Travel Accessory of the Year

What are the two most important tools for a traveller? In this modern world, I think I can safely say that most travellers and tourists always carry two things on their person:

  1.  A smartphone
  2.  A camera

And while our smartphones have gotten exceptionally good at taking pictures, they haven’t yet replaced our cameras.  Until now.

Meet Pixel by Google

 

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Google Pixel /Pixel XL

Pixel is the first smartphone built by Google (in collaboration with HTC).  It has a very solid feel to it with a gorgeous screen and a whole slew of nifty features like a rear fingerprint scanner and built-in Google Assistant.  But I think the main highlight of this particular phone is its industry-leading camera – it is definitely the main thing that interested me as an avid amateur photographer.

After reading DxOMark’s rave review about Google Pixel’s camera, I just couldn’t resist the temptation to plunk down on a rather expensive upgrade to my Nexus 5 ($769 + taxes or $32.04/month).

Anyway, I had a trip scheduled to Washington DC for BA-CON 3 (3rd Annual Boarding Area Conference), and figured that it would be the best place to test out the capabilities of my new Pixel XL.

Since the Boarding Area conference would take up the greater part of my weekend, I intentionally took a morning flight out on Friday to get to DC before it started.  After checking in to Marriott Marquis, I headed out on my photo walk through Washington. And, I’m sure there is no dearth of reviews talking about its value and the pros and cons of Google Assistant, I want to focus on the photography aspect of it.

Here is a Google Pixel photo tour of Washington:

The National Mall:

The Streets of Washington:

After hours in DC:

As you can see, the Pixel has incredible dynamic range for a smartphone camera.  I couldn’t believe how sharp and vibrant the images looked.  And, its ability to snap pictures in HDR without any shutterlag is extremely impressive.  To top it off, while it takes amazing pictures in daylight, its lowlight performance truly puts it a class above the competition (read iPhone 7).

The one caveat is that, a few times, it drops the shutter speed enough that the user has to make sure to hold the phone rather still while taking the picture.  Now, these incidences are far and few in between but it is quite obvious in these scenarios that there is room for improvement.  Again, I remind you – this is a smartphone camera!

Hell, I was so impressed by Pixel’s camera that I decided to compare the images to those taken with my Sony A7ii.

I’ll let the pictures do the talking

Fall Colours on Jersey Ave:

Google Pixel

Sony A7 II

The U.S Capital Building at Night:

Google Pixel

Sony A7 II

The U.S Capitol Building at Sunrise:

Google Pixel

Sony A7 II

Google Pixel

Sony A7 II

Video Camera: 

The Google Pixel features one of the best video cameras on the market today – not because of its 4k shooting capabilities but because of its 60 fps mode. The 60 fps mode will result in a faster and smoother viewer experience with less flicker in the videos.  And, you’re far more likely to view videos on 1080p screens than 4k screens – although it is nice to have that option.  Here are some videos I took with the phone:

Washington DC (1080p/60FPS):

Founder’s Plaza near DFW Airport(4k/60FPS): 

And how about that unlimited storage?

Google advertises that Pixel users will have unlimited storage on the cloud with Google Photos, but this is limited to just the pictures and videos you take with your Google Pixel. Completely useless if you ask me because Google Photos already offers unlimited high quality images and your camera won’t take pictures exceeding that quality. This was a huge disappointment for me because I was looking to back up my DSLR camera photos in original quality. I guess there are no free lunches after all 🙂

Conclusion: As you can see here, Google Pixel performed exceptionally well in terms of image quality and dynamic range.  While the Pixel had a tendency to bump up the vibrancy a bit on the images, I couldn’t tell that much of a difference between the images until I started to pixel peep.

Just to give you an idea of what the Pixel was competing against: the Sony A7ii is widely considered one of the best mirrorless cameras in the market.  If you include the lenses (16-35 mm and the 55 mm) and the various filters, the entire system costs well in excess of $4,000.

And, I’m comparing it to a phone… A phone!!

Battery Life:

For me the most important feature on a phone, even more than the camera, is the battery life.  Even the most capable phone is useless if its dead by 5 PM – this is especially true for us travellers who rarely get to plug in.

Luckily, the Pixel excels in this regard.  On days of light to medium usage, I get around 40-48 hours easily.  And, on days of heavy usage, I get around 18 hours of usage.  Here is a current screenshot of my phone’s battery usage chart:

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Bottom Line:

In my humble opinion, Google Pixel is hands down the best smartphone on the market today. The entire system, from the native Android experience to the new Google Assistant feels fast and responsive.  The phone’s camera deserves special mention with its incredible dynamic range and excellent low light performance: I can confidently say that it can easily replace your point and shoot.  Coupled with the excellent battery life, it’s an absolute no-brainer if you are looking to upgrade your phone.

P.S. You don’t have to buy an expensive Bose headset to listen to your music while it charges (Sorry Andy)  😉

Are you considering the Google Pixel? What are your thoughts?

Here are some more pictures from the phone if you would like to see them:

  • Denis wield

    Rubin article. More of an advertisement.
    No mention of specifications anywhere.
    No discussion of transferring files to Ps, Lr or such.

    • This was more of an editorial review of the Pixel XL. I don’t get any commission or payment for people buying a Pixel. I use Lightroom Mobile for editing purposes.