Google officially staked its claim as a bona fide hardware brand Tuesday with the launch of the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones, the Daydream View virtual-reality headset and a bevy of other accessories for a more (Google-)connected life. So, at first look, how did the company do? The Pixel and Pixel XL are essentially the same phone, and they look a lot like iPhones—or at least like the iPhone look-alike made by Google’s Pixel-manufacturing partner HTC Corp.
The 5-inch and 5.5-inch displays look great, even when held close to your face as the visual element of the Daydream View headset. Displays are one of the few areas where the two phones differ. The Pixel has a 1,920 x 1,080 display, and the Pixel XL has a higher-resolution 2,560 x 1,440 display. (If you’re buying one of these to use with the VR headset, note that the larger one has greater pixel density.
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This isn’t the case with the two Samsung Galaxy S7 models, for instance.) Both phones have aluminum and glass backs and a fingerprint sensor just below the rear camera. Google didn’t make any promises about how long the Pixel’s battery will last, but it did say 15 minutes of charging will give either model about seven hours of battery life thanks to fast-charging technology.
Google is using this speed as justification for why it left out wireless charging from both models—a feature found in Nexus phones as far back as 2012. One hardware element that is clearly missing is some kind of water-resistance. Now that Apple and Samsung both have it in their flagship phones, it is a surprising omission from the two Pixels.
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There also is no MicroSD slot, to expand memory on the cheap. (Like the iPhone 7, the smaller Pixel starts at $650 for 32GB, but it costs $100 more to get to 128GB.) Google is bragging about the 12.3-megapixel camera, however—going so far as to say it’ll be the best smartphone camera you can buy. But we’ll have to test its performance, which wasn’t possible Tuesday.
What was ready for a tryout was Google’s latest Android software, appearing first in the Pixel phones. The star is Google Assistant, available with a long press of the on-screen home button. Ask it the usual questions and you get reliable answers, but it goes deeper: “Show me Kanye West’s Twitter page” automatically opened the rapper’s profile in the Twitter app.
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If you have an upcoming flight, for instance, it can remind you when to leave for the airport. Because the Assistant is baked into Android, it even can scan what you’re looking at on screen and predict what action you’d like to take next, like its predecessor, Google Now on Tap.