Pixel and Pixel XL Hands-on: Say goodbye to Nexus

Prior to the Pixel and Pixel XL’s official reveal, we knew almost everything about the Google’s upcoming phone, including its sleek iPhone-like industrial design and various technical specifications — thanks in part to leaks from a number of U.S. carriers, as well as telecoms here north of the wall.

Actually going hands-on with the new handset at Google’s Toronto event, however, gave us a view into just how much effort the tech giant has put into what it calls an “evolution” of its longstanding Nexus brand. With the Pixel, Google is clearly vying to compete with Apple in the high-end smartphone market.

My most important takeaway from going hands-on with the Pixel and Pixel XL is Google’s pair of new phones are by far the most refined Android devices on the market, though they don’t feature the unique look of Samsung’s Note 7.

Google’s new phone comes in two sizes: a 5-inch model with a 1920 x 1080 pixel display and a 5.5-inch XL edition with a 2560 x 1440 pixel screen. Pricing starts at a pricey $899 for the Pixel and $1,049 for the Pixel XL — yet another sign the company aims to go head-to-head with Apple.

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The end result is a phone that features fast components inside and a sleek fit and finish on the outside. It also doesn’t feel as angular or tech-oriented as other Android devices, opting for a rounded look that will likely appeal to a wider demographic. The Pixel’s Gorilla Glass subtly curves around the phone’s sides and its OLED display feels bright and responsive. And yes, Google’s new smartphone also includes a 3.5mm headphone jack.

While the Pixel looks similar to the iPhone, there are major differences between the two devices in terms of aesthetics. For instance, on the Pixel the fingerprint sensor is located on the back of the device. Its rear-facing camera also doesn’t jut out from the back of the phone, a fact Google made sure to emphasise during the keynote.

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The phone’s curvature, which is more angled at the back, is also reminiscent of various HTC handsets, particularly the HTC 10. This makes sense: despite the company’s best efforts to give the opposite impression, it’s not actually manufacturing the Pixel. Instead, Google has contracted HTC to make the two new Pixel devices.

Google, however, is quick to point out that despite the fact that HTC is manufacturing the Pixel, the Taiwanese OEM didn’t design the smartphone. Unlike the Nexus line, the Pixel is created by Google from the ground up, both in terms of software and look, a level of control the tech giant has never had over one of its smartphones before. The end result is software that feels faster and smoother, though I have admittedly only spent a brief amount of time with the phone.

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This swiftness could also be the result of the Pixel’s Snapdragon 821 processor and 4GB of RAM, though further testing is definitely required.

In terms of the Pixel’s camera package, Google boasted in its keynote that DxOMark has given the Pixel’s camera its highest ever mobile score, coming in at 89. In my brief hands-on time in the poorly lit venue where Google held its Toronto event, the Pixel’s shooter performed admirably. Unlimited Google Photos storage at original quality for all Pixel owners is also a welcome bonus.

It’s worth noting, that neither the Pixel or Pixel XL features image stabilization, though Google says that the phone’s gyroscope is linked to its camera system. The Pixel also only features one speaker on its base instead of two, a downside if you consider the phone the first Daydream-ready VR device.

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Finally, it’s notable that the Pixel does not run stock Android like its older Nexus brothers. Instead, it utilizes a custom launcher with a dedicated button that places Google searches on the top beside time and weather.

A long-press launches new circular icons that allow users to quickly jump to different items and you can also slide up from the application drawer and slide down to access the notification drawer.

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A long-press on the home button also launches Google Assistant, the company’s new built-in concierge. Google claims the personal assistant is able to intelligently answer follow-up questions when making various queries. For example, you could say, “Ok Google, where is the nearest cafe?” then follow up this question by making an appointment at the nearby coffee shop.

Other specs include a 2,770mAh battery in the Pixel and a 3,450mAh power source in the Pixel XL. Internal storage measures in at either 32GB or 128GB. There’s also a USB-C port there. In Canada, the phone will available in either silver or black. Unfortunately, the ‘Really Blue’ model won’t be available here.

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It’s hard to pass judgment on Google’s impressive-looking smartphone after only spending a few minutes using the device, but I’m certainly pleased with what I’ve experienced so far. This really could be the ultimate Android device fans of Google’s operating system have been waiting for.

The Pixel and Pixel XL are currently available to pre-order with an October 20th launch date. The 32GB Pixel XL is priced at $1,049 with the 32GB Pixel coming in at $899. The 128GB iteration of both devices costs $1029 for the Pixel and $1179 for the Pixel XL. Google’s custom Live Cases, which are set to be priced at $50, are also set to make there way to Canada.

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Related: Google Pixel, Pixel XL and Chromecast Ultra are now available for pre-order in Canada

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