Google Pixel reviews are in: Here's how the iPhone rival stacks up

Reviews of Alphabet's first "Made by Google" mobile phone are out, and the new handset appears to go toe-to-toe with other premium phones, though it may not outpace them.

"Google's ambitious new smartphone, the Pixel, doesn't offer a lot that's new. Yet it's still one of the best out there," The Associated Press' Anick Jesdanun concludes.

Google's new Pixel phone has a sleek design that struck reviewers as familiar, if uninspired. While the pricey phone, starting at $649.99, faces some criticism of its photo quality, battery life and speed, other reviewers were blown away by its artificial intelligence, camera and software.

Wall Street Journal

With a sleek design, sharper display, good camera, and smarter voice-activated assistant, Pixel provides a compelling sell to iPhone 7 users, The Wall Street Journal's Joanna Stern writes. The battery life falls a bit short on the regular-sized model, but it charges faster than an iPhone, she says.

She says the biggest challenge is the software. While the apps work more fluidly than Apple's iOS or other Android versions, and the updates are automatic, Stern notes that her friends and family are already entrenched in Apple's iMessage. Plus, Google's Assistant logs queries, she writes.

"The Assistant works great but you have to be willing to let Google be Big Brother," Stern wrote.

Members of the media examine Google's Pixel phone during an event to introduce Google hardware products on October 4, 2016 in San Francisco, California.
Getty Images
Members of the media examine Google's Pixel phone during an event to introduce Google hardware products on October 4, 2016 in San Francisco, California.

New York Times

Brian X. Chen takes a more downbeat view in The New York Times, calling the phone "mediocre" and "underwhelming."

"It is slower than Apple's iPhone 7 and the Galaxy S7, Samsung's smaller flagship phone. Photos shot with Pixel's camera don't look as good as the iPhone's. And Google's built-in artificially intelligent virtual assistant, called Assistant, is still fairly dumb. But hey, the Pixel probably won't burn down your garage or injure a child."

Chen ran into some glitches with Google Assistant when trying to use natural language requests, and noted that the camera seemed to "exaggerate cyans and magentas," making images appear colder. Unlike Stern, Chen wasn't taken with the fingerprint reader on the back of the phone.

Still, for Android loyalists, Chen recommends Project Fi, Google's experimental wireless service, which he found to be reliable and a "good, frugal option."

The Verge and Recode

Personal tech guru Walt Mossberg writes that the Pixel is the first-rate Android phone that, at long last, will shake up the industry. "Suddenly, there's no longer an Apple-Samsung duopoly in premium handsets," he wrote.

The design is familiar, pleasant but conservative, Mossberg notes, and the Android platform is easy to use.

"The Pixel is easily the best Android phone I've ever tested, and seems to hail from a different planet than the chunky, clumsy and pokey 2008 G1 which introduced Android to the world," Mossberg wrote in The Verge and Recode.

The phone comes with a few minor inconveniences, he says: It doesn't ship with earbuds, and when asked for the ingredients of apple pie, Google's Assistant fails to list "apples." But it still outflanks Siri, according to Mossberg.

The battery life fell short of 10 hours during Mossberg's test, below the 13 hours promised, and the camera was a bit weaker than the iPhone 7 in dim light, he says. Plus, Google's 24-hour chat support just isn't the same as going to an Apple store.

Members of the media examine Google's Pixel phone during an event to introduce Google hardware products on October 4, 2016 in San Francisco, California.
Getty Images
Members of the media examine Google's Pixel phone during an event to introduce Google hardware products on October 4, 2016 in San Francisco, California.

USA Today

USA Today's Ed Baig called the Pixel a "winner," noting two positives right off the bat: the presence of a 3.5 millimeter headphone jack and the lack of a bump to accommodate the camera. The access to unlimited cloud storage boosts the usefulness of the Pixel's high-end camera, according to Baig, and he, too, notes how smart Google Assistant is when responding to more complicated queries.

"I asked the Assistant to 'tell me about my day' and it reported my local weather, told me what appointments I had coming and how long my commute would take. Without prompting, it then played radio broadcasts from NPR, Fox, News, Bloomberg, and BBC.

When I asked it to show me pictures of Sydney with horses, it correctly surmised that I meant my daughter Sydney rather than Sydney, Australia, and found pictures I'd taken of of her with horses in my Google Photos stash. When I instead asked the Assistant to 'show me pictures of Sydney with bridges' it pulled pictures of the Sydney Harbour Bridge off the web.

Google Assistant was also able to translate 'how do I find a bathroom in French?' into that language. Given the same query, Siri pointed me to the web. To be fair, on some complicated requests, the Assistant also directed me to the web.

Google Assistant was able to identify songs where I only knew a few of the lyrics and played them, sometimes, through YouTube.

Still, Baig notes, the phone has only a single speaker and lacks the same level of water-resistance as competitors.

CNET

Industry website CNET gives the Pixel a score of 8.8, the same as the iPhone 7 Plus. The phone's camera is "mostly awesome," said Lynn La, with a wide enough front-facing lens to take flattering selfies.

Still, the camera wasn't as sharp in dim lighting, the artsy "blur" effect is patchy, and the video stabilization gave shots a "surreal, almost drone-like quality," plus, you're limited to Verizon among the four major U.S. carriers, she said.

"But the Pixel is a beaut," La wrote. "It runs fast and comes at a time when the largest Android phone maker, Samsung, is hitting some rough luck."

Business Insider

Pixel showcases what Google does best: finding information, a la Google Assistant. The hardware itself, however, is "easily the least exciting part" of the phone, BI's Steve Kovach wrote.

"Google also has a major advantage over Apple. It has always been better at software and services, and nothing proves that more than Google Assistant, the new digital helper that lives inside the Pixel and future Google-made products like the Google Home speaker.

The Pixel phone is a taste of a future in which hardware matters less and the artificial intelligence that powers it takes precedence. And no one is better positioned to take advantage of that future at the moment than Google."

While some called the Pixel "bland," its ability to check the best-in-class boxes impressed shareholders: Shares were up more than 2 percent Tuesday.

Disclosure: CNBC is a launch partner for the Google Assistant app.