There's a first time for everything. You might think it's a bit odd for Alphabet's (GOOG -1.65%) (GOOGL -1.40%) Google to be jumping directly into making its own phones. Historically, the search giant has collaborated with third-party original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to make phones, but the new Pixel is the first time that Google is truly doing its own thing. Meanwhile, there's quite a bit of talk that the market has reached "peak smartphone," which makes you wonder why Google is only now taking this step.
In that context, it does seem peculiar to wait so long. But it's still better late than never.
Nexus is dead
Google says it has no intention of working on future Nexus phones, the aforementioned program where Google collaborated with well-known smartphone manufacturers. That means Pixel will be Google's new method of demonstrating to the Android camp what the platform can do, a task previously designated for Nexus devices.
The strategic differences between Nexus and Pixel are subtle. Both ship with stock versions of Android without added software from the phone's manufacturer (commonly known as bloatware). Both are first in line for future software updates directly from Google. Both aren't widely distributed through carrier stores and are primarily sold directly through Google (for better or worse). The main difference is Google taking complete ownership of hardware and software design in order to achieve deeper integration, although it is predictably still outsourcing manufacturing. In this case, HTC makes the Pixel.
It comes with Google Assistant
Pixel will be the first phone to ship with Google Assistant pre-installed. Google Assistant is the next generation of Google Now, where the Assistant can look up contextual information after scanning all your data. Assistant can even read what's currently on your screen in an effort to determine relevance.
Of course, Assistant will make its way to other apps and devices over time, so this is more of a starting point.
It has Daydream VR
The new device will also be the first to support Google's new virtual reality (VR) platform, Daydream. With the optional Daydream headset accessory ($79), you can strap your phone to your face and further isolate yourself from the world. The company is working with a wide range of third-party content producers to bring VR content to the platform.
The original Google Cardboard VR that offered the same functionality may have seemed like a joke at the time, being literally made out of cardboard and all, but Google is very serious about VR.
It comes in two sizes and three colors
People love big phones these days, and Pixel will come in 5-inch and 5.5-inch flavors. Those are pretty standard phablet-esque display sizes, and hit the sweet spots of demand. There will be three colors: Quite Black, Very Silver, and a limited edition Really Blue that will only be available in the U.S.
It comes with unlimited full-resolution cloud photo storage
This is potentially a big deal. Google is offering Pixel buyers unlimited cloud storage in Google Photos, but the big differentiator is that these will be full-resolution files. Google Photos currently offers free unlimited cloud storage to anyone, with the caveat that photos are modestly downscaled to reduce bandwidth and storage requirements.
At the same time, Google says Pixel has the best smartphone camera ever made, which is a pretty ambitious claim to live up to. That title is based on a DxOMark Mobile score of 89, the highest any smartphone camera has ever achieved. Shots fired, Cupertino.