Here’s our wish list for a Google Pixel Ultra! #DreamPixel
If you ask a smartphone enthusiast from the modding community about some fond memories they’ve had with phones in the past, there’s a good chance the list would include a Nexus device. The Nexus line-up portrayed Google’s vision for Android and offered a no-frills experience. Instead of going hard on hardware, Google focused on the aspect they’re good at — software — and outsourced the hardware to other OEMs. This allowed them to focus on developing and improving newer versions of Android which Nexus users first got a taste of before it hit other devices.
In 2016 though, Google unexpectedly killed the Nexus series in favor of the Pixel. While the Nexus was catered more towards enthusiasts, the Pixel took a different route. Apart from just running the latest version of Android, the Pixel series demonstrated Google’s software prowess in various departments. Be it the amazing portrait mode shots with just a single camera, Night Sight which literally gets light into your pictures from nowhere, a voice recorder with offline transcription, or even Google Duplex that can answer your calls for you using AI.
The Pixel has differentiated itself from the Nexus over the years with more focus on the mass market. There’s still one aspect though, that’s plagued Google’s phones to date — their reluctance to make meaningful changes YoY to hardware. While this is set to change with the Pixel 6 series going by what Google themselves have spilled, the hardware choices that Google has made have often been controversial. Be it sticking to a single camera when competitors had up to four different lenses or the decision to put a mid-range chip on the Pixel 5, the bottom line is, Google has seldom done something out of its comfort zone.
There were rumors however, of a flagship do-it-all Pixel phone that was supposed to be launched alongside the Pixel 2, and it was supposedly slated to be the “Pixel Ultra”. Unfortunately, though, the Pixel Ultra never materialized. With Google’s 23rd birthday today, the time is ripe for all of us tech nerds to dive deep into our imagination and hope for a Pixel that can truly compete against the flagships of today’s world.
So, guess what, we actually did it! On Google’s 23rd birthday, here’s what we wish the Pixel Ultra would be if it launched today, or as we call it, the
Double up on those cameras!
You can’t talk about a Pixel without addressing the cameras up first. Right from the first-gen Pixel, Google has built a legacy in terms of the camera output thanks to one major component — its software brilliance. The original Pixel came with a single rear-facing camera which was understandable back in the day when phones were only starting to get dual cameras. However, this trend of using a single camera carried over for the next two years when both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 3 had single cameras on the back.
Even with a single lens and the exact same sensor, Google managed to produce some magic with the camera output of these phones. The Pixel 2 had the best portrait mode on any phone which only got better, and the Pixel 3 revolutionized low light photography with Night Sight. All of these breakthroughs were possible thanks to Google’s computational photography algorithms. Google was able to make up for the lack of hardware by using their software expertise which worked great. However, there’s only so far you can go with just software.
When competing brands had ultra-wide and telephoto cameras to capture different perspectives, the Pixel could do just one. The Pixel 4 did get a telephoto lens which was then swapped out for an ultra-wide on the Pixel 5, but even then, the camera setup didn’t feel as comprehensive as that on something like the Galaxy S21 Ultra or even the Mi 11 Ultra.
Won’t we all love to see a Pixel with an additional periscope camera for 10X lossless zoom? When you club that with Google’s digital zoom algorithms and a larger sensor, you can only imagine how good moon shots from the phone would look like at 100X hybrid zoom! Periscope cameras have been around for a while and we don’t see a reason for Google to exclude one from their flagship.
While a triple camera setup comprising of a primary shooter, an ultra-wide lens, and a periscope camera should satisfy most people, why not add a fourth camera in there since we are talking about an imaginary phone anyway? I would love to see a macro camera on the Pixel, and before you question my profession as a tech journalist, no, I’m not referring to those atrocious 2MP sensors.
The Oppo Find X3 Pro had a brilliant microscope camera that provided up to 60X magnification. While you may not find a lot of practical use cases for it, it’s surely a fun sensor to have and if I ever want a fourth camera on my phone, this is the one I would pick.
So we’ve given the Pixel a much-needed bump in terms of camera hardware, but that would be incomplete without some software changes. While the Pixel has always been a champ when it comes to taking still photos, videos are still meh for the most part when you compare it to something like the iPhone. Google really needs to up its game in this department and also allow users to shoot up to 4K 60fps video from all cameras, including the front-facing one which we’ll talk about in just a bit.
A True Full-screen Display
When the trend of bezel-less displays started to pick up, Google still stuck with a thick frame on its devices. Now, some might argue it was done in order to retain the excellent front-firing stereo speakers, but there’s absolutely no defense for putting a bathtub at the top of the display.
Even with the Pixel 4, Google’s experiment with Project Soli meant the phone had to have a thick top bezel and hence look dated compared to phones from other OEMs. While they fixed that with the Pixel 5 and went with a punch hole like any sane OEM in 2020 would, it’s still not the perfect full-screen experience.
We’ve been seeing phones with under-display cameras for a while now and I agree the tech isn’t perfect. ZTE’s implementation was quite bad and so is Samsung’s on the Galaxy Z Fold 3. The main issue with the under-display cameras on these phones is that the shots from the selfie camera look bad since there’s an additional layer of pixels that the camera needs to look through.
The only way to make the selfies look better is by having strong software algorithms in place that optimize the look of the picture once it’s been captured. The Xiaomi Mix 4, for example, actually does a pretty good job at it.
Considering Google’s software expertise and their ability to optimize pictures using the Pixel Visual Core, we would imagine that an under-display camera on the Pixel Ultra would suit well. The front would be truly full-screen without a notch or a cutout being an eye-sore, and the selfies too would look good. While we’re on the topic, a 120Hz QHD+ AMOLED display with an LTPO panel would be a treat to view content on.
Better Hardware-Software Integration
We often associate the word ecosystem with Apple. That’s mainly because all of their products talk to each other and work so well in tandem. It’s a big reason why someone buying an iPhone would consider getting an Apple Watch instead of a Fitbit, a Mac instead of a Windows machine, and so on. It’s not just about the ecosystem though. Apple makes both the hardware and the software that goes into an iPhone which is why they work so well together. Apple’s software optimization makes the best use of the hardware onboard.
On the Android side of things though, there’s one brand making the chips, and another making the software. This doesn’t allow for as seamless of a hardware-software integration as Apple has been nailing for years now. With the Pixel 6 series, Google finally announced that they’re going to be using their custom Silicon called Tensor. While we’re yet to experience the changes and improvements this custom chip will bring and how well Google’s software works with it, it’s surely a step in the right direction. The silicon will only keep getting better and Google will be able to customize their software to take advantage of the chipset in the best possible way.
Along with gains in raw performance, this kind of integration will also help with things like battery life. You’re probably aware at this point that the iPhone has considerably lower battery capacities compared to most Android phones. While Android devices have breached the 5,000mAh mark, an iPhone with a mere 3,500mAh battery would perform similarly thanks to the software optimization done by Apple. This sort of seamless integration is what I want the Pixel Ultra to achieve.
More Software Features and Customization
Over the years, Android has thrived in one particular aspect — customization. Launchers, widgets, mods, and what-not. However, the UI that you get on a Pixel has remained basic for the most part. Even some vital features like scrolling screenshots have only been introduced recently in Android 12. Native screen recording was made available only last year with Android 11. These features have existed for the longest time on custom UIs and skins and only improve the utility of the phone.
Features like dual apps, native app lock, custom steps for the ringer, and multiple options for system navigation are features that are must-haves on modern-day smartphones. My dream Pixel Ultra would even have a Samsung DeX-like desktop mode implementation wherein plugging the phone into an external display would turn it into a Chromebook. Speaking of computers, Google can work with Microsoft to seamlessly integrate and harmonize Android phones with Windows computers, just like how an iPhone links to a Mac.
Yes, there is the Your Phone app that does something similar, but it’s nowhere close to what you get with iOS and Mac. Airdrop, for example, can transfer large video files from an iPhone to a Mac in a matter of seconds. While Google did respond with Nearby Share, it currently only works between Android devices and not between a phone and a PC. Handoff and Continuity are also great features that let you continue your work across devices. These are the kind of features I would want a Pixel Ultra to have.
Another area where Android has fallen behind compared to iOS is a seamless backup and restore function. What better way to bring it to Android than on a Pixel Ultra? When you buy a new Pixel Ultra, you should be able to transfer all your data from your existing smartphone right from the apps, app data, home screen layout, saved passwords, with all your accounts logged in. The procedure should be made as seamless as entering your PIN on your new Pixel and voila, all your data is transferred in a few minutes.
A lof these software elements can be introduced on the Pixel to make the experience more productive and to ensure the UI doesn’t feel limiting. When you have so much horsepower with modern-day SoCs, why waste it? One may argue that other UIs already offer these features so by providing all of these on the Pixel Ultra, you would make the experience more cluttered. That’s not entirely true though since the core aesthetic and experience of the Pixel UI can be maintained, and these can be added as advanced features for power users.
If Google makes both the hardware and the software, they also have the advantage of supporting the device for much longer. The iPhone 6S, launched in 2015, is still getting software updates and will support iOS 15 which is a huge deal. Five years of Android updates for the Pixel Ultra would be great and would ensure that the phone runs well for a long period of time. It would also be great if Google built an ecosystem of products that integrate well with the Pixel Ultra smartphone. Yes, the Pixel Buds already exist, but the rumored Pixel Watch is still nowhere to be seen.
A large 5000mAh battery would be great when you also factor in the optimization that you’re going to get with the custom silicon. 65W PD charging would go very well along with a large battery. Most smartphones with fast charging speeds rely on proprietary standards like VOOC, Warp, etc. which require custom charging bricks that also support the standard. Having support for fast PD charging would mean you can use any universal charger that has support for USB-PD.
The rest of it would be quite simple — 12GB of RAM and 256GB of UFS3.1 storage, at least. The colored power button from existing Pixels stays, but I would like an additional mute switch like the iPhone or a OnePlus device. The inclusion of a headphone jack with a good DAC would mean you can enjoy all the hype around lossless audio, and wireless charging along with an IP68 rating would complete the package for the Pixel Ultra.
Lastly, I would love it if all this was packed into a portable form factor like the Pixel 5. The Pixel 5 was the perfect size to handle and wasn’t too big or small. Not to forget, the availability of Google’s phones all over the world has been erratic. Most Pixel phones only launch in a handful of selected countries which I’m sure is based on market research. But if Google really wants to stamp its dominance in the smartphone industry, they have to make the Pixel Ultra available worldwide.
Let’s be real for a moment. There’s no such thing as a perfect phone, and the Pixel Ultra remains squarely in the realms of fantasy for now. Every device has its own set of flaws which may or may not irk different people in different ways. It doesn’t hurt to imagine what an ideal phone would look like though, especially with the Pixel 6 series slated to launch sometime soon. I’ve tried to keep my expectations as realistic as possible and haven’t gone overboard by saying I want eight cameras and a 32-core processor and a 10,000mAh battery with 200W wireless charging in the body of an iPhone 12 mini with a price tag of $200. No, that’s not the point of this wishlist.
The point is to make you wonder what a Play Edition Galaxy S21 Ultra would look like if Google/Samsung hadn’t killed off the program. It would probably satisfy most parameters I mentioned here that I would expect from my dream Pixel Ultra, at least in terms of hardware. This takes me back to the original point — Google hasn’t really done much with the hardware on their devices, which is probably why they aren’t leaders in any segment that deal with hardware. One would assume their acquisition of HTC’s smartphone division would’ve changed things, but that change hasn’t really materialized.
Fortunately for us, the Pixel 6 series looks like a step in that direction. It seems to be the first phone from Google with a bold design language and some notable improvements like more versatile cameras, and not to forget, a custom chip. Is it going to be the Pixel we’ve all been waiting for? Only time will tell. Until then, let us know what your dream Pixel Ultra would look like in the comments below.