Has Google Finally Made a Phone That People Will Buy?

So many parts!


Google is good at many things, but marketing new products isn’t always one of them. In fact, as the generally sluggish sales of its Nexus phones demonstrate, it sometimes doesn’t even seem to be trying. Nevertheless, it may have just made a good case for its latest piece of hardware, almost in spite of itself. Showing off its new Pixel smartphones at its Tuesday press event, the company stumbled through a lengthy explanation of the integration of its personal assistant software into the phone itself. Only later did the company’s Brian Rakowski turn to the device’s most impressive feature, the one that might actually convince you to buy it: the camera.

True to Google fashion, Rakowski led with a statistic that may have seemed less than impressive on first pass than it actually was. “There’s actually an industry group, DxOMark, that rates camera quality in almost all popular DSLR and smartphone cameras on the market. … We’re proud to report that Pixel received a rating of 89,” Rakowski said, as the number appeared on the screen behind him. Congratulations, Google! You got a B+!

As it happens, though, this number was the highest a smartphone camera has ever received from the group. Indeed, it beat out the potentially-DSLR-killing camera in the iPhone 7 Plus by three whole points. (That Google led with the raw number rather than with the all-time superlative, as Apple would have, speaks to the search-focused company’s typically flimsy salesmanship.)

In what followed, Rakowski stressed that the success of Pixel’s camera isn’t just a question of hardware. To be sure, that hardware itself—built, Rakowski explained, around a 12.3 megapixel camera and a 2.0 aperture capable of capturing “significantly more light than other cameras”—sounds impressive, but it’s the way the phone processes images algorithmically that may be most significant. Its HDR+ mode, for example, pieces together images to create an optimal version of a photograph, even in poor lighting conditions.

The most intriguing feature, however, appears to be the Pixel’s video stabilization system, a sort of built-in Steadicam mode that allows users to film smooth movies while on the go. In a side-by-side comparison of a trip down a steep city street, the mode appeared to effectively eliminate shakiness. As Rakowski explained, Pixel’s video stabilization “works by sampling the gyroscope at 200 times a second to figure out how the camera is moving … instantaneously compensating for each part of the image, so you can avoid that Jell-O effect you see with other types of image stabilization.”

What’s more, in an apparent attempt to encourage users to actually take advantage of these features, Google is also offering Pixel owners free online storage of all their photos and videos at full resolution, Rakowski announced. Some have already suggested that this alone might be enough of a reason to buy the phone.

Not sold yet? Maybe this will convince you: Unlike some phones, the Pixel actually has a headphone jack.