Pixel Phone Rumors: What to Expect from Google's Devices

Google is getting ready to take the wraps off its newest flagship phones, featuring new hardware, a different take on software and — potentially — an entirely new name. While past Google phones have carried the Nexus label, Google is expected to switch the name to Pixel for two new phones that will replace the Nexus 6P and 5X as the hardware that shows off what the Android operating system can do.

Last year's Nexus flagships

Last year's Nexus flagships

Here's a round-up of what we've heard about Google's phone plans in advance of their expected October unveiling.

* The new phones will be called the Pixel and Pixel XL.
* They'll make their debut at an Oct. 4 press event,
where Google's expected to show off other hardware, too.
* Google will offer 5- and 5.5-inch versions of the phone,
which will run Android Nougat and support the company's Daydream VR platform.
* The phones will run on Qualcomm's Snapdragon 821 processor.

Goodbye, Nexus; Hello, Pixel

In September, Android Police broke the news that Google planned to drop the Nexus name from its lineup of smartphones. Instead, it's expected that the next flagship phones to come out of Google will be named the Pixel and Pixel XL.

MORE: Here Are the 10 Best Smartphones Available

It's unclear why Google is opting for this name change, though it might bring some naming consistency to Google's lineup of mobile devices. Last year, Google introduced the Pixel C convertible tablet during the same event where the Nexus 6P and 5X made their debuts. So putting tablets and smartphones under one brand name might make more sense from a marketing perspective.

Mark Your Calendars for October 4

We can speculate on what Google might call its new phones, but it's very clear when they'll arrive. Google has announced an October 4 press event, and it's almost certain that the Pixel phones — if that turns out to be their name — will be center stage.

The phones are unlikely to be the only hardware Google unveils at the event. Earlier this year, Google unveiled plans for a virtual reality platform called Daydream. It's a dead-certainty that the new Pixel phones are going to meet the hardware standards Google spelled out for its VR platform, and it seems likely that Google will show off the VR headset its developing as part of the Daydream project. Google is working on an Amazon Echo-like speaker called the Google Home, and we could get a glimpse of that device, too. And, if Google follows the format from its 2015 Nexus phone unveilings, it could show off updates to its Chromecast streaming device as well as more Pixel tablets.

MORE: What to Expect at Google's Oct. 4 Event

Whatever Google has planned besides the Pixel phones, we'll be at the Oct. 4 event in San Francisco which starts at noon ET/9 a.m. PT.

Here's What the Pixel Phone Looks Like

Credit: VentureBeat

(Image credit: VentureBeat)

VentureBeat offered up our first good look at the Pixel phone's new appearance with a leaked photo of what's likely to be the new device. The hardware itself looks like pretty standard stuff for a smartphone, but the photo shows off circular launcher icons and a Google icon in the upper left corner of the phone. Android Police has more on the new look for the icons as well as that Pixel Launcher.

What About the Specs

Details about the Pixel phones leaked out earlier this year when the devices were code-named Sailfish (the 5-inch phone) and Marlin (the 5.5-inch model). It's widely believed HTC will build the phones; that device maker handled the first Nexus One phone as well as the Nexus 9 tablet. Last year's Nexus 5X and 6P were produced by LG and Huawei, respectively.

As noted above, both phones are almost certain to comply with the standards of Google's Daydream VR platform, since the entire point of Google creating phones is to showcase the capabilities of its software. That likely means Qualcomm's Snapdragon 821 will power both Pixel phones. The CPU has already shown up in fall flagships like Xiaomi's Mi 5s and Asus's ZenFone 3 Deluxe.

Much of what we've heard about the new Pixel phones based on Android Police reports on the both the smaller Sailfish phone and the 5.5-inch Marlin device have been confirmed by Carphone Warehouse, a UK retailer that prematurely posted a Pixel phone specs page. In addition to confirming the presence of the SnapDragon 821 inside the new devices, the Carphone Warehouse post indicated the smaller Pixel will have a 1920 x 1080 AMOLED display while the 5.5-inch Pixel XL will feature 2560 x 1440 resolution. Both phones will start at 32GB of storage and feature 4GB of RAM. They'll have a 12-megapixel camera on the back, with an f/2.0 aperture and 1.55-micron pixels; an 8-MP shooter will be on the front of the Pixel and Pixel XL. Besides different screen sizes, the new phones will have different sized batteries — a 2,770-mAh battery will power the Pixel while the Pixel XL will offer a 3,450 mAh power pack.

Credit: Carphone Warehouse via Android Central

(Image credit: Carphone Warehouse via Android Central)

If those are the Pixel's specs, that 5-inch phone will be an upgrade from the Nexus 5X in many areas, even if its screen is smaller than the 5X's 5.2-inch display. The Nexus 5X runs on a 1.8-GHz hexa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor with 2GB of RAM. The rear camera on the Nexus 5X is also 12-MP, but an 8-MP front camera would improve upon the 5-MP sensor on the current phone. The Pixel's resolution should be the same as the Nexus 5X, while its battery is only a slight uptick from the 2,700-mAh pack powering Google's current phone. Of course, with the Nexus 5X lasting 11 hours, 30 minutes on our battery tests, that shouldn't really be an area of concern.

The Pixel XL's rumored specs have a lot in common with the 5.7-inch Nexus 6P. While HTC is shrinking the screen by 0.2 inches, the resolution will be the same, as will the camera specs. The Nexus 6P featured 3GB of RAM, so this new phone would ship with more memory. You could also buy a 64GB version of the 6P; the Pixel XL is expected to feature 32GB and 128GB versions. Most tellingly, the 3,450 mAh battery in Marlin would be the same that powered the Nexus 6P, though that's not a bad thing. The 6P lasted 12 hours, 25 minutes on our battery test, making it one of the longer-lasting phones we've seen. We're hopeful that the Pixel XL can continue that tradition.

These phones are likely to cost you, if reports about pricing are true. Pricing is expected to start at $649, though it's unclear if that's for the smaller Pixel, as Android Police reports, or for the Pixel XL. If the former, that would match the pricing on Apple's iPhone 7.

Other Changes

When you get a Nexus phone these days, you're pretty much on your own for transferring contacts, adjusting preferences and otherwise setting up the device. A report from Android Police says that will change with the 2016 models, as Google is reportedly developing a support app that can put you in touch with customer service. The app will include screen-sharing capabilities so that customer support can better see what issue is causing you problems.

As described by Android Police, the feature sounds an awful lot like the Mayday feature Amazon includes with its tablets and TV set-top boxes. And that would be a welcome addition that potentially opens up the Nexus phone beyond hardcore Android enthusiasts to casual users who might be put off by having to turn to online support documents for answers.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.