest reasons for owning a Pixel phone is the excellent camera tech housed on the rear. That 12-megapixel mobile snapper topped the DxOMark Mobile chart until the HTC U11 toppled it as king (a very close-run thing indeed), and we’re still massive fans of this capable and versatile shooter.

Rather than packing the camera full of features that most people would ignore, the Pixel offers a streamlined user experience. That super-fast autofocus locks onto your subject instantly and there’s no processing lag to speak of. Great news if you want to simply point and fire off a bunch of quick shots.

Photo quality is still among the best, including the likes of the Galaxy Note 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. Low light and high contrast shots are particularly impressive and you can expect attractive results in good conditions, with punchy colours bringing your pics to life. Our only bugbear is the image stabilisation, which disappoints in comparison to many rivals. You can expect some judder when moving and shooting at the same time.

Check out our full Google Pixel camera review for samples and analysis. We’ve also compared this mobile snapper to the the likes of the S8 inside of our in-depth Pixel camera comparison, so take a look to see how Google’s optics hold up against the biggest rivals.

Google Pixel long-term 2017 review: Verdict

The Pixel phone is still a great handset a year on, offering a solid and satisfying user experience in pretty much every department. Battery life has actually improved and you can still expect premium performance from the camera and the handset itself.

However, rivals have long surpassed the Pixel when it comes to media functionality and design, which makes that steep asking price a little harder to stomach. The only real advantages the Pixel now holds are its timely Android updates and Daydream VR support.

For all you need to know about the Google Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones, check out our Pixel phone hub