A year on, Google’s Pixels remain important — this is what you need to know.
Google’s Pixel and Pixel XL are fantastic. These phones are the first made entirely under Google’s control, following in the footsteps of the two Chromebook Pixels and the Pixel C tablet — and they marked a new era of smartphones blessed by Google.
That makes these phones interesting from a hardware perspective, wearing just the “G” logo on the back and taking on some neat design cues, but also in terms of how the software and features are deeply integrated into these aluminum blocks. Here’s everything you need to know about the Google Pixel and Pixel XL.
The Pixel 2 and Pixel XL 2 are coming
With almost a year in the rear-view mirror, the original Pixel and Pixel XL are about to hand off the torch to their successors. The Pixel 2 and Pixel XL 2 will be announced on October 4!
The offering is expected to follow a similar formula: two phones at different sizes and price points with the same set of core features and advantages. The difference in 2017 is that the phones are expected to be made by different manufacturers, with HTC taking the smaller Pixel 2 and LG taking the Pixel XL 2.
What will happen to the original Pixels?
Of course, the original Pixels will continue to live on — at lower prices, and still with plenty of runway in terms of software updates. They will get the newest version of Android Oreo, expected to be version 8.1, right alongside the new Pixel 2 and Pixel XL 2. And aside from any hardware limitations (there shouldn’t be many), they should have all of the same features as well.
The original Pixels won’t be left behind — expect software support for Android P and beyond.
The interesting thing to see will be how much Google brings camera improvements back to the original Pixels. So much of what Google does with photography is in the software rather than hardware, and it’s feasible that the original Pixels could ride the wave of camera improvements through Android 8.1 and the new Google Camera app.
If you choose to hold onto one, the 2016 versions of the Pixel and Pixel XL will get Android P in 2018 as well — and get security updates for another year after that. So you don’t have to worry about being left behind in the dust.
Read (and watch) our Google Pixel review
The easiest way to learn about Google’s newest phones, as we experienced them closely after their launch, is to read our full review and then watch the video review that goes along with it!
Two sizes, same phone
Google’s branding for the Pixel phones is a tad confusing, as the name used in marketing is just “Pixel” while we of course we know there’s more than one phone available. But the way you should look at this is just two different screen sizes of the same phone: a 5-inch Pixel, and a 5.5-inch Pixel XL.
The phones are identical in terms of internal specs, build, hardware quality, features and software — there are just three differences to note: the Pixel XL has a larger 5.5-inch display, a higher 2560×1440 resolution, and a larger 3450mAh battery. That compares to the Pixel’s 5-inch 1920×1080 display and 2770mAh battery.
The drop in screen resolution shouldn’t be too upsetting considering the still-high pixel density at 5 inches, and of course when the body gets smaller, the battery is going to shrink as well. Battery life shouldn’t drop off much considering the smaller screen and resolution. Really, this comes down to how much screen you need to get your daily tasks done, and how much you can manage in your hand and pocket.
Nexus is dead. Long live Pixel!
The new Pixel and Pixel XL are of course not Nexus phones by brand, but they clearly carry on the legacy of the line. They come from Google, are sold unlocked, and epitomize the complete Google experience.
If you owned (or lusted after) Nexus phones in the past for their simplicity, direct support from Google, and clean integration of Google’s own apps and services, you’ll be served just as well by a Google Pixel.
Updates come from Google, guaranteed
One of the most compelling reasons to buy a phone from Google is software updates. Not only will the Pixels be supported by two years of guaranteed Android platform and feature updates, but you’ll also be getting monthly security patches for three years as well. Those updates won’t be such a pain to take, either, as Android Nougat introduced seamless updates that get in place in the background and apply quickly on reboot.
There are lots of phones with really cool software features right out of the box, but it’s their shaky continued support a year or two down the road that make us take pause. If you don’t want to worry about when or where your future software update is coming, the Pixels should be your top choice.
You get 24/7 support built in
It’s not necessarily a software feature at its core, but part of the justification of the Pixels’ high prices is the inclusion of live 24/7 support direct from Google. The support is built right into the settings of the phones, and lets you quickly contact Google for a phone call or chat to talk about what’s going wrong with your phone.
Much like Amazon pioneered on its Fire tablets, Google can also start a screen sharing session with you so you can literally show your exact problem to the support person and figure it out while on the phone. It’s these sorts of things you may not think about all the time, but when you just can’t figure out a problem it’s great to have it there. The feature may be particularly useful if you’re looking at the Pixel for a less tech-savvy family member or friend — you’re no longer the tech support!
The best part about the 24/7 support is how it becomes even more useful as the phones get older and approach (or surpass) their warranty dates.
You get unlimited full-quality camera backups for life
Google Photos and the Pixel are a match made in heaven. Not only do the Pixels have excellent cameras, but Google allows all Pixel owners to back up their photos and videos — even 4K video! — in full resolution for free, forever.
It’s one of those things that Google can do only because it owns the entire stack, and it makes owning the phone even better.
You should look at Project Fi
If you’re looking to switch carriers after getting your Pixel, you may want to look into switching to Google’s own carrier offering called Project Fi. It’s an awesome carrier that doesn’t tie you down with contracts, agreements, lengthy bills or overage charges — it’s all about simplicity, just like the Pixels.
With Project Fi, your Pixel will actively switch between using Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular networks depending on which is best, and will also jump on open Wi-Fi outside of your house as well as let you make calls and texts over any Wi-Fi network. It’s just $20 per month to start, plus $10 per gigabyte of data you use, no matter how much you use. You’re refunded for data you buy but don’t consume in the month, and you can even use that data outside of the U.S. with no extra fees. There’s even a group plan where you can bring along your family to Project Fi.
You can get a Project Fi SIM card for free when you order your Pixel, or if you already have one on the way you can pick up a SIM card when you sign up for Project Fi online.
Having Pixel problems?
If you look around a little, you’ll see there are plenty of reported problems with the Google Pixel, from Bluetooth to Wi-Fi to microphones cutting out. Google has promised to fix all of them in time, and may have fixed any issues before you got to them in particular, but in the meantime, you can find our running list of Google Pixel issues and share your stories.
Pixel owner? Hop in the forums!
Even though there are new Pixels on the horizon, there are still millions of people happily using the originals. Maybe you’re one of them! To keep the discussion going, see how your phone is holding up compared to everyone else, and troubleshoot any ongoing issues you may have, you’ll want to join our Google Pixel forum!
Updated September 2017: This article was completely rewritten to reflect current information and the coming of the Pixel 2!