Posted: October 27, 2016
Contributing Authors: Dick James
Recently Google launched their Pixel phone with great fanfare and media response. This is the first phone for which Google designed the hardware, software, and cloud ecosystem, as opposed to the Google Nexus phones, which used the Android operating system and Google branding, but the physical design was sourced elsewhere.
When we compared the detailed specifications, however, we thought “We’ve seen this before somewhere…” and we had. Many of the parts found in the Pixel are also used in the Xiaomi Mi 5s, and were therefore also recently in-house.
The outside of the Pixel
Our comparison begins on the outside. The Pixel is available in two models with 5 and 5.5-inch screens, while the Mi 5s splits the difference with a 5.15-inch display. The Pixels each have a machined aluminum case with a glass insert containing the fingerprint sensor, and the displays are full high definition (FHD) AMOLEDs at 441 ppi for the smaller phone and 534 ppi for the XL. The battery sizes are 2770 and 3450 mAh (10.66 and 13.28 Wh), respectively, and consumers have the choice of 32 GB or 128 GB of memory for either model.
Google also claim that the camera is “The highest rated smartphone camera. Ever.” It is actually a Sony IMX378 12.3 MP unit, which follows the current trend to larger pixels (1.55 µm) for better light collection, and even though the camera has built-in phase detection autofocus, they have added laser range finding as well (see our blog on Time-of-Flight sensors). Finally, getting back to the mundane, the color options are cutely called “Quite Black” and “Very Silver”.
The outside of the Mi 5s
By contrast, the Mi 5s has the conventional home/fingerprint sensor on the front (under the glass, with no button), and the display is a more conventional IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen with a ~428 ppi pixel density Unlike the Pixel, this is a dual-SIM phone. There are 64 GB and 128 GB versions, though the 64 GB model has only 3 GB of system memory, while the 128 GB device has 4 GB . The battery is ~3100 mAh (~12 Wh), again splitting the difference in the Pixels, and available colors include pink, grey, silver, and gold.
Taking a look inside and comparing cost estimates
Turning inward, when we get to the main camera, we start to see the similarities – it’s the same “highest rated smartphone camera,” the Sony IMX378, though without the laser autofocus – and when we look at the detailed inventories, we see there are a large number of parts in common:
|Google Pixel XL||Xiaomi Mi 5s|
|Application Processor/Modem||Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 MSM8996SG||$50.81||Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 MSM8996SG||$50.81|
|RF Transceiver||Qualcomm WTR4905; WTR3925||$5.91||Qualcomm WTR3925||$3.40|
|PMIC||Qualcomm PM8996; PMI8996||$4.02||Qualcomm PM8996; PMI8996||$4.02|
|Battery Charger||Qualcomm SMB1350||$0.52||Qualcomm SMB1351||$0.57|
|Envelope Tracking||Qualcomm QFE3100||$0.40||Qualcomm QFE3100||$0.40|
|DRAM||Samsung K3RG2G20BMMGCJ, 4GB LPDDR4||$20.64||SK hynix H9HKNNNDGUMUBRNMH 3GB LPDDR4||$17.48|
|Flash||Samsung KLUBG4G1CEB0B1, 32GB UFS||$6.46||Samsung KLUCG4J1CBB0B1, 64GB UFS||$13.44|
|Power Amplifier Module||Avago ACPM-7800; SKY77807-8||$1.47||Avago ACPM-7800; ACPM-9340||$1.17|
|Display||5.5" AMOLED||$43.50||5.15" IPS LCD||$24.77|
|Primary Camera||Sony IMX378, 12 MP||$14.97||Sony IMX378, 12 MP||$14.97|
|Secondary Camera||8 MP||$7.21||4 MP||$6.77|
|Fingerprint||Need confirmation||$4.33||Qualcomm QBT1000 Snapdragon Sense ID||$2.52|
|NFC||NXP PN548||$0.54||NXP PN548||$0.54|
|Wi-Fi/BT Module||Samsung Electro-Mechanics 4759RA||$6.80||Qualcomm QCA6164A||$3.03|
|Audio Amplifier||NXP TFA9891||$0.60||NXP TFA9891||$0.60|
|Audio Codec||Qualcomm WCD9335||$1.46||Qualcomm WCD9335||$1.46|
|Accel/Gyro||Bosch BMI160||$0.48||Bosch BMI160||$0.48|
|Touchscreen Controller||Synaptics S3708||$0.63||Synaptics S3331||$0.63|
|Compass||AKM AK09915||$0.25||AKM AK09915||$0.25|
|Barometer||Bosch BMP280||$0.46||Bosch BMP280||$0.46|
|Time-of-Flight Laser Autofocus||STMicroelectronics XL53L0B||$0.33|
|Digital Tuner||Qualcomm QFE2550||$0.30|
|Battery||Li-ion, 3,450 mAh||$6.90||Li-ion, 3,100 mAh||$6.20|
Costing analysis for the main semiconductors
To this list we’ve added our cost estimates. The biggest cost differential is the display, but in terms of major component cost, there’s only about a $25 difference.
Of course this is just a costing for the main semiconductors, and does not include some of the RF front end, substrates, non-electronics, “other”, supporting materials, and final assembly and test. These items are, however, included in our “Deep Dive” teardowns, which are detailed product dis-assembly analyses, available with our Teardown subscription.
So what do you get for the price difference?
Given that the Pixel is priced at US$649 for its lowest-cost 32 GB model, and the 5s is RMB 1,999 (~US$300) in China for a 64 GB phone, we are left wondering what you get for this price difference!? The Pixel displays are described as “flat-out gorgeous OLED screens with deep blacks and vibrant, punchy colors,” but is it $20 in major component cost better than the “great colors, blacks and brightness topping out at 650 lux” of the Mi 5s?
The Pixels do have a better selfie camera, as well as the laser-focusing for the main camera, and they appear to have more RF bands – so hopefully more world-phone flexibility – but for the average user, would these be critical differences?
Google has launched the Pixel phones as part of their ecosystem, to compete with the Apple and Samsung ecosystems, and it could be argued this is included in the price. The Mi 5s uses the Xiaomi MIUI 8.0 operating system, based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow, whereas the Pixels use the latest Android 7.1 Nougat OS, tuned specifically for them.
What the reviews online say so far
Here, we have to rely on the online reviews of the two brands – this is what we found on the Xiaomi Mi 5s:
- “It ships with MIUI 8 which is running on top of Android 6.0.1, the ROM had plenty of Chinese bloatware, lucky I could remove most of it and had to of course install Google Play, since my version doesn’t have the Mi 5s global ROM. It’s very quick and snappy the phone, not once did I experience any lag or stutter, this thing is lightning quick.”
- “.. just not the camera performance, not for a flagship. Xiaomi has a lot of work to do on the software optimization as we know the hardware is there (IMX 378) but it’s just so poorly optimized.”
And the Google Pixels:
- “As for Android 7.1, it's a nice incremental update … Google has done more tuning to make Android feel more responsive to touch — and that work is much appreciated. But I don't think that same attention to detail has been applied to the overall interface yet … These are small gripes about an operating system that I genuinely like and prefer over iOS for its openness and flexibility.”
A feature specific to the Pixel phones is Google Assistant, the cloud-based artificial-intelligence personal aide that is tied into the Daydream VR headset, the new Chromecast Ultra, the Home interface, and a new Google Wi-Fi home router.
Google has warned that Assistant is still in its early days, and updates will be coming regularly, but in general, it has had positive reviews, ranging from “the Assistant blew away every competitor I’ve tried. It shredded Siri, which has a five-year lead.” to “the Google Assistant is absolutely the smartest of the assistant bunch, but it's not yet in a class of its own”.
In the end, the Assistant capability is the big differentiator between the Xiaomi and the Google phones, so ultimately, it comes down to whether you want that Google experience that comes with the Pixels, or simply a high-spec phone.