Lets Talk About: Complete Review Of Google Pixel XL

The smartphone market is projected to grow to no less than 1.8 billion shipped devices by 2020, and as the father of Android, Google simply can’t afford to stay out of this business.

Even though it’s not targeting the masses, Google is aiming for its own slice of the Android cake, and to do this, the company has a plan that looks brilliant on paper: offer high-end devices that are at least similar to what premium Android phone makers are building at a given moment, along with stock Android experience that no other manufacturer seems to be interested in.

This is how the Nexus series was born in the fall of 2015, with Google looking for an uncompromised Android experience. And as we told you in the Nexus 6P review, the firm truly delivered on its promise.

And yet, it wasn’t all just milk and honey for Google. The Mountain View-based search giant wasn’t entirely pleased with the build quality offered by Huawei (for the Nexus 6P) and LG (for the Nexus 5x) and wanted to have full control over the manufacturing process to make sure that the final products meet all of its guidelines.

There were rumors that Google itself would set up assembly lines for building its own phones, but eventually, the company signed a deal with HTC to produce the phone in Taiwan. Google, however, was involved substantially more in the manufacturing process, so both the Pixel and the Pixel XL are mostly Google phones.

The Pixel XL is, in essence, the best Google can offer right now in terms of Android hardware, and is supposed to be the pioneer of Google’s operating system, competing against Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Edge (and the discontinued Note 7) for the Android leadership position, and against the iPhone 7 Plus in the mobile market as a whole.

Google Pixel XL display - front view

DESIGN
Google itself is not a smartphone OEM, and although it used HTC’s manufacturing capabilities, the lack of know-how can be easily seen when analyzing the Pixel XL in terms of looks.

When viewed from the front, it’s almost impossible not to compare the Pixel XL with an iPhone. The front design is dominated by the 5.5-inch display, along with gigantic top and bottom bezels. We live in an era when most manufacturers are trying to get rid of bezels for edge-to-edge displays, so it’s kind of surprising to see Google launching its flagship smartphone in 2016 with so large bezels.

But on the other hand, it’s not as bad as the iPhone. The Google Pixel XL has a screen-to-body ratio of 71.2 percent, while the iPhone 7 Plus is at 67.7 percent, so Apple’s flagship has even bigger bezels. In real life, however, spotting the 3.5 percent difference is nearly impossible.

The back of the Pixel, however, has a more premium touch, and the design is based on a two-color layout, partially thanks to the plastic used on the upper side and covering the camera, the flash, and the fingerprint scanner. Google sticks with its design policy that puts the fingerprint scanner on the back of the phone, even though the front bottom bezel could have been used for the same thing as well (we’ll explain the pros and cons of the rear-mounted fingerprint scanner in the “Hardware” section).

“A LIGHTER IPHONE PLUS.”

The highly-criticized antenna lines on the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus made their way on the Pixel XL too, but as compared to Apple, there’s just one such line at the bottom of the phone, just below the G logo.

There are two symmetrical cutouts, one for the speaker and another one for the microphone, as well as a USB Type C port placed right in the middle.

When viewed from the side, the Pixel XL looks just like the majority of modern smartphones, and it’s a good thing that Google abandoned the side-to-side camera bump from the Nexus 6P because the device stands firmer on the desktop and can be used more easily with one hand without holding it. Eliminating the camera bump, however, made the Pixel XL bulkier, and you can tell that even from the spec sheet. The iPhone 7 Plus is 7.3 mm thin, while the Pixel measures 8.5 mm.

All in all, it’s hard to be impressed with the design of the Pixel XL, although it’s hard to call it dull too. It’s more of an ordinary approach that fades when compared to the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, for example, but it does its job very well, and most buyers seem to be pleased with it.


HARDWARE
It goes without saying that Google had no other option than to offer the best of the best in terms of hardware if it really wanted its new smartphone to have a chance in the phone business.

Google is trying a strategy that’s similar to Microsoft's when it comes to hardware: the firm lets all of its partners launch a wide variety of Android devices, including here low-end, mid-range, and flagships, while it concentrates on a super-premium model that comes with the best hardware at the time of launch.

Google Pixel XL back view
As far as the Pixel XL is concerned, this translates to a Snapdragon 821 processor, 4 GB RAM, 32 or 128 GB storage, Adreno 530 GPU, and 3450 mAh battery.

The processor comes in a 2+2 core configuration, so we get 2 cores running at 2.15 GHz, as well as 2 other cores clocked at 1.6 GHz. The four cores do not work simultaneously unless the phone needs the maximum power, otherwise it’s using only those necessary for the best battery efficiency.

#Display
The display comes in the form of a 5.5-inch AMOLED unit with a resolution of 1440x2560 pixels and covered with Corning Gorilla Glass 4. The screen is very responsive and well optimized to accurately display vivid colors without impacting battery performance, even though it obviously remains the main battery hog, just like it’s the case with all the other modern smartphones.

Google also implemented a bunch of display tweaks that certainly come in handy in terms of usability, while also optimizing battery life. For example, the Pixel XL features the already-popular ambient display, which can automatically wake the screen when new notifications are received, as well as adaptive brightness, manual brightness control, and a so-called Night Light mode similar to Apple’s Night Shift.

“WELL-BALANCED DISPLAY.”

Night Light is supposed to reduce the amount of blue light emitted by your screen, so using the phone during the night shouldn’t be too tiresome for your eyes and you’re supposed to sleep better. This feature comes with an automatic mode that lets it kick in according to a custom schedule, but you can’t adjust levels or anything else.

There are also the typical settings to change display size, choose what happens when the device is rotated, configure a screensaver, and set up sleep times.

#Storage
Google is offering the Pixel XL with just two different storage options, namely 32 GB and 128 GB, and this is both good and bad for potential buyers. The 32 GB version is supposed to be the more affordable configuration, and Google is trying to appeal specifically to those who don’t want to store their entire collection of photos on their devices.

But on the other hand, there’s no middle version of the Pixel XL, so while you get a 32 GB and a 128 GB version, there’s no 64 GB model to target those who’d go for somewhere in between. And what’s worse is that there’s no microSD card support either, so if you decide to pick the 32 GB version, there’s no way to expand your storage capacity other than cloud.

Given that 32 GB is no longer enough for today’s smartphones, mostly because the OS and the pre-installed apps already eat up a hefty amount of space, most buyers would probably go for the 128 GB Pixel XL which makes most sense in terms of storing content locally.

Google Pixel XL fingerprint sensor and main camera
 Google Pixel XL fingerprint sensor and main camera
#Camera
Let’s put it simply from the very beginning: the Google Pixel XL has one of the best cameras, if not the best, currently available in the smartphone world. But there are pros and cons here too.

First and foremost, let’s see the technical stuff. The Pixel XL comes with a 12.3-megapixel camera with F 2.0, 1/2.3-inch sensor size, 1.55um pixel size, dual-LED flash, HDR and panorama support, plus a few other typical camera features that pretty much all the other phones have.

The front-facing camera is an 8-megapixel unit with F2.4, 1/3.2-inch sensor size, 1.4 um pixel size and support for 1080p video for video calls and selfies.

Now let’s bust some myths. We’ve heard people saying that the Pixel XL camera is very slow and sometimes needs a couple of seconds to focus on the object, which obviously means that it’s nearly impossible to take a photo of your cat, baby, pigeon, or any other moving object. This is nothing but wrong, as the Pixel XL has undoubtedly one of the fastest cameras ever, and if some people experience slowdowns, it’s most likely due to software bugs that should be corrected in the coming updates.

The Pixel XL uses laser focus to focus on the object, and we’ve found that in real-life, it is shockingly fast. It takes the blink of an eye to focus and to shoot a photo, and the quality of the pic is stunning. The camera is perfectly balanced for good contrast and natural colors, with software processing adjusting brightness levels even in the darkest conditions.

Google Pixel XL camera sample - panorama at sunset
 Google Pixel XL camera sample - panorama at sunset
And speaking of darkness, Samsung has marketed the Galaxy S7 as one of the best cameras in low-light conditions thanks to its Dual Pixel technology. The Pixel XL, however, provides not only similar performance but even better most of the time, without a substantial amount of noise.

One of the best things about the Pixel XL camera is that it controls the amount of brightness on the object, so it doesn’t overexpose the picture. This is particularly important when shooting pictures with plenty of background light or when there’s a light wave right on the object.

Google Pixel XL camera sample
 Google Pixel XL camera sample
And now the bad stuff. The Pixel XL lacks OIS, but Google implemented EIS, which is short for electronic image stabilization. Even though Google attempted to compensate for the lack of optical stabilization with an electronic system, real-life results show that it’s not entirely efficient, especially when the person that holds the phone is in motion.

PLAY VIDEO
The easiest way to determine the limits of EIS is to try to record a video with the Pixel XL in a car driven on a bumpy road. The electronic system can’t simply compensate for the motion transferred to the phone and in my opinion, this is where the Pixel XL loses precious points.

If you’re not the type of user who records too many videos, you should be fine. The Pixel XL provides stunning photo performance.

#Battery
The Pixel XL comes with a non-removable 3450 mAh battery that offers enough juice to get you through the day easily. On average, the Pixel XL’s battery can go for approximately 36 hours with moderate usage, and the worst we’ve got was 20 hours on a hardcore test with intensive gaming and video recording.

There’s absolutely no doubt that the Pixel XL can last for one day per charge, and given the fact that it uses a high-speed USB Type C port with fast charging, the battery recharges in no time.

Not the same thing can be said about USB charging, though, as a typical low-speed USB port can lead to 12 hours of charging when the battery is almost depleted.

#Other features
In addition to what we’ve detailed above, the Google Pixel XL comes with all the typical features that you can find on a modern smartphone, but there still are a few highlights that deserve their own place in our review.

The fingerprint sensor is one of them. Placed on the back of the phone, just like on the Nexus 5x and on the 6P, the sensor is blazing fast in a way that you’ve never seen before.

The fingerprint has a less than 1 percent failure rate, and there’s a very small chance to return an error when touching it. For better accuracy, we recommend enrolling the same finger several times. Furthermore, the sensor also provides surprising performance with a wet finger, even though devices such as the iPhone 7 fail to authenticate the user.

Then, it’s the speakers. Or the speaker, to be more precise, as the Pixel XL is not stereo, but mono, with the speaker installed in the huge bottom bezel. Although there are two symmetrical cutouts at the bottom of the phone, only the left one is used for speakers, while the other one hides the microphone.

“NO WATERPROOFING.”

The mono configuration, however, is one of the biggest setbacks of the Pixel XL, especially when coming from a stereo phone. When holding the phone in landscape for playing games or watching videos, there’s a good chance that you cover the speaker, hence no sound.

On the other hand, the quality of the sound is above the average, and the Pixel XL is quite loud, and we’ve found it to be quite a companion for watching movies.

There is also a headphone jack, because Google still believes in this feature, but it is inconveniently placed at the top of the phone, and not at the bottom. Although many people seem to like it this way, I’ve found it to be rather unhandy, especially when running with the phone in the pocket. Given the fact that the fingerprint sensor is placed on the back, I tend to keep the device in the pocket face down so I could easily unlock it when pulling it out. This makes it impossible to use the headphone jack if the phone is in the pocket.

Google Pixel XL headphone jack
 Google Pixel XL headphone jack
Additionally, the Pixel XL lacks waterproofing, which is a little bit unexpected given that most manufacturers seem to be betting big on this feature these days. Let's be honest, only a few people want phones to be water resistant in order to take them in the shower, but in most of the cases, water resistance comes in handy just because it's there when accidents happen. And yet, the Pixel XL doesn't come with such a feature for some reason, but it's now believed that the next Google phone would be fully waterproofed.

Other than that, the Pixel XL has fast charging, super strong cellular signal that makes it possible to start a call even underground, as well as a pretty neat vibration motor, although we’ve found it to provide less soft vibrations as compared to the iPhone. Oh, and the Pixel XL barely gets hot, and we know what this means (there's a very small risk of explosion).


SOFTWARE
Google Pixel XL comes with Android Nougat pre-installed, and our phone has already received several updates during the testing process. Furthermore, the Pixel is the first model getting updates, while also being blessed by Google with monthly security updates in the first days of each month.

But as far as the Android experience is concerned, let me tell you one thing: those who still call Android “Lagdroid” have no idea what they are talking about.

Google Pixel XL apps view
 Google Pixel XL apps view
Android has evolved so much lately that it comes with pretty much anything you’d want and if some specific feature is missing, there’s almost certainly a third-party app available in the Google Play Store that can bring it to you.

And yet, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s flawless. In terms of usability, Android 7.0 Nougat is still missing a few points, although I do agree that Google could easily address everything with a bunch of software updates.

“BEST ANDROID VERSION EVER.”

The so-called Night Light comes with just the basic settings, and by default, Android Nougat comes with LED notifications turned off, even though it goes without saying that this is one of the best features of Android phones and one that iPhone users are still drooling for.

Furthermore, although Google has clearly worked on optimizing Android for Google Pixel, what we’ve missed, and there’s a good chance that every iPhone switcher would miss too, is a desktop software solution that would make it possible to back up the device. iTunes is quite of a bloated app, but it serves its purpose very well, and there’s no doubt that Google has the know-how to develop something similar and offer Pixel users an easy way to manage backups and transfer files.

In the end, the Google Pixel XL and stock Android mix up in an almost perfectly balanced and optimized cocktail, but there still are a few things here and there that need more refinements. And yet, nobody can’t deny that Android is the rival that Apple never wanted for iOS.


THE BOTTOM LINE
The Google Pixel XL is not the kind of love it or hate it phone, but one that attempts to be the jack of all trades, without neglecting the essential things that users are looking after these days.

Stock Android – check, super-powerful camera – check, large battery – check, latest-generation processor – check, high-quality display – check.

These are the areas where the Google Pixel XL barely has a rival, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s already winning the mobile business.

The Google Pixel is a balanced product, so although it wins some battles, it loses others. The design of the phone is uninspired to say the least, while some of the decisions that Google made in the designing stage cannot be understood.

A flagship phone with mono speakers makes no sense, no matter how loud the sound actually is, and placing the headphone jack at the top of the phone makes little sense when combined with the fingerprint sensor on the back. The lack of OIS is also a mysterious decision, especially given that so many people are shooting videos while in motion these days.

The overall package, though, is the best you can get on Android right now. If it weren’t for the design, the Google Pixel XL would be one class better than the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, which already excels in terms of looks and features, but with the current configuration, the two seem to be fighting for the supremacy of the Android world.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for the best camera on a smartphone right now, there’s only one choice, and this is the Google Pixel XL.

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