Google Pixel Phone Review

Google Pixel Phone Review

When I first heard about the Pixel phone from Google, I thought to myself “I have to have that”. There was no question. It just sounded too sweet. High end hardware, the highest rated smartphone camera ever, and free, unlimited storage of all photos taken with the Pixel phone. How could I turn that down?

I was using the second generation Moto X at the time, and for the most part I was pretty happy with it. Moto pretty much nailed it with the Moto X line (until they suddenly decided to stop supporting it). Really, I only had 3 issues with the phone:

1. Battery life
2. Internal Storage (only 16GB and no expandable storage options)
3. It was stuck on Android Lollipop and probably wasn’t ever going to see Marshmallow, let alone Nougat

The Pixel Phone is basically the new Nexus. It’s pure Android, and is expected to receive updates right away. The biggest difference between the Nexus of old, and the new Pixel, is that the Pixel is very much a high-end device, whereas the Nexus phones typically sacrificed some things in the hardware department in favor of a more attractive price tag.

Make no mistake, there’s nothing attractive about the Pixel phone’s price tag. The small version (5.0″ screen) comes with a 2,770 mAh battery and costs $650 USD. The XL version (5.5″ screen) comes with a 3,450 mAh battery and costs $870 USD. This is on par with iPhone pricing.

I’ve had the Pixel phone (the small version) now pretty much since it was released, and I can say that it addresses all three of the issues I mentioned above pretty amazingly. The battery life is noticeably better, it has twice the internal storage, and comes with Android 7.0 Nougat, and will (hopefully) continue to receive timely updates for as long as I own it. Android Nougat also has a pretty neat feature that allows you to transfer all the data from your old phone to the new Pixel phone via NFC. You can also use cables I think but who has a USB-C to Micro USB cable laying around. I know I don’t.

There are a few negatives that have been bothering me, which I’ll get into here in a minute.

The pros:

-USB-C. It’s no secret that USB-C is pretty much the new standard when it comes to charging/data/media transfer. All the new Chromebooks and all the new smartphones (iPhone excluded, of course) are sporting the new port, and this phone is no exception.

Fast processor. The phone is definitely fast. My Moto X wasn’t terrible, but it was meant to be a mid-range, if not budget phone. The Pixel phone is meant to be (and is priced as) a high end phone, worthy of competing with the iPhone.

-Fingerprint Scanner. This pretty much changed my life. I know I’m an idiot, but I don’t like lock screens with pins or pattern locks. I like to hit the power button, and get going. Especially when I’m trying to use Android pay to pay for my meal at Chick Fil A. I don’t want to have to fuss with a pattern lock or pin lock just so I can tap the register with my phone to pay. Well now I don’t have to. The fingerprint scanner works flawlessly. 99% success rate with unlocking my phone. I reach into my pocket to grab the phone, and before it’s out, it’s already unlocked. It’s genius. And so far nobody has been able to unlock it with their finger. It works really really well.

Internal Storage. The phone doesn’t have a micro-SD card slot. But it does have 32GB of internal storage. Some people can’t live without 64GB or more but for me, 32GB is plenty. I install a lot of apps, and like to download music from Google Music for offline play back and so far, I haven’t gotten a single “insufficient storage” error.

Updates. The Pixel is the new Nexus. Google appears to be axing the Nexus line in favor of the new Pixel line, and it stands to reason that the Pixel phones will be the first to receive updates from Google. Right now my phone is on Android 7.1.1. My last phone was on 5.1.

Charging. The phone charges pretty fast. Google brags 7 hours of use time after 15 minutes of charging. Charging is also a tiny con, I’ll explain in a minute.

The Camera. Google boasts that the camera on the Pixel phone is the highest rated smartphone camera, ever. They also offer free, unlimited high quality storage of all phones taken with a Pixel phone. That’s pretty neat.

Battery life. Smartphones are terrible about battery life. There aren’t any smartphones with good battery life, just ones with terrible battery life, and slightly less terrible battery life. This phone falls into the latter category.

Free Daydream VR. Google gave early adopters of their Pixel phone a free Daydream VR headset. This is a pro because it’s free, but the con to the Daydream is that there are only a small handful of free apps and you will get bored with them very quickly. Also the Netflix VR app is just terrible.

The Cons:

Charging. While I technically haven’t had any issues with charging, I am concerned by the fact that every time I plug it in, the lightning bolt comes on, and goes away, and comes back on, and does this a few times before finally staying on. I’ve talked to several other Pixel phone owners and nobody has seen that but me, and it happens for me every time. It still charges, and charges fast, I’m just worried that there’s an issue because nobody elses Pixel does that when they plug it in. (I’m using the official charger that came with the phone).

Volume control. On every Android phone I’ve ever had, volume control has worked this way: If you press the volume up/down rocker, it adjusts your ring/notifications volume. Unless you’re listening to some kind of audio media, in which case it adjusts your media volume. Or if you’re on a phone call, it adjusts the call volume. This is not how the Pixel works. Here’s how the Pixel works: I have no idea how the Pixel works. It’s completely random. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing when you press the volume up/down button, it will either adjust ringtone volume, call volume, or media volume at random, and it seldoml chooses the right one. It’s super frustrating. Every time I press volume up/down I have to tap the down arrow to expand all volume options, fix the volume I just inadvertently changed, and then adjust the volume I meant to adjust accordingly.

Google Assistant. I know, you were wondering when I was going to talk about this. Google is very excited about Google Assistant. I never really was. To me it sounded like OK Google with a different name. And honestly that’s exactly what it is. Well, not exactly. Google Assistant actually doesn’t do as much as OK Google does, which is sad and frustrating. But the worst part about it by far is the fact that the phone recognizes my “OK Google” voice command about 30-40% of the time, consistently giving me the “Couldn’t recognize your voice. Unlock without ‘OK Google'” notification. This is very very very very VERY frustrating. I’ve tried retraining it several times to no avail. I’ve tried retraining it using different “emotions” each time I said “OK Google”. No help. This is especially frustrating because OK Google worked wonderfully on my Moto X. Probably an 85-90% success rate recognizing my voice, and I was even able to choose a different phrase besides “OK Google” which was fun.

Buggy software. Just the other day I was unable to swipe away notifications. Whenever I tried, it would try to swipe the whole notification drop-down up/down rather than swiping the notification away. I also tried to tap the WiFi icon but it wouldn’t toggle it on/off, it simply tried to swipe the notification drop-down up/down again.

All in all I guess I’m mostly happy with the phone, although the OK Google bug is really, REALLY frustrating. I did a factory reset today, I’m hoping that these issues will go away. If they don’t I will be pursuing a warranty replacement.

For now I’ll give the phone 3.5 out of 5 stars. If the factory reset fixes all these problems I’d give it a 4.5 out of 5, and if Google made the Google Assistant not so worthless, (which I’m sure they will) 5 out of 5. 

Here’s a quick spec sheet:

Aerospace-grade aluminum unibody
Glass shade with 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass 4


Display Characteristics
95% DCI-P3 Coverage
100000:1, super contrast ratio
True black level
Full 24-bits depth or 16.77 million colors
Less than 40% brightness decrease at 30 degree viewing angle

32 or 128GB

Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 821
2.15Ghz + 1.6Ghz, 64Bit Quad-Core

Main Camera
Large 1.55μm pixels
Phase detection autofocus + laser detection autofocus
f/2.0 Aperture

Front Camera
1.4µm pixels
f/2.4 Aperture
Fixed focus

1080p @ 30fps, 60fps, 120fps
720p @ 30fps, 60fps, 240fps
4K @ 30fps

Proximity / ALS
Accelerometer / Gyrometer
Pixel Imprint – Back-mounted fingerprint sensor for fast unlocking
Hall effect sensor
Android Sensor Hub
Advanced x-axis haptics for sharper / defined response

USB Type-C™ 18W adaptor with USB-PD
15W – 18W charging

Ports and Slots
USB Type-C™
USB 3.0
3.5mm headset jack
Single Nano SIM

Single bottom-firing speaker
3 Mics
Noise Suppression

Supports up to CAT 12 (600Mbps DL / 75Mbps UL) depending on carrier support
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 2×2 MIMO
Bluetooth 4.2

Device Variants (SKUs)
Quite Black, Very Silver, Really Blue (Limited Edition)

In box
USB Type-C™ 18W adaptor with USB-PD
A-C cable (USB 3.0)
C-C cable (USB 2.0)
SIM tool
Quick Switch Adapter

Android 7.1 Nougat
Two years of OS upgrades from launch
Three years of security updates from launch

About James Welbes

James is a guy who does things. Lots of things. Nothing weird, mostly computer things like blogging, web development, Netflix. He's a total Google fanboy, (despite Allo) and has been recognized as a Google Expert in Google's Chromebook Central product forum.