Google’s Pixel lineup is to that company what Surface is to Microsoft. And Google has a lot of work to do to make its next Pixel handsets a more viable alternative to iPhone.
And yes, I’m aware that my opinion here is somewhat controversial. It seems that the entire Android fan base has decided that Google really nailed it with the first Pixel and Pixel XL. But I am comfortable with my position, which is outlined in my review of the Pixel XL. I have tons of experience with this device, and with virtually every iPhone ever made.
And the Pixel is lacking. Here are a few ideas for fixing it.
Offer bigger displays. One of the strangest things about the Pixel XL, in particular, is how small the 5.5-inch display appears next to other phablets, like the iPhone 7 Plus. My recommendation is to bump it up a notch, to 5.7 inches, matching the screen size of the Nexus 6P. Big screens are a premium feature, and a big area of smartphone growth in an otherwise flattening market.
Improve the camera. The Pixel/Pixel XL camera is superior to that in the iPhone 7 Plus is most respects, but there is still room for improvement. Key among these improvements are optical image stabilization—a very curious omission—and optical zoom capabilities of at least 2X-4X. I also recommend allowing for more aggressive HDR+ settings to match how the Nexus 6P worked.
Stereo speakers. Speaking of curious omissions, the Pixel and Pixel XL shipped in 2016 with a single mono speaker when the previous Nexus 6P had stereo speakers (as does the iPhone 7 Plus). Bring back stereo sound, Google.
Wireless charging. The Pixel does support fast charging, but not wireless charging. Surely it’s time for Google to put its backing behind a wireless charging standard and make this a default feature.
Waterproofing. Ever dunk your phone in a toilet? No? Then you’re lucky. But you shouldn’t have to be lucky, as waterproofing is a feature on most other flagship phones already.
Stop forking Android. Fragmentation is arguably Android’s biggest problem, but Google has made this situation even worse by putting a special Android version on Pixel that has unique Pixel-only features. This is a mistake. Like Surface, Pixel should be aspirational, and that means that everything it offers should be available on other Android devices too. And that includes the Android OS itself.
Improve Google Assistant. To make this personal assistant technology more useful and even necessary, it will need to improve a lot. To be fair, Google is doing that by allowing third parties to improve its intelligence with more skills. This can’t happen quickly enough.
Stop copying the iPhone. The Pixel and Pixel XL are among the blandest smartphones ever launched, and that they so closely ape the style of Apple’s iPhone should be an embarrassment to this company. I don’t have any thoughts on how Google should design its phone, but surely there are other ideas out there. Even Samsung, a perennial and pathological copier, has innovated with curved screens and other unique ideas.
Adjust the pricing. Google simply doesn’t have the pedigree to charge iPhone prices, and yet it does so with Pixel. Since I don’t see the firm stepping back from this particular cliff, I advise at least offering a mid-tier model as well so that non-one-percenters can afford a Pixel too. OK, a price cut would be even better.
To be clear, Google did get some aspects of the original Pixel handsets right. The rear-mounted fingerprint reader works quickly and accurately, and is easy to use. The Pixel displays are bright, contrasty and clear. The battery life seems excellent, and performance has been mostly good over time with little of the normal Android rot. It’s a good phone. It’s just not the best phone.
Maybe the next one will be.