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Google Pixel and Pixel XL phone: What do balloons, a dog and a singing troupe have in common?

Vaughn Highfield
17 Oct 2016
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Unsure exactly what the Google Pixel and Pixel XL are? Worry not, we're here to answer your questions

As Google ramps up for the release of its Pixel and Pixel XL flagship phones it's decided to start pushing the device with peculiar new adverts.

Having just released the third in its series of "by you" shorts, Google is clearly trying to pique consumer curiosity instead of conveying Pixel's prowess. The first ad, titled "Together by you" used a singing troupe, the second "Crush by you" saw a mother and child playing in balloons and the third – and most recent – "Pose by you" is, well... See for yourself.

Has Google finally lost the plot? Who knows, but with both phones coming on 20 October, it certainly needs to get people interested in what it can offer over the iPhone 7.

Google Pixel and Pixel XL phone: Everything we know

1. When are the Google Pixel and Pixel XL released?

If you're waiting to pick up the Google Pixel and Pixel XL, Google has announced that both phones will find their way into Carphone Warehouse and other mobile retailers – along with the Google Play Store – this November. Currently, we don't have a concrete shipping date, but expect it to arrive towards the start of November as Google typically takes around a month to bring its phones to market after announcing them.

You can currently pre-order the Pixel and Pixel XL over on the G+oogle Play Store or register your interest at Carphone Warehouse and EE.

2. How much with the Google Pixel and Pixel XL cost me?

Hold onto your hat, if you're used to the reasonable prices of Google's Nexus phones, the Pixel and Pixel XL will absolutely blow you away – they're not cheap. Priced at £599 and £719 for the 32GB Pixel and Pixel XL respectively, Google has matched its flagship phones pound-for-pound with Apple's iPhone 7, a very bold move indeed.

Most people don't actually pay full-price for their smartphones, so Google's price point is only really indicative of where it sees its flagships sitting within the smartphone market. You can currently pick up a Pixel at Carphone Warehouse for £47 per month with a £50 Google Play Store voucher – although Vodaphone does offer it for £42 with a £90 upfront cost.

3. Are Google's new Pixel phones basically revamped Nexus 5X and 6Ps?

Yes, and no – mostly no. Google's two new Pixel phones have replaced the Nexus 5X and 6P in terms of Google Store retail space and the dual-device little 'n' large form factors, but the Pixel range isn't strictly a replacement for the Nexus line. You can think of it as a tonal shift for Google, ditching its third-party-made devices for ones developed in-house where Google can build its systems intimately into the core of the product.

Where Google's Nexus range represented a balance of power and value, the Pixel range is all about premium materials, feel and experience. This is a flagship Google product and it's designed to be Google's weapon within the mobile marketplace. The Nexus line offered up a pure Android experience, here Google brings a tailored and intelligent one.

While, yes, these phones have replaced the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P, they aren't intended to be mere yearly device refreshes.

4. Is that glass on the back of the Pixel and Pixel XL?

Erm, yes, but there's definitely a good enough reason for why Google has decided to make one-third of its gorgeous all-aluminium body out of glass – NFC.

As the Pixel is designed to be the pinnacle of everything Google, the search giant needs to make sure everything works perfectly. Not only is the fingerprint scanner built into the glass back, but that's also where the NFC chip lies. NFC has a hard time transmitting quickly through metal – partly why those anti-card-clash dividers for your wallet are made of metal. Because of this, Google is utilising polished glass to make sure all your NFC interactions, including Android Pay, are quick and effective.

Many other phone manufacturers have done similar, although they made it less of a design feature. Sony's latest Xperia XZ smartphone has moved its NFC chip to the front of the device to counteract the all-metal body it now uses. Samsung's Galaxy S7 has kept the glass back of its predecessor instead of wrapping the whole phone in metal and even Apple's iPhone uses a different material for the iPhone's Apple logo so the NFC chip can transfer through the phone's body faster.

5. Okay, strange, but what's up with the Pixel and Pixel XL colours?

If you're wondering what colours Google is offering up with the Pixel and Pixel XL, you'll be able to get them in black, silver and a limited-edition blue. Of course, Google couldn't just leave them as simple colour names so – in a nod to the absurdity of product colour names – it's decided to dub them "Quite Black", "Very Silver" and "Really Blue".

6. How powerful are the Pixel and Pixel XL?

Now we've established that these aren't simply new Nexus phones, it's time to look into what's actually powering both the Pixel and Pixel XL. As you can imagine, for a flagship phone Google has ensured that these pack a punch against some of the best smartphones on the market right now.

Aside from the Google Pixel's 5in Full HD AMOLED screen and 2,770mAh battery to the Pixel XL's 5.5in QHD AMOLED display and 3,450mAh power pack, both phones are completely identical. This means your new Google-made handset is powered by a 2.15GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 821, packed with 4GB of RAM and available in either 32 or 128GB storage models. Continuing the trend of Google flagships, neither the Pixel or Pixel XL supports microSD, instead favouring the notion of cloud storage to solve all your woes.

Both phones also have USB Type-C, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC and 802.11 ac/b/g/n Wi-Fi.

If you're wondering just what the Snapdragon 821 is capable of over, lets say, the Sony Xperia XZ or OnePlus 3 – both of which use the slightly older 820 Qualcomm chip – it's minimal. The 821 has 0.4GHz more power per core than the 820, translating to a Geekbench score of 1,561 and 4,176 in single- and multi-core respectively. Compare this to what the 820 pushes out and the difference is hardly tangible – 1,689 and 4,026 respectively.

So, why has Google gone for that little bit of extra power if the difference is marginal? To put it simply, virtual reality. Both the Pixel and Pixel XL are VR-ready phones and the Snapdragon 821 is VR-certified.

7. What's the Pixel and Pixel XL's camera like?

According to independent camera benchmarker DxOMark, the Pixel and Pixel XL's 12-megapixel rear camera is the best camera any smartphone has been equipped with, ever. With a score of 89, it's one point higher than the Samsung Galaxy S7 – which was the best smartphone camera we've ever used – and a whole three points better than Apple's revamped iPhone 7.

There's a number of reasons as to why DxOMark gave the Pixel such a high score, and that could be due to the intelligent camera software Google has bundled in with the Pixel as standard. Google's device now uses something the company is dubbing "HDR+" to turn all photos into fantastically vivid and crisp snapshots. HDR+ works by taking multiple photos at different exposures and then intelligently blending them together with "pixel-perfect" accuracy. The Pixel and Pixel XL is then able to create an excellent photo even in low-light conditions without the horrid noise you find with many other low-light cameras.

Pixel's camera software also has another smart feature, one that makes use of Google's powerful image recognition algorithms. To ensure you always take the best photo, Google's camera now takes multiple shots in quick succession and then picks the image it believes is best. If you disagree with Google, you can flick through them to decide the one you like the most. To top it all off, Google is also offering every Pixel owner unlimited photo and video storage for anything captured with its camera and, yes, that does include 4K video footage too.

8. Hang on, what's this about virtual reality and the Google Pixel?

Ah, so you did pick up on that! Yes, Google has built its Pixel and Pixel XL phones as the first two devices to support its Android-based VR platform Daydream. To complement Daydream, Google has also made a mobile VR headset dubbed the Daydream View to let you dive in and experience VR from your Pixel device. Google states that more Daydream-ready phones will come to market soon, along with third-party Daydream View headsets, but for now if you want to experience Google's take on mobile VR, the Pixel and Pixel XL are the only way.

9. So I'm presuming both the Pixel and Pixel XL run Android 7 Nougat?

You’d be right with that presumption, but Google does have a couple of tricks up its sleeve as this isn’t just any old vanilla Android installation. For the Pixel and Pixel XL, Google has built a customer launcher for Android 7 Nougat with swish circular app icons and Google’s intelligent Assistant built right into its core.

Working in a similar way to Google Now and Now on Tap, Google Assistant is built into the very core of Pixel’s Android build and thus means your phone learns from you, adapting to your preferences and habits. Alongside Assistant, Pixel’s custom Android build includes both Google Duo and Allo as standard, along with automatic Drive and Photos backup. Essentially, this isn’t your standard Android, it’s Android turned up to 11.

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