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The reviews are in: Google's Pixel phone takes on the iPhone 7

The Pixel phone.

The Pixel phone.  (Google)

Google has made a strong phone debut, according to the first round of reviews. Strong enough to take on the market-leading iPhone.

The 5-inch Pixel and 5.5-inch Pixel XL are the company’s first pure Google-branded smartphones, with the tagline “made by Google.” To date, Google has released phones under the Nexus brand, which tended to emphasize the phone’s manufacturer, such as LG and Huawei, not Google.

So, how does it stack up?

Wall Street Journal: “The Google Pixel is now the best Android smartphone you can buy,” the Journal said in its review. The review points to some iPhone 7-rivaling features such as the display and camera. Calling the display “superior” to the iPhone’s, the Journal says the Pixel’s “AMOLED display makes photos look better; even ones taken on an iPhone.” Apple still uses liquid crystal displays (LCDs) but is expected to switch to active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) displays on future iPhones because of the technology’s inherent advantages.

“The camera also performs better in low-light situations, compared with the excellent cameras in the Samsung Galaxy S7 and iPhone 7,” the review said.

TechRadar: Pixel “is an excellent flagship phone” and “a breath of fresh Google air in a world of Android over-complication,” TechRadar said in its review. The tech site also spotlights the Pixel's AMOLED display. “We’ve been using the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus recently, and moving from Apple’s latest offerings to the Pixel we noticed the improved depth of color generated by the latter's AMOLED display.”

TechRadar calls the camera “a very, very good snapper” that “worked best at dawn and dusk.” In other words, in low-light conditions. Overall, the Pixel's camera usually produces images that  match the quality of rivals like the iPhone 7 and Samsung Galaxy S7, but the camera doesn’t “wow” enough to set it apart from those market leaders, according to TechRadar.

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Battery life is good but not stellar. “If you’re careful with your usage you’ll get a full day out of the phone,” TechRadar said.

CNET: CNET Reviews gives it 4.5 stars out of 5, praising the “fantastic camera” that typically takes “amazing shots that rival those of the Apple iPhone 7 Plus.” The review also lauds the Google Assistant, the voice-controlled personal assistant, which “takes one of the most natural, human approaches to answering your voice.”

Indeed, Google Assistant is one of the most often-cited highlights of the Pixel. Google Assistant goes beyond Google Now (the previous version of its digital assistant), Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa and Microsoft's Cortana and is “genuinely conversational,” CNET said.  “You can use your voice to speak to it in a natural, back-and-forth way, and it has a chat-like interface.”

The Pixel phone is also just as fast as rivals because it taps Qualcomm’s newest chip. “With its Snapdragon 821 processor, the Pixel works fast and fluidly,” CNET said.

And the battery life? "The Pixel survived a solid work day with medium to heavy usage, but needed a charge at the end of the day," CNET said.

Ars Technica: Not all reviews were overwhelmingly favorable. While tech site Ars Technica also calls the Pixel “the best Android phone,” the review asks some hard questions.

The site wonders if the new phones are really that different from the previous Nexus products, saying “it's hard to see many practical examples of this design shift in the final Pixel products, leading us to wonder exactly what ‘designed by Google’ means,” Ars Technica said, referring to comments from Google executives who say the Pixel is a pure Google design.

Ars Technica also points out that the Pixel is behind the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7 on water resistance, an important consumer check-off item.

“Google also lags when it comes to water resistance. The iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7 can both survive being submerged in water…The Pixel phones…will only survive ‘spraying water’ and only at certain angles.”