Google Pixel review
Joining the ranks of the Pixel C and Chromebook Pixel are Google’s new Pixel phones. We’re reviewing the smaller 5in Pixel here, but you can read our separate Pixel XL review if you’re after a bigger phone. See also: Best phones 2016.
Also see: Best Phone Deals
The new Pixel and Pixel XL take over from Google’s Nexus phone range and – like other Pixel devices – isn’t cheap. But at £599 from Google's online store it’s no more expensive than flagships from Apple and Samsung: just don’t expect the same kind of unbelievable value you got from the Nexus 4 and 5 (and the similarly unbelievably good-value OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T phones).
And unlike the lower specifications in the Nexus 5X compared to the Nexus 6P, Google hasn’t done that here: the Pixel is simply a shrunk down Pixel XL with essentially the same hardware inside: cameras, processor and connectivity are all identical. For more comparison, see: Google Pixel vs Pixel XL.
Google Pixel review: Price
You may see the Pixel as a sort of successor to the Nexus 5X, which was released in October last year priced at £339 for the 16GB model. A year on and the Pixel costs £599/$649 for the base 32GB model, and you'll pay £100 more for the 128GB version. It's available exclusively from EE, Carphone Warhouse and the Google Store.
From 17 February 2017 the Really Blue Google Pixel is available to pre-order online through EE and in store at Carphone Warehouse, with the phone going on sale 24 February. This is a limited edition, so available only while stocks last.
The 32GB Really Blue Google Pixel will be free on a £45.99/month EE tariff with unlimited UK minutes and tests, plus 7GB of mobile data. You'll also get a free Daydream VR headset.
Google Pixel review: Design and build
As you’d expect from a premium phone, the Pixel is made from metal and glass. What’s not obvious is that the case tapers from top to bottom: it’s thicker at the top. This does avoid a camera bump, though and until someone pointed it out, we hadn’t noticed.
The front is featureless aside from the front camera and earpiece, which also houses a stealthy notification LED. The top and bottom bezels are thick like an iPhone, but it’s a shame Google didn’t put a second speaker in the bottom bezel for front-firing stereo sound. In fact, there’s only a mono speaker in the bottom edge. (And note that there are no headphones in the box.)
Positioned in the centre is a USB-C port – that’s USB 3 rather than USB 2 as found on a lot of phones - and there’s a headphone jack off-centre in the top edge. Power and volume keys are on the right – as per usual – and a single nano-SIM tray hides in the left-hand edge. There’s no dual-SIM option and no microSD expansion.
On the back is the opinion-dividing glass panel which is a contrasting colour to the rest of the phone (no matter whether you choose Quite Black, Very Silver or - exclusive to the US - Really Blue). It surrounds the fingerprint scanner, camera, LED flash and microphone.
The finish is so smooth – including the metal – that the Pixel is a very slippery phone, sliding off tables and chairs and out of hands without any persuasion. So a case is a good investment: you can buy Google’s own clear or solid cases and several third-party ones too.
And a case can hide the glass panel, so don’t let the design put you off. Do note, though, that if you’re a ‘naked’ phone person the glass on the rear scratches easily.
Google Pixel review: Specs and hardware
The 5in screen is protected by Gorilla Glass 4 and is an AMOLED panel. It’s half an inch smaller than the Pixel XL’s and has a resolution of 1920x1080, which gives a density of 441ppi. That’s fine for most people and it has great colours, contrast and viewing angles. It also looks perfectly sharp from normal viewing distances.
However, full HD isn’t so great when you look at it close up, such as when using a Google Daydream headset. The Pixel is one of just a handful of phones including the Moto Z which are Daydream ready, and it’s one reason to choose it over its Daydream-incompatible rivals. But the Pixel XL’s 534ppi display is a good reason to opt for the bigger phone if you’re planning to get a Daydream View, even though that phone costs £120 more.
Processor, storage and connectivity
Even for £600 you’d expect top-notch components and the Pixel doesn’t disappoint. There’s the Snapdragon 821 (a tweaked version of the 820 that’s around 10 percent quicker), 4GB of RAM, Cat 12 LTE (up to 600Mb/s downloads when networks eventually support it), 802.11ac with 2x2 MIMO, GPS, NFC and Bluetooth 4.2. Cameras (see below) are top notch, too.
Storage is either 32GB or 128GB, and it’s not expandable. The base £599 model has 32GB and – in line with Apple – you’ll pay £100 more for the 128GB version. It’s a shame there are no other storage options, such as 64GB.
But aside from the microSD slot there is one other missing feature: water-resistance. The Pixel has none, so it doesn’t tick a crucial box for many buyers. Samsung and Apple’s competing phones – the Galaxy S7 and iPhone 7 - will survive an accidental drop in the sink (or even the occasional underwater photo), but the Pixel will not. And that is a shame.
The Pixel Imprint - the circle above - is not just a fingerprint sensor, you can swipe on it to access notifications in a similar way to Huawei phones. Sadly you can't swipe upwards to access to the new app draw (see the software section below), but you can double tap to access the camera and use it to take photos.
Google Pixel review: Performance
With this hardware, the Pixel is quick. Really quick. It unlocks in a fraction of a second and Android 7.1 is highly responsive. Apps load speedily and there’s plenty of grunt for games.
If you want figures, it scored 4116 in Geekbench 4 (1565 in the single-core test) and in GFXBench, it managed a credible 20fps in the new Car Chase test. This increased to 33fps for Manhattan 3.1, 47fps in the original Manhattan, and 58fps in T-Rex. All are better than the Pixel XL, with the game tests benefiting from the lower screen resolution.
The JetStream browser benchmark returned 54.9, which is slightly behind the XL, but not noticeably.
If performance is your main concern, you can save a packet by going for the OnePlus 3T which uses the same processor and has 2GB more RAM.
Google Pixel review: Battery life
The battery – of course – isn’t removable, but there’s quick charge support using the USB-C specification rather than Qualcomm’s technology. You get a quick-charge mains charger in the box as well as USB-C to USB-C, plus USB-C to USB-A cables. In practice, we found the Pixel would charge rapidly even when connected to our in-wall-socket USB port, which was nice.
You can expect it to last a full day of normal use, and a couple of days of really light use. But when used as our main phone, we found there wasn’t enough juice to leave it overnight and make it into work the next morning, so a nightly charge is likely.