Every Android phone has come with some compromise built in. Whereas the iPhone owes much of its popularity to Apple's ability to control every last design detail – creating software and hardware that works in perfect harmony – Google has always had to rely on third-party manufacturers to build its phones. Imperfection's gnarled fingers tended to work their way in through the cracks.
The resulting phones often felt fragmented and wonky, as if Android's software and the hardware in which it found itself were striving towards two different goals. Unwanted apps would litter the screens of most devices. Updates would take months to filter down to handsets running customised versions of the operating system. Even the Nexus range, which was as stock as Android phones come, felt one-click removed from the will of its creator.
Pixel is the first phone built by Google, inside and out. And it’s the first Android phone that feels somehow complete, in a way that’s difficult to quantify. The screen is as responsive to touch as the iPhone’s: things pop and slide and swipe and scroll with just the right sense of give and inertia. It’s remarkably light, feels sturdy and looks stunning, its chamfered aluminium body unspoiled by the camera bump that blighted the Nexus 6P.
Both the 5” Pixel and the 5.5” Pixel XL are of identical specs, differing only in screen resolution and battery life. With the XL, you can expect the battery to last a full day of charge with heavy use: mine rarely hits 60 per cent by the time I leave the office, and I typically watch a dozen or so funny dog compilation videos in the afternoon. If you do run dry, just 15 minutes of charging gives you seven hours of battery life.
The camera received the highest ever rating on the industry-accepted DxO benchmark, though you’d struggle to spot much difference between shots taken on this, the S7 and iPhone 7. Post-processing of HDR images has been vastly improved over the Nexus phones, spitting out stunning images in low-light, and can now be shot without the split-second delays that would often cause blurring and artifacts. Pixel owners get infinite online storage of full-resolution photos and 4K videos on Google Drive.
The voice-activated Google Assistant lives behind the home button, popping up to give you news briefings, directions, search results, appointments, music and more. She's also very good at counting puppies.
google assistant is the best thing since computers pic.twitter.com/doYnqFH2PT— Steve Hogarty (@misterbrilliant) October 20, 2016
More conversational and intelligent than Siri, and more useful than Alexa, Google Assistant is touted as the beating heart of the phone. In practice, the assistant is still an imperfect helper, not quite the leap forward in digital servitude being promised, but one that’s developing at breakneck pace. Google are banking hard on being at the forefront of the virtual assistant revolution, promising features such as OpenTable bookings and Uber orders.
This is an incredibly good phone in every respect – camera, battery, speed, software, hardware, the non-explodeyness of it – and almost by definition the greatest Android phone ever made. With Pixel, Google's mobile operating system finally feels comfortable in its own skin.
It also has a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Google Pixel and Pixel XL UK price and release dates:
Pixel 32GB: £599
Pixel 128GB: £699
Pixel XL 32GB: £719
Pixel XL 128GB: £819
Launches 20 October.
Google Pixel and Pixel XL specs:
FHD AMOLED at 441 ppi
2.5D Corning® Gorilla® Glass 4
Display (Pixel XL):
QHD AMOLED at 534ppi
2.5D Corning® Gorilla® Glass 4
Size (Pixel): 143.8 x 69.5 x 7.3 ~ 8.5 mm
Size (Pixel XL): 154.7 x 75.7 x 7.3 ~ 8.5 mm
Battery (Pixel): 2,770 mAh battery
Battery (Pixel XL): 3,450 mAh battery
Design: Aerospace-grade aluminum unibody
Glass shade with 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass 4
Memory: 4 GB LPDDR4 RAM
Storage: 32 or 128GB
Processor: Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 821
2.15Ghz + 1.6Ghz, 64Bit Quad-Core
Large 1.55μm pixels
Phase detection autofocus + laser detection autofocus
1080p @ 30fps, 60fps, 120fps
720p @ 30fps, 60fps, 240fps
4K @ 30fps
Charging: USB Type-C