Google Pixel and Pixel XL hands-on review

GOOGLE ISN’T BEST known for its phone-making prowess. The Nexus line, although championed by an ardent few, could never really pose a threat to the likes of Samsung or HTC.

The company aims to refresh the hardware with the change to a new Pixel brand, but whether new software and a whizzy new camera is the right way forward remains to be seen.

We were treated to a brief hands-on with the two new devices, the Pixel and Pixel XL, at Google’s London launch event. Here’s what we thought.

Whether or not HTC built the Pixel, it certainly looks like there’s a HTC 10 hidden inside dying to get out. The only branding visible on the phone is the ‘G’ on the rear which we were reliably informed stands for Google. No shit.

Google Pixel hands-on review - rear design

Google talked of a subtle wedge where the hand grips the phone. It’s a shade thinner than the HTC 10 at 8.6mm, but to us it felt bulky. Maybe that’s a product of all the dead space, as the bezels above and below the screen are wholly redundant, there are no hardware buttons to speak of as the Pixel relies on capacitive ones, and the top houses an 8MP snapper and earpiece.

The Google Pixel has a shiny aluminium unibody and polished glass ‘window’ which, love it or hate it, at least gives the Pixel a focal point.

The handset looks its best in ‘Very Silver’ as the distinction between the aluminium and glass gives it a sort of two-tone effect. We weren’t as taken with the ‘Quite Black’ design which left us cold.

We had hoped for something a little more luxurious at this price. If Google is as serious as it says about going into hardware, maybe it should take note of Apple’s new colour options.

Alongside the silver and black there’s also a ‘Really Blue’, but this won’t be available in the UK.

Google Pixel hands-on review - ports

Along the bottom edge are two speakers (which unfortunately we didn’t get to try), and a USB Type-C port nestled in between. A fingerprint sensor lives on the rear.

The handsets come in two sizes. The Pixel XL has a slightly larger 5.5in panel with a higher pixel count, while the Google Pixel sticks to a 5in screen. Both use AMOLED technology, but resolutions differ between the two: 1080p with 441ppi and QHD with 534ppi.

Google Pixel hands-on review - Pixel Launcher

It was difficult to make a full appraisal under the harsh fluorescent lights at the launch event, but the displays on both seemed to pack a punch, and readability was impressive from all angles. The handsets seemed to attract their fair share of smudges and fingerprints, but this might have been exacerbated by the warmer than average conditions.

The smartphones are certified Daydream ready, so they can be used with Google’s new Daydream View headsets.

Both handsets have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 chipset with two 2.15GHz and two 1.6GHz processors, plus 4GB of RAM.

With that sort of hardware we don’t expect the Pixel to be a slouch. During our demo, transitions appeared fluid, as did switching between apps, but we’ll need to take the phone for a proper test drive before we can make any meaningful comparisons.

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