Should You Buy Google’s New Pixel Phone?

We've reached Peak Smartphone, and that's OK

October 4, 2016 9:00 am

Today’s “huge” annoucment from Google was the introduction of two new phones, the Pixel and Pixel XL.

Their best feature? Google will claim it’s the phone’s integration with Google Assistant, sort of a revved up Siri that can handle more difficult tasks.

We say it’s this: The idea that the phone will contain “little-to-no wireless carrier modifications,” as Gizmodo notes. Basically, you’ll be getting a pure Android experience, unencumbered by whatever your phone provider wants to tack on or modify. (Given that the Pixel is exclusive to Verizon is beside the point. We think it’s like Apple originally was with AT&T … they’ll branch out to other carriers eventually).

The Pixel’s other selling points — fingerprint reader on the back, improved processor, an unproven claim of it being the “best camera phone ever made” — are basically tweaks of already-existing technology.

And keeping the headphone jack while sticking to a less-popular USB-C charger? Not going to sway people one way or the other.

Basically, Pixel is a more premium Nexus, meaning it’s similar to an HTC phone and looks a lot like an iPhone.

Google is trumpeting the fact that you’ll be able to attach your old iPhone to your Pixel via an included dongle and transfer all your contacts, music and photos. But why bother?  We’re in the “six of one, half a dozen of the other” phase of smartphones. We’re evening out on sizes, shapes, colors, memory, processing speed and cost. If Google’s selling point is how smooth it’s going to run (like, say, an iPhone) and Apple’s selling point is an improved camera (that Android users already have), you’re left with a software war.

And that’s fine. As someone who’s been using a perfectly-functioning iPhone 6 for two years, I’ve yet to hear of an option that would make me switch or upgrade… (That said, I’m doing it anyway, at great cost, but due to carrier issues, not hardware.) 

Google’s other announcements today included a smart speaker called Google Home that’s cheaper than Amazon’s Echo (and “looks like a beer” according to one editor here), a smartphone-powered Daydream View VR headset coming in November, a 4k Chromecast Ultra and a cylindrical Google WiFi router.

Basically, it all amounts to a “box of thing,” which makes sense if you watch the two great minutes of new Silicon Valley footage that opened the Google keynote address. 

Meaning: Nothing revolutionary. The next revolution? Price. The Pixel is $649 unlocked, the same price as the iPhone 7.

But take it from someone who’s about to spend $100 per month to get an iPhone 7 Plus — and be locked in for two years: the truly radical thing to do is consider a cheaper brand or an earlier model of a phone you like.

You won’t notice much difference, except in your wallet.

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