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Google Pixel review: Pure Android at its absolute best

The Pixel is one sleek piece of tech.

Josh Miller/CNET

Granted, the Pixel does sort of look like the iPhone, but it has chamfered edges and it's wedge-shaped, which likely keeps the camera flush and avoids an unsightly bump. I also have to agree with what CNET's Stephen Shankland wrote about the Pixel earlier: it hits a Goldilocks area of weight and heft. While the Nexus 6P was too heavy and the 5X felt too hollow, the Pixel feels just right.

As for that funky two-toned thing on the back, it struck me as odd the first time I saw it, too. Others may never like it (though I suppose you can slap a case over it), but it eventually grew on me. The juxtaposition between a matte-metal finish and a glossy panel is unique, and the glass is resilient to scratches and scuffs (unlike other glossy finishes we've tested). And while I couldn't test Google's claim that this shade is supposed to help with the antennas, it did make gripping the phone easier.

It's just as fast as its Android rivals

With its Snapdragon 821 processor, the Pixel works fast and fluidly. I didn't notice any lag with day-to-day tasks like launching the camera, quitting apps and calling up the keyboard. Graphics-intense games like Riptide GP 2 delivered sharp scenery and high frame rates.

On paper, the Pixel scored comparable benchmarks to its Android competitors. It fell right in between the expected 27,000-30,000 score mark for 3DMark's Ice Storm Unlimited test, and had the highest multi-core score for Geekbench 4. The iPhone 7, however, blew these benchmarks out of the water, exceeding all these devices by a notable margin.

But unless you're a hardcore mobile gamer, these numbers shouldn't mean much. Yes, the iPhone 7 is lightning quick, but so are all these other devices. And when it comes to regular people and how we use our phones every day, the differences in these benchmarks aren't very discernable in real life. Any of these flagship phones should be fast enough to satisfy most of your mobile needs.

Google Pixel Benchmark Scores

Google Pixel
1,602
4,241
28,081
Apple iPhone 7
3,500
5,977
35,867
Samsung Galaxy S7
1,698
3,935
29,031
LG G5
1,690
3,578
28,757
HTC 10
1,689
3,783
27,724
Motorola Moto Z
1,733
4,093
29,675

Legend:

Geekbench 4 Single-core
Geekbench 4 Multi-core
3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Why the Google Pixel isn't perfect

As great as the Pixel is, it has weak points that keep it from being the ultimate phone.

The camera has a few drawbacks

The camera's one big flaw is the optional Lens Blur mode that uses software to attempt the same artsy background blur as the iPhone 7 Plus does in Portrait mode. The Pixel bombs this, with inconsistent, patchy results. The iPhone 7 Plus' dual cameras nail it.

The camera also defaults to HDR+Auto. You can toggle off this option, but it resets to Auto every time you launch the camera. This is annoying for those who prefer to shoot their images au naturel by default.

In addition, while low-light images looked great, video wasn't so stellar. Objects looked smeary and muddy compared to the 7 Plus. For more info on video quality, check out our deep dive.

Lastly, photos are accessible through Google's Photos app, and you get unlimited cloud storage for your pictures and videos at full resolution (yes, even 4K). You can turn off cloud syncing, but if you're a stickler for privacy and don't want your photos connected to Google servers in any way, you should go ahead and download a different gallery app.

You can see how patchy the blur effect is around this model's wisps of hair.

Vanessa Orellana/CNET

It isn't dunkable

Unlike the Apple iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, Samsung's 2016 Galaxy phones and several Sony handsets, the Pixel can't take a dunking. It's rated just IP53 for dust and water resistance, which means it will only survive a light spray of water. Ultimately, that's disappointing for a phone you'll be carrying in 2017.

Another design weakness was how dim the screen looked outdoors. Having a screen that's comfortable to view in direct sunlight is a challenge for most handsets, but it was particularly difficult for the Pixel. I often had to shade it with my hand, which was a drag when trying to take photos.

A few light sprays of water won't hurt the phone, but you can forget about a full dive underwater.

Josh Miller/CNET

The battery's good, but not special

The Pixel survived a solid work day with medium to heavy usage, but needed a charge at the end of the day. In our lab tests, the Pixel clocked in an average of 13 hours and 12 minutes of continuous video playback on Airplane mode. That's longer than the iPhone 7, LG G5, HTC 10 and Motorola Moto Z, but the Samsung Galaxy S7 outlasted all its competitors with a 16-hour run.

The Pixel's battery employs fast charging technology. In 30 minutes, it was back up at 42 percent and was fully charged within 1 hour and 45 minutes. This isn't superfast compared to, say, phones that use Qualcomm's Quick Charging technology. For them, a full re-up after an hour and a half is the usual sweet spot.

Verizon's the only carrier that'll sell it

The Pixel is available unlocked on Google's online site. You can also buy it from Verizon (and save $300 if you trade in your old device), which is the only network to sell it. This isn't a huge deal, since the unlocked version will work on other carriers, but it'd be nice to walk into a brick-and-mortar AT&T, T-Mobile or Sprint store and be able to purchase a Pixel. For such a hyped phone, it should be available through more channels. If you want more retail info, check out how to buy the Pixel here.

Google Pixel Specs Comparison


Google Pixel Apple iPhone 7 Samsung Galaxy S7 LG G5 HTC 10 Motorola Moto Z
Display size, resolution 5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels 4.7-inch; 1,334x750 pixels 5.1-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels 5.3-inch, 2,560x1,440 pixels 5.2-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels 5.5-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels
Pixel density 441 ppi 326 ppi 576 ppi 554 ppi 564 ppi 535 ppi
Dimensions (inches) 5.66x2.74x0.34 inches (at its thickest) 5.44x2.64x0.28 inches 5.6x2.7x0.3 inches 5.88x2.90x0.30 inches 5.7x2.8x0.35 inches 6.11x2.96x0.2 inches
Dimensions (millimeters) 143.84x69.54x8.58 mm (at its thickest) 138.3x67.1x7.1 mm 142.4x69.6x7.9 mm 149.4x73.9x7.7 mm 145.9x71.9x9 mm 155.3 x 75.3 x 5.19 mm
Weight (ounces, grams) 5.04 oz.; 143 g 4.87 oz.; 138 g 5.4 oz.; 152 g 5.61 oz.; 159 g 5.7 oz.; 161 g 4.79 oz.; 136 g
Mobile software Android 7.1 Nougat iOS 10 Android 6.0 Marshmallow Android 6.0 Marshmallow Android 6.0 Marshmallow Android 6.0 Marshmallow
Camera 12.3-megapixel 12-megapixel (wide) 12-megapixel 16-megapixel; 8-megapixel (wide) 12-megapixel 13-megapixel
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel 7-megapixel 5-megapixel 8-megapixel 5-megapixel 5-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K 4K 4K 4K 4K
Processor 2.15GHz + 1.6GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 A10 chip (64-bit) 2.15GHz + 1.6GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapgradon 820 2.15GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820
Storage 32GB, 128GB 32GB, 128GB, 256GB 32GB, 64GB (varies by region) 32GB 32GB, 64GB (varies by region) 32GB, 64GB
RAM 4GB TBD 4GB 4GB 4GB 4GB
Expandable storage None None Up to 200GB Up to 2TB Up to 2TB Up to 2TB
Battery 2,770 mAh (nonremovable) 14 hour talk time on 3G, 10 days standby, 12 hours internet use on LTE 3,000 mAh (nonremovable) 2,800 mAh (removable) 3,000 mAh battery (nonremovable) 2,600 mAh (nonremovable)
Fingerprint sensor Back cover Home button Home button Back cover Home button Below screen
Connector USB-C Lightning Micro-USB USB-C USB-C USB-C
Special features Google Assistant built-in; unlimited cloud storage; Daydream VR ready Water-resistant; taptic home button Water-resistant; wireless charging Pull-out battery; two rear cameras OIS on front-facing camera; BoomSound Magnetic Moto Mod snap-on accessories; dedicated accessory port on back

Premium machinery and some serendipity

The Pixel represents a new era for Google phones, and it's off to a strong start. True, it has its flaws. It's not truly water resistant like its main rivals, and its battery life isn't impressive. In that regard, the Galaxy S7 is still the Android champ. It's also expensive, which is off-putting when you know that phones like the OnePlus 3 perform just as well and don't cost nearly as much.

Google is branching out on its own and the strategy paid off.

Josh Miller/CNET

But the Pixel is a beaut. It runs fast and comes at a time when the largest Android phone-maker, Samsung, is hitting some rough luck. Save for its Lens Blur feature, the Pixel's camera exceeded my high expectations and gives the iPhone a run for its money. Google Assistant feels more natural than other voice search systems, and it's handy for organizing your daily life (if you remember it's there).

Now that many are justifiably cautious of Samsung phones, the Pixel is a great option for Android users wondering where to go next. Its brand cachet already rivals Samsung and Apple. Unlike the Nexus models of years past, you don't have to be an Android enthusiast to appreciate it. The only thing you'll have to be enthusiastic about is owning a phone that's beautiful, takes awesome photos and has smooth performance. If you are, the Pixel's for you.

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