Mobility

Google Pixel phone: The smart person's guide

Our comprehensive guide covers the origin of the Google Pixel phone, its specifications and features, and what it means for Google's mobile strategy.

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Image: James Martin/CNET

The launch of the Google Pixel phone marked a decided shift in the company's mobile strategy. Gone are the days of the co-branded Nexus devices produced by companies like LG, Huawei, and Samsung—instead, Google now owns all the branding as well as the entire design and product cycle (even though the Pixel phone was actually manufactured by HTC). The Pixel paves the way for the kinds of tightly-integrated, AI-powered hardware that the company wants to deliver.

To help would-be buyers, business leaders, and IT professionals better understand the features of the Pixel phone and its place in the overall smartphone market, we've put together the most important details and resources in this smart person's guide. This is a "living" article that will be updated and refreshed as new, relevant information becomes public.

Editor's note on October 5, 2017: Check out our Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL guide.

SEE: All of TechRepublic's smart person's guides

Executive summary (TL;DR)

What it is: Google's Pixel Phone is the first smartphone to feature its AI-powered Google Assistant, and the first phone declared Daydream-ready for Google's VR platform. It comes in two versions: the 5-inch Pixel and the 5.5-inch Pixel XL

Why it matters: The Google Pixel phone is a new direction for Google, as it controlled more of the design process, and it offers some unique features and specs that could make it a top contender among flagship smartphones.

Who does this affect: Consumers heavily invested in the Google ecosystem should consider the possibility of purchasing this phone, while IT leaders must account for how its presence could affect their organization.

When is this happening: Google first began releasing smartphones as part of its Nexus line in 2010. The Pixel phone was officially announced on October 4, 2016 and arrived in stores on October 20, 2016.

How to take advantage of Google Pixel phone: The Pixel phone is available for purchase on Google's online store, but certain models like the XL can be difficult to find.

What it is

In January 2010, Google released the first Nexus phone as a partnership with HTC. Being that Android, Google's mobile operating system (OS), is open source, OEMs and other manufacturers had a field day adding (often unnecessary) modifications and features—often maligned as bloatware. The Nexus program came about as a way to offer a clean version of Android, as Google intended it—sometimes called "pure Android."

Over the years, Google released a slew of Nexus devices—including smartphones, tablets, and even Android TV products. Since these came straight from Google, they were often the first to receive important OS and security updates, and often bypassed any carrier or vendor delays in certifying the software.

In October 2016, Google announced the Pixel phone, as a departure from the Nexus branding. The phone was developed in Google's hardware group, led by Rick Osterloh. The key component of the Pixel phone is Google Assistant, an AI assistant that has grown out of Google Now and was exclusive to the Pixel to start, but has since come to other smartphones. It also includes a fast charging feature that will give users seven hours of battery life after only 15 minutes of charging.

The phone is available in two versions: the 5-inch Pixel, and the 5.5-inch Pixel XL. Here the features and specifications for both models.

Pixel (5")

  • Resolution: 1920 x 1080 pixels
  • Pixel density: 441 ppi
  • Dimensions (inches): 5.66 x 2.74 x 0.34
  • Dimensions (millimeters): 143.84 x 69.54 x 8.58
  • Weight: 5.04 oz, or 143 grams
  • OS: Android 7.1 Nougat
  • Rear camera: 12.3 MP
  • Front camera: 8 MP
  • Video: 4K capture available
  • Processor: 2.15GHz + 1.6GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 821
  • Storage: 32GB or 128GB
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Expandable storage: N/A
  • Battery: 2770mAh
  • Fingerprint sensor: Back cover
  • Connector: USB-C
  • Price: $649 (32GB); $749 (128GB)

Pixel XL (5.5")

  • Resolution: 2560 x 1440 pixels
  • Pixel density: 4534 ppi
  • Dimensions (inches): 6.09 x 2.98 x 0.34
  • Dimensions (millimeters): 154.72 x 75.74 x 8.58
  • Weight: 5.92 oz, or 168 grams
  • OS: Android 7.1 Nougat
  • Rear camera: 12.3 MP
  • Front camera: 8 MP
  • Video: 4K capture available
  • Processor: 2.15GHz + 1.6GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 821
  • Storage: 32GB or 128GB
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Expandable storage: N/A
  • Battery: 3450mAh
  • Fingerprint sensor: Back cover
  • Connector: USB-C
  • Price: $769 (32GB); $869 (128GB)

Both phone sizes are available in three colors: Very Silver, Quite Black, and a limited edition color called Really Blue, which is only available with 32GB of storage. However, the Really Blue model sold out a few minutes after the initial announcement and is still difficult to get ahold of.

Additional resources:

Why it matters

The first thing to note about the Pixel phone is its name—Google has officially dropped its flagship Nexus branding. That's important because, in dropping the co-branding of its pure Android devices, Google is making a statement that it is ready to approach mobile in its own way, and that path is lit by artificial intelligence (AI).

In Google's case, AI means its intelligent Google Assistant, first debuted at the 2016 Google I/O developer conference. Google is well aware that any advances in technologies around intelligent chat and the connected home will be centered around the smartphone. So, by creating a device that has AI-powered hardware, Google is creating a daily tool that could help empower more contextual AI services, but also will bolster its effort with Google Home and its chat app, Allo.

In addition to its dedication to AI, Pixel is also the linchpin for Google's efforts in virtual reality. At the same event where the Pixel phone was announced, Google also debuted its Daydream View VR headset. At launch, the Pixel phone was the only Android device that was "Daydream-ready," meaning that it was optimized to work with the Daydream View headset.

With an impressive feature set, the Pixel phone could also be a major competitor to other premium smartphones from companies like Apple or Samsung. It even has a camera that Google's Brian Rakowski said is the "best smartphone camera anyone has ever made" based on the DxOMark Mobile score of 89 it received. But, with a similarly high price point, Google will need to sell users on the features first.

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Who does this affect?

For starters, this affects Android devotees and iPhone users (and Windows Phone or BlackBerry holdouts) who may be looking to make a switch. The device itself has all the features of a premium smartphone, and the camera will be a major draw to smartphone photographers. For iPhone users, it offers a convenient adapter and process to switch over your most important content.

It also has some features and integrations that will be of interest to next-generation technology fans as well. The Google Home integration is key for those interested in the smart home experience, and the Daydream VR support will make the Pixel phone a good option for users who want to explore that technology as well.

The Pixel phone could also be a good option for new smartphone users, or small business users, as it includes 24/7 support via chat or a phone call.

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When is this happening?

The Google Pixel brand has been around for quite some time, starting with the Chromebook Pixel in 2013, leading to another Chromebook Pixel and the Pixel C Android tablet in 2015. However, the Pixel phone was announced on October 4, 2016 at a Google event in San Francisco. That same day, preorders opened for the smartphone, and the limited edition blue model sold out almost immediately. The device hit stores on October 20, 2016, and is still available from Google's online store and other retailers.

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How to take advantage of Google Pixel phone

If you want to get your hands on the latest Google flagship phone, there are two ways to go about it. First, if you want a device that is tied to a carrier, Verizon is your only option. You can order the phone from Verizon here and you can purchase it in Verizon stores now.

A second option is to order an unlocked Pixel phone directly from the Google Play Store, which you can do here, and then use it with a SIM card on the network of your choice. It is also compatible with Google's wireless service, Google Fi. Both purchasing options allow for purchasing the device outright, or financing it over the course of 24 months.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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