Google Phones: A Look At The Pixel Line

History and details about each release

Google Pixel, Pixel 2, Pixel 3, and Pixel XL phones.
Google

Pixel phones are the official flagship Android devices from Google. Unlike other Android phones, which are designed by a variety of phone manufacturers, Pixels are designed by Google to showcase the capabilities of Android.

The Pixel 4 series is available from every major carrier in the United States, which marks a major departure from previous Pixel phones that were only available from Verizon and Google Fi, which is Google's own cellular phone service.

Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL

Pixel 4 and Pixel 4XL phones in each available color.
Google

Manufacturer: Foxconn (Designed in-house at Google)

Display: 5.7 in FHD+ flexible OLED (Pixel 4) / 6.3 in QHD+ flexible OLED (Pixel 4 XL)

Resolution: 19:9 FHD+ @ 444ppi (Pixel 4) / 19:9 QHD+ @ 537ppi (Pixel 4 XL)

Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855

Front camera: 8 MP

Rear camera: 16 MP

Colors: Just Black, Clearly White, Oh So Orange

Audio: Stereo speakers

Wireless: 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz 2x2 MIMO Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, Google Cast

Battery: 2,800 mAh (Pixel 4) / 3,700 mAh (Pixel 4 XL)

Charging: 18W fast charging, Qi-certified wireless charging

Ports: USB C 3.1 Gen 1 (no audio jack)

Initial Android version: Android 10

The Pixel 4 and Pixel 4XL iterate on the venerated Pixel 3 series, leaving the budget-level Pixel 3a series in the dust. This latest series in the Pixel line retains a lot of what worked about the Pixel 3 series, including the glass-and-metal sandwich body, best-in-class photography abilities, and still-absent headphone jack.

Since the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4XL have glass backs just like the Pixel 3 series, the wireless Qi charging that was absent in the 3a and 3a XL is back. Unfortunately, the relatively small batteries are also back.

If Pixel 4 feels lighter in the hand than some of the competitors, it's largely because it's actually using a smaller battery than either the Pixel 3 or Pixel 3a.

The Pixel 4XL ditches its massive notch this time around, opting instead for a thick upper bezel to house the found-facing camera and face unlock sensor.

Other than that, the most notable design change comes on the rear of the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL, where you'll find a chunky square camera bump that's more than a little reminiscent of the iPhone 11.

Also of note is that the Pixel 4 ditched the fingerprint reader in favor of Google's newly-implemented face unlock technology.

Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL Key Features

Quick Gestures on a Pixel 4 phone.

 Google

  • Night Sight: One of the best features from the Pixel 3 line is back, and it's better than ever. Leveraging the power of AI, you'll take some of the best low-light photos ever just by pressing a button.
  • Advanced Camera Controls: Building on the Pixel's reputation as a fantastic photography platform, the Pixel 4 packs some great new camera controls. You'll be able to adjust the exposure in different parts of a photo independently, achieve even better bokeh effects in the new portrait mode, leverage an improved Super Res Zoom, and more.
  • New Google Assistant: Google Assistant has been around for a while, and Google likes to roll out new features alongside new Pixel phones. Expect better app integration, improved voice controls, and more options.
  • Quick Gestures: Using radar, your Pixel can sense your hand and respond to gesture controls without any actual touch input. Skip songs, snooze alarms, silence calls, and more.
  • Face Unlock: Google didn't invent this feature, but it works remarkably well and astonishingly fast.
  • Security: The Titan M chip is back from the Pixel 3 line.

Google Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL

Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL phones.

Google

Manufacturer: Foxconn (Designed in-house at Google)

Display: 5.6 in FHD+ flexible FHD+ OLED (Pixel 3a) / 6.0 in FHD+ OLED (Pixel 3a XL)

Resolution: 2220 x 1080 @ 441ppi (Pixel 3a) / 2160 x 1080 @ 402ppi (Pixel 3a XL)

Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 670

Front camera: 8 MP

Rear camera: 12.2 MP dual-pixel

Colors: Clearly White, Just Black, Purple-ish

Audio: Stereo speakers (one front firing speaker, one on the bottom)

Wireless: 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, Google Cast

Battery: 3,000 mAh (Pixel 3a) / 3,700 mAh (Pixel 3a XL)

Charging: 18W fast charging (no wireless charging)

Ports: USB C 3.1, 3.5mm audio jack

Initial Android version: 9.0 “Pie” + Google Assistant

The Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL mark a return to form for Google, in that they fill the void that was left when the Nexus line was discontinued. These phones share a lot of the same basic hardware found in the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, but some of the bells and whistles are cut out, and some of the more costly design choices have been modified in order to offer a much more affordable alternative.

While the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL share a lot in common with their more expensive counterparts, there are some important differences. Instead of using Gorilla Glass, the 3a uses a polycarbonate unibody with a Dragontrail glass screen.

The Pixel 3a and 3a XL are also missing a handful of features found in the more expensive versions. They don't have wireless charging, they lack the Pixel Visual Core, and they aren't water resistant.

While most of the differences between these phones involve things that were removed from the 3a and 3a XL, there is one notable exception. The 3.5mm audio jack that has been long absent from the Pixel line makes a triumphant return here.

In terms of the camera, which has always been one of the most important features of any Pixel phone, very little has changed. The Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL still have the same exact rear camera, and you still get access to features like Night Sight, Super Res Zoom, and Top Shot that were introduced with the Pixel 3.

Overall, the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL offer an attractive alternative to anyone who has missed the affordable Nexus line. These phones lack the premium touches of the more expensive versions, but they pack a lot of functionality compared to other mid-range phones.

Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL

The front and back of Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL phones side by side.

Google

Manufacturer: Foxconn (Designed in-house at Google)

Display: 5.5 in FHD+ flexible OLED (Pixel 3) / 6.3 in QHD+ OLED (Pixel 3 XL)

Resolution: 2160 x 1080 @ 443ppi (Pixel 3) / 2960 x 1440 @ 523ppi (Pixel 3 XL)

Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845

Front camera: 8 MP x2 (one wide-angle and one normal field of view camera)

Rear camera: 12.2 MP dual-pixel

Colors: Clearly White, Just Black, Not Pink

Audio: Dual front speakers

Wireless: 5.0GHz Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, Google Cast

Battery: 2,915 mAh (Pixel 3) / 3,430 mAh (Pixel 3 XL)

Charging: Built-in Qi wireless charging and 18W fast charging

Ports: USB C 3.1

Initial Android version: 9.0 “Pie” + Google Assistant

The third iteration of Google's flagship Pixel phone line retains a lot of the same design cues seen in earlier versions. Both handsets feature a similar two-tone color scheme, although the specific colors are different this time around.

The Pixel 3 does feel different in the hand from its predecessors, despite the similar looks, as the entire back of the phone is now made of the same soft-touch Corning Gorilla Glass 5 that protects the screen. The rest of the body is made of aluminum.

With the switch to a glass-back, both versions of the Pixel 3 also come with built-in wireless charging courtesy of Qi technology.

The regular Pixel 3 retains the fairly chunky bezel seen in earlier versions of the Pixel line, and the bigger Pixel 3 XL has a big notch up top in addition to a noticeable chin bezel.

The notch does stand out whenever the screen is on, but it houses the phone's two front-facing cameras that Google expects to revolutionize the art of the selfie.

The rear camera doesn't represent an upgrade over the Pixel 2 in terms of megapixels, but the Pixel 3 has some built-in learning tricks that help elevate its capabilities beyond what you would normally expect out of its bare hardware specifications.

Pixel 3 and Pixel 3XL Features

A demonstration of Google Lens on a Pixel 3 phone.

Google

  • Google Lens: Expanding on one of the flagship features from the Pixel 2, Google Lens is now capable of pulling up information in real time without the need to snap a picture.
  • Playground: Add captions and reactive animated characters to photos and videos.
  • Top Shot: Captures a burst of photographs and uses artificial intelligence (AI) to recommend the best one.
  • Super Res Zoom: Uses AI to let you zoom in on your pictures without them getting blurry.
  • Dual front cameras: Wide angle and normal field of view cameras to help you take group selfies.
  • Adaptive battery: Uses machine learning to waste less battery power on apps you don't use a lot.
  • Wireless charging: Built-in Qi technology lets you charge the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL wirelessly.
  • Call screening: Google Assistant can now screen your calls.
  • Data protection: Both Pixel 3 models include Titan M, which is a custom-built security chip to help secure your phone.

Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL

Google Pixel 2 and Pixel XL
Google's Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL phones look remarkably similar despire the fact that one is made by HTC and the other by LG. Google

Manufacturer: HTC (Pixel 2) / LG (Pixel 2 XL)
Display: 5 in AMOLED (Pixel 2) / 6 in pOLED (Pixel 2 XL)
Resolution: 1920 x 1080 @ 441ppi (Pixel 2) / 2880 x 1440 @ 538ppi (Pixel 2 XL)
Front camera: 8 MP
Rear camera: 12.2 MP
Initial Android version: 8.0 “Oreo”

Like the original Pixel, the Pixel 2 features metal unibody construction with a glass panel on the rear. Unlike the originals, the Pixel 2 boasts IP67 dust and water resistance, which means that they can survive being submerged in up to three feet of water for 30 minutes.

The Pixel 2 processor, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, is 27 percent faster and consumes 40 percent less energy than the processor in the original Pixel.

Unlike the original Pixel, Google went with two different manufacturers for the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. That led to rumors that the Pixel 2 XL, manufactured by LG, may feature a bezel-less design.

That didn't happen. Despite being manufactured by different companies (HTC and LG), the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL look very similar, and they both continue to sport fairly chunky bezels.

Like the original phones in the line, the Pixel 2 XL differs from the Pixel 2 only in terms of screen size and battery capacity. The Pixel 2 has a 5 inch screen and a 2,700 mAH battery, while its larger sibling has a 6 inch screen and a 3,520 mAH battery.

The only real cosmetic difference between the two, other than size, is that the Pixel 2 comes in blue, white and black, while the Pixel 2 XL is available in black and a two-tone black and white scheme.

The Pixel 2 includes a USB-C port, but it doesn't have a headphone jack. The USB port supports compatible headphones, and there is also a USB-to-3.5mm adapter available.

Key Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL Features

Google Lens
Google Lens pulls up information about objects when you point the camera at them. Google
  • Active Edge: Squeeze the Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL to launch Google Assistant.
  • Google Lens: Point the camera at objects, like landmarks or the text on a movie poster, to pull up relevant information.
  • Now Playing: Listens for music and displays the song and artist without sending or receiving any data.
  • Always-On Display: An always-on feature shows the time, notifications, and other information.
  • Highly rated camera: The rear camera received a rating of 98 from DxOMark, the highest yet for a smartphone.

Google Pixel and Pixel XL

google pixel phone
Pixel represented a sharp change in Google's phone hardware strategy. Spencer Platt / Staff / Getty Images News

Manufacturer: HTC
Display: 5 in FHD AMOLED (Pixel) / 5.5 in (140 mm) QHD AMOLED (Pixel XL)​
Resolution: 1920 x 1080 @ 441ppi (Pixel) / 2560 × 1440 @ 534ppi (Pixel XL)​​
Front camera: 8 MP
Rear camera: 12 MP
Initial Android version: 7.1 “Nougat”​
Current Android version: 8.0 “Oreo”​
Manufacturing Status: No longer being made. The Pixel and Pixel XL was available from Oct 2016 - Oct 2017.

The Pixel marked a sharp deviation in Google’s previous smartphone hardware strategy. Earlier phones in the Nexus line were meant to serve as flagship reference devices for other manufacturers, and they were always branded with the name of the manufacturer that actually built the phone.

For instance, the Nexus 5X was manufactured by LG, and it bore an LG badge alongside the Nexus name. The Pixel, although manufactured by HTC, does not bear the HTC name. In fact, Huawei lost the contract to manufacture the Pixel and Pixel XL when it insisted on dual-branding the Pixel in the same manner as earlier Nexus phones.

Google also moved away from the budget market with the introduction of its new flagship Pixel phones. Whereas the Nexus 5X was a budget-priced phone, in comparison to the premium Nexus 6P, both the Pixel and Pixel XL came with premium price tags.

The display of the Pixel XL was both larger and higher resolution than the Pixel, resulting in a higher pixel density. The Pixel featured a density of 441 ppi, while the Pixel XL featured a density of 534 ppi. These numbers were better than Apple’s Retina HD Display and are comparable to the Super Retina HD Display introduced with the iPhone X.

The Pixel XL came with a 3,450 mAH battery, which offered a larger capacity than the 2,770 mAH battery of the smaller Pixel phone.

Both the Pixel and Pixel XL featured aluminum construction, glass panels on the rear, 3.5” audio jacks, and USB C ports with support for USB 3.0.

Nexus 5X and 6P

nexus 5X and nexus 6P
The Nexus 5X and 6P were the final Nexus phones and gave rise to the Pixel and Pixel XL. Justin Sullivan / Staff / Getty Images News

Manufacturer: LG (5X) / Huawei (6P)
Display: 5.2 in (5X) / 5.7 in AMOLED (6P)
Resolution: 1920 x 1080 (5X) / 2560 x 1440 (6P)
Initial Android version: 6.0 “Nougat”
Current Android version: 8.0 “Oreo”
Front camera: 5MP
Rear camera: 12 MP
Manufacturing Status: No longer being made. 5X was available from September 2015 - October 2016. 6P was available from September 2015 - October 2016. 

While the Nexus 5X and 6P weren’t Pixels, they were the direct predecessors to the Google Pixel line. Like other phones in the Nexus line, they were both co-branded with the name of the manufacturer that actually built the phone. In the case of the Nexus 5X, that was LG, and in the case of the 6P it was Huawei.

The Nexus 5X was the direct predecessor to the Pixel, while the Nexus 6P was the predecessor to the Pixel XL. The 6P came with a larger AMOLED screen and also featured an all metal body.

Android Sensor Hub was also introduced with these two phones. This is feature that uses a low power secondary processor to monitor data from the accelerometer, gyroscope and fingerprint reader. This allows the phone to display basic notifications when movement is sensed, and power is conserved by not turning on the main processor until necessary.

Additional sensors and features:

  • All metal body (6P)
  • Android Sensor Hub
  • Proximity sensor
  • Accelerometer
  • Gyroscope
  • Fingerprint reader
  • NFC
  • USB C