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Why 2021 could finally be the year of the Google Pixel

This time ultimate yr I wrote a column titled, “If you were given a Pixel four for Christmas, you will have to most likely go back it.” I didn’t wish to write it. Ever because the Pixel introduced in 2016, I’ve rooted for Google’s telephone to be triumphant. No different corporate is in the sort of place to convey an iPhone-like degree of /tool integration and an revel in unsurpassed on another Android telephone.

Sadly Google by no means reasonably nailed it. The items had been all there—flagship processor, improbable digital camera, common Android updates—however the design consistently left a lot to be desired, the options had been gimmicky, and the battery was once simply good-enough. At the Pixel four, the compromises changed into an excessive amount of to endure.

google pixels Michael Simon

Earlier Pixel telephones by no means had the best method.

However issues may well be having a look up. In 2020 Google switched up its technique with the Pixel 4a and five, and the effects had been shockingly nice. For one, the design was once improbable, with a gentle body, narrow bezels, and a textured non-glass again. However the extra fascinating strikes had been throughout the telephone: Google opted for the midrange Snapdragon 765G slightly than the 865, and the Pixel didn’t lose a step. It nonetheless feels fast, nonetheless delivers the purest Android revel in, and nonetheless takes higher pictures than telephones costing masses of bucks extra. It additionally opens up the Pixel to a brand new global of chances.

Decrease-end, higher-class

The Pixel would possibly were only a gleam in Google’s eye when Android One introduced again in 2014, however the two tasks are reduce from the similar material. The imaginative and prescient of Android One was once to convey a natural Android revel in to decrease finish telephones that had been continuously full of bloatware. The Pixel telephones are mainly high-end Android One telephones. Even with higher parts and presentations, the focal point—and promoting level—is on tool.

pixel 5 logo Michael Simon/IDG

The Pixel five misplaced its glass again however saved wi-fi charging.

That tool emphasis, on the other hand, is in large part why the early Pixel telephones did not make a lot of an have an effect on. The designs didn’t fit the excessive price, particularly when in comparison to in a similar fashion priced handsets from Apple and Samsung. That is why the Pixel 3a and 4a have fared better in terms of sales: The decrease costs simply make extra sense.

With the Pixel 4a, 4a 5G, and five, Google is growing a greater stability between the other folks need and the tool they want. With Android One, Google was once “operating carefully with telephone and silicon chip makers… to construct telephones that don’t seem to be simply nice to make use of, but additionally inexpensive,” a mantra that has discovered its method into the 2020 Pixel lineup. It’s greater than only a lower cost level or slower chip. For what turns out like the primary time in a Google telephone, the Pixel five is telephone constructed only to leverage the ability of Android with out being concerned about high-end portions and high-priced competition.

The Pixel 6 may just take it even additional. The lineup this yr was once just a little complicated with the $499 Pixel 4a 5G and $699 Pixel five, particularly for the reason that 4a 5G had a larger display screen than the five. Google has much more room to develop now that it has established the Pixel as a mid-range tool.

It begins with the processor. Whilst Qualcomm has but to announce the successor to the 765G that powers the Pixel 4a and five, there were rumors that Google is operating by itself processor. Axios reported previous this yr that “Google gained its first operating variations of the chip” and might be in a position through subsequent yr. Axios studies that the chip will “come with optimized for Google’s machine-learning era,” with a part of the chip all for “making improvements to the efficiency and always-on functions of Google Assistant.”

qualcomm snapdragon 888 mockup Qualcomm

We’re already pretty sure that the Pixel 6 won’t be powered by the Snapdragon 888—but it might not have a Qualcomm chip at all.

If Google were trying to compete with Qualcomm’s speedy Snapdragon 888 I’d be skeptical. But with the Android optimizations Google already brings to its phones, a custom chip designed solely for the Pixel 6 could bring an experience akin to what Apple delivers with the iPhone. This could be just what the Pixel 6 needs to stand out in 2021. 

A camera that can’t be topped

If there’s one area where the Pixel has always excelled, it’s the camera. While other phone makers have added three and four lenses to enhance the photo-taking experience, Google has done most of its work on the processing side. Things like Night Sight, Super Res Zoom, and Live HDR+ compensate for a lack of cutting-edge hardware.

pixel 4a 5g camera Michael Simon/IDG

The camera has always been the Pixel’s best feature.

The last two Pixel phones have hit something of an innovation wall. While the Pixel 5 still takes some of the best photos for a smartphone at any price, there isn’t much it can do that the Pixel 4a can’t also do for hundreds less. Granted, the Pixel 5 has an ultrawide lens, but the overall Pixel camera experience seems primed for a breakthrough in 2021.

Google has already proven that it doesn’t need high-end specs to deliver a premium camera experience, and the Pixel 6 would be the perfect way to drive that home. Simple changes like the addition of a telephoto lens or a better sensor on the main camera would go a long way toward cementing the Pixel as the premier smartphone camera. As Google has rested on its laurels a bit, other phones have closed the gap with night mode and portrait mode enhancements. A jump in camera performance in 2021, especially at a lower price point, would help it reclaim the crown.

Leveraging the Android advantage

Finally, there’s Android itself. With timely updates, quarterly feature drops, and exclusive and “Pixel-first” features, Google has positioned the Pixel as the utmost Android experience at every price point. The relationship is only going to get tighter with Android 12.

iphone pixel display Michael Simon/IDG

The Pixel 5 (left) could bring the same high-end experience that you get on an iPhone.

Aside from features and optimizations, I’m expecting Google to push the Pixel’s guaranteed Android updates from three to four or even five years. After Samsung upped its promise to three years in 2020, and Qualcomm announced that it will be supporting four years of updates with the 888 processor, the Pixel needs to set itself apart from the pack. Years of timely updates is one of the Pixel’s strongest points. An iPhone-like level of guaranteed updates would make it the unprecedented champ.

Google’s 2020 Pixel moves were definitely surprising, but I don’t think it means Google is giving up on its handset as an influencer in the Android universe. Quite the opposite: With a few changes in 2021, the Pixel could finally become the phone it was always meant to be.

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