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Google Pixel XL review

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Summary

Our Score:

9

Pros

  • Stunning, fast camera
  • The best version of Android yet
  • Impressive stamina
  • Bright display
  • Google Assistant is better than Siri

Cons

  • No water-resistance
  • Not very durable
  • Pretty pricey

Key Features

  • 5.5-inch quad-HD display
  • Snapdragon 821
  • 4GB RAM
  • Android 7.1
  • Google Assistant
  • 32 or 128GB storage
  • USB Type-C and fast charging
  • 3,450mAh battery
  • Daydream VR-ready
  • Manufacturer: Google
  • Review Price: £719.00

What is the Google Pixel XL?

Many have questioned Google's reasoning for taking the direction it has with the Pixel XL. Last year’s Nexus 6P was a great phone at a great price. The Pixel line isn't about value, however; the focus here is on sheer quality. The Nexus phones, as a result of their price point, were subject to trade-offs here and there – but this isn't so with the Pixel handsets.

So, this isn’t a cheap phone then – and in fact, it matches up closely to what you'd pay for an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus. That’s fine, though, because the Pixel XL is better than an iPhone 7. And for many it’s better than the Samsung Galaxy S7 too.

Google has finally managed to build its "iPhone" – and that should make other Android phone makers very worried indeed.

WATCH: Is the Google Pixel overpriced?

Google Pixel XL – Design

Yes, it’s true: the Google Pixel XL looks like an iPhone. Well, sort of. It’s a black (or white or blue) slab of metal, with curved edges and a rear that tapers ever so slightly to help it sit better in your hand; it has also enabled Google to do away with the camera bump, which proves a cause of concern for so many.

Related: Pixel vs Samsung Galaxy S7

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The sides chamfer slightly, and while the handset is probably a little thicker than you’d expect – especially if you’ve held a Moto Z – it’s comfortable to hold. Overall, it isn't actually that much smaller than an iPhone 7 Plus, but it nestles perfectly in my hand and feels so much more manageable than Apple’s hulking beast. A ridged lock switch sits on the side, above a clicky volume rocker.

Related: Galaxy S8+ hands-on

Although there are flashes of inspired design, overall the focus clearly more about functionality than flashiness. While the front is sparse, the back is a tad more interesting. A glass panel covers the camera and stretches down over the circular fingerprint scanner. This gives the rear of the phone a two-tone look that I actually really like. It’s a fingerprint magnet, however: like the Jet Black iPhone 7, it's seemingly prone to picking up smudges and abrasions from just looking at it.

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I still love having the fingerprint sensor on the back in all situations apart from when the phone is flat on a desk. It’s the natural position where my finger rests when I pick up the phone – and, of course, the lack of the physical home button means it’s really the only place for it to go.

Branding is kept to a minimum, which is rare for an Android phone. There’s only a "G" logo stencilled onto the back; HTC may have helped Google to build the phone, but there’s no mention of it anywhere.

The Pixel XL does lack some of the stalwart features we’ve come to expect from a flagship priced phone. There’s no IP68 water-resistance rating of the iPhone 7 and Samsung Galaxy S7, the powerful speakers of the HTC 10, or a microSD slot for expanding the 32GB of basic storage.

Related: What is IP68 water-resistance?

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While I don't believe that water-resistance is a necessary requirement, it’s a reassuring feature that I've come to appreciate. This is true of stereo speakers, too – they’re not mandatory, but they're a nice touch.

To be honest, though, the down-firing speaker included here isn’t too bad, but its position means it is easily blocked if playing a game. A microSD card can be found on pretty much every Android phone in 2016, and it's a shame there isn’t one here.

My main issue with the Pixel XL isn’t the design; it’s the durability of the handset. I’ve been using the phone for a while now and the exterior has already picked up a ding on the corner, even though I haven’t dropped it, and a bevy of scratches to the aforementioned glass panel. I’ve had an iPhone 6S in my pocket for nearly a year and that is yet to scratch at all. Will this become a problem? I’ll have to wait and see.

But this isn’t a design that will rival the Note 7 (R.I.P), nor the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. I think the Moto Z is far more attractive, the OnePlus 3 even more manageable, and the Nexus 6P more eye-catching. It looks better than an iPhone 7, but that’s a tired three-year-old design.

Related: Galaxy S8 hands-on

Google Pixel XL – Display

Being the bigger of the two Google phones, the Pixel XL features a larger 5.5-inch display with a 2,650 x 1,440 quad-HD resolution. For those after something smaller, the Pixel boasts a 1080p panel at 5 inches.

But as we already know, resolution doesn’t always guarantee a quality screen. Take the iPhone 7 Plus, for example. It has only a 1080p screen but support for a wide colour gamut and a top-drawer LCD panel make for a fantastic-looking display.

Thankfully, I've been pretty impressed by the display here; it matches the Samsung Galaxy S7 as the best on an Android phone.

Like the Galaxy S7, Google has used an AMOLED panel, so right off the bat you’re looking at much richer colours and deeper blacks. The black levels on this phone are great; inky and rich, with no grey discolouration.

Related: Best Android phones

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Next to an iPhone, you’ll notice how much brighter colours are on the Pixel XL. Apple’s flagships tend to render colour more accurately, while Samsung’s are much brighter and vivid. I'd say that the Pixel XL sits somewhere in-between. Reds are warm and greens can sometimes look a little fluorescent – but for the most part, the Pixel XL reproduces colours as they should be seen.

Viewing angles are great, too, and although this isn't the brightest screen I've seen – that honour easily goes to the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 – it can be jacked up high enough to make it viewable in all conditions.

Big phones have become the norm now and if you’ve ever used an Android phablet then you’ll feel right at home with the Pixel XL.

fredphoesh

October 14, 2016, 10:37 am

Probably my Note 7 replacement, when I can gather the emotional strength to call EE to return the Note 7 and place my pre-order... sniff

SoCoJosh

October 18, 2016, 3:00 pm

It is my Note 7 replacement.. I am getting this in hopes it can hold me over until the "note 8" or whatever it may be called comes out.

cheese king

October 19, 2016, 1:20 pm

"jammed with details" I guess we'll have to take you word for that as there is no download option to view these shots in the full splendor.

AndyB

October 26, 2016, 8:54 am

No chance!

It's more expensive than the S7 Edge (especially if you need more than 32Gb, as I do), the screen isn't as good, it's less robust, uglier (though that's less of an issue when you add a case), no SD card, no water resistance.

Sure it has a better processor and will get updates faster, but that doesn't come close to making up for it's shortfalls.

I just bought a Nexus 6P for half the price of a Pixel XL 128Gb, and I'm happy with that one. If I hadn't got hold of the 6P, it would probably have be a OnePlus 3, or if I could have found the cash, an S7 Edge. The Pixel is a rip-off.

It's a shame, I really liked the Nexus range. I guess I won't be buying another Google-branded phone if this is their strategy from now on.

Roku

October 26, 2016, 10:43 am

At this price you have to think about what the resale value would be after 2-3 years, compared to an S7 Edge or even, an iPhone.
Pitiful, would be my guess.

realfactchecker

November 1, 2016, 9:37 am

These reviews never feature how to make calls.
Can I tell it to call someone rather than having to look up the person, select him, and manually press a call button?
Does the phone announce callers?
Can I answer calls by voice command?

Jae Park

November 28, 2016, 4:51 am

too expensive. If I wanted to pay iPhone prices for a phone, I would've bought an iPhone instead.

Gonna look for Oneplus 3T or some other phone. I could never justify paying $700~800 for a smartphone. Especially at this day and age when sub $300 phones has the function and performance of flagships 2 years ago.

Jude Chacko

December 3, 2016, 2:39 am

but you would buy a 1080p iphone for that price :/

ithehappy

December 13, 2016, 2:03 pm

The display is no match for the S7. Having a vivid, colourful, and typically oversaturated display isn't good at all. The sRGB mode of does a good job though, but still not close to S7, and forget about iPhone 7.

The design is good I will say, only idiots will like the design of S7, all glass nonsense, just for show off, in other words for losers, Pixel is simple, that's good, but then there's the glass bit on the back, making it one of the weirdest looking phone, and you already know how scratch prone it is, but dents on the aluminium panel without dropping it is really scary.

The camera to my eyes, isn't best either. It does a great job of "boosting" stuffs, and that makes it look like its better, as the images come out with more brightness, contrast and sharpness. A natural looking photo should always be better. But I think its the third best overall, after S7 and ip7. Lack of hardware OIS is a huge bummer.

The main part is software. I can't laugh enough by seeing some comparisons with this phone to the S7! Unbelievable. TouchWiz is not even Android. It is a cancer. I have heard that Pixel is the smoothest Android out there, if that's true then I think the price is okay, but the build quality issues are worrisome and should have been taken care of.

PS: I couldn't click on the sample images for full scale view, that's really saddening and a poor choice.

Ian Furniss

December 28, 2016, 2:21 pm

So far i've been using the Pixel XL for about a week after previously owning a Note 3.

As you can imagine, everything i've encountered so far has been a vast improvement and a worthwhile upgrade. Colours look good and perfect for everyday use. To be honest though, I don't know why any normal user would be particularly concerned about it, and so I can't understand previous negative comments in relation to that. As a photographer I want and need colour accuracy and the fact that the Pixel XL comes boxed with a USB OTG adapter as standard, means I can attach my X-Rite i1 Display and achieve that without having to buy 3rd party accessories. Surely that is to be welcomed? If you don't worry about colour, it's good enough. If you do worry, it's ready to give you accurate colour out of the box!

The only possible negatives i've encountered so far are the volume keys on the side are badly positioned and you can find yourself turning the phone off instead of adjusting the volume. In fairness that may just be a transitional thing. The other would be the difficulties in adding your own music to the system if you don't want to use Google Play. It's possible but seems overly difficult, perhaps there's a hope that you give up and use the Google option.

Other than that it seems perfect for what it's needed for. Mac integration is less than perfect but I feel that is more a problem with Apple than the phone itself

MNTechDad

January 19, 2017, 3:49 pm

While I appreciate the review of the
Google Pixel XL, I find it of no value having been on a waiting list for two
months and no availability date (per a Google Support Engineer).

As a past full-time Test Reviews Editor for
LAN Times Magazine, we never wrote about anything that didn’t have a delivery
date. I would recommend you follow suit.

I would be “on board” with Google Project
Fi if Google actually had the desired hardware to do so.

Sincerely,

Matthew F.
Arnett | Director, IT Architecture,
Advanced Research & Analytics, UnitedHealthcare

Raj Sangha

March 7, 2017, 6:18 pm

It's unfortunate for American customers who have to wait for Pixels. I walked into a Best Buy in Canada and picked one up right away. It's a great phone but the wait time for it is unacceptable from a company as large as Google

James Perry

April 16, 2017, 2:03 am

I agree with Roku - most phone reviews forget the primary purpose is to communicate. If your looking for something to make feature length video look for a high end camera that also can make phone calls.

Can the Pixel use the 600 MHz band that T-Mobile just bought? Hope so, as T-Mobile is one of the primary carriers for Project Fi. What is the WiFi configuration? Hard to upload all them great photos and not exceed your data cap if you can only use LTE . Besides, I really use the VOIP feature a lot - I want it to work.

Now if Google would develop an optional plugin SATPHONE module that would work over Project Fi, I just might pay what they want for the Pixel.

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