SAN FRANCISCO—We're live from Google's 10/4 event where the company has finally taken the wraps off its flagship phones for 2016. Just as the rumors predicted, the Nexus line is taking a backseat to the new "Pixel" phones and will no longer be the company's flagship phone brand. Google has announced two high-end devices: the 5-inch Pixel and the 5.5-inch Pixel XL.
The two devices are basically big and small versions of the same design. They have aluminum bodies with a large glass panel on the rear. The panel covers about a third of the back and surrounds the camera and fingerprint reader.
Google says that it has developed the devices itself, but thanks to FCC documents , we know these devices are manufactured by HTC. They look like recent HTC devices, specifically the HTC A9 and HTC Desire 10 —which both, really, look like iPhones. The company is playing up the interplay between hardware and software—the phones will be the first to ship with the Google Assistant feature, and will also be able to save local storage space by automatically offloading data to the cloud.
Google is still fully in control of the software on these devices, so expect relatively speedy major updates along with monthly security updates. Google has tried to do something different for the Pixel software, basically providing its own "Google" skin on top of AOSP with a custom launcher, settings, and System UI.
Previously, the Nexus 5 had an exclusive launcher for a short period, but the Pixel line definitely marks an expansion of device-exclusive Google software. The new launcher is the most striking change, with circular icons, a hidden swipe-up gesture to access the app drawer, and a redesigned Google widget. With the new Google widget comes a rebrand of Google's voice technology to the "Google Assistant." We'll definitely have to dive into the new software changes once we get some time with the device.