I pre-ordered the basic Pixel (5", 32G, Silver) because the 5X was getting on my nerves (more below); here are early-days notes. Tl;dr: Ugly, solid, fast, cool camera.
No new build · So, here’s the secret insider story of where little mobile builds come from. Word goes around that the software has to ship by Date X to meet the hardware launch date. Usually it’s not ready, so what happens is they ship an interim build and then, some weeks later when the phones hit the shelves and people are starting to turn them on, they get prompted to download the “real” build.
Not this time, a first in my pretty-comprehensive experience of new Android flagships. The OS it came with is the OS I’m running, and I have to say the bug density is pleasingly low. Gmail crashed once in the first couple days, but didn’t damage anything.
Wires! · It came with: A wall plug with a USB-C socket on the back, a USB-C/USB-C wire, a USB-C/USB-classic wire, and a little USB-C/USB-classic hard-plastic thing. Normally I’d decry this as excess, but our household had reached critical density of USB-classic wires, always one to hand when you needed one, and thus the sharp initial build-up in the USB-C inventory is welcome.
A first for me was the wire-based transfer-your-Android-life function. Run a USB wire between them, let ’er rip, and whoosh! go all your contacts and photos and messages and whatever from old to new. It still has to download and install your apps (yawwwwn), but boy, does that initial transfer ever go fast.
It’s ugly · I got silver because all the other phones in the house are featureless black rectangles and I got sick of looking round the living room for mine then picking up the wrong one. But it was a bad color call.
I mean, seriously. It’s really a dingy not-quite-white, big blank bezels top and bottom of the screen with cameras and sensors standing out blockishly, metal sides interrupted by random strips of plastic here and there. I’ve never owned an iPhone but I’m told the Pixel looks like one. Except for, don’t they say that iPhones look good?
I’m not sure who thought it was a good idea to make two-thirds of the back metal, one-third whitish.
It’s more or less exactly the same size as the Nexus 5X it replaced, but noticeably heavier. The fingerprint reader is in the same spot on the back, and works perfectly. I have no emotional reaction to the way it feels in my hand.
Anyhow, I’m seriously in the market for a decent case.
Translate · My little girl’s in a Mandarin-bilingual elementary school; she was having trouble with homework so I woke up the phone and said “OK Google, translate ‘I’ll be there by noon’ into Mandarin‘’, and it did. I was impressed. Do all phones do that now?
Android 7.1 · The new launcher looks OK, but the search bar that used to run across the top has been replaced with a pull-tab to get Google stuff, and a time/date/weather readout. I’m grumpy because I lost a couple app spaces in the grid, and the apps on my front page are something I curate very carefully.
Aside from that, well… the notification interaction has been changed slightly in a way that doesn’t help me but others might like. Other than that, can’t say as I see much new.
Battery · Meh. It gets through the day, but just barely. If I could have got one that was 25% thicker and had substantially more battery I’d do that in a flash. But that’s not what the world’s mobile-phone designers apparently want to hear.
Performance · I eventually came to hate the Nexus 5X performance. Not because it was slow, as such; once you got an app up and running it was just fine. But it didn’t have enough memory, so apps didn’t stick around and were always being restarted. And the app-start process was horrible, I think for the reasons described in the AnandTech 5X review — scroll down to the “NAND Performance” sub-head.
The Pixel keeps lots more apps around and starts them faster. The subjective difference in “how fast it feels” is dramatic.
The app I particularly care about starting fast is obviously the camera. I use Lightroom’s — hey, a photog has to buy into one cloud or another and for better or worse I’m in Adobe’s. Rough timings: The Google camera starts in just under one second, Lightroom’s in well under 2.
The camera · Look, all modern mobile cameras are totally great given enough light. One big delta is low-light performance, and rather than say anything, I’ll let you judge by the pix embedded here. All of them are low light, none straight-outta-the-camera. I have to say that Lightroom’s integration between edit-on-the-phone and edit-on-the-Mac is fabulous.
Should you buy one? · They’re not cheap, particularly. You can count on having the latest software. I think the hardware is actually good. But don’t get Silver.