The Nexus series is dead, long live the Pixel phones from Google. The search engine giant from Mountain View has integrated brand-new, exclusive features into the Pixel XL, which are currently not available in any other Android smartphone. In my review of the new Pixel XL, one of the two new Google smartphones, you will discover whether these functions are worth digging so deeply into your pockets.
Highlight recent changes
- ✓Brilliant display
- ✓Rapid performance
- ✓Top camera
- ✓No bloatware
- ✕Very high Price
- ✕No headphones included
- ✕Only IP53 certified
Google Pixel XL release date and price
There is a several week shipping delay for anyone considering ordering a Pixel or Pixel XL. Initially, the shipment dates of October 20 were expected but now, the new arrival dates have been pushed forwards to at least 2 - 3 week for all colors and sizes.
The Google Pixel XL is the larger of the two new Google smartphones and is now available in the Google Store. Its price is similar to the past two years: the 32 GB model costs $769, the 128 GB model costs $869. Unlike the Nexus 6P, the Pixel XL is not available with 64 GB of memory.
At this price, Google sets itself up to compete directly against the Apple iPhone 7 Plus. This is highlighted by the free cable that is provided, which allows text messages, contacts and images to be transferred from an iPhone to a Pixel XL. Whether Google can produce a similar level of customer satisfaction with its expensive devices remains to be seen in the long term.
Google Pixel XL design and build quality
Even if HTC has built the new Pixel XL for Google, you can't see any similarities with the HTC 10 in either of the new Pixel phones. The only common feature between the HTC 10 and the two new Pixel phones is the material used for the smartphone housing, which is aluminum.
Unlike the Samsung Galaxy S7, S7 Edge (both IP68 certified), or the new iPhone 7 models (IP67 certified), the two Pixel phones are only certified according to the IP53 standard, similar to the HTC 10, for protection against dust and water. This lower protection class protects the Pixel phones only from dust deposits on the inside, and against sprayed water at any angle up to 60 degrees from a vertical position. The Pixel XL and the smaller Pixel don't withstand longer immersion in water unscathed.
For a smartphone with a 5.5-inch display, the Pixel XL is large. Although, purely from the dimensions, the Pixel XL is quite smaller than the iPhone 7 Plus, which is also equipped with a 5.5-inch display. But, compared to the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, the Pixel XL looks clumsy.
The fingerprint sensor for the Pixel XL is on the back of the smartphone, in contrast to the Galaxy S7 Edge and the iPhone 7, which place it on the front, under the display. This position is not always ideal for everyday use. So, you have to use either the PIN or a swiping pattern to unlock it when the smartphone is on the desk. Alternatively, you can also take the Pixel XL in your hand to unlock the smartphone with your pointing finger. After adapting to this, however, one will also get used to the positioning of the fingerprint sensor on the Pixel XL.
The design on the back requires some discussion. Instead of a continuous aluminum back, Google hides the upper third of the back under glass. Even though the glass is scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 4, the element has no practical use. Prior to the release of the Pixel phones, it was assumed that a wireless charging element was hidden behind the glass, but we now know that this feature does not exist in either of the Pixel phones. Only the NFC (Near Field Communications) chip can be placed on the back thanks to the glass element.
The analog audio input is officially dead. But the Pixel XL still has the best headphone jack.
Also, the rear main camera with the laser auto-focus and two-color LED flash are protected by the glass element. Both features should help the Pixel XL camera to capture beautiful, sharp, and natural photos and videos. We discuss below in the camera section whether or not this has succeeded. For aesthetics and haptics, however, the camera is good to mention in that it does not protrude from the housing. The reason for this is the missing optical image stabilizer. Optical stabilization is achieved through oscillating lenses, which require more space, accordingly. Google has renounced this and instead relies on a software-based image stabilizer.
The front of the Pixel XL is rather boring compared to the back. This was especially the case with our test device, which had a black front. The proximity sensors are well concealed, giving off the impression that everything on this surface is in the switched off state. With the white model, as in our Pixel review, the recesses for the sensors are more noticeable and disturb the aesthetics.
Google Pixel XL display
With both new Pixel phones from Google, the display size and resolution play the most important role in the purchase. If Full HD resolution is sufficient in everyday life, you can safely use the small Pixel phone. But, if you require a 2K display, then you should choose the Pixel XL
The 5.5-inch display in the Pixel XL uses an AMOLED panel from Samsung. At a resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels, the Pixel XL arrives at a pixel density of 534 ppi. In addition to the high pixel density, the AMOLED displays are characterized by outstanding black values, vibrant colors, and high contrast. Compared to the AMOLED displays in the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, the brightness of the Pixel XL is higher. This provides for better readability, especially when exposed to direct sunlight.
The entire front of the smartphone is protected against scratches by Gorilla Glass 4. Additionally, Google and HTC have provided the glass with an oleophobic coating. This anti-grease coating is designed to minimize fingerprints, and in the case of the Pixel XL this actually does the trick.
During my test period, the display of the Pixel XL was consistently up to par. The video quality for YouTube and Netflix was always very good, and the display was also satisfying with games like Assassin's Creed Pirates, and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. All in all, the display is predestined for consuming media content such as videos and games.
Thanks to the higher resolution and larger display, the Pixel XL is better equipped for virtual content than its smaller brother. The immersion in VR worlds with the help of Google Daydream will be more high-definition and realistic on the larger Pixel phone than on the smaller one, which has only a 5-inch display with Full HD resolution.
Scientifically, it has been proven that a high proportion of blue in the light at night will prevent or hinder one from falling asleep. In order to avoid depriving the sleep of those who use Pixel phones at night, the Pixel XL has pre-installed Android 7.1 Nougat, with a Night Light Mode. In this mode, the operating system reduces the amount of blue in the display. Coincidently, the images look warmer because the "cold" portion has been reduced.
However, this feature is not totally new. Apple has supported night mode since the availability of iOS 9.3, and numerous manufacturers of Android smartphones, like Samsung with the recent Note 7 or Honor and Honor 8 phones, have already integrated the function independently.
Google Pixel XL special features
As a small feature, Google has integrated a kind of live support into the settings. So, if you own a Google Pixel phone and encounter technical problems, you can contact support directly from the settings, without having to go through a lengthy web search. This function is available classically via a phone call, or via chat. The latter offers the possibility of sharing the Pixel phone screen with support. You can have the technician remotely access your smartphone and show you how to solve the problem, or to look for the cause of the problem.
We can now calm down whoever thinks that means Google generally has access to your Pixel phone, because the remote access is only granted by giving your consent and only for the duration of the session.
Also, this service is not a new invention by Google either. Lenovo, or previously Motorola, offered a similar service with MotoCare, and small unknown manufacturers, like Kazam, offer a similar remote access support for problems.
Google Pixel XL software
The Pixel XL and the smaller Pixel are both factory-supplied with Android 7.1. No other smartphone has the latest version of Google's mobile operating system. According to the timeline, some older Nexus smartphones, such as the Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X, and also the Pixel C will receive a correspondingly adapted version in early December 2016. Until then, the Pixel and the Pixel XL tested here are the only smartphones with Android 7.1 Nougat.
There are no major breakthroughs between Android 7.0 and Android 7.1, but some features are only available in 7.1. Assuming the hardware of the respective smartphones or tablets is designed for the features. One of these features is none other than Google Assistant, which replaces Google Now in Android 7.1. If you are interested in Google Assistant as a feature, then we recommend reading our review on the Google Pixel.
Needless to say, there are further innovations in Android 7.1 Nougat, which we will cover in a separate article, since nearly all innovations in the future can also be rolled out to other Android smartphones via an update.
UPDATE: Google is now rolling out an update in Canada (and likely soon in the US and worldwide) which will allow users to wake their screen to see their notifications and alerts using the same double tap and raise-to-wake functions as their Nexus predecessors.
The Pixel Launcher replaces the Now Launcher and offers not only optical editing, but also new features.
Goodbye Google Now Launcher – Hello Pixel Launcher
When the smartphone starts for the first time, every new Pixel user will first notice the new launcher. Instead of the Google Now Launcher, Android 7.1 on the Pixel phones is delivered by a launcher with the same name. With this new launcher, it immediately becomes apparent that Google has reordered and sorted some things. The Google search bar is now displayed as a symbol, which will be expanded to the right search bar.
AndroidPIT Google Pixel XL Menu
Fans of the App Drawers will just have to get used to the fact that it is no longer opened by a tap on an icon. Instead, a swipe above the App Dock is enough to quickly open the App Drawer. With this small change, it's now possible to place five, instead of only four, apps or directories in the App Dock.
Obviously, a Google smartphone is expected to be delivered without bloatware, but the fact that Google itself has removed Allo, Duo, and even Photos from the system is amazing.
Google Pixel XL performance
The Google Pixel XL is one of the first smartphones equipped with the revised Qualcomm Snapdragon 821. The 64-bit, quad-core processor is clocked at a maximum of 2.15 GHz and has an Adreno 530 GPU, which supports the new Vulkan API. Aside from that, the processor is supported by 4 GB of RAM (LPDDR4). In our benchmark test, this combination of hardware has shown that it delivers top results and does not have to hide behind the competition from Samsung, LG, or Lenovo.
Interacting with Android 7.1 in everyday life, you get an absolutely fluid Android experience, which is unparalleled. I might go as far to say that Google Pixel XL gives an Android user as much pleasure as an iPhone 7 Plus gives to an iOS user.
Another similarity to the iPhone 7 (Plus) is the lack of expandability of the internal memory via microSD cards. Google offers the Pixel XL in only two variants – one with 32 GB and one with 128 GB. It is interesting, however, that Google offers the owners of the Pixel phone unlimited cloud storage for photos and videos in maximum resolution when using Google Photos.
Google Pixel XL audio
In terms of audio, the Pixel phones have taken a big step backwards. While the predecessors – the Nexus 6 and Nexus 6P – had stereo front speakers, the Pixel XL has to make do with a mono speaker at the bottom of the housing.
For this reason, the sound is not exhilarating, and the Pixel XL can only receive average ratings in this area. For occasional use of games and videos, the mono speaker is sufficient. But woe to those who turn the volume up, because as the volume increases, the sound is unbearable. Trebble and mid-ranges will rattle as an indefinable porridge of audio and tinny basses.
If you will want to enjoy music, videos, and games often on the Pixel XL, you should get some good headphones, whether wired or a Bluetooth headset.
As far as call quality is concerned, the Pixel XL is back on the mark, and delivers excellent quality. Even during the rush-hour traffic in the busy city hubbub, one could still make calls without a headset. Ambient noise was suitably reduced so that the conversation partner on the other end of the line could understand the caller clearly.
Google Pixel XL camera
The new trend toward a dual camera layout for smartphones – a la Apple's iPhone 7 Plus, the Huawei P9, or even the LG G5 – has not been followed by Google with the Pixel XL. Instead, there's a simple camera with a large sensor and "only" 12.3 megapixel resolution. This combination results in a single pixel having a relatively large size – 1.55 µm. The well-known and reputable website DXOMark evaluated the Google Pixel XL as currently having the best smartphone camera on the market. With a rating of 89 points, it's ahead of the Galaxy S7 (Edge), HTC10, and Sony Xperia X Performance.
But is the camera also up to par in everyday use, and can it rise above the competition? In short: yes and no. Without question, the camera of the Pixel XL is among the best that are currently installed in smartphones, but it is not the best camera for all of life's conditions. An optical image stabilizer is just unbeatable in bad lighting conditions, and neither the Pixel nor the Pixel XL has this feature. In such situations, the camera of the Galaxy S7 is better with the visual nuances. Google argues that, in such cases, the HDR feature should be activated. In order to discuss the differences in camera capabilities between the top currently available smartphones, we will publish a separate article in the near future.
Google has also highlighted the video capabilities of the Pixel phones. Videos in 4K are no problem for the Pixel XL, but there's also no problem with its handling of slow motion videos in Full HD with 240 or 120 frames per second. Unlike normal photos, electronic image stabilization is available during video recording. This works very effectively and is best illustrated in the corresponding videos. I have recorded one video with the image stabilizer activated, and one without, so you can form your own opinion.
And what about the front camera for snapping selfies? For selfie fans, the Pixel XL holds an 8-megapixel camera with an aperture of f/2.4. Here again, with relatively large pixels of 1.4 µm, Google is trying to capture more light than its competitors. The lens of the front camera is designed to be wide-angled, so that even large (group) selfies are possible.
We could continue writing about the quality of the Pixel XL cameras, but as they say, "a picture is worth a thousand words." Therefore, you should look at the following link for our test pictures and form your own opinion. A comparison with other top smartphone cameras is forthcoming in the near future.
Google Pixel XL battery
In the XL version of the Pixel, Google has allowed enough space for a 3450 mAh battery. Next to the display size and resolution, the battery capacity is the second difference between the Pixel and the Pixel XL. In the case of charging technology, however, both are again identical and use Qualcomm's QuickCharge 3.0. Fast-charging is also necessary, as the battery is not interchangeable.
In the battery tests by PCMark, the battery will last 8 hours and 12 minutes. That's a good value, but compared to an Xperia XZ – which lasted 9 hours in the test – the value of the Pixel XL is not the best. For everyday use, however, this means that the Google Pixel XL will easily get through an entire working day without having to stop to recharge.
To see how fast the hardware sucks the battery dry, I played the game Assassin's Creed for 90 minutes. In the time I allotted myself, the game used up 540 mAh and the display another 759 mAh. With this consumption in mind, the Pixel XL would be empty within four hours of playing Assassin's Creed.
To prolong the battery life in case of emergencies, Android 7.1 Nougat has a power-saving function. This can be activated manually or automatically when a certain battery condition is reached. Such a power-saving mode will also reduce the usability of the smartphone; for example, WLAN, Bluetooth, and other background processes are deactivated to save power. Without a doubt, this function is handy, but Samsung, Sony, and HTC had this feature already, before Android 7.1 Nougat and the Pixel smartphones.
Even if the battery life of the Pixel XL is only average and you use it intensively all day long, the fast-charging technology helps. Within 90 minutes, the battery is fully recharged to 100%.
Google Pixel XL technical specifications
|Dimensions:||154.7 x 75.7 x 8.6 mm|
|Battery size:||3450 mAh|
|Screen size:||5.5 in|
|Screen:||2560 x 1440 pixels (534 ppi)|
|Front camera:||8 megapixels|
|Rear camera:||12.3 megapixels|
|Android version:||7.1 - Nougat|
|User interface:||Stock Android|
|Internal storage:||32 GB
|Chipset:||Qualcomm Snapdragon 821|
|Number of cores:||4|
|Max. clock speed:||2.15 GHz|
|Connectivity:||HSPA, LTE, NFC, Bluetooth 4.2|
Without a doubt, the Pixel XL and its little brother, the Pixel, are both very good smartphones in our opinion. Although the change of name from Nexus to Pixel implies dramatic changes to the smartphone, the reality is that Pixel phones hardly differ from the previous Nexus smartphones.
If you absolutely want a smartphone with a great display, excellent performance, and one of the best smartphone cameras, you should definitely take a closer look at the Pixel XL. If you need a pure Android OS without a manufacturer's header, and you need to use Google Assistant, there is no way around the Pixel XL, and you must bite the bullet and pay the price.
If you can live with compromises to the software, and you are not opposed to a manufacturer-adapted Android, then smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, the Lenovo Moto Z, and the HTC 10 offer a better price-performance ratio.