When Google's hardware chief Rick Osterloh announced the launch of the Pixel phone on 4 October, the applause in the room was mild. There was no iPhone-style superstar reception, nor a Galaxy style event. But Google had quietly sent out the message that they were coming for the top smartphone spot.
Will Pixel truly challenge the iPhone? I was skeptical. Yesterday, I finally got my hands on the Google Pixel XL, and this first impression is based on a day's worth of tinkering with the phone.
Looking at the phone's leaked images, many, including myself, were surprised by its design. While Pixel XL might have looked like the iPhone in those photos, there is no way you can mistake it for one in the flesh (or, as is the case, metal).
The front design is fairly standard, reminding you of the Nexus 6P minus the dual speakers. The phone's bottom chin could have been avoided to give it a sleeker look, but Google is choosing symmetry.
The back is certainly more interesting, with its glass top and brushed metal bottom. The edges of the phone are sharper than the iPhone 7 Plus. The hold is comfortable though I find the iPhone's rounded edges cozier. The brush metal finish will probably grow on the user just as OnePlus' old sandstone back did, and the wear and tear will probably enhance the look over time.
I found myself avoiding holding the phone at the glass end because it would get sticky at times for no reason, and grasping the dual-material back felt weird sometimes. The look certainly has its appeal but the phone is not a looker like an iPhone, Galaxy S7 or OnePlus 3. Having said that, the distinctive back might turn some heads when your phone is resting on the table.
The phone comes with plenty of goodies in the packaging box -- a USB C cable, a USB A female adapter, USB A to USB C cable, a fast-charging adapter of 3A rating, and a pair of headphones.
The moment you switch the phone on, the bright 5.5 inch AMOLED screen lights up beautifully. The colours are saturated to a limit but the display is super sharp. The QHD screen with 534 pixels per inch feels great even while looking at the usual apps.
From the word go, the phone is really fast, with the Snapdragon 821 processor and the 4 GB RAM backing it. The initial setup process gives you plenty of options to restore data from the cloud, another Android phone or an iPhone. Google gives you a list of optional apps to download as well, including Google Keep, Duo, and Allo.
The Pixel launcher is the first thing you notice on the screen. You don't have to tap a button to open the app drawer. Just swipe up and it's there. There is a lot more swiping going on, on the home screen, that includes swiping left for Google Now Cards and right for more screen. Overall, this feels quite sleek and users will probably like it.
Google Assistant has replaced Now as the personal assistant, and a nice little animation on the screen follows a long press on the centre button. The Assistant debuted in Allo and it is there to make your smartphone experience better by performing certain tasks. You can ask it questions ranging from restaurant info to directions and movie shows.
The results are very accurate and miles ahead of any other assistant out there. With the integration of the third party apps coming, Google Assistant will be a great asset. (More on the Assistant in these pages, soon.)
The Android 7.1 in the Pixel delivers its own perks. There are new gestures for notification drawers, unlimited photo storage, and 24/7 customer support. The OS feels very clean, with pleasant new circular icons.
Now, on to the guy who topped the DxoMark ratings -- the camera. The first thing you notice is the almost zero shutter lag. You could practically get a burst mode by rapidly clicking your fingers on the camera button.
The photos are detailed and very sharp. The white balance -- i.e. how white a truly white object appears -- is good. Although, in some photos, colours feel over-saturated in order to highlight some things. I have been using the iPhone 7 Plus for a week now, and in many situations, warmer colours do feel great.
The low light photography by the 12.3-megapixel camera is simply great and a lot of detail is captured even without using the flash. Having said that, the flash is very powerful and would be ideal for clicking group pictures after a party. The 8MP front camera is pretty good as well.
Based upon first observations, it looks like Pixel is poised to seize the crown in the Android world at least if not beat the iPhone. Google has cared enough for this to work. The performance is great, the camera is top class and there are exclusive features to be enjoyed.
We will be writing a lot more about Pixel, along with a shootout with iPhone 7. Stick around and send us questions.