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Google Introduces Pixel Smartphone

The search engine enters the hardware fray

Google Introduces Pixel Smartphone

Eric Risberg/AP

The Pixel is slightly larger than the iPhone 7.

Watch out, Tim Cook.

Apple’s iPhone dodged a bullet recently when the new Samsung Galaxy Note 7, which looked poised to swallow up marketplace share from its main competitor, started spontaneously combusting due to a faulty battery. There are some things consumers can’t overlook, and the possibility that their smartphone might burst into flames is apparently one of them.

The Samsung implosion cleared the way for the launch of the iPhone 7 last month. Reviews for the latest iteration were positive, and though no one seemed overwhelmed by its innovations, Apple’s dominance was preserved.

Now a new rival emerged when Google threw its hat into the smartphone ring, introducing the Pixel. It’s the first phone to feature Google hardware as well as its software. Google will also manufacture the Pixel, making it much more of a player in the market.

The Pixel is designed to draw users more fully into the Google universe. It integrates all of Google’s apps, most importantly the Google Assistant, the virtual personal assistant that is the search engine company’s answer to Apple’s Siri.

Like the iPhone 7, the Pixel comes in two sizes. The Pixel is slightly larger than the iPhone 7, while the Pixel XL matches the iPhone 7 Plus’ 5.5-inch screen size. Design-wise, there are more similarities than differences between the sleek competitors. Google touts a fast-charging battery (fully charged in only 15 minutes), a camera lens that doesn’t “bump out” like the iPhone’s and — yes — a standard headphone jack, which the iPhone notably lacks. Google will also provide unlimited cloud storage for even high-resolution photos and videos. Unlike previous phones that ran Android and tended to be cheaper (in cost and performance), the price points are similar too. Prices start at $649 for the Pixel and run up to $869 for the highest-capacity XL model. For now the Pixel is only available to finance through Verizon, though you can pay full price for an unlocked phone that will work on other carriers.

For me, the most exciting news about the Pixel was a little bit buried in its announcement: Alongside the Pixel, Google will also introduce Daydream VR, a virtual reality headset intended to work seamlessly with apps and videos on the new phone. It’s the one area where Google’s new phone has a clear advantage over the iPhone, and if virtual reality is the future, they’ve put their feet in first. (Samsung already sells the Gear VR system, but this appears to be a step up from that.)

Of course, the Pixel isn’t in anyone’s hands yet — its release date is Oct. 20 — so actual performance and customer reaction remain to be seen.

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