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Smartphones

Review: Google Pixel – fine camera and bigger screen than iPhone 7, but battery is a let-down

The first 100 per cent Google smartphone looks good, takes great photos and has the very useful Google Assistant, but the battery life could be longer

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 January, 2017, 8:01am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 January, 2017, 8:00am

Until 2015’s Nexus 6P, released under the Huawei brand, all Google smartphones were made by third party partners. The Pixel is the first “100 per cent Google” Android phone, but it does not come cheap. At £719 (HK$6,840) for the 128GB edition, is it worth the money?

Design and hardware

The Pixel is a sturdy aluminium slab that has most of its body covered in glass. Its entire front is a single pane of glass, not unlike the iPhone 7. The top half of the back is also covered in glass, the bottom half being aluminium. The Pixel fits snugly into the palm and is a hair bigger than the iPhone 7, but its display is significantly bigger at five inches.

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Features

The Pixel runs on the latest version of Android Nougat. The Google Assistant – the online search engine’s voice-activated personal assistant – is conversational, like Apple’s Siri, and makes up for fewer clever quips with a well equipped database. It can even give you news updates.

The Google Now Launcher has been replaced by the Pixel Launcher.

App shortcuts are very much similar to Apple’s Force Touch but Google uses press and hold, both to activate them and move app icons around the phone screen. It works well and has never mistaken my intention. Unfortunately, like Apple, Google’s app shortcuts – such as Phone, Settings and Messages – are only available on stock apps that come with the phone.

With the “ambience display”, simple notifications show up when the phone is in idle mode and it works great with the beautiful 1,080p OLED display. The Pixel has also gained a few new “moves”; these are gesture based and include swiping the fingerprint sensor to activate notification, a double-twist to change to selfie mode in camera and a double-tap or lift to check notifications.

Pixel’s camera is amazing: it’s fast, accurate and the HDR works well, fixing exposure and colour accuracy. It doesn’t do quite so well with its blur (depth of field) effect and some macros exhibited colour bleed/chromatic aberration.

Generally, however, the macros are sharp and detailed and backed by a fast, accurate autofocus system. Night shots have a tendency to appear grainy, but at least the colours remain accurate and exposure is fairly even.

Videos are equally as impressive. The electronic stabilisation works well to keep the image steady. Walking up a flight of steps while filming in 4K at 30 frames per second should be nausea-inducing, but it wasn’t.

You get unlimited full resolution photo and video uploads to the excellent Google Photos online album/back-up service for free. It seems that any photo or video uploaded from the Pixel is free, not just those that were taken by the phone itself.

Performance and battery life

The battery life is relatively good, but with its capacity of 2,770mAh it should be better. The Pixel idles well, no doubt helped by Nougat’s improved battery optimisation called “Doze on the go”. A 50 per cent charge lasted me from 7am to 3pm with light to moderate use (no gaming). With frugal use it could last until 10pm, but it’s not an all-day phone.

The Pixel runs on the new Snapdragon 821 and it’s really fast and smooth as there’s no bloatware to keep it down.

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Conclusion

Google finally has a phone it can truly call its own and it is without a doubt something to be proud of. While the price is surprisingly high – costing about as much as the iPhone 7 – Google is offering value for moneywith unlimited full-resolution photo and video uploads.

The battery life is a bit of a let-down.

Price: HK$5,700 for 32GB, HK$6,840 for 128GB

Processor: Snapdragon 821

Display: 5 inches, 1,080p AMOLED

Dimensions: 143.8mm x 69.5mm x 8.5 mm

Weight: 143 grams

Battery: 3,450 mAh

OS version reviewed: 7.1.1

Camera: 12.3 megapixel

RAM: 4GB

ROM: 32GB/128GB

Colours: black, silver and blue