Google says it’s serious about phones again. Should you trust it?

Google says it’s serious about winning over smartphone buyers again, and to prove it, it’s throwing everything but the kitchen sink for its latest Pixel. The new Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are the company’s first true flagships and unlike their predecessors, they have the hardware to go toe-to-toe with the highest-end phones out there from Samsung and Apple. But should you trust Google’s once-again redefined outlook for its phone lineup? 

When Google introduced its first Pixel about five years ago, I was sold. The idea of a premium phone from not a third party like Samsung but from the same company that develops Android sounded perfect. It was off to a positive start as well, racking in rave reviews across the board. Over the coming years, however, the Pixel’s momentum faltered. The kind of early hardware issues I originally faced were still around years later on my third Pixel. Google is notorious for not sticking to its plans, and the Pixel, unfortunately, had become the latest victim of that — ultimately forcing me to replace it with an iPhone.

What followed was a mishmash of a hardware strategy. Instead of refining its existing products, for the Pixel 4, Google shifted focus to more ambitious features, such as facial unlock and a higher refresh rate. But at a starting price of $799, it failed to nail the essentials like battery life. The Pixel 5 represented another pivot in direction. It ditched the flashy hardware, added back the rear fingerprint sensor, and dropped the price to $699. That didn’t last long either and, in a couple of months, the Pixel 5 was discontinued. 

Pixel 6 Pro (Image credit: Laptop Mag/Sean Riley)

Now, the Pixel 6 marks Google’s return to the flagship space but it’s also a stark reminder of how volatile the company’s hardware strategy has been.  

The only constant in this was Google’s mid-range A series phones, which helped the search engine giant outsell OnePlus. But after five years and more than half a dozen phones later, Google sold only  22 million units in total — 0.3% of the 6.6 billion smartphones shipped between the first Pixel launch and today. In comparison, Apple and Samsung ship 70-80 million phones every three months. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The Pixel phones aren’t the only ones that have suffered from Google’s tendency to prematurely switch courses. Google abandoned its high-end Pixelbook and when it did launch a new Chromebook, it was a standard, mid-range laptop, which itself is currently long overdue for an upgrade. Similarly, the 2-in-1 Pixel Slate line of Chromebooks never got a second-gen refresh.