Google Pixel XL Review: Nexus is dead, long live the Pixel

google-pixel-xl-2.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent
  • $869.00

Pros

  • Battery life is long enough to get through a day and then some. Android 7.1 is smooth. The camera's performance is the real deal.

Cons

  • An expensive phone lacking stereo speakers and water resistance, the last two of which are no longer optional features for smartphones.

The Google Pixel isn't Google's first phone released by the company, but it is the first phone designed, built, and released by the company.

Whereas the Nexus line leveraged reference designs from various Android partners, the Pixel is apologetically Google's device from start to finish.

In some ways, it feels as if Google is finally getting serious about pushing Android into the future by using hardware and software improvements instead of leaving it to its partners to figure out what the future holds for the OS.

And it shows.

Design

google-pixel-xl-1.jpg

Google's Pixel XL next to Apple's iPhone 7 Plus.

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Let's get this out of the way right now: the Pixel looks like an iPhone. Its soft rounded corners, double-chin borders above and below the display, and antenna lines share similarities with Apple's newest iPhone -- and it's brilliant.

What's more appealing to the iPhone faithful who are perhaps betting bored? An Android device that's unfamiliar? Or an Android device that invokes feelings of familiarity?

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For most, the idea of switching between two platforms -- iOS and Android in this instance -- is an intimidating experience. Having to relearn how to carry out commons tasks and discovering apps a user relies on daily is more than enough to scare someone away from making the jump to another platform.

By replicating the overall look and feel of the iPhone, Google is making the move slightly easier on the user.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit on a few occasions over the past 10 days I felt as if I was using an iPhone running Android when testing the Pixel XL.

Specifications

Pixel Pixel XL
Screen size 5-inches 5.5-inches
Dimensions 5.6 x 2.7 x 0.3 inches 6.0 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches
Battery 2,770 mAh 3,450 mAh
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 Qualcomm Snapdragon 821
Memory 4 GB 4 GB
Storage 32 GB or 128 GB 32 GB or 128 GB
Rear camera 12.3-megapixel 12.3-megapixel
Front camera 8-megapixel 8-megapixel
Water resistance No No
Price $649-$749 $769-$869

Performance

google-pixel-xl-5.jpg

Google Pixel XL's back is half metal, half glass. It's different, but not as ugly as I expected it to be.

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Verizon's advertising campaign would like to make you think the Pixel is only available in the US from the carrier, but the truth is, you can purchase the Pixel directly from Google or at Best Buy. All Pixel phones are unlocked and will work on all major US carriers.

Google sent me a Pixel XL with a Verizon Wireless SIM card, and I was able to switch between Verizon and my personal AT&T SIM card without any issue.

The first time I rebooted the Pixel XL with a Verizon SIM card, I found three Verizon-branded apps installed on the device without my permission. Thankfully, I was able to uninstall the apps, and they have yet to show back up, even as I've switched between SIM cards.

Android 7.0 Nougat added the ability to quickly switch between two apps by double-tapping on the app switcher button. On the Nexus 6P, there's almost always a bit of lag when switching between apps. On the Pixel XL, the switch is nearly instantaneous.

The speed at which the Pixel switches between apps is a prime example of the speed found throughout the experience. It's responsive to touches, opening apps with ease, and is free of any dramatic slowdowns.

That annoying stutter that's always present when scrolling through your Facebook News Feed? Yeah, that's gone too.

Battery life is something I didn't expect to have good things to say about on the Pixel. Sure, there are a few exceptions, but for the most part, battery life isn't great on Android phones.

However, the battery life on the Pixel XL has been impressive. Not only does it last me through a full workday of email, tweeting, taking photos, a few phone calls, some music streaming, but I would often end the day with between 30 to 40 percent of battery left.

The only other device I've been able to consistently hit that same mark on is the iPhone 7 Plus.

Camera

Google's Nexus line was never known for its photo quality. Each year, Google would tout camera improvements and promise the company had finally figured it out, only to disappoint users.

True to form, Google repeated the same promises for the Pixel's camera and gleefully proclaimed DxO Mark, a company known for testing and grading camera performance, ranked the Pixel as the best smartphone camera ever; beating the iPhone 7 Plus and Galaxy S7 Edge.

For the first time, Google was right. The Pixel camera is really good. There's zero shutter lag (another feature the company gloated about), and it's fast to focus. For me, that means capturing photos of my kids who never sit still is possible.

Photos are a tiny bit oversaturated, which can sometimes give a fake look to the picture, but more often than not, the photos I captured with my review unit looked really good.

I would feel confident carrying either an iPhone 7 Plus or a Google Pixel as my lone camera on a family vacation. That's a statement that not only shows just how far smartphone cameras have come, but also how good the Pixel camera is.

As for video, Google added video stabilization to the Pixel. Meaning, when users record video with the Pixel and naturally shake or bounce while walking, the Pixel will minimize the transfer of that motion into the end video.

While video stabilization works on the Pixel, there's a horrible stutter if you turn the phone to adjust the recording angle. Videos recorded with very little movement from side to side look amazing, but I find watching a video with a lot of side to side movement more distracting than impressive.

Software

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The Google Pixel ships with Android 7.1 Nougat. The first, and currently only, device to have the latest version of Android.

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

The Pixel is the first device to ship with Android 7.1 Nougat. In addition to the new features in Android's latest OS, such as app shortcuts and a GIF keyboard, the Pixel has a few exclusive features.

For starters, Google is giving all Pixel users unlimited Google Photos storage when backing up photos and videos taken with the Pixel. Google currently offers unlimited storage from other devices including the iPhone, but only if you allow Google to store a lower quality version of the photo or video.

With the Pixel, Google is backing up photos and videos at full resolution, including 4K, for free.

Google has also launched a 24/7 support service built directly into the Pixel's Settings menu with the new phone. At any time you can open the Settings app, tap on Support and begin a chat conversation or a phone call with a Google support representative.

You can ask for device help on completing a task (changing your ringtone, for example) or receive more thorough troubleshooting help should you need it.

Google Assistant

google-assitant-on-google-pixel-xl.jpg
screenshot by Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Google Assistant is another exclusive feature of the Pixel. You can activate the personal assistant with a long-press on the home button, or a wake command of "OK Google" activates the personal assistant.

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Samsung just revealed the new Galaxy S8 while all the rest of the major announcements have been completed over the past two months.

Similar to Siri, you can query Google Assistant for common web searches, sports scores, weather forecasts, send messages, and create reminders.

As I mentioned in my initial hands-on with the Pixel XL, Google Assistant continues to surprise me on a daily basis. Just yesterday, I was talking about a family member who recently underwent cataract surgery. Unsure of the exact surgical process, I asked Google Assistant "What do you know about cataract surgery?". In response, Google Assistant read the opening sentence from a webpage detailing the gist of the procedure without hesitation. I could then tap on my screen to open the corresponding website if I wanted to know more.

I repeated the same search on my iPhone 7 Plus with Siri. Siri's first response was a playful "Who, me?". The second attempt returned a link to a Wikipedia page, with Siri asking if I wanted her to read it aloud.

In the end, I achieved the same results, but with Google Assistant providing them faster and with less interaction on my part.

Assistant, like Siri, isn't perfect. At one point, I asked Assistant for the date and time of the third presidential debate. After hearing the result, I told Google Assistant "Add it to my calendar." Instead of keeping the context of my query front and center, Assistant began asking me for a name of the event, followed by the date and time.

Conclusion

google-pixel-xl-6.jpg

A lone "G" on the back of the Pixel lets you know it's made by Google.

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Simply put: the Google Pixel is the best Android phone on the market. It's fast and has an amazing camera, as well as a battery that lasts all day and then some, and it features the latest Android software improvements.

Samsung's Note 7 recall came at the best possible time for Google, which will surely benefit from Samsung's battery woes.

For some, the iPhone-like design, lack of water resistance, and expensive price tag are going to be enough to shun the Pixel. I can't blame you if you fall into that camp.

Now that Samsung and Apple are shipping $700 phones with water resistance, all device makers need to follow suit. In the same way fingerprint sensors are found on devices priced high and low, some sort of water resistance needs to be included.

Still, Google has created one of my favorite Android devices ever. (A label previously held by the now-defunct Note 7.)

Android users who are looking for a new phone, look no further than the Pixel lineup. For those iPhone users tempted by the dark side, the Pixel is as good a place to start as any.

Specifications

General
SAR Value 0.56 W/kg (body) / 0.89 W/kg (head)
Integrated Components Rear-facing camera, front-facing camera, audio player, voice recorder, navigation
Body Color Quite black
Phone Features
Phone Functions Speakerphone, voice control, call timer, conference call, flight mode, voice dialing, vibrating alert
Sensors Accelerometer, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, digital compass, barometer, magnetometer, gyro sensor, hall sensor, advanced x-axis haptics sensor
Additional Features HD Voice, Google Caller ID, MIMO technology, Wi-Fi Calling, Quick Switch function, Wireless Emergency Alerts function, Android Sensor Hub, RGB LED notification light, Adaptive audio amplifier, Three microphones with noise cancellation, Knock Knock function
Security Devices Fingerprint reader
Cellular
Technology CDMA2000 1X / GSM / WCDMA (UMTS)
Type smartphone (Android OS)
Integrated Components audio player, front-facing camera, navigation, rear-facing camera, voice recorder
Navigation GLONASS, GPS
Mobile Broadband Generation 4G
Phone Form Factor touch
Service Provider not specified
Operating System Family Android
Operating System Android 7.1 Nougat
Intelligent Assistant Google Assistant
SIM Card Type nano SIM
SIM Card Slot Qty single-SIM
Input Device Multi-touch
Miscellaneous
Sensors accelerometer, advanced x-axis haptics sensor, ambient light sensor, barometer, digital compass, gyro sensor, hall sensor, magnetometer, proximity sensor
Color Black
Color Category black
Body Material durable anodized aluminum, glass
Messaging & Internet
Messaging Services Google Allo, MMS, SMS
Supported Social Networks and Blogs Yes
Processor
Clock Speed 2.15 GHz
Manufacturer QUALCOMM
Processor Core Qty 8-core
64-bit Architecture Yes
Display
Technology AMOLED
Display Resolution 2560 x 1440 pixels
Color Depth 24-bit (16.7 million colors)
Pixel Density (ppi) 534
Contrast Ratio 100000:1
Diagonal Size 5.5 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 14 cm
Smartphone Diagonal Size 5.5 in
Protection Corning Gorilla Glass 4 (scratch resistant glass), fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating
Color Support color
Features 2.5D Glass
Communications
Data Transmission EDGE, EV-DO, FDD-LTE, GPRS, HSDPA, HSPA+, HSUPA, LTE, LTE Advanced, TDD-LTE
4G LTE Band Band 1, Band 12, Band 3, Band 30, Band 4, Band 41, Band 5, Band 7, Band 8, Band 13, Band 17, Band 2, Band 20, Band 25, Band 26, Band 28, Band 29
Wireless Interface Bluetooth 4.2, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, NFC
Multimedia
Graphics Accelerator Qualcomm ADRENO 530
Battery
Run Time Details Talk (3G): up to 1920 min
Standby (LTE): up to 552 hrs
Active online usage (Wi-Fi): up to 14 hrs
Active online usage (LTE): up to 14 hrs
Playback (video): up to 14 hrs
Playback (audio (via headphones)): up to 130 hrs
Capacity 3450 mAh
Run Time Details Talk (3G): up to 1920 min
Standby (LTE): up to 552 hrs
Active online usage (Wi-Fi): up to 14 hrs
Active online usage (LTE): up to 14 hrs
Playback (video): up to 14 hrs
Playback (audio (via headphones)): up to 130 hrs
Header
Brand Google
Product Line Google
Model Pixel XL
Packaged Quantity 1
CE Input Device
Type touch sensitive screen (multi-touch)
Features
Sensors accelerometer, advanced x-axis haptics sensor, ambient light sensor, barometer, digital compass, gyro sensor, hall sensor, magnetometer, proximity sensor
Phone Functions call timer, conference call, flight mode, speakerphone, vibrating alert, voice control, voice dialing
Security Devices fingerprint reader
Additional Features Adaptive audio amplifier, Android Sensor Hub, Wireless Emergency Alerts function, Google Caller ID, HD Voice, Knock Knock function, MIMO technology, Quick Switch function, RGB LED notification light, Three microphones with noise cancellation, Wi-Fi Calling
RAM
Installed Size 4 GB
Flash Memory
Internal Memory Capacity 128 GB
Graphics System
Graphics Accelerator Qualcomm ADRENO 530
Optical Sensor
Sensor Resolution 12.3 pixels
Front-facing Camera
Sensor Resolution 8 Megapixel
Lens Aperture f/2.4
Focus Adjustment focus free
Dimensions & Weight
Width 2.78 in
Depth 0.34 in
Height 6.09 in
Weight 5.93 oz

Topics: Reviews, Google, Hardware, Mobile OS, Mobility, Smartphones, Artificial Intelligence

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Where To Buy

Google Pixel XL (128GB, Quite Black)

Part Number: CNETPIXELXL128GBQUTBLK
Price
$869.00

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