We are just a day and a bit away from this year’s Google keynote where the company will unveil the much-awaited second-generation Pixel smartphone line-up. It is expected that there will be an updated design language, new hardware, perhaps even pander to the new-found fascination for 18:9 aspect ratio displays and we might even see some exclusive Android features on the new Pixel phones. Yet this may be as good a time as any to revisit the one-year journey of the first-generation Pixel phones, released around the same time last year.
The Pixel and Pixel XL, specifically the latter, really caught the attention of the consumers. After all, there was a passing of the baton, and the Pixel phones were replacing the Nexus line-up. What did not change was the promise of a clean Android experience, and the Pixel exclusively got the goodness of the artificial intelligence-powered Google Assistant, at least initially.
One year down the line, it is perhaps only natural that the specifications of the Pixel phones look a bit out of date, and the fancier minimum bezel design makes these phones look bigger than usual. The Pixel phones don’t have water-resistance capabilities, there was no wireless charging integrated back then and it has a 3.5mm headphone jack (oh dear, sacrilege?). But this doesn’t tell the whole tale. Yes, it doesn’t have the newest hardware that its rivals may have now, but having tested all the Android flagship and the flagship killer phones over the past year, it’s safe to say that the Pixel and Pixel XL are among the few phones that already run the latest Android Oreo operating system (the Sony Xperia XZ1 is a rare example among the rest). The advantages of the unaltered and the newest software on-board means that you perhaps still end up with slicker performance than the newer flagships that run perhaps more powerful processors but equally clunky customized interfaces over Android.
No matter how powerful an Android phone you buy, there is always the chance that additional pieces of software and the tweaks that a phone-maker (also known as OEM) has done will speed up the performance deterioration over time. The phone will start to feel sluggish, apps will take longer to load, there will be stutters and worse still, some apps may start to crash inexplicably. Not so, in the world of the Pixel phones. One year, and many promised software updates later, the Pixel phones still run as smooth as 11 months ago.
Battery life has in fact improved ever so slightly with the even more potent background task killing with Android Oreo, and the Pixel will easily get through a day of use, while the larger Pixel XL also manages a day and a few more hours without you stressing about the low battery notification on the way home after work.
Dual cameras have become very popular in smartphones, particularly the flagship phones. However, the Pixel with its single 12-megapixel camera setup matches (and surpasses many of) the newer Android phones with absolute ease. The magic lies in the image processing algorithms that hardly any Android phone since then has been able to replicate—yes, the newer optics sometimes leave the Pixel phones behind in one-on-one photo comparisons, but it is a jolly creditable thing that a one-year-old phone can still hang around with the likes of the Sony Xperia XZ Premium, the HTC U11, the LG G6 and the OnePlus 5 in terms of photography prowess.
The Pixel phones also “just works", and perhaps the closest an Android phone has managed to come to the Apple iPhone. We can only expect that the supposed Pixel 2 and the Pixel XL2 will only move the goalposts further ahead for other Android phones to follow.