Google is taking firm ownership of the flagship Android phones it produces each year. At an event in San Francisco on a crisp Tuesday morning, the search giant formally unveiled the Pixel and Pixel XL, two top-of-the-line smartphones made in partnership with Taipei, Taiwan-based electronics maker HTC.
The Pixel and Pixel XL may be produced by HTC, but they’re unquestionably “Google phones” — they’re the first handsets in history to carry the company’s new “made by Google brand,” in fact. And they’re an impressive first attempt.
Both phones, differentiated more by size than hardware, bear the hallmarks of high-end smartphone design: they’re dominated by polished aluminum, Gorilla Glass 4, and an almost incidental amount of plastic to accommodate wireless radios. The Pixel and Pixel XL’s edges slope gracefully, as do its wedged sides — a design language that not-so-subtly evokes Apple’s iPhone. And they’re pleasingly minimalist. On the front, selfie cameras and earpieces; on the right side is a power button and volume rocker; and on the rear is a dedicated shooter, LED flash, and circular fingerprint sensor.
Google’s new phones aren’t just pretty faces, though: they’re powerhouses. The Pixel XL packs a 5.5-inch, Quad HD (2,560 x 1,440 pixels) AMOLED screen with an impressive density of 534 pixels-per-inch. The Pixel packs a smaller and lower-resolution AMOLED screen at 5 inches and Full HD (1080 x 1920 pixels), respectively, but squeezes it into a slightly more compact package.
Beneath those displays is one of the fastest mobile processors around. The Pixels have the distinction of packing Qualcomm’s brand-new, top-of-the-line quad-core Snapdragon 821 processor, a chip 10 percent more power efficient than the predeceasing Snapdragon 820. The variant in the Pixels is clocked at a 2.15GHz and paired with 4GB of RAM — more than enough to crunch webpages, benchmarks, docs, and games with ease, Google said.
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Those aren’t the only highlights. The Pixels share a pair of cameras that promise impressive captures in both daytime and dim surroundings — Rick Osterloh, Google’s head of hardware, called them the “best smartphone camera anyone has ever made.” The rear-facing sensor’s a 12.3-megapixel model with f/2.0 aperture, 1.55um sensor size, and optical image stabilization, and the front-facing shooter’s an 8-megapixel specimen. And they work in tandem with proprietary algorithms that enhance those picture-taking capabilities. Smart Burst shot takes multiple snaps in milliseconds and automatically chooses the best. HDR Plus takes “clear, vivid pictures” in “challenging conditions.” But perhaps most impressive is video stabilization: thanks to a custom algorithm that samples gyroscope data 200 times a second and compensates for rolling shutter, videos turn out smooth as butter.