I’ve been excited for the Google Pixel since I first reported on its announcement, yet I didn’t plan on getting one until its price dropped months after its release. But I was scrolling through Instagram last Thursday when a Verizon Black Friday ad for at less than half the price if you signed up with them.
I needed to sign up with Verizon anyhow, so I ran down to the shop and picked one up. I guess this means I’ve forfeited my right to ever get frustrated with those Instagram ads ever again.
Full disclosure, I’ve used some pretty funky phones in the past. My first smartphone was an iPhone 3, and I only picked it up because it was already a generation old. Then I got a Nexus 4 when it released, and continued using that until mid-2016. After the Nexus 4, I bought an Oppo F1 while I was living in Thailand. The Oppo worked great over there, but has been having localization problems since I moved back to the States.
There’s my full history of oddball smartphones. Regardless, I’ve had a couple days to play around with the Pixel, and here the good, the bad, and the beautiful about the Google Pixel
There’s a lot that’s good about the Pixel, but the first thing I noticed was that it’s fast. Of course, when we’re comparing speeds on modern phones, we’re really splitting hairs between milliseconds of difference. Yet, I could tell the difference.
The first word that comes to mind is “snappy.” There’s no awkward pauses as your phone tries to figure itself out when you change programs. Everything snaps in place quickly, and it feels great.
To go along with that point, the layout is intuitive. Google is the company behind both Android and the Pixel, so it’s a fair assumption to say they play favorites. Pixel is, bar none, the best android experience. It is the native Android experience of which all other Android phones hope to emulate.
And the newest part of that Android experience is the Android Assistant. Perhaps I haven’t explored it enough, but I don’t get what the huge hype over Assistant is. Google Now existed on previous Android phones with much of the same functionality. Assistant is similar, but just does more and does it better.
Still, this point belongs in the “good” category because it’s just so damn good. I can speak to Assistant at my natural speaking speed and it understands me perfectly. This is very important to me when I’m on the job because I can use it to instantly pull up directions, set alarms and reminders, open apps, make calls, and so much more.
I think voice commands are an underused feature on phones, and I’ve never had a phone or seen a friend’s phone that does it this well.
Finally, the unlimited media storage space on Google Drive is amazing. I only got the 32 GB version of the Pixel. I could have got one with more storage, but I didn’t feel I’d need it… which might be counter intuitive to Google’s sales department.
Regardless, infinite media storage is so damn nice, especially once you realize how great the Pixel’s camera is. But we’ll get to that later.
Nothing is perfect, and unfortunately the Pixel does have some flaws.
The first negative point that became obvious immediately was that notifications cause a half-ince pop up to drop down from the top of the screen. The first time I saw that notification drop down, I instantly thought, “Nope, that’s got to go.”
I headed to the settings to turn it off, and was shocked to find there was no control over it. I don’t understand how they could overlook such a simple option, but they did. The good news is that this is, of course, an easy thing to fix with future updates. The bad news is that I don’t know if they will.
Through most normal use of the phone, the pop up notifications are a mere annoyance. However, they reach maximum, hair-pulling frustration when you’re trying to play a game and the notifications keep popping up, blocking a fair portion of the screen. I literally lose at least one Clash Royale game a day due to notifications.
To fix this, you could set your phone to “Do Not Disturb” when you’re playing a game, but that’s a cumbersome solution at best.
Also, the Pixel requires a USB-C cable, which I’m sure many people don’t have yet. Requiring USB-C isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself, but I would expect to see some different. But for the vast majority of uses, I don’t see any different.
In fact, one of the things Google advertised most about the Pixel was the battery. It would lost a long time (which it certainly does), and recharge in just 15 minutes (which it doesn’t). Perhaps there’s some special way to charge it faster, but my Pixel absolutely does not reach full charge after 15 minutes of charging in a wall socket.
In other words, prepare to buy a USB-C cable for what will seem like no reason.
Yes, the phone has its faults. But I still enjoy this phone more than any I’ve had before. I believe the good points outweigh the bad. If you’re still not convinced, here’s the beautiful points.
The camera was easily the most advertised feature of the Pixel. It received higher DXOmarks than either the iPhone 7 or the Samsung Galaxy 7, and it’s startlingly good. Pundits argued back and forth on whether DXO is trustworthy and whether or not Pixel users will miss certain features. At the end of the day, I’ve been using the camera a lot, and it makes me feel like a professional photographer. In fact, I’ve used it a few times professionally when I forgot my work camera, and the pictures still turned out great.
The pictures pick up minute detail, have a great color range, and seem to create a sense of depth. You really notice the difference when you start taking panoramas and 360 degree photosphere pictures.
Most phones feature digital zoom, but it’s hardly worth using because the picture quality goes to crap once you zoom in at all. Not so with the pixel. You can go almost to the max zoomed in level and still get a crisp image.
These images and videos then save as a massive file due to the high resolution. Normally, I’d knock the quality down a bit to save space, but I don’t need to do that with the Pixel due to Google’s unlimited media storage. It’s a combination that works together very nicely.
Check out this gorgeous image I took of Death Valley a couple days after I got the Pixel.
Speaking of combinations, that high quality camera and photosphere function take your breath away when you use them with the most beautiful feature of all: the Daydream headset. The Daydream headset and controller come separately from the phone, but I’d recommend picking it up.
Like most of my nerdkin, I’ve been fascinated by the explosion of VR development, but it’s all out of my financial reach. I knew VR headsets exist for phones, but I figured it was more of a gimmick. All of my previous phones had mediocre view tracking at best. If I ever moved my head quickly, it couldn’t keep up and would snap me out of the immersion.
The Pixel’s VR is about perfect, as far as I can tell. I caved in and bought the Daydream as soon as I saw how smooth the movement in VR apps was. Now that I’ve tried them together, I can report, mobile phone VR is not a gimmick. It’s extremely immersive, it’s 3d, and it looks amazing.
There are a lot of VR phone apps out there, but Daydream is Google’s flagship VR app, and it simply seems to work better than other VR apps out there. Daydream itself is more like a menu for Daydream compatible apps.
You can play VR games, course. You can also watch Netflix, where it’ll set you down on a virtual couch in front of a huge screen. You can even open up those beautiful panoramas and photosphere shots you took.
I recently went to Death Valley, and the panorama’s that I took make me feel like I’m there again when I put on the Daydream set. It’s crystal clear and even feels like it has a sense of depth.
I remember when I was younger, I saw a video on TV for Mario 64 on the N64. It blew my mind that you could move a character in a 3d world. I remember looking to my friend and saying, “Too bad we’ll never get to try something as cool as that.” Now I spend my evenings racing online in a virtual race kart.
What a time to be alive.
The Pixel is a damn good phone. It’s certainly the best Android experience, and the best VR experience. Is it better than an iPhone? That’s difficult to say. It probably depends on your OS preference. Personally, I think it is better.
I’m extremely happy with my Pixel, but then again I got it at a very low price. Even after knowing how much I like the phone, would I have bought it at full price? Honestly, no. Having a top of the line phone isn’t a priority for me.
Should you buy the Pixel at full price? If you’ve got the money floating around, probably. Or if you are already in the market for a phone, definitely. I don’t believe there’s a better one on the market.