With Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, Google beats iPhone at its own game

Google uses the very tricks to win over consumers that Apple once employed.

 |  6-minute read |   07-10-2017
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Google and Apple have been locked in a battle for supremacy over the premium segment of the smartphone market for years now. From the launch of the first Nexus device, this has been a bout that has largely been dominated by Apple, with Google playing catch-up, year after year. But on October 4, 2017, things got a little more interesting with the launch of Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones which not just upped the ante but also took the fight directly to Cupertino-based tech giant and it's crown jewel – the iPhone.

Compared to the silky curves of the competitors like the Galaxy S8, Mi Mix 2 or LG's V30 these "Made by Google" smartphones – borrowing heavily from the DNA of their predecessor – are no head-turners. For a market in awe of futuristic bezel-less displays and glass backs, both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL come with designs that lean more towards practicality and pragmatism – increased ratio of light but sturdy aluminum to glass on the back, bezels to accommodate front firing speakers and ditching the 3.5mm jack all point towards the same. 

The internals also – though top of the line – bring with them nothing special to wow. But this choice of using a muted design and hardware to create smartphones of today, rather than for an idea of tomorrow, hide within them Google's latest strategy of knocking Apple off the perch that it has been sitting on for years now.  

The switch from the Nexus line-up to the Pixel devices saw Google change its core strategy and using the very tricks to win over consumers that Apple once did to create a legion of followers that still swear by the iPhone experience. With Pixel 2 devices, Google has come one step closer to achieving its goal and created smartphones that outshine the iPhones in key metrics that make the iPhones so great to use.

Except for the iPhone X – a special device created to celebrate the anniversary of the first iPhone – all iPhones have stuck to a simple formula, and like clockwork brought incremental updates to certain aspects of the hardware and software to improve the phones every year. 

The promise of a powerful yet easy to use phone powered by a clean OS, that can take great pictures and is supplemented by an ecosystem of products and services built to uncomplicate the end user's life fueled the iPhone growth story for years. With the Pixel 2 phones, Google beats Apple at just that. 

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Even though the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, are brilliant phones in their own right, and the Apple ecosystem still great as ever, what's changed with the latest Pixel devices or rather the "Made by Google" products from 2017, is that for the first time the end user has an alternative that trumps the package that Apple offers. 

The Pixel 2 devices, much like the popular iPhones from the past, shun the idea of flashy exteriors in favour of a more pragmatic design, and by going for a concoction of metal and glass at the back, the Pixel 2 devices manage to look more futuristic and arguably better than the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. 

In terms of ease of use and UI, the Pixel 2 with its stock Android – which can also be tweaked by the end user according to their taste – provides space for customisation and the promises a no-frills experience all at the same time – something that the iPhone 8 cannot boast of. 

However, where the two new phones really leave Apple with a bad taste in its mouth, is in optics performance – one of the most important factors while zeroing in on a new smartphone. Faced by the brilliance of the iPhone 8's dual camera setup, the Pixel 2 devices bring with them a single lens setup consisting of a 12.2-Megapixel dual-pixel sensor with f/1.8 aperture and autofocus along with laser and dual-pixel phase detection.

A decision that looks to be justified if results of DxOMark, a popular benchmarking tool by DxO – one of the more trusted names in photography circles which caters to thousands of photography enthusiasts around the globe – is to be believed. 

DxOMark has given the Pixel 2 devices a rating of 98 – the highest for a camera setup on a phone. In comparison, Samsung's Note 8 and the iPhone 8 Plus – both featuring dual camera setups – currently lie joint second with a DxOMark score of 94.

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There are two interesting takeaways here:

a) The Pixel 2 achieves this high score with a single camera, while the iPhone 8 Plus – and the iPhone X which houses the same camera setup – does so with a two lens setup. 

b) When operating at such high levels, a 4 point difference in score is highly impressive. To put things in context, up until the last generation of devices, the Pixel scored an 89, one shy of the highest rated HTC U11 and one ahead of the iPhone 7 Plus. To improve on an already good camera, and then outrun its competition by such distance speaks volumes of the progress that Google has achieved with the Pixel 2 within a year. 

Last, but not the least, another key metric where Google has closed the gap on Apple this year is in the ecosystem of devices and services that supplement the smartphones. In the new Google Home speakers and the Piexlbook, it has added "Made by Google" devices that bring great value to the Google ecosystem. 

But it's with the Pixel Buds and services such as Google lens and improvements to the Google Assistant that it has crafted a package that is arguably better than the one being offered by Apple. 

Compared to the AirPods, which have been around for a while now, the first generation Pixel Buds are designed to do a lot more than just help you listen to your favourite music, or answer calls on the go. Integrated with Google Assistant and the Android OS running on your "Made by Google" phone, the Pixel Buds can help you communicate with Google's AI assistant in never-before-seen ways.

It can read out notifications, give you directions, alert you to calendar events or incoming messages – even read them to you if you can’t look at your phone – and if that's not all, the Pixel Buds can help you translate languages in real-time using Google Translate on your Pixel phone. 

That last feature – real-time translation between 40 languages – much like many of the features and technologies that Apple helped make mainstream, is one that stands more for its usability than being a gimmick. 

Suffice it to say, the Mountview-based tech company this year with the Pixel 2 phones and the other "Made by Google" products has taken the fight to Apple like never. It's struck where it hurts the most by beating Apple at its own game.

Also read: Playmate to wife: The double lives of women, from ancient Tamil poetry to Bollywood

Writer

Sushant Talwar Sushant Talwar @sushanttalwar

Tech journalist, DailyO

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