Google Pixel review

A breath of fresh Google air in a world of Android over-complication

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The Google Pixel is lovely to use. It’s fast, intuitive and can handle anything you throw at it. 

That's down to the powerful Snapdragon 821 processor and 4GB of RAM, providing more power than you'll probably ever need from your smartphone, but also the slick animations Google has implemented in the software to ensure everything flows before your very eyes.

The Pixel runs the very latest software from Google – Android 7.1 Nougat and you can already get the 7.1.2 upgrade – and you get it exactly how the search giant wants it to be seen. 

That’s the big plus point for Google, and for many fans of Android, as producing its own-brand devices mean there’s no manufacturer trying to put its own stamp on the operating system. 

So you get a clean, fuss-free interface – and with the latest Android update Google has completely removed the traditional app drawer. Instead you get five app icons in the tray at the bottom of the screen (rather than four flanking a central app drawer button), with access to all your apps just a swipe-up away. 

This takes a little getting used to, and during our first couple of days with the Pixel we were constantly hitting the Gmail app (where the traditional app drawer icon was); but once the muscle memory has been reprogrammed the swipe-up action feels natural – and, more importantly, faster.

Something else Google has tweaked are the app icons, with its own applications sporting round images, while others you download from the Play Store will take the shape of their icon – WhatsApp is a speech bubble for example, while the NFL and Premier League apps keep the square look.

Long-press on an app icon and you may find the Pixel pops up a few quick links for you. It’s a similar feature to 3D Touch on the newer iPhone models, but where those phones use a pressure-sensitive display, the Pixel’s pop-ups are triggered just by holding on the icon a little longer.

Performing this action on Maps, for example, can jump you straight into navigation for your saved locations (work or home, for example), while for the camera app it brings up video and selfie shortcuts. 

We didn’t find ourselves using these too much, but they are handy every now and then.

Android 8.0 Oreo features

Android Oreo has landed for the original Google Pixel and with it, you'll find several new features at your fingertips.

What's new? Picture-in-picture lets you watch minimized videos while exploring other parts of your phone including the home screen and contextual copy-and-paste lets you easily select whole addresses, emails and phone numbers.

You're also going to see notification dots, new emoji, faster boot times and better audio performance with Android Oreo on Google Pixel. Best of all, Google promises that we'll see even better battery life and faster boot speeds with the update.

More recently with the 8.1 update, Google has brought AR Stickers to the Pixel. It's super fun and if you want to learn more about it, take a look at our piece on the matter.

The Pixel will receive the update to Android P, but this will be its last major upgrade.

Music, movies and gaming

  • Great screen for movies and gaming
  • Built-in speaker not great, but there is a headphone jack

With a heap of power under the hood and a decent display, the Google Pixel is nicely set up for all your music, movies and gaming requirements.

Play Music is the place for music playback (unless you head to the Play Store and download something like Spotify), and as well as accessing any tracks you've put on the Pixel from your personal collection, it also gives you access to Google’s own pay-monthly streaming service.

If you fancy owning your music you can also nip to the Play Store, which has an extensive catalog of albums and singles available for purchase and download.

As we’ve mentioned earlier in this review the Google Pixel has a single speaker on its base, and this kicks out a reasonable volume. Clarity is passable, but it’s not going to wow people at a house party, and you’ll want to plug it into some speakers if you want to get people on the dance floor.

At least that’s easy to do, thanks to the 3.5mm headphone jack on the top of the phone – Google hasn’t followed in Motorola’s and Apple’s footsteps and ditched it just yet. Music playback via a pair of headphones is more than good enough. 

The speaker does hold its own when you want to listen to music in quieter environments, or show your buddy the latest YouTube craze. There's no distortion and it won't offend your ear, but as with all phones you're not going to get booming bass.

Fire up a movie or TV show and the 5-inch AMOLED display brings the action to life with vivid colors and smooth playback. 

Your own videos will be found in the Google Photos app, while any purchases or rentals from the Play Store are stored in Play Movies.

The Pixel is comfortable to hold for extended periods of viewing, and it doesn’t get too warm during movie marathons or intensive gaming sessions. 

Speaking of gaming, this is another area where the Pixel excels, munching through any game you chuck at it. The graphically-intensive Real Racing 3, for example, runs fluidly on the Pixel, with swift load times across the board.

Performance and benchmarks

  • Super-slick performance all round
  • App multi-tasking handled with ease

You’ll already have a good idea of just how strong the Google Pixel's performance is, and it’s no surprise that it scored well in our benchmark test. 

We ran Geekbench 4 on the Pixel, and it averaged a multi-core score of 4,029. That pretty much matches the equally powered Pixel XL, which clocked an average of 4,077 in the same test.

While those are strong figures it still puts the Pixel behind the iPhone 7 (5,311) and Galaxy S7 (6,500) – although in day-to-day use you’re unlikely to notice. 

The Pixel also copes well when you have multiple apps open in the background, and it’s quick and easy to skip between them. A double tap of the multi-tasking button (that’s the square icon in the nav bar) will see you instantly return to the previous app you were viewing.

Here's how the Google Pixel did in our high-intensity phone speed test

It all makes for an effortless user experience – and it’s that simplicity and ease of use that Google has improved hugely in the most recent Android updates.

John McCann
Global Managing Editor

John joined TechRadar over a decade ago as Staff Writer for Phones, and over the years has built up a vast knowledge of the tech industry. He's interviewed CEOs from some of the world's biggest tech firms, visited their HQs and has appeared on live TV and radio, including Sky News, BBC News, BBC World News, Al Jazeera, LBC and BBC Radio 4. Originally specializing in phones, tablets and wearables, John is now TechRadar's resident automotive expert, reviewing the latest and greatest EVs and PHEVs on the market. John also looks after the day-to-day running of the site.