Google may be relying on its new Assistant software and upgraded camera to prove to consumers that its new Pixel and Pixel XL phones are worth $100-plus more than the company's earlier Nexus phones, and prices on par with Apple's iPhones.
At its Made By Google event Tuesday (Oct. 4), Google unveiled the simply-designed phones, equipped with a somewhat Siri-like assistant that leverages Google's artificial intelligence and the 70 billion facts that Google executives says the company has gathered across all of its products.
The Pixel and Pixel XL aren't too flashy. With a rear made of polished aluminum and glass, the phone comes in three colors: Really Blue, Very Silver and Quite Black.
Unlike the more boxy Nexus phones, the Pixel phones have a more curved look, with a "subtle edge" making for a more comfortable grip, according to Rick Osterloh, who leads Google's hardware team.
The smaller $649.99 Pixel comes with a 5-inch display, while the Pixel XL measures 5.5 inches and starts at $769.99. That's a hefty increase from in price from Google's earlier Nexus phones, which were priced at $349 for the smaller model with a 5.2-inch screen and $499 for the larger of the two with a 5.7-inch screen.
But with the additional cost come some significant improvements. The Pixel and Pixel XL come with an improved Snapdragon 821 processor. And at 5.92 ounces, the larger Pixel XL weighs less than the Nexus 6P, which disappointed some at 6.3 ounces.
As consumers increasingly rely on their mobile devices to run their lives, Google hopes to personalize the Pixel user's experience with its Google Assistant, which is a huge advancement over Google's earlier phones.
Google Assistant learns from users' email accounts, calendars, search habits and Google Maps use. Like Apple's Siri, Google Assistant can take notes and set reminders, but Google plays up its natural language processing as part of interpreting and serving up responses to users, as well as an improved ability to translate into more natural-sounding language.
Uing Google Assistant (which is now available to do even more at home as well), you won't need to go through mobile apps like OpenTable to make reservations or pull up the YouTube app and search for videos within that app's search field, as Brian Rakowski, Google's head of software product management demonstrated.
"This is where the Pixel family shines brightest," IDC mobile research manager Ramon Llamas told Tom's Guide. "Although the Assistant is a work in progress, I like how far it has come to be less “go fetch me this information” and more like “come up with what I need, even though I haven’t said it yet.”
Google's Rakowski said that Assistant will be able to work with more than one voice, as is the case with Siri here the the U.S. In the future, Google Assistant could even be able to detect different emotions based on a user's voice, according to the company.
Faster, Smarter Camera
The Pixels' camera is one feature that dramatically sets the phone apart from Google's Nexus phones. While its 12.3-MP rear camera is a spec no different from the Nexus phones at first glace, this shooter has been rated the best smart phone camera ever, across all phones, with a score of 89 from the camera experts at DXOMark.
The Pixel and Pixel XL also have 8 MP front-facing cameras vs. the 5 MP selfie cameras on both Nexus.
When shooting, the camera captures images in bursts and chooses among them for the best, clearest image. Google also promises that its HDR+ technology improves image quality even in challenging lighting conditions, and it processes images twice as fast as other phones.
The Pixel phones also have new image stabilization technology, which uses a gyroscope to virtually eliminate the bouncy, so called Jello-effect that you can get from other image stabilization systems.
As far as video quality goes, the Pixel phone cameras can record in 4K, though the phones won't be able to adequately display those 4k videos. But there will be plenty of storage space for Pixel phone owners. Free with the phones, Google will be offering unlimited cloud storage space for photos and videos, the company said.
While it's not clear yet whether Google's new Pixel phones can do better than the company's Nexus phones to lure iPhone users away from Apple, interest in the Pixels could still be substantial.
"The Pixel family is easily on par with other flagship smartphones, so don’t expect them to trail behind the other flagship smartphones out there," said IDC's mobile analyst Llamas.
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Althea Chang is Associate Director of Content Development for Consumer Reports and was previously a Senior Writer for Tom's Guide, covering mobile devices, health and fitness gadgets and car tech.