Google Pixel review: Jerry's opinion

The Pixel is one of the phones on a very short list of candidates for a place in my pocket and I've taken my time to decide how much I love or hate it after relying on it for a little while. We don't always get that luxury and each of us has based an opinion too early on something because we had to. Sometimes this job wants to paint you into a corner that way. Most everyone wrote a really glowing review for the product launch — including Alex, who I witnessed bust his ass to get it done on time while on a plane to China. But I didn't have to put my neck out this time.

I agreed with everyone during that initial break-in period where everything is shiny and new. I still mostly do weeks later. The good far outweighs the bad when it comes down to the things I want when I get a new phone. Have a look and see how much you agree or disagree with me. Maybe it can help you decide if you're thinking about getting one.

What I like about the Pixel

Pixel XL

I can be a little picky when it comes to the phone I'm using. First and foremost, I'll only use a phone from a company with a data privacy policy that is clear and concise. I don't necessarily have to agree with everything in it, but I do need to know exactly what is going to be done and what isn't when it comes to my information. Because someone is going to ask, Google is one of those companies, along with BlackBerry and Apple and HTC. They're not the only companies I think are being (mostly) honest, and I take the time to read every link to every policy made available when I sign into a phone or install software.

Knowing that Google sucks every bit of data they can out of my personal life isn't something I particularly like, but they tell me what they will do with every byte of it instead of telling me what they can do, like some other big companies. I know what you can do, Microsoft. I'd rather know exactly what you will do. If you're the type of person who doesn't care about any of this, at least understand that by having people who care this much makes it better for the people who don't. With the Pixel, I know exactly what data is collected, how it is collected, what is going to be done with it, and who else is going to get any of it.

I carry a phone to talk to other people so all the ways to do it have to be easy and dependable.

I also want a phone that does a few important things well instead of a long list of things that are tacked on and "sort of" work. If you want your phone to be a TV remote or the software to make animated clips from videos, that's cool. Someone makes one for you and that is the one you should buy. For me, I want to be able to effectively and efficiently "talk" to people. Sometimes, that means an actual phone call, but messaging and networking and all other ways to communicate have to work as advertised. Whenever you hear me say the Pixel is Google's iPhone, this is what I mean. All the basics are excellent. Anything that would keep them from being excellent is left out.

Part of the reason is because I can carry a laptop or most any other gadget everywhere I go — not everything about being in a wheelchair sucks and I throw a laptop bag over the rear handles whenever I leave the house. Besides making a phone call or sending a message, there isn't anything a phone can do better than a good Chromebook. Including running apps from Google Play. The more stuff a company puts between me and the things I need a phone to do, the less appealing it is. We all have a threshold for excessive crap, and mine is just really low.

Google Daydream

I also like it when things work a little better than advertised. If a phone does something stupid like take too long to open the keyboard or double type the first letter of every word Or Type Every Sentence Like This, I'm not going to use it. The same thing goes if I try to accept a phone call and things don't work exactly as planned. I don't care what body part I can scan or how many different color schemes I can download or even what doodads I can swap and replace to add things the people making it was too cheap to include from the beginning. I want to use it as intended. That's what turned me on to the Nexus One and why I kept buying replacements as I ruined them. It's also what made me stop using the Nexus 5X after the first couple of hours and keep it in a drawer until it was fixed. I realize I'm in the minority here because we're on a website that people searched for to read and talk about phones and the things they can do. That doesn't make it any less important to me.

Not everyone hates a bezel that is just a bezel.

Another thing that I want to see is a phone that's easy to use, and I don't mean the software. I want to be able to do everything with the phone in my right hand and don't want to have to pay attention to how I do any of it because there isn't enough to hold onto. While most people groaned about the Pixel's bezels, I was really glad that someone besides Apple built a phone with somewhere to hold that won't trigger anything or hit any controls. I have big thick middle-aged man hands that aren't as nimble as they used to be and I don't want my phone to do stuff by accident every time I wrap my paws around it.

A smaller size helps, too, which is why I favor the regular Pixel instead of the bigger model. To me, the only way the business end of the Pixel could be better is by adding a trackball. Yes, I'm kidding. My thumb would bump a damn trackball every time I grabbed the phone and I would end up opening apps or randomly buying stuff from Google Play. This is also why I'm glad the new tap to wake feature is something you can turn off. Now please put the power button back on the top.

I don't want my phone to do stuff by accident every time I wrap my paws around it.

It helps that the phone hardware isn't terrible, too. The display on both the regular Pixel and the XL are among the best out there, where the only discernible difference comes from things that can measure what our eyes are incapable of seeing. The internal hardware is about five levels of overkill, but it does make things future-proof. It's also probably not that much overkill if you start doing things like running Daydream apps or GameBoy Color emulators — both of which you can do without adversely affecting the other stuff the Pixel does right.

The fingerprint scanner is one of the best in the business, as is the storage controller and the memory modules and just about everything else. When combined with software optimized for the device itself from the people who are writing it in the first place, you get unmatched performance in the ways that give the Pixel the best user experience of any Android phone. If an app takes 500 milliseconds longer to open because other apps didn't have to be closed in the background, that's a win for the person using those apps. One of those things you can actually see and tell the difference, the other makes for 50,000 YouTube views.

What I don't like about the Pixel

Google Pixel

So, yeah. The Pixel is the one phone that covers the most of my wants and needs list. But not all of it.

My list will again be different than yours. If all of us wanted the same things in a phone Apple would make one that did them and we would all have one. That doesn't mean my wants are more important than yours unless you are me and in that case only I matter.

Enough with the glass/metal/plastic/wireless charging shell game. Like everyone else, I hated the way the Galaxy S3/Nexus S was built. Not because it was plastic, but because it was shitty plastic and the worst thing about the best Android phone thus far. LG made some incredibly well-built phones out of plastic. So did HTC. And nobody ever said they didn't like the way any Nokia Lumia phone feels. You don't have to use glass or metal or a combination of both to make a phone that doesn't feel cheap. When the material a company uses to make the back of a phone means they can't include wireless charging — something Google were big cheerleaders for just a few years ago — it's done wrong in my opinion. And you probably wouldn't have to use a big glass window on the back for radio reception, either.

Google told me wireless charging was the bee's knees and then took it away without a good explanation why.

I also don't much like the fact that I only have one choice from Google. OK, two if you count size. This isn't about the Pixel per se, but making the Pixel phone didn't force Google to stop making the Nexus phone. I'm completely happy with the Pixel as the Nexus replacement and probably would favor it over an experience without the added "bloatware" features from a new Nexus proper. But I still would have bought both and know more people would buy something from Google if they also offered the best $400 Android phone. Google gave that market away — something tells me that was a calculated decision — so the Axons and OnePluses of the world can fight over it. Choice of products means two things — consumers can easier find something they like and can afford, and it's harder for a business to make money when there are more choices. Guess which one of those I care about?

Google "forgot" to offer a 256GB version. No. I don't need and wouldn't buy one (I went with 32GB and that will be more than enough for me) but your main competitor in the OH-MY-GOD-THIS-THING-IS-A-THOUSAND-BUCKS market offers one. I also don't care about SD cards and can't wait for the next best thing so those little floppy disks can die in a fire. This time, let's make sure to use a more secure file system. too. But Google not supporting SD cards on their products is definitely something to consider for a lot of people and I say those in the no SD card means no sale department are just as right as I am and shouldn't buy any Google products. But that isn't keeping Google from offering a Pixel with 256GB of storage. It isn't going to be popular, but there is a market and Google isn't serving it.

I like the Pixel. A lot.

Google Pixel

There are also things that are good or bad to plenty of other folks that aren't high on my list when it comes to buying a phone. I don't care about the words water-resistant and think it's all a scam when companies sell phones labeled as such but tell you water damage isn't covered under warranty. The camera is impressive (especially the stabilization software), but I was happy with the Nexus 6 camera and almost anything from Samsung or LG in the past 3 years has a camera that satisfies my needs.

The Nexus program was the Pixel beta test. Everything passed.

Any product is going to be the same way and will suit some people and not suit others. Lately, the phones from Google have been the best choice for me. The Pixel takes that a step further by adding a layer of polish to it. The Google's hardware folks could have said that we shouldn't point our phones directly at a bright light instead of telling us that they're going to fix it the best they can. Experimental features could have been left in the operating system that didn't work very well. We would have accepted this for a Nexus phone because that is the reputation they have always had.

Not having to accept it on the Pixel makes it a better phone for me. It might not be as fun, but I trust that it will do what I need without acting stupid about it. I just wish someone made a phone to have fun with, too, because the Nexus 6P isn't going to last forever.

I can't tell you that this is the phone for you. I can tell you it's a good fit for me and tell you why alongside the proper (and freaking excellent) reviews that we also have here on AC for phones. Hopefully, this helps you know how things could work for you.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.