Big news from Google overnight, with the company announcing that it’s getting into the hardware business with a new range of ‘Pixel’ mobile phones and is launching new virtual reality products.
Starting with the phones, while Google has in the past partnered with different companies to make its Nexus range of handsets, it has never led the design of the hardware, leaving that to the manufacturer.
Having control of both hardware design and the operating software (Android) is only something that Apple currently does, and this can be a huge advantage when producing a world-leading product.
While Taiwanese phone manufacturer HTC will be building the actual Pixel phones, the hardware design is all Google.
There will be two models released in Australia, the 5 inch Pixel, and the 5.5 inch Pixel XL. Both are clad in aircraft grade aluminium, and feature curved edges and smooth surfaces. Colour choices are ‘very silver’ and ‘quite black’. We don’t get the blue version otherwise available in the US, however.
The displays are AMOLED, meaning that they’ll look great with deep blacks and vibrant colours – 16.77 million of them to be exact. And with 441 pixels per inch and 534 ppi on the XL model, onscreen text is ultra-crisp and sharp, with greater-than-high-definition detail.
On the camera front, the Pixel looks good on paper with a 12.3 megapixel rear-facing camera and an 8 megapixel selfie camera included. The rear camera boats a 2.0 aperture, and a 1.55μm pixel size, meaning a good sensitivity for colour accuracy and low light shots. Google describes the camera as having the “…best-ever 89 DxOMark Mobile score…” but we’ll need to get our hands on one to test this claim over the coming weeks.
For storing photos, the Pixel comes with unlimited cloud-based storage for your full resolution shots and videos. In contrast Google Drive lets you store photos, but cut-down ones and not the full-fat version.
As part of Android Nougat, the latest build of Google’s operating software, you get Google Duo, which is a video conferencing app similar to Apple’s FaceTime but this works across both Android and iOS phones. There’s even a ‘Knock Knock’ feature where you’ll see a preview of the caller before you pick up.
Also new is the full integration of Google’s Assistant. By holding the ‘home’ button, you can ask the virtual assistant for weather reports, manage everyday tasks, find photos, translate on the go and manage your travel arrangements. Also, using machine learning, it’s context sensitive, so you can ask the assistant for example, “do I need sunglasses today,” and after it gives you the weather, you can just ask, “and what about tomorrow” and it will know that this also relates to your previous question about the weather.
Both models have a back-mounted fingerprint sensor, called Pixel Imprint, for easy and secure access.
Both are also following the trend of using USB-C connectors for charging and transferring data, which is good news.
On the charging front, there’s a quick-charge mode where 15 minutes gives the phone up to 7 hours of use. We’ll inspect the charge times of both models in our full review.