Fstoppers Reviews the Google Pixel, a True iPhone Killer

Fstoppers Reviews the Google Pixel, a True iPhone Killer

Apple lovers around the world, including myself, now have some serious reason to leave behind their beloved iPhone they have for the new Google Pixel. Introduced back in October the phone was welcomed with huge praise boasting some incredible specs. Running their latest Android 7.1 along with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 paired with 4GB of RAM and both a 5 inch and 5.5 inch display option. Let's dig into why this might just replace your iPhone and finally bring you to the dark side, Android. 

After seven years using the iPhone I have to admit it's no longer my only option in a smartphone. The smartphone market is definitely slowing when it comes to jumps in innovation but for me as a photographer I look for one major factor, the camera. A few months ago Google actually made a phone I would gladly switch to and it runs Android! Wow, never thought I would actually say that. The Pixel, a phone designed by Google, but technically made by HTC, is finally here and brings with it some serious punch. I call it the first true iPhone killer and after just over a month using it, I can happily say I could see myself making the switch. The camera, for me, is the greatest feature and one I see outperforming the iPhone in any many ways especially video and has to be the biggest sell. Now, before I get too deep into it I have the iPhone 6s Plus, though a year old the distance the Pixel outperforms my current iPhone is leaps and bounds better and why I see it as a better choice for shooting from mobile.

As a preface, I will be comparing this closely to the iPhone as it's one of the most popular phones on the market and one that many people might switch from when possibly going to the Pixel. 

Design

Google went all out on this one, they literally copied the iPhone to a T. Literally, my wife when going to grab the phones on a desk had not a clue which one was which and grabbed at each a couple times before finally finding the correct one. Many times when reaching into my bag or pocket I would forget which phone I actually had in my possession as well. It's not a bad thing but come on, they could have taken a few creative liberties in design in my opinion. Not a huge deal if you are buying one or the other but for those wanting to switch from iPhone this gives you a familiar place to go to. 

Pixel XL (left), iPhone 6s Plus (right)

One massive perk the Pixel has over any iteration of the iPhone, including the 7, is the camera is flush to the back of the phone casing. Easily one of the biggest frustrations with my iPhone is the constant laying onto a desk and hearing my lens crashing into a hard surface face down.

Incredibly similar to the iPhone shape, size, weight, and overall screen brightness, the Pixel does have one nifty design feature that is much different than any smartphone iteration I have ever seen, the finger print scanner is located on the back of the phone. Yes, you might think what an odd place but when you think about grabbing your phone from your pocket I found myself unlocking, and snapping a photo much faster this way. My hand naturally landed on the back of the phone and unlocked it before I even got it up to eye level to snap a shot. 

Image Quality and Low Light

This is where the Pixel truly shines. According to Google and many very technical reviews I have read online, the phone automatically sets HDR in every photo, though this can be turned off, and pushes the limits of the low light capability much further. This might be why the camera sets itself apart in side by side comparisons to other devices but overall its welcomed and I rarely turned it off. 

iPhone 6s Plus

Google Pixel XL

Google Pixel XL Cropped

iPhone 6s Plus Cropped

One issue that became wide spread soon after the release was the lens flare that occurred in harsh light situations. As seen below, it created this large halo effect in and around the suns location. It does look cool but if I am looking for a clean and sharp photo then this becomes a serious issue. 

Google Pixel XL

UPDATED: Portrait Mode

This is one thing I missed when initially releasing this review but have a couple added example shots showing how well it does with a single camera vs the dual camera of the iPhone 7 Plus. I had played with the iPhone 7 recently and tested the portrait mode in the 60mm equivalent focal length but wasnt too pleased in half of the shots I took with it. Here are 2 examples straight up with friends at the office and one of my sun in lower light situations. The way it smoothly differenctiates between the background and the subject is pretty slick and very close to that of an attachable lens. The way it works is you simply open portrait mode and center on your subject, snap the photos, and slide the phones view upwards. What do you think?

Should you get the Pixel?

As I mentioned above, I have been an iPhone users since day one of owning a smartphone when they first released the iPhone 4 back in 2009. It's become ingrained in my life so much and connects to so many of my current Apple devices but damn if I wouldn't make the switch if it wasn't for these few things. iMessages, AirDrop, and FaceTime to name a few but not limited to all the other ways my iPhone connects seamlessly to my other iOS devices. If you have an Android on the other hand, then this is easily the best Android phone on the market. 
 
Though these things can likely and easily be replaced with other services that Android offers I might need a little more time to say goodbye to my iPhone than I originally planned. That said, one huge draw I had to the Pixel had nothing to do with its camera or anything with the physical phone. It was the feature in which Google will store all of your photos taken on the Pixel to the cloud at NO ADDITIONAL COST! Unlimited storage of photos and video is a pretty incredible feature and one I will obviously be using while I continue to use the Pixel as a backup and secondary phone. 
 
Should you get the Pixel? If you have an iPhone 7 and love it, great. Hold on to it a little longer and maybe try it out the next round if Apple doesn't release a more groundbreaking phone in the next iteration. If you're already an Android user and have been for awhile then you should go buy the Pixel, right now. Ignore those exploding Samsung Galaxy phones and grab yourself a solid deal on a Pixel from Verizon right now. Or pick it up directly from Google unlocked and use it on any network, I used it by swapping out my sim card from my AT&T iPhone. 

What I Liked

  • Image quality (Thanks to some sort of use of HDR automatically)
  • Sharpness
  • Size & Weight
  • Ease of quickly accessing the phone and the camera app with finger print scanner on the back
  • UNLIMITED STORAGE OF ALL PHOTOS AND VIDEO TO THE CLOUD!

What I Didn't Like 

  • Android (Overall the UI is incredibly similar to iOS and far better than previous versions of Android I have tried but it was the basic functions that got me flustered and trying to figure out simple tasks like screen grab and going back within apps)
  • Image file sizes seemed to crash many mobile editing apps and showed up white within Instagram Stories

Conclusion

Overall I am incredibly impressed with the Pixel but I'm still a diehard iPhone user and because of that and the few things I mentioned above I couldn't make the switch, well not cold turkey at least. I could easily see myself using both phones for a short period to get acclimated to the differences in overall UI and quickly to getting to various feature sets like transferring images quickly to my computer. Other than that, the camera easily outperforms the iPhone in my tests and did an unreal job with video in low light as well. 

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34 Comments

Peter Nord's picture

When I teach about the iPhone I show my students a photo with lens flare and an identical without. How did you do that they ask. I just tell them I wiped the lens with the tail of my cotton shirt between shots. I turn on the Flickr app which immediately stores my photos, one terabyte free. Easy. I think future cell phone cameras will be very different from what we have now with multiple cameras and more computer power processing photos in ways we haven't imagined.

Joel Hernandez's picture

That makes the LG V20 (Android) the Google Pixel and iPhone killer as far as camera goes.
...

Is the Pixel an iPhone killer? eh. Is the LG V20 a Pixel killer? eh.
Camera speaking, all 3 phones are pretty even. The major difference is LG V20 has superior audio with 3 mics and has manual controls for camera and video mode straight out of the box. This means hand holding your phone and taking a pic 1/5 of a sec. Manually controlling the focus distance (as far as I know no app can do this) in video mode, selecting precise WB, changing fps, shutter speed in video etc.

I'm just excited because this makes things more competitive. I wonder how phone cameras will be in 5 years :D

To be fair iPhones since the 5s all have 3 microphones (1 on the bottom , 1 on the earpiece and 1 on the back next to the flash and a free manual camera app like CodeCam could do everything that you mentioned a V20 can do.

Joel Hernandez's picture

Free? It's $19.99 :/

If hardware was the basis for killing the iPhone then there are phones that, arguably, should have done it already. What generally seems to be keeping Apple on top in this market, for now, is the unified whole. They've only ever been around 20% or so of the mobile device market, but somehow manage to take basically all of the profits in the space. That's not a function of hardware specs, they're clearly doing something else very right that the rest are doing it very wrong.

Andrew Griswold's picture

For me it comes down to the unified UI and hardware together. All in one house and mind makes a huge difference. I'm saying here that Google taking control from software AND hardware on the Pixel is the key. More need to do this and own it. Better overall prosucts come from it.

Apple is also just damn good at marketing. Ha

The marketing argument is a funny one, they still only have a 20% share. Google has had their own phones before, this isn't new. They need to figure out how to get Android users to start wanting to pay for better apps.

The weakest point of Android is that too many manufacturers make their own version of Android which they hardly ever update. That is why I have a Nexus 6p.
Stock android is very good and very clean. And stock Android gets updates. Samsung on the other hand is very famous for not updating, or updating very slowly.

Rob Mynard's picture

I think my main reason for not changing is just the amount of money I've spent on apps with apple and I don't want to have to buy them all over again. That and I regularly use the "find my iphone" app to spy on my families movements.

The only thing that make me regret my Iphone with this phone is the screen. The colors (even when SRGB mode in turn on ) are a bit pinkish..

Andrew Griswold's picture

I was shocked how much brighter and colorful the screen was on the Pixel.

"The camera, for me, is the greatest feature and one I see outperforming the iPhone in any many ways especially video and has to be the biggest sell. Now, before I get too deep into it I have the iPhone 6s Plus, though a year old the distance the Pixel outperforms my current iPhone is leaps and bounds better and why I see it as a better choice for shooting from mobile"

Seriously? You are comparing a - now - 18 month old phone to a current phone... and write for a photo (video/motion) site proclaiming 'especially, the (wrong) one's video is better than the other?'

Silly, silly, silly. I've used and shot extensively using both phones and when it comes to still photography comparisons between iPhone 7+ and the Google Pixel, results are subjective (as far as which is better) - but when talking video... and you really should try this past year's model... iPhone 7's video output is evidently and very obviously better than the Pixel - from moving shutter/jello, moire and the simple lack of optical stabilization strongly limits it's output from the second you push record! Apple's bitrate is higher, color reproduced significantly better especially when using 1080p @ 60fps or 4K - and these are just the beginning of (apparent and obvious) reasons the (current) iPhone smashes Pixel in the motion department.

I also prefer iPhone 7+'s still output by an edge SOC, but found shooting raw and editing in Lightroom to be the determining factor. More leeway and better color production as well as creative uses of true, 2x optical zoom ...as well as it's significantly better low light performance in comparison to its predecessor is excellent for a 'phone'. That said, it's the only area I'd nod to Pixel - but these very low light situations are rare and usually can be anticipated so as to bring the right gear for the shot.

Lastly, Pixel Suffers the same ills as other Android devices. Battery life, App Store, support, third party and OEM peripherals and the curiosity about Google's intentions with the phone's future and OS updates. I've always kept a foot in the Android pool and own a Note 4 and S7 (from trading Note 7 back). I love some of the Note specific features but iOS is king when it comes to all around performance, lack of frustration, repairs or support and a real commitment from the OEM to continue developing and bettering the system, its services and software. Another extreme letdown of the Pixel, shooting raw and it's very slow operation and processing of imaging.

I also like Google Photos and use the service as well as others from Google but their hardware to me is not usually in the same league as whoever they copy (E.G., Echo v Home)

As usual, just my humble opinion (with exception of the video performance and objective results, reviews and real world performance and post production;))
AJ

Andrew Griswold's picture

I did get a chance to try out the 7+ side by side with the Pixel but only briefly right after sending in this article for review. I'm not sure where you saw better quality in both photo and video. The low light for both photo and video on the Pixel was still better. Sure they looked about the same and read as much data in super low light the Pixel seemed to bring in more light and also show a clearer pic than the 7+ in just the first few photos.

Sure it's not the most in depth comparison but this review is far bigger than comparing 2 phones and rather a show of how Google built an unreal phone that does in fact outperform the iPhone in many ways overall and did an excellent job of combining great hardware with a slimmed down software base. Which is my favorite thing. It always felt like Android was beating itself to death with strong OS features but with such a clunky UI.

You make some great points though and I hope to do a comparison post to the 7 later.

Photo Kaz's picture

The iPhone 7+ dual cams can do things that the Pixel can't. Try taking a photo at 2x and see how the digital zoom (crop) of the Pixel stacks up against the iPhone.

Google made a great phone, no question. I would be surprised if they sold 10% the volume of iPhone.

Usman Dawood's picture

To be fair in low light the 7plus does not use the telephoto lens and defaults back to the wide angle and digitally zooms in. The tele lens camera on the 7 plus is really reallly bad I now never use it.

Photo Kaz's picture

Agreed, it doesn't work well in low light. It works great though when the light is good, the portrait mode also works quite well if you learn how to use it. I have taken some great shots with the tele lens.

Usman Dawood's picture

I'd love to see some examples if you can please. I've given up using it cause even when I shoot in bright light with ISO 20 it's noisy as hell lol.

Photo Kaz's picture

Sure, contact me via photokaz.com

Andrew Griswold's picture

I reviewed the Pixel on its own but for a few points wanted to compare it to what I had from iPhone. After writing this I did do some quick low light side by side shots against a 7+ and still saw the Pixel outperformed it.

I think the fact Google is seeing that they need to control both software and hardware is the main take away. They absolutely killed it on this phone all around. While Apple seems to be slipping in overall thought process for much of the last couple software updates for iOS.

TImothy Tichy's picture

Didn't Google try their hand at building a phone a while back? I could have sworn they had their own smartphone back when Android came out. Personally, I'm gonna wait for the Note 8. I'm addicted to my S-Pen.

Photo Kaz's picture

The bulk of the article is comparing the two phones, so it wasn't a review of the Pixel. I'll ditch my iPhone when there is a compelling reason to do so, right now there isn't. I already ditched previous platforms (Palm, Windows, Blackberry) when something better came along. Moving to the Pixel from a 7+ is a lateral move at best. The move would cost me money (apps, accessories) and time and I need to see a return on that investment otherwise it doesn't make sense.

why would you even compare the pixel to a 6s? dumb article!!

Andrew Griswold's picture

I reviewed the Pixel on its own but for a few points wanted to compare it to what I had from iPhone. After writing this I did do some quick low light side by side shots against a 7+ and still saw the Pixel outperformed it.

I think the fact Google is seeing that they need to control both software and hardware is the main take away. They absolutely killed it on this phone all around. While Apple seems to be slipping in overall thought process for much of the last couple software updates for iOS.

Kyle Medina's picture

It's a damn cellphone. They all use the same social apps. They all make phones calls and text. The debate is over worked and childish.

Kyle, what on earth are you talking about?

The photo and video capabilities of these phones are well documented. There are many articles demonstrating as such and Lee from Fstoppers has even showed how you can successfully do a fashion shoot direct from your iPhone.

Many people who visit Fstoppers are specifically interested in these photo and video capabilities, much less the regular phone functions. Hence why this article is on this site.

These phones are far more than just devices to make calls, text and use social media! Your comment is out of date.

Nice click-bait headline.

If I had a dime (US$ 0.10) for every review I've read in the last ten years declaring the latest me-too Android clone to be an "iPhone killer", I'd probably be able to buy a new iPhone 7 by now.

I'm not trying to ignite an iPhone-vs-Android war here. The fact is that most of the phone-buying public doesn't care about arcane specs or incremental improvements. That may be important to some people, like photographers might appreciate a better camera, but that's not going to sell 100 million phones. The iPhone is the market leader right now because a larger percentage of phone buyers believe it has the better "experience". That's more than just device specs. It includes usability, integration with other devices, security, reliability, support, and many other intangibles.

It's inevitable that one day the iPhone will be de-throned. But in my view, it won't be because the latest Android phone will have a better camera, or a prettier bezel, or a nicer display. It will be a long-term process of change, which will probably involve a new and disruptive technology that will obsolete today's smart phones.

Marketleader?? I find that very amusing. IOS is losing marketshare and are by no means the marketleader.

I would think putting the Pixel XL up against the iPhone 7plus is more of an even matchup. The 6s is the year before the Pixel. Bad caparison!

Andrew Griswold's picture

Had a chance to compare it just this weekend tothe 7+ and it still kicks the iphones ass in low light both photo and video. Not as drastic as the images above but enough to see some legit differences in sharpness and detail.

Greg Buser's picture

The problem for me is Android, I had the Moto X, and was always a couple of versions of the operating system behind, because the latest versions were never available in a timely manner.