Last year, Google introduced their new smartphone line: Pixel, and they released the Pixel and Pixel XL at premium prices in hopes of competing in the high-end market. Their phones last year were highly regarded for their unprecedented smoothness for an Android device, and the best camera in any smartphone. They kept the headphone jack, which Apple famously removed, using the line “Headphone Jack, satisfyingly not new” in their advertising. Although they were nice phones, they lacked many flagship features such as water resistance, wireless charging, an SD card slot, small bezels and front facing speakers. The phones were also only sold by Verizon and the Google store, which limited where US customers could purchase the devices. The biggest problem with these devices, however, was Google’s inability to keep them in stock. They were back ordered for essentially the entire year, and it was not because they were selling out. Google did not release sales numbers, but it is estimated they sold between 1 and 2 million devices. This is far fewer devices than any other major phone manufacturer ships in a year, and Google has no excuse for these supply chain issues with the immense power they have as a company.
Fans of the original Pixel were hoping that Google would build upon their first flagship, offering to create a feature rich flagship that had the same advantages as last year’s device. Instead, they received the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. The elephant in the room with these devices was that they lack a headphone jack, just one year after an advertising campaign that leveraged making fun of Apple for the same move. Google includes an adapter in the box; however, replacement adapters cost 20$, double the price of Apple’s adapter. Furthermore, Google does not include earbuds with the phone like Apple does. The common sentiment is that Apple’s products are overpriced, and while this can tend to be true in many cases, Google manages to outdo Apple on this front this time.
The Pixel 2 has huge bezels. They are so huge, in fact, that Google themselves are embarrassed by it. All of their advertising has used the Pixel 2 XL with its somewhat smaller bezels. They only showed one picture of the Pixel 2 during their release event, and this picture had a black background with the screen off to hide the immense size of the bezels compared to typical 2017 flagships. The Pixel 2 XL does look better, and as Google said, the devices have the same features despite their size. This is another obvious jab at Apple, who reserves dual cameras for their bigger phones. The funny thing is, Google charges 200 more dollars for the Pixel 2 XL. 200$ for a device that has a bigger screen, more reasonable bezels, and no additional features.
Apple surprised many when they added an open standard to wirelessly charge the iPhone this year that companies such as Samsung have been using for years. Because of this, wireless chargers are about to get a lot more popular. They will likely start showing up in your local Starbucks and other public locations such as airports. Unfortunately, Google has neglected to add wireless charging to this year’s device and remains behind the curve.
These devices are not all bad, however. They will still offer the smoothest experience Android can offer, and will likely leverage Google’s superb image processing to once again have a top tier camera. Water resistance and front facing speakers were also added. They will also be updated very quickly and will have OS updates guaranteed for 3 years.
The biggest problem the Pixel 2 line is facing is finding a niche in the high-end market. Google is in many ways trying to appeal to iPhone users, with methods such as smooth software and hardware integration and a new push to make the device simpler. They are going for an “it just works” mentality that Apple is famous for. The iPhone X has lots of hype this year, and the 8 and 8+ are still very compelling devices. This makes it hard for Google, as Apple devices are still a level above when it comes to this “simple” mentality. On the other hand, Samsung has the best hardware in the smartphone business and software that is starting to catch up to the competition. Many stock Android fans are finding that Samsung devices are now much more usable than before. This makes it challenging for Google to find their place. I anticipate that the Pixel line will once again not sell well despite being overall good devices, and will await next year to see what Google does with their newly purchased hardware team from HTC.