Google gets serious about hardware with its Pixel phone

— 1:09 PM on October 4, 2016

If you've been following along Google's history of hardware, you could probably describe it as "checkered." The colorful company has made excellent devices like some Nexus tablets and phones, but some of its other efforts have been a little hit-or-miss. Google now claims to be "in it for the long run" and getting serious about the entire hardware and software stack. The first device born from this newfound focus is the Pixel phone.

The Pixel is made out of an aluminum unibody shell coupled with a partial glass back in the fingerprint scanner area. The handset comes in regular 5" and 5.5" "Pixel XL" sizes, both sharing the same hardware specs. The Pixel's brain is a Snapdragon 821 SoC, which packs a quad-core processor and an Adreno 530 GPU, all accompanied by 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM. The CPU's four cores are split into two groups: two "big" units clocked at 2.15 GHz, and two "small" cores running at 1.6 GHz. Main storage comes in two flavors, 32GB and 128GB. Wireless connectivity is provided by an 802.11ac 2x2 MIMO adapter and Bluetooth 4.2.

Perhaps taking a page from Apple's photography-focused iPhone 7 presentation, Google made bold claims about the camera inside the Pixel phone. The back snapper is a 12.3-MP unit with an f/2 aperture and 1.55-µm pixels. Those figures don't sound too impressive on paper, but according to Google, DxOMark rated the Pixel's camera with a score of 89 points, making it the best-rated phone camera the site has seen so far. There's no annoying camera bump on the phone's back, too.

Google says its software engineers had a hand in the Pixel's camera performance. The company demoed an impressive-looking video stabilization feature that hooks into the gyroscope and automatically compensates for the handset's motion. The camera also takes "HDR+" photos, composed from multiple short exposures and combined on a per-pixel basis. Google says this technique should result in particularly good-looking shots in low-light situations.

The Pixel camera app also underwent some optimizations. Google claims there's zero shutter lag, and that the overall capture time is the shortest among smartphone cameras. Pixel phone owners also get free unlimited cloud storage for photos and videos at their original resolution. It's a shame that Google isn't a truly courageous company, though—the presence of a 3.5-mm headphone jack in the Pixel proves that fact.

The Pixel phone offers other niceties. The quick-charging battery comes in either 2,770 mAh or 3,450 mAh capacities depending on phone size. Google says that 15 minutes' worth of juicing up the phone is good enough for seven hours of usage. The phone includes a 24/7 support application with screen sharing, too. Google also includes an adapter cable with the Pixel that lets owners bring over data from their older Android or iOS devices with only a few taps.

The handset can be preordered right away in the US, Australia, Canada, Germany, and U.K. For brick-and-mortar distribution in the U.S., Google has a partnership with Verizon. The unlocked Pixel goes for $649 with 32GB of storage, or $749 with 128GB. Its bigger brother, the Pixel XL, sells for $769 in its 32GB incarnation, or $869 for the 128GB version. Buyers get the option of "Quite Black," "Very Silver," and limited-edition "Really Blue" finishes. Google is bundling a Daydream VR headset with all Pixel preorders.

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