Camera, voice assistant and performance combine into a fantastically smooth device.
A couple of weeks ago, I gave a glowing review to the Google Pixel – the first smartphone made completely in-house by the search giant. I was so impressed, I give it a rare four-out-of-four rating.
It’s now a couple weeks later and I find myself wanting to do something even rarer – I’d like to revise that rating upward, if such a thing were possible. I’m serious: I really, really love the Google Pixel. Or the Pixel XL, to be more accurate. It’s the best smartphone on the market, hands down – five out of four stars.
I covered off most of the goodness in my initial review, but there are three specific things that continue to turn my crank when it comes to the Pixel.
According to Google, the Pixel has the best camera yet in a smartphone. I’m still not fully convinced it’s better than Samsung’s high-end smartphones, but I’m starting to believe it.
One of the keys to the Pixel’s great photo quality is its automatic high dynamic range, wherein several shots at different exposures combine into one.
Other phones and apps do this, but there’s typically a lag. The HDR Pro app, for example, requires you to hold your phone still for the second or two required to take multiple photos.
The Pixel’s HDR shots, however, are instantaneous. I’ve shown it to professional photographers and they’ve been amazed at how fast it is.
The results are incredibly vibrant and detailed photos:
But there’s more to photo quality than just the camera and HDR. More on that in a second.
The Google Assistant:
There are other phones that can take voice commands with no button-pushing needed and some are even listening for you all the time. But no other devices do it so well and provide such useful answers.
Apple’s Siri, for example, can automatically respond on newer iPhones, but usually not well. “She” often pulls up answers in the form of web searches or, if you’re lucky, Wikipedia pages.
The Google Assistant performs the same quality searches that the Google search engine itself does, which means better results. This is the product of great hardware blended with super-fast cloud processing of an incredibly large dataset, something Google is uniquely positioned to do.
The end product is especially amazing while driving. Strange questions pop into my head when I’m behind the wheel – and the Pixel is there to comply.
When I ask what the best time of year to visit Iceland is, for example, the phone reads back an authoritative answer:
I haven’t purposely tried to stump the Google Assistant yet, but so far “she” hasn’t let me down. Impressive.
The Processing Power:
Everything – and I mean everything – on the Pixel is fast. From opening and switching apps to the voice control response time and the Google Assistant answers, it all happens in the span of a heartbeat.
One of my favourite uses of the Pixel XL so far is taking 360-degree pictures through the camera’s Photo Sphere function. Not only does the phone snap the photos quickly, watching it process them together – adjusting for different exposures and lighting – is a wonder to behold.
It’s amazingly fast and accurate and the results are typically fantastic:
And speaking of pictures again, the Google Photos app is a joy to use. Images are automatically uploaded to Google’s free online storage, where they’re accessible through the same app regardless of platform – even on Apple devices.
It’s incredibly straightforward and easier to use than some of the other convoluted and buggy cloud storage services out there (cough, iCloud, cough).
So far, the only quibble I’ve had with the Pixel has involved the Google Assistant, which mysteriously stopped working one day. Funny enough, the problem turned into another instance where I came away impressed.
I couldn’t figure out how to get the assistant working again so I tapped on the “support” function in settings. I was on the phone with customer support within seconds.
What? How does that even happen in this day and age? What kind of resources is Google throwing at its call centres? Whatever the answers, wow. Just wow.
Anyhow, the agent instructed me to update the Google app and, lo and behold, that did the trick. The Google Assistant was up and running again, leaving me blown away with the expediency of it all. There’s that speed again.
The assistant did conk out on me a second time a few days later, but another quick update got it going again. The agent ultimately helped me help myself.
All told, the Google Pixel is – for me, at least – a highly unusual device because it’s one I wholeheartedly recommend to friends and family. I thought the days of being delighted by smartphones, most of which do much of the same thing, were over. I’m glad I was wrong.
I’m left wondering how anyone, possibly even Google itself, is going to top this one. If anything, the Google Pixel proves there’s innovation in them smartphones yet… even if much of it revolves around doing some of the basic things we need of them better.
Oh, and just to add some balance to this admittedly unabashed gusher-fest… yes, I still hate the fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone.