Google Pixel Review - Performance and Software Review

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Google Pixel – Performance

The Google Pixel is a seriously fast phone, probably the snappiest Android handset on the market for general use – and even creeping up on the iPhone 7.

Part of this is clearly down to the combination of the Snapdragon 821 processor and 4GB of RAM, but the real success here is a result of how it’s all been optimised.

The Samsung Galaxy S7 is fast, as is the HTC 10 and OnePlus 3 with its 6GB of RAM, but random slowdown and strange behaviour is still commonplace in all those handsets. This isn’t the case with the Google Pixel: from opening apps, to scrolling through Chrome and playing games, it just feels right. It feels like it should; it feels like an iPhone.

It’s just another nail in the coffin of the traditional benchmark tool, as in most areas it falls behind the competition it actually bests. In Geekbench 4 its 4,079 multi-core score falls short of the Samsung Galaxy S7’s 5,481, while in 3D Mark’s IceStorm Unlimited the Pixel’s 27,453 can’t match the iPhone 7’s 37,349.

Related: Best Android Phones
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Gaming performance is great, although intensive titles still load up quicker on the iPhone 7 initially. Once you’re in the game you won’t notice the difference, with loading times thereafter speeding up and no sign of any dropped frames.

Wi-Fi performance seems a little weaker than the larger Pixel XL model, but phone call and microphone quality remains excellent. The downward-firing speaker is loud and isn’t at all bad considering its meagre size, but its position means it’s easily blocked when you’re watching YouTube videos.

The base storage option is 32GB, but 128GB is also available. It would have been better had Google started the range at 64GB, but I assume it wants you to pay a premium – and you’re less likely to do that with 64GB. Since there’s no expandable storage, you’ll have to choose wisely.

Following a few weeks of use I have 9GB free on my 32GB model, which I can see filling up quickly. However, an extra £100 for 128GB is still very expensive.

Google Pixel – Software

If the Pixel’s hardware isn’t much to get excited about, then the software certainly is. This is Android at its simplest and best, its fastest and most efficient.

It seems that having complete control over the hardware and software has rid Android of so many of the niggles I’ve had with it over the past few years. Although it still falls slightly short of iPhone and iOS levels of speed, it comes mightily close.

A speedy UI would be nothing without a functional one, but Google ticks the right boxes here too. Android 7.1 Nougat is overlaid with the Pixel Launcher, which adds in a swipe gesture to bring up the app drawer and slightly retooled icons. The biggest addition is the Google Assistant, which takes the place of Now on Tap and Google Now.

Related: iOS 10 review
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Google Assistant is to Android what Siri is to iOS; a voice assistant that’s supposed to make doing stuff easier and quicker. It can set alarms, play a song straight from Spotify, ring your mum – but it’s the contextual conversation stuff that sets it apart.

Once you’ve asked Siri a question then that’s it, but with Google Assistant you can follow it up and it will intelligently understand that you’re still talking about the same thing. If you ask “What’s the weather today”, you can then say “how about tomorrow?” and it will know that you’re still talking about the weather.

I find that Google Assistant is much better at grasping what I’m trying to say than Apple Siri and I don’t have to be quite so specific with my words. For speed, however, both are on a par.

There are plenty of limitations, too, and it isn’t perfect; it’s still prone to randomly throwing up Google search results when it can’t work out a proper answer.

But as a first attempt, it’s pretty good. And I suspect things will only get better once Google Home is released and the idea of the Assistant becomes more ubiquitous.

Now on Tap’s screen search function is present here and there’s still the left panel on the homescreen that pulls in lots of useful information from your emails and browsing history.

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Google also now builds proper customer support into the phone – for free – which will point you either towards a chat-based service or put you through to someone on the phone. Considering there aren’t any physical Google Stores, it’s nice to have some form of fallback in the event that something goes wrong.

A clever gesture, plucked from phones such as Huawei and Honor, lets you swipe on the fingerprint scanner to pull down the notification panel, but it would be nice if you could scroll through webpages in the same manner.

There’s also a great, and slightly addictive, wallpaper app that pulls lots of gorgeous backgrounds from 500px and Google Earth and can be set to cycle through them each day. I’ve probably changed my wallpaper 9 billion times since I set this phone up, and I can’t see it stopping any time soon.

And then you get all the other benefits of Android 7 Nougat. The split-screen software smarts are a little useless on the small screen, but they’re present nevertheless, and improvements to Doze improve standby times.

You’ll also be first in line to pick up Android O when it hits next year.