A few years ago, it was considered to be Android’s answer to the iPhone. It was released with a lot of fanfare. Many said it would redefine the premium Android phone segment, which was at that time dominated by the likes of Samsung, LG and Sony (remember them). And for a short while, it seemed to live up to the promise. But then, it all just went a little odd. And today we are standing at a point when we almost wonder if the phone itself is necessary. We are talking of course, of the Pixel series of smartphones from Google.
Google recently showed off the Pixel 6, which it plans to launch later this year. Like the Pixel 4 and 5, India is not mentioned in the markets in which it will be launched (not yet, at least). But it is not being launched in India is not the story, really. What we really are wondering about is not whether the Pixel should or should not be launched in India, but whether it actually is relevant at all in the current market.
Way back in 2016, when the first Pixel was launched, the Android premier segment seemed to be stagnating. LG and Samsung had a rivalry of sorts going, but nothing new was happening. Android UIs and interfaces were also getting complicated and difficult to use. In this scenario, a device like a Pixel that delivered a super clean Android experience with regular updates and excellent hardware seemed like an excellent idea.
Yes, unlike the Nexus series that it replaced, the Pixel series came with a premium price tag but it also had a different design and was trying to be a premium alternative rather than an affordable flagship.
It did seem to work for a while, with the Pixel coming as a breath of fresh air, especially as the likes of LG, Sony and HTC faded away.
But things started to change with the likes of OnePlus moving up the price and Samsung and other brands cleaning up their software act.
So much so that five years after the launch of the first Pixel, we do have to wonder if the Pixel is actually relevant.
If that sounds cruel, let us consider what “extra” the Pixel 6 will bring to the table. Its camera wizardry cannot be questioned but it is no longer as far ahead of the competition as it once was, as anyone who has used the Galaxy S series, the Huawei P series or the Mi 11 Ultra will tell you (we are not even talking of the iPhone). Computational photography is no longer the wonder it once was.
Clean Android with regular updates is also not a big attraction anymore with many brands have made their interfaces much cleaner, and assuring users of two to three years of updates on flagships. Indeed, Android 12 seems to indicate that Google is itself moving to a more feature-rich interface after its minimalistic beginnings.
Some might point out that the Pixel has a new processor, but unlike the iPhone, Android is actually designed to run on different configurations, so it is unlikely that the processor-OS integration will provide it with a huge edge in terms of performance.
In fact, it is a fair chance that most manufacturers will mimic anything on the Pixel that appeals to the public within a short time, such is the world of Android. There is very little that will be exclusive to the Pixel 6.
Which makes one wonder what one would buy the phone for. Perhaps the appeal of getting the latest Android before anyone else does. But given that the others will be on the same Android version boat within a few months, we wonder if that is worth paying a premium for?
Also, Google’s track record in hardware is not the greatest and Pixel devices have been plagued with issues large and small in the past. With service centres not always the easiest to find, there is some apprehension around the range.
In sum, for the price of a Pixel or even lesser, one can get comparable (and in some regards – especially battery, charging speed, display and sound – better) hardware and broadly similar software, with roughly similar update cycles from other brands, and in many cases, with a better support system.
Yes, the geeks will talk of the extra features that a Pixel has, but then as anyone who has used DeX will tell you, other brands have similar features up their sleeves.
There are some who actually believe that a OnePlus device with its better hardware and clean UI makes more sense than a Pixel for anyone who wants a clean and uncluttered Android experience.
So what do you get when you buy a Pixel which no person who uses another brand’s Android phone can? Well, Android updates before anyone else does. And access to beta versions. Just how important those are to you will determine whether you need a Pixel 6 or not.