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Google Pixel review: Cameras

We loved the cameras on the Google Nexus 6P and 5X, and Google has improved them for the Pixel and Pixel XL, which share the same snappers.

On paper not much has changed: the rear camera has a 12.3Mp sensor with 1.55um pixels an f/2 lens. It focuses using a combination of laser and phase detection, and has a dual-LED flash. Once again with Google phones, though, there’s no optical stabilisation, only EIS.

In use, however, this is a fantastic and capable camera. It takes sharp, well-exposed photos with loads of detail.

Here's a photo shot in HDR+ mode, which does a good job of keeping things relatively sharp and increasing dynamic range (the whole point, of course).

Google Pixel review - HDR test

Here's a much less contrasty shot, taken without HDR to show the camera's sharpness:

Google Pixel review - HDR test

And this is a 100 percent crop of the original image - you can see individual bricks and a distinct lack of any compression artefacts.

Google Pixel review - HDR test

In low light, you will end up with a proportion of blurry photos, especially if you're trying to photograph kids or animals. But in general, low light performance is very good with virtually no noise or artefacts.

Videos, too, are packed with detail. The stabilisation works well at 1080p, but less so at 4K and, because it’s not optical stabilisation, it can be jerk between positions if you pan around slowly rather than the more cinematic smoothness of the OIS on Samsung and Apple’s phones.

Here's a video shot in 4K (and subsequently processed by our system which reduces quality) to show how the stabilisation works in this mode:

And the good news is that you can select 30 or 60fps at 1080p, and either 120fps or 240fps in the slo-mo mode. This is the same as the iPhone 7 offers, and many people will appreciate being able to shoot slo-mo at 1080p.

Around the front is another capable camera, this time with an 8Mp sensor. It will take decent selfies and shoot 1080p video.

Don’t forget, too, that Google gives you unlimited free cloud storage for original, full-resolution photos and videos with the Pixel. That’s a massive bonus that you don’t get with other Android phones. It also mitigates the absence of a microSD slot, since you won’t have to worry about hitting the ‘free up storage’ button as it will only remove photos and videos which have already been backed up to Google Photos online.

Google Pixel review: Software

Android 7 is a triumph and even as iOS fans, we can appreciate all the nifty features and improvements the OS offers. Of course, since this is a Google phone, you’re getting the interface as Google intended it without the tweaks and overlays foisted upon you by other manufacturers. Plus, you get a guarantee of the next version and much sooner than other manufacturers’ roll-outs (plenty are still on Android 6, some even Android 5).

Google Pixel review

You can read more about Nougat’s new features, but let’s pick a couple of highlights here. One is naturally the new Google Assistant. This will likely appear on Google’s older phones soon, but it’s currently exclusive to the Pixels. It’s remarkably good at handling natural language, and has no problem following the train of a conversation. Siri can also do this – to an extent – but it’s where others such as Amazon Alexa fall down badly.

You can say “Will it rain today”, listen to the answer and then say “What about at the weekend” or “What about in Manchester” and the Assistant will understand and give you the information. However, her capabilities are somewhat limited compared to Alexa.

Google Home is on the way, but the Pixel’s Assistant cannot yet control your Philips Hue lights or turn the heating up, simply returning web searches or saying “I can’t do that yet”.

She also refuses to book tables at restaurants, or arrange an Uber to work.

Google Pixel software

Those functions will surely arrive soon in the UK, but for now, the Assistant can only do Siri and Cortana-like tasks such as setting a timer or alarm, sending a message or email, launching apps, navigating to a destination, playing music and checking sports scores. And, of course, searching Google.

There are a few Americanisms which need to be removed from the UK Assistant, too, such as her warning that “Sidewalks may be slippery” when asked if it would rain later.

Another great Nougat feature is clearly nicked from iOS: the ability to long-press on an app’s icon to get shortcut menus. So long-pressing on Messages brings up recent contact, as it does for the Phone app. Long-press on YouTube and you get shortcuts to search, subscriptions and trending videos.

It’s a neat addition and doesn’t require a 3D Touch screen.

Google Pixel review

As you can see, the launcher has a new look, with new round icons. We like them, but as with the phone's glass rear, they are likely to divide opinions. There are new navigation buttons at the bottom, a new app dock and the Google search bar is now a tab on the left.

You now have to swipe up to access the app draw rather than tap an icon - it's a bit confusing at first. The Google tab at the top simply takes you to the Google Now section with a swipe to the right, a gesture most Android users are already familiar with.

There are all the features and settings you’d expect from a modern mobile OS, and some are more granular than in iOS. The ability to set different Do not disturb times for different days (or even events or just for the next hour) is handy, and the shortcuts for Total silence, Alarms only and Priority only again give you more control than you get in iOS, where ‘silent’ mode doesn’t prevent vibrations unless you turn them off separately in the settings.

However, while we applaud the Night Light option which reduces blue light, there’s no way to change the tint as you can in iOS: it’s either on or off.

In other respects the software is pretty much the same as Marshmallo in terms of the notification bar and recent apps menu. Of course, you'll get the usual selection of Google apps pre-installed, including the new Duo and Allo. Yet another nice new feature is that you can blur your wallpaper to different degrees, and the default wallpaper has a subtle animation when you unlock the phone.

Read next: Best new phones coming in 2017

Specs

Google Pixel: Specs

  • 5in Full HD display 1080x1920
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 CPU
  • 4GB RAM
  • 32GB storage
  • 12MP rear camera
  • 8MP front camera
  • 2770mAh battery
  • USB-C charging port
  • Fast Charging support
  • headphone jack
  • SIM card slot
  • Android 7.1 OS