Google Pixel review: Advanced simplicity

Advanced simplicity

GSMArena team, 07 November 2016.

What's in the box?

All Pixel models come in the same sized box with the appropriately colored model and say Google Pixel, even if it is a larger XL model. The only way to tell the boxes apart is by the model written on the tag. Once we slide the larger box out of the sleeve and cut the seal, then we can open the box and take a peek inside.

Google Pixel unboxing - Google Pixel review Google Pixel unboxing - Google Pixel review
Google Pixel unboxing

Here we see the Pixel phone face down. Lifting the phone out and putting it aside, we find a pack of documentation with a SIM tool, warranty information and Quick-Start Guide. Underneath the pack of paper is a USB-A to USB-C cable, as well as an OTG adapter. This makes it easy to connect your old device and transfer everything over using the Android Transfer tool. More on that in the UI section.

A second flap on the right of the package reveals the charging adapter, as well as a USB-C cable. The power adapter uses a USB-C port. So the phone comes with two different cables: one for charging, and another one for data transfer. The charger that comes included charges the Google Pixel quite fast. More on that in the Battery life section. There is no included pair of headphones, but we really appreciate the OTG adapter and extra USB-A cable.

Google Pixel package contents (US) - Google Pixel review
Google Pixel package contents (US)

Unfortunately, there are no headphones included in both the US and UK package.

Hardware & Design

When holding the Pixel for the first time, our impression was that it felt reminiscent of the HTC 10 in the hand. Even with similar screen sizes, however, the Google Pixel felt lighter than you anticipate on first look. A couple of things attribute to the difference in weight such as slightly differing battery sizes (2,770mAh on the Pixel VS the HTC 10's 3,000mAh battery), and the Google Pixel's lighter "aerospace aluminum" build over the HTC 10's "military-grade aluminum" construction.

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Google Pixel in the hand

The Google Pixel is quite closely related to the HTC 10. After all, the Google Pixel is manufactured by the same company. Check out the Google pixel alongside the 5.2-inch phone.

Google Pixel and HTC 10: Bottom - Google Pixel review Google Pixel and HTC 10: Top - Google Pixel review Google Pixel and HTC 10: Side - Google Pixel review
Google Pixel and HTC 10: Bottom Top Side

Granted, even cheaper smartphones are made of metal, but this is nothing like those formed sheets of metal, this guy's chassis feels like it was "crafted" of the aluminum material. With that being said, the Google Pixel's metal finish looks and feels fantastic.

Despite the appearance of the phone, it is very well built. Kudos to HTC for building a sturdy smartphone with a soft appearance.

From left to right: Google Pixel, HTC 10, and Pixel XL - Google Pixel review
From left to right: Google Pixel, HTC 10, and Pixel XL

The Pixel and Pixel XL look identical. With the only aesthetic difference being the size.

Google Pixel next to the Pixel XL - Google Pixel review Google Pixel next to the Pixel XL - Google Pixel review
Google Pixel next to the Pixel XL

Some more shots of the Pixel and Pixel XL compare the phones footprints with the other one.

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Google Pixel stacked on the Pixel XL

The design of the Pixel is quite reminiscent of the iPhone-esque HTC One A9, with a variation of the HTC 10's beveled edge that is found all the way around the backside of the phone. The Google Pixel's bevel is a bit different, but the ergonomics are still there. The bevel on the sides angles toward the back, but then curves gently to the back of the phone. The angles and curves make it comfortable to hold without any sharp angles to poke you. Like the HTC 10, you'll have to see and feel it in person to truly appreciate the positive role the bevel plays in the handling of the phone.

Google Pixel corner views - Google Pixel review Google Pixel corner views - Google Pixel review Google Pixel corner views - Google Pixel review
Google Pixel corner views

But why the antenna lines? We figure if the phone already has the big glass "window" for antenna signals to pass through then it wouldn't need any antenna lines. Then again, Google probably had to make certain decisions for the sake of crunching time when developing the phone.

Bringing it back to the front side of the phone, the Google Pixel is quite easily mistakable for an iPhone, minus the missing home-button and slightly larger screen. The earpiece is made of a fabric-like mesh, and there's an LED behind it which can be activated for notifications in the settings. Just under the earpiece are the light and proximity sensors, while the 8MP camera is to the far left of the earpiece. The 5-inch 1080p screen makes up 69% of the front of the phone.

We really wish Google did something more exciting with the front of the phone as its top and bottom bezels are somewhat large for a 5-inch phone. The space could have been used to place a second loudspeaker in the earpiece? Thankfully, the single speaker at the bottom of the phone is quite loud.

Front of the phone - Google Pixel review
Front of the phone

The top of the device features a 3.5mm headphone jack and a couple of antenna lines while the bottom side features a simple audio setup. To keep symmetry, the loudspeaker and microphone grilles look identical. A loudspeaker sits to the left of the USB-C port and the microphone slot is to the right.

The only buttons found on the phone can be seen on the right edge of the Pixel and there are three. The power button is textured and above the volume rocker for easily telling it apart from the volume rocker.

Finally, on the opposite edge is a single nanoSIM card tray which pops out with a SIM tool.

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Left Right

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Bottom Top

The backside of the Pixel is where most of the excitement is. Google took the idea of the Nexus 6P's rear-camera glass and expanded on the idea of putting various sensors, radios, and the camera behind this slab of glass as a more (arguably) elegant solution to antenna lines. Still, the Google Pixel has both: this glass "window" and antenna lines.

This glass panel is home to the 12.3 MP camera setup with dual-LED flash, a noise-cancelling/ video microphone, camera focusing sensors, and the Pixel Imprint fingerprint scanner.

Rear view - Google Pixel review Close-up of glass
Rear view Close-up of glass "window"

The choice of materials is great, the Google Pixel is made of an aluminum chassis, much like the HTC 10. However, the Google Pixel has a softer feel while the HTC 10 felt harder and edgier, but somehow still works ergonomically.

If you are picky about fingerprints and smudges, it is worth noting: Our "Very Silver" model was quite merciful with fingerprint smudges on the glass window. The white glass panel is very lenient with smudges and hides them well. Our "Quite Black" XL model, however, wasn't as forgiving with smudging. The metal body of both color options hide fingerprints well.

The Google Pixel's design, although somewhat pedestrian, is a safe play for now. Once the Pixel brand is better established after the next iteration or so, we'd love to see some newer and bolder design cues that aren't inspired by a certain fruit. Even so, the Google Pixel is sure to get some curious onlookers asking about it, as its backside stands out from other smartphones on the market these days.

Reader comments

  • Anonymous

I am pixel user nearly 1.5 years. Please do not buy pixel. Its worst phone and lost cost. I bought with in one year and it has a more issues. The google service center said dont update software ,because this problem due to software update. Why we go ...

  • googler

Takes amazing photos, better than the new iphone xs max phone and the pixel is old now. Have had no issues except my text messages sometimes takes forever to send to one particular person. I dont think thats the phones fault though.

  • Sad Pixel User

My wife and I have gone through 4 of these devices in under 2 years. I would avoid the pixels at all cost. I have totally lost faith that Google will stand behind their products (no do we think they work). We will not own another Pixel again. 2...