Google Pixel review: Pure Android at its absolute best

Updated in early 2017

The Google Pixel remains our favorite phone, bar none, unless you’re looking for a bigger screen, in which case we recommend its big brother, the Pixel XL.

The Pixel strikes an exceptional balance between speed and beauty, ergonomics and straightforward usability. It is the purest vehicle for Android Nougat 7.0, Google’s mobile operating system. It is a relatively fast charger. And it offers the most seamless integration with Google’s Daydream View VR headset (although the list of compatible phones continues to grow).

Obviously the Pixel isn’t perfect; rear panel glass treatment may be a cosmetic mistake for some and is vulnerable to cracking. It is also not as water resistant as the others, and while its camera is superb, the iPhone 7 Plus offers superior video quality in portrait mode (read more about how the two stack up). However, these are mostly minor quibbles; if you are looking for an alternative to the latest iPhone model, the Google Pixel and Pixel XL are worth a serious look.

Looking ahead, Google hasn’t officially declared anything about the future of the Pixel line yet, but there are rumors about innovative AR and VR developments and possibly a foldable display. But with the next Pixel not expected before October 2017 (a year after the original’s debut), Android fans may be tempted by the Samsung Galaxy S8, which is rumored to arrive in March or April.

Editor’s note, February 16, 2017: Following is the original Google Pixel review, first published in October 2016.

With the Pixel, Google came forward, called the shot, and threw it out of the park. If there was any lingering doubt about Google’s ability to go out on its own, it’s gone. Sure, HTC may have put the phones together, but Google designed, engineered, and branded them. And the times couldn’t be luckier with Samsung still emerging from the aftermath of a very difficult 2016.

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The Google Pixel.

Jason Cipriani / CNET

Starting at $ 649 in the US, £ 599 in the UK and AU $ 1,079 in Australia, the Pixel is fast, with a high and smooth design. Heavy investments in its camera have also resulted in an agile shooter. While its special portrait mode is meager, it otherwise takes incredible shots that rival those of the Apple iPhone 7 Plus.

It is also the first phone to have the search giant’s new and comprehensive voice search and search service, called Google Assistant, built in. It’s the most natural voice assistant I’ve ever experienced and comes closest to giving it to me Jarvis from the experience of “Iron Man” all these assistants seem to be chasing.

The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge may still be the most visually striking phone on the market. But if you’re wary of Samsung phones, the Pixel, a strong contender for the best premium Android phone, is a terrific alternative.

Because Pixel is one of the best Android phones right now

So what’s so good about the Pixel? In addition to premium hardware, such as the camera and processor, it includes new software features that are useful for daily use. Read on to learn more.

The camera is (mostly) fantastic

As you can see from its name, Google does a lot for the Pixel’s camera and it’s great. It takes even better shots than the already stellar iPhone 7 Plus, which I consider to be the reigning champion of camera phones. If you want the full scoop on how these two compare, check out CNET’s functionality, Google Pixel vs iPhone 7 Plus: Which Camera is Better?

The camera is fast, the images are in focus and the colors look vibrant. Close-ups appear particularly sharp and refined. Landscape scenes retain an impressive amount of detail and depth, even with distant objects.

The phone’s 12.3 megapixel shooter.

Josh Miller / CNET

Photos taken in low light understandably weren’t as sharp and featured more digital artifacts. But the camera did a good job of capturing the available light and illuminating the scenes. The flash made skin tones natural too, and if it weren’t for some reflections in the eyes, it would have been hard to tell in photos that it was used.

The front camera is also excellent. It has a lens that is large enough to accommodate a lot of content (read: faces) in each frame, and has softened skin tones enough to look eye-catching without looking too airbrushed. To see the images I’ve captured, check out the slideshow below.

The camera can shoot 4K video, and while it doesn’t have optical image stabilization, it uses a combination of gyroscope and software to stabilize your videos. This function works well and is useful when you are moving around while recording movies. But it gives your videos a kind of surreal, almost drone-like quality.

The Google Assistant helps you organize your day

The Pixel is deeply integrated with Google’s search services and is the first hardware device to have the Google Assistant built in. The assistant is a AI bot which uses machine learning and Google’s extensive search database to answer all kinds of questions. It can schedule reminders, look up facts and places to eat, set alarms, give directions, translate sentences, and more. And the more you use it, the more it should get to know you and become more personalized.

Unlike Google Now (the company’s previous iteration of a digital assistant), Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Microsoft’s Cortana, Assistant is truly conversational. You can use your voice to speak to us naturally, back and forth and it has a chat-like interface. After each interaction, follow-up queries are suggested that you can tap to continue the conversation.

Launch the Google Assistant (left) and ask the assistant where to find Japanese tapas nearby (right).

Lynn La / CNET

As with most voice assistants, you forget they’re there. But when you remember, Assistant can be useful. He doesn’t hear every question correctly every time, but when he does, it works relatively quickly. Compared to Siri, which occurs after completing each task, Assistant builds on my previous queries, so it made me interact longer.

Android Nougat packs some sweetness

  • The device runs a pure version of Android 7.1 Nougat. It is the first to have Google’s messaging service at the and its video calling app Duo preloaded (you can uninstall them if you want).
  • Startup shortcuts, which is Google’s interpretation Apple’s 3D touch, allows you to long press on some apps to bring up additional menu options.
  • You can send GIFs within Google Keyboard, for all your GIF-fy delights.
  • To reduce eye strain from viewing a bright, bluish display at night, there is a Night Light setting that colors the screen yellow. (Other Android phones and the iPhone already do this.)
  • There is a fingerprint reader on the back for added user security and services like Android Pay. It works quickly and as a bonus you can use it to slide notifications across the screen.

Looks and feels great

Pixel and Pixel XL are nearly identical, but the latter has a larger, sharper display and a charged battery. Aside from that, they are more or less the same. Both are sleek and well crafted, and their sleek one-piece aluminum design makes them more stylish than previous Nexus devices.