Gizmo Guy: Google's Pixel: Great battery life, connectivity, and it doesn't explode

The timing of the new Google Pixel phones debut is so apt it seems like an orchestrated plot.

Hitting Verizon Wireless stores Thursday, the Pixels are popping out of the bushes barely a week after Samsung pulled its flagship, overheating Galaxy Note 7 from the market, leaving lovers of Samsung phones and their (Google-crafted) Android operating system feeling vulnerable and open to the option of changing horses mid-stream.

So what are the first review assessments of the Pixel? All over the map. At the extremes, the New York Times' Brian X. Chen has slammed the Pixel as "mediocre" while the Telegraph of London has hailed it "a worthy Android rival to the iPhone."

There isn't even a clear consensus on Google's history in the phone business.

"We've waited a long time for a Google phone," declared that hyped-up Telegraph writer, James Titcomb, ignoring that Google has been marketing phones under the Nexus brand name since January 2010.

Venture Beat's Emil Protalinski called the Pixel "the first phone that Google has designed inside and out." However, other writers have cited HTC as a partner on this project, just as it was on the original Nexus One.

But plow through enough reviews for the Nexus 7, er, 5-inch Google Pixel and 5.5 inch-Pixel XL, and some cream rises to the top. Or curdles.

Get your charge on. If there's one thing everybody likes about the Pixel, it's the 22-26 hour talk/music playing/texting time available between battery charges. That's almost double the 14-hour run time of the iPhone 7 (to Apple's abiding shame) and a few hours more than you get with a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. Reviewers also froth about the superfast recharger option for the Pixel's battery, adding 7 hours of run time after just 15 minutes on the cradle. But no one has asked if that revved-up recharging process might cause the lithium ion battery to fail prematurely. Ask again, in six months.

Screen quality. Those who've merely inspected the Pixel's OLED screens indoors call them color and contrast knockouts, with the Pixel XL's "Quad HD" screen (2560x1440 pixel resolution) making it an especially good partner for the new Daydream View VR goggles and software Google will be pushing shortly. Outdoors under a bright sun, organic light emitting diode screens don't perform as well.

Google assistant. Depending on who and what you ask, Google's newly upgraded, voice-activated Artificial Intelligent tool is either far better than Apple's Siri or a shocking disappointment. Google claims its ability to search for answers and build a profile on users is unmatchable. Wired's Victoria Woollaston writes Google Assistant helps make the Pixel XL a "must buy for Android fans . . . the way [it] uses context to answer questions is quite astonishing." On the other hand, Chen scoffed that Assistant couldn't even find the TV show Westworld.

Camera skills.

At its U.S. introduction, Google pulled out a study that characterized the Pixel's 12.3 MP rear camera and 8 MP front camera the best in the biz. And CNET has affirmed it "takes awesome pictures." But other reviewers who've bothered to compare shots have found cameras with similar specs in the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7 Edge to be of equal or better merit - with the iPhone 7 notably superior on close-ups and color accuracy. Pixel's flash shots scored best.

Ease of setup. Pixel smartphones carry internal software and a "quick switch adapter" cable for easily moving stuff (contacts, messages, calendars, music, photos) from your old phone (iOS or Android) to the newbie. Several reviewers have been impressed by this - and by Google's offer of "unlimited" cloud storage space for your photos and videos on Google Photos. But for safety's sake, a Pixel adopter should always back up everything on your old phone to a computer, first. And be aware that the "smart storage" feature in Google Photos may then remove older backed-up photos and videos "when you run out of space." Sure sounds like a contradiction of the "unlimited" storage promise.

Cheap connections. Google Pixel buyers can jump to the head of the line to sign up for Project Fi, Google's new and dirt-cheap high-speed phone service, previously available only to Nexus phone owners. The alternative keeps the monthly bill at $30 by shifting your calls on-the-fly between Wi-Fi networks (where available) and one of three partner service providers: Sprint, T-Mobile and US Cellular. Chen is high on the option, says the tech works great in his neck of the woods (San Francisco). But our recent attempt to conduct an interview with a Project Fi-connected mobile caller in Manhattan proved a stuttering, frustrating, "can you hear me now?" (no!) disaster.

takiffj@phillynews.com

215-854-5960 @JTakiff

Continue Reading