Google Pixel phone: A cheat sheet

This comprehensive guide covers the Google Pixel phone’s specifications and features. Also, read about hardware flaws that resulted in a settlement for owners of the original Pixel.

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 cheat sheet. This article, which was first published on Oct. 6, 2016, 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.

Executive summary (TL;DR)

What is the Google Pixel? 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 does the Google Pixel matter? 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 is the target market for the Google Pixel? 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 was the Google Pixel released? 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 can I get a Google Pixel phone? The first-generation Pixel and Pixel XL have been discontinued, but can be found on secondhand marketplaces.

SEE: All of TechRepublic’s cheat sheets and smart person’s guides

What is Google Pixel?

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 ex-Motorola senior vice president 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 are 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 was only available with 32GB of storage. Google removed the Pixel and Pixel XL from the Google Store in April 2018. The original Pixel and Pixel XL have been superseded by the Pixel 2 and 2 XL, Pixel 3 and 3 XL, as well as the Pixel 3a and 3a XL, as a budget option.

Additional resources:

Why does the Google Pixel matter?

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.

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.

SEE: Special report: How 5G will transform business (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

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.

Additional resources:

Who is the target market for the Google Pixel?

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.

SEE: Android 9 Pie is available now on Google Pixel phones (CNET)

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. As a Google product, the Pixel is among the first phones to receive security updates and new versions of Android. The Google Pixel and Pixel XL launched with Android 7.1 (Nougat), and received updates to
Android 8 (Oreo)
and Android 9 (Pie). The first-generation Pixel is supported in the Beta program for Android Q, making it likely that it will receive one final Android version update.

Additional resources:

When was the Google Pixel released?

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 direct sales from Google ended in April 2018.

Additional resources:

How can I get a Google Pixel phone?

The first-generation Google Pixel has reached end-of-life, making your options for purchase limited to secondhand markets, such as eBay or Swappa. Given that the first-generation Pixel is on the latest version of Android, it is a mostly solid option (see below) for a budget Android smartphone.

SEE: Smartphones and Mobile Tech: More must-read coverage (TechRepublic on Flipboard)

If you are looking for a 100% Google “pure Android” experience, the 
Pixel 3 and 3 XL
is the best bet for flagship devices, while the 
Pixel 3a and 3a XL
are effective budget options if you need a new smartphone, but don’t want to make a major purchase before the widespread availability of 5G capable smartphones.

Additional resources:

How do I file a settlement claim for a faulty Google Pixel?

Issues with faulty microphones in the first-generation Pixel and Pixel XL led to a class-action lawsuit, which Google settled to the tune of $7.25 million. Owners of first-generation Pixel and Pixel XL phones manufactured before January 4, 2019 can apply with the claims administrator to receive a refund. Four settlement categories exist: Those who experienced multiple audio defects are eligible for up to a $500 refund, while users who experienced one defect can receive up to $350. Those who did not experience defects but owned a device manufactured before January 4, 2017 can be paid up to $20. Users who received a third-party insurance payment for audio issues will be judged on an individual basis. 

Claims are limited to users living in the US, and are excluded if they received a replacement Pixel manufactured after January 3, 2017, or a refurbished model after June 5, 2017.

Claims must be filed by October 7, 2019.

Additional resources:

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