SMARTPHONES:
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2020

History of Google Pixel Phones

History of Google Pixel Phones

In the world of smartphones, five years can seem like a lifetime. In 2016, Google® brought the Pixel into the world, and the version it introduced then seems rudimentary compared to the version available today. Whether you're a long-time fan of Google products or are considering switching from an iPhone® or another Android device to a Google phone, we've outlined the history of all Google Pixel phones and what the company has in store for the Google phone evolution below.

Google Pixel and Pixel XL (2016)

Prior to the launch of the original Pixel and Pixel XL in 2016, Google had partnered with other smartphone manufacturers, like HTC, LG and Samsung, to launch the Nexus series of phones. Google managed the design and support for Nexus phones but the parts themselves were produced by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). With the launch of Pixel, Google officially retired the Nexus phone line and threw its hat into the smartphone and tablet production ring.

The first Google phones, the Pixel and Pixel XL, debuted at a #MadeByGoogle event in October 2016. The starting price was $649 for the Pixel phone with 32GB of storage. The larger Pixel XL had a starting price of $769. Additionally, Pixel and Pixel XL originally came with Android 7.1 Nougat. Unlike with Nexus phones, Google was able to issue software updates for Pixel more efficiently, since it both produced the software and the hardware.

Both of the first-generation Pixel phones were made from aluminum and glass. The phones came in either silver or black. There was also a blue version available for Verizon customers in the U.S.

At the time of its debut, the Pixel's claim to fame was its camera. Upon its release, the phone's rear camera was rated 89 by DxOMark, an independent benchmark that evaluates phone camera quality. The rating was the highest ever given to a smartphone camera. The Pixel had two cameras, one on the front and one on the back. Both had high resolutions and took clear, high-quality photos.

While cameras on the Pixel and Pixel XL commanded a lot of attention, the phones were also notable for being the first to offer Google Assistant. A phone user could say the magic word or press a button on the home screen to summon the virtual assistant. A user could ask the assistant to play music or find a photo on the phone.

Google has long since retired the Pixel and Pixel XL. But if you happen to have one lying around in a drawer at home, you can sell or recycle yours.

The two phones ran on Android 8.0 Oreo and could be upgraded through Android 11. In contrast, the original Pixel and Pixel XL were upgradable through Android 10.

Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL (2017)

Google introduced the second version of the Pixel in 2017. The Pixel 2 had a 5-inch screen and the Pixel 2 XL had a 6-inch screen. Like their predecessors, the second generation Pixel phones had best-in-class cameras on the front and rear. Once again, the phones' cameras earned a high rating from DxOMark. Notably, the camera offered optimal image stabilization, a first. Optimal image stabilization keeps you from taking blurry or out-of-focus photos and video.

Although the batteries in both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL supported fast charging, battery life was relatively short. The Pixel 2 actually had less battery power than its predecessor and needed to be charged more frequently.

The two phones ran on Android 8.0 Oreo and could be upgraded through Android 11. In contrast, the original Pixel and Pixel XL were upgradable through Android 10. The base model of the Pixel 2 had double the storage space of the original model, 64 GB instead of 32 GB. That means you can store double the music, photos and apps on the Pixel 2.

Some people prefer a phone's appearance to how it functions, and the Pixel 2 delivers in the design department. With the launch of the Pixel 2, Google introduced what became known as the "Panda Pixel." The Pixel 2 XL was available in a black and white version that was visually stunning.

The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL reached their end-of-life date in October 2020. If you happen to have a Pixel 2 at home, you might still be able to recycle or sell it.

Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL (2018)

Although the third time is often the charm, that wasn't exactly the case when Google launched the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL in 2018.

On the hardware end of things, the third generation of the Pixel phone offered notable improvements. The Pixel 3's screen is slightly bigger than the Pixel 2's at 5.5 inches. The screen on the XL version measures 6.3 inches. Both versions sported a higher resolution than earlier models and had a more powerful processor than earlier versions, meaning apps load much more quickly.

On the camera front, the Pixel 3 phones have the same rear and front cameras as the Pixel 2, but this model added a second front camera. The second front camera is called the Group Selfie Cam. You can use it to capture a wide-angle shot of yourself and all of your friends.

The battery life was somewhat improved on the Pixel 3, and the new phones also offered wireless charging for added convenience. The phones came with Android 9.0 Pie and can be upgraded to Android 12. 

But design-wise, the Pixel 3 left some things to be desired. The phones lacked a headphone jack, meaning you need to use wireless earbuds or headphones with them.

The Pixel 3 XL also has a large notch at the top of the screen, dubbed the "bathtub notch" by some users because of its shape and size. The notch holds the front-facing camera and sensors. It's designed to maximize screen size but some people think it gets in the way of the display itself since it cuts down into the screen.

The original Pixel 3 had a retail price of $799, but you can find pre-owned versions of the Pixel 3 for much less.

Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL (2019)

Perhaps acknowledging that the price of the Pixel 3 was out of reach for many customers, Google introduced a budget-friendly option, the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL, six months later. The two phones launched in the spring of 2019. 

Google made the 3a budget-friendly by using a less powerful processor than the original 3 series. That means the phone was somewhat slower than its predecessor but still good enough for average phone use. As an added benefit, the Pixel 3a series had Google's highly regarded cameras. 

Another difference between the Pixel 3a and 3 series is the phone's material. On the 3a, aluminum and glass are replaced by polycarbonate. The cheaper materials and less powerful processor translated into a much more reasonable price tag. With a starting price of just $399, the Pixel 3a series is about half as expensive as the flashier Pixel 3.

Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL (2019)

The company even released an ad making fun of Apple for rolling out phones with two rear-facing cameras. But with the launch of the Pixel 4 series in the fall of 2019, the company changed its tune.

Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL (2019)

Google was slow to adopt the trend of adding two main cameras. The company even released an ad making fun of Apple for rolling out phones with two rear-facing cameras. But with the launch of the Pixel 4 series in the fall of 2019, the company changed its tune.

The Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL were the first of all Google phones to have two rear-facing cameras. The second camera on the Pixel 4 boasted a telephoto lens, allowing you to zoom in on images and take up-close photos. 

Another notable feature of the Pixel 4 is Motion Sense, a radar-based gesture recognition system. Google developed Motion Sense using Project Soli technology. Motion Sense detects when you're close to the device and turns on the screen. You can also use gestures to open apps or skip tracks when playing music. Interestingly enough, the sensor is geo-blocked in some countries, as the frequency band it uses hasn't been approved for use.

People found a few things to complain about regarding the Pixel 4's design. The infamous "notch" is gone from the Pixel 4, but it's been replaced by a large bezel border around the front. Some people thought the large bezel was a crime against design, but others disagreed.

A more critical design issue might be the lack of a headphone jack. That's fine if you want to upgrade to wireless headphones but a pain if you have a wired pair you love and want to keep using.

The original list price of a new Pixel 4 is $899, but you can find pre-owned models for considerably less.

As it did with the Pixel 3, Google released a budget version of the Pixel 4, the 4a, several months after the launch. The 4a came out in August 2020 and a 5G version appeared one month later. The 4a series had a starting price of around $350, less than half the starting price of the original 4 series.

Google Pixel 5 (2020)

At the same time that it introduced the 4a 5G phone, Google rolled out the Pixel 5. The phone was the first from Google that didn't have an accompanying XL version.

The Pixel 5 had a lot in common with the 4a 5G, as it had practically the same internal hardware. Yet, the 4a 5G was considerably more affordable than the Pixel 5. Both models run on Android 11 and could be upgraded. The target end-of-life date for the Pixel 5 is 2023, so you can still rely on security patches and upgrades from Google until then.

Google did make some design improvements to the Pixel 5 that many consider worthy upgrades. It has a tiny hole on the front corner that houses the front camera rather than an intrusive notch or bezel. The Pixel 5 brought back the rear fingerprint scanner, which was missing from some earlier models. It also has wireless charging and reverse wireless charging, so you don't have to worry about scrounging around for a cord.

In an attempt to keep the price on the low end, Google decided to use a lower-powered processor. Most users won't likely notice much of an issue with processing speed, though. 

Google introduced the Pixel 5a, the budget-friendly option, in the summer of 2021. However, the 5a was eclipsed by the Pixel 6 series, which came along a few short months later.

Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro (2021)

The Pixel 6 also got a major camera upgrade. It now has three cameras on the back and one on the front, so you can use the cameras to take wide-angle shots and extreme close-ups.

Google Pixel 5 (2020)

It seems like Google pulled out all the stops for the Pixel 6 series. The phone launched in October 2021 with lots of new, ground-breaking features.

Among those notable features is the Google Tensor chip, a custom silicon chip that's a first for the company. With Tensor, the Pixel 6 series offers more AI abilities than are available with the Qualcomm chips it was using previously. In other words, the Pixel 6 can handle real-time tasks at lightning speed.

The Pixel 6 also got a major camera upgrade. It now has three cameras on the back and one on the front, so you can use the cameras to take wide-angle shots and extreme close-ups.

Google also seems to have figured out the battery issue with the Pixel 6. While people complained that earlier Pixels lost battery power quickly, the Pixel 6 series has all-day adaptive batteries. A fast-charging system gets the battery up to 50% power in just 30 minutes.

The Pixel 6 series runs on Android 12. Google has promised operating system updates for three years and at least five years of security upgrades. Despite its array of features and upgrades, the Pixel 6 series had a starting price lower than other models. The starting price is just $599.

Google Pixel 7 (Rumored Name & Unreleased) 

Next up for the latest Google phone is the Pixel 7, which will likely debut in 2022. So far, any description of the Pixel 7 is based on rumors. Some say the phone will run on an upgraded, second-generation Tensor chip. The phone might also have an underscreen camera. The Pixel 7 is expected to be released in October 2022.

Sell or Recycle Your Pixel Phone Today

If you'd like to make way for the latest Google Pixel cell phone, you can sell or recycle your older models.

Sell Your Cellphones With ecoATM

If you'd like to make way for the latest Google Pixel cell phone, you can sell or recycle your older models. We make it easy to clear out your drawers and potentially get cash for your old smartphones. Before dropping off a phone at an ecoATM kiosk, perform a factory reset to clear out any personal data. Then, find a kiosk near you.

*ecoATM is not affiliated with sponsored or otherwise endorsed by the phone manufactures mentioned in this article. 

SMARTPHONES:
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2020