At a roundtable discussion during Mobile World Congress, Rick Osterloh, Google’s senior vice-president of hardware, told Android Pit, “You can count on a successor this year, even if you don't hear a date from me now."
Pixel lovers will be happy as Version 1.0 was very good, certainly in the top three handsets released in 2016 with a class leading camera – so it follows that version two will be even better. But in fine tradition do not expect a price cut as Osterloh also confirmed that “Pixel stays premium”.
While the final form of the Pixel remains top secret, leaks have already been overflowing so here is what iTWire can reasonably confirm.
First, let’s look back at the Pixel V1/XL. iTWire’s review in November 2016 stated “Good, but it could be great”.
Its strong points included Pure Android with updates directly from Google (at the telco's mercy) and a great camera. But a few rough edges — no substantive IP rating, no microSD slot, and lack of user interface (customisation) — made it less than the device that could take on Samsung and others in the Android flagship market. Great hardware slightly let down by a lack of refinement in the software implementation. Typical forum comments were, “Never buy V 1.0 of anything”.
I have regularly revisited the Pixel XL since and those rough edges that can be cured by firmware updates have been addressed. So, what do we need to see in V 2.0?
The WOW factor
Perhaps the biggest criticism of the Pixel was its lack of the WOW factor. The Pixel is a bland glass slab with thick antenna bands and rather thick bezels all around. To be fair, this format works best for its DayDream VR goggles so it is likely V2.0 will remain a similar shape and size.
But ODM HTC has been perfecting new surface finishes and Google may go overboard with more “out-there” Google colours – it needs to stand out!
The Pixel XL 5.5”, 2560 x 1440, AMOLED screen is one of the better ones (along with the Samsung Galaxy S7) for VR. If Google increases the screen to body ratio it may see the Pixel go to 5.2” and the XL to 5.7” without a corresponding increase in body size. This won’t cause issues for VR.
It is unlikely to adopt Samsung’s curvaceous Edge format but may increase the resolution given that the Snapdragon 835 processor can handle the power and resolution requirements.
Google’s twin downwards firing speakers may be fine for music but not for VR. It is likely that one will move back to the top for L+R stereo in VR use.
Pixel already uses the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 so it is highly likely to go to the new 835 which should have better availability later in the year. That raises an interesting point – Google designs and HTC makes the handset (which will continue) but its supply chain management was poor, resulting in shortages. Analysts say this was just as well, as these phones did not sell enough to meet anticipated factory orders.
Android Oreo does not need more memory so the Pixel will stay with 4GB as a base, but the 32GB storage must increase – substantially. Google offered free, unlimited photo storage but that was not enough. Purists bemoaned the lack of microSD support so expect to see either 128GB as the base or 64GB and a micro-SD slot will return.
Pixel received the highest DXOMark of 89 in 2016 – one point up on the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and Sony Xperia X Performance.
Since then Huawei’s Mate 9 (rated 85 but in many tests rated higher than the Pixel) and others have upped the ante – not to mention that the yet to be released Samsung S8 and iPhone 8 are focusing on the camera too.
iTWire’s review stated, “Pixel is an amazing 12.3MP camera that is beaten in some circumstances by either higher MPs, better or faster lenses, or better camera apps. But set it to auto, and it is probably the best all-rounder.”
There is a strong rumour that the camera placement will be moved to the centre and it's likely to follow the dual camera route. In all other respects, the large pixel sensor, lens, and software are very good so expect only minor improvements.
Google missed the mark last time so count on IP68 this time.
While Samsung and Apple are fighting to innovate in their next editions, it is more likely Google will simply incrementally improve what was arguably one of the better Android flagships of 2016. Its tick-tock cycle!
There is a rumour of a smaller, cheaper “B” model but it does not fit with Google’s philosophy. You see, Google, despite the size and scope of its parent company Alphabet, does not want to dominate in handset sales. It cannot afford to annoy its legion of handset makers, so what you will see is Pixel become a niche, reference style product for purists. As long as it sells enough to warrant Google’s ongoing involvement it will be happy.
That is exactly where the maker of Android should be.