Google is now going full in on making hardware and developing an ecosystem. The Google Pixel XL is the first smartphone truly made by the technology giant. It represents the ideal hardware pairing for an Android smartphone, and yes it is running 7.0 Nougat.
Coming in at $769 for the 32GB model and $869 for the 128GB, the smaller Pixel starts at just $649. These prices are not cheap, but then again this pair of smartphones isn’t either. Google is entering the smartphone market with a pair of high-end tier one devices; that will compete against Apple’s iPhone 7 and 7 Plus and Samsung’s Galaxy S7.
Google got significant fanfare when the Pixel and Pixel XL were announced, and after about a week with the Pixel XL, I have a good feeling for the device. Similar to what Apple manages to do with the iPhone, tech companies can make pure magic when hardware and software come from the same point. Both Android and Pixel XL were designed in-house at Google, and this creates a very solid product.
I for one love the solid “G” Google logo, and it looks great on the Pixel. I’m also going, to be honest about the design; it screams similarity to the iPhone, but this is not a bad thing. If you’re an iPhone owner, you can cover up the home button or pretend it is not there and you have something similar to the Pixel. You have space above and below the display– on my Very Silver Pixel XL that space is a white glass. The top holds the earpiece, a front facing camera, and some sensors. The bottom provides a nice chin and balances out the equilibrium of the phone but does not sever an actual service. The back side mixes the glass with aluminum, and I really like it.
It is almost like a two tone design, with silver aluminum taking the main stage, with a white glass accent. The back camera system with flash and microphones is tucked away in the top left-hand corner. You will find a fingerprint sensor on the back which works quite well, but more on that later.
The “G” Google logo is located on the bottom and similarly to the iPhone 6 and 6S, an antenna band goes along the bottom. The bottom of the device features a USB-C port and two speakers, while the top has a headphone jack. Yes, most phones in 2016 have not opted to remove the headphone jack. Your SIM card slot, which is behind a door, lives on the left-hand side, while a textured power button and smooth volume rocker are on the right-hand side.
In year’s past, Google’s Nexus devices didn’t always feel high end. The Pixel XL feels high-end and has a solid design, even if it looks like an iPhone.
The Google Assistant
My favorite feature of the Pixel XL would have to be the Google Assitant. It really shines on this device, and it is different from previous iterations of virtual assistants. And in my testing, it outperforms Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana. At Google I/O and at the #MadeByGoogle event a heavy focus was placed on AI and making Google personal. Like I said before hardware and software being designed together is key– this will be a common theme for the Pixel.
You say “Ok Google,” hold the on-screen home button, or tap on the Google icon on the home screen. It learns your voice or gets trained during the setup process and like most things, will get better over time. It worked incredibly well after the setup process with recognizing my voice– It is something that just works. The visual interface of the assistant is similar to a messaging application, which lets you go back to see previous requests. You can also tap on answers right from the log or ask it to open the links.
Google is getting personal- The assistant knows my calendar, the weather for where I live and where I might be going, news that is tailored to my interest, and much more. It knows if you have an upcoming flight and can help you find photos that were taken on the Jersey Shore all with a simple request.
The Google Assistant will set the Pixel’s apart from other Android smartphones, and from any smartphone for the matter.
The one thing you can always bet about official Google phones is that they are running the latest and greatest in terms of software. The Pixel and Pixel XL are both shipping with Android 7.1 Nougat, and it is a great experience out of the box. It is similar to previous iterations of Android, but Nougat is an improvement.
For starters, you get the Google Assitant, which represents the highest point of artificial intelligence that works. It also lives right on the home screen with a new launcher. You can either tap the “G” in the top left-hand corner or swipe right to get to Google. It will give you easy to search Google, see your upcoming agenda, and travel time to get to work. You also get easy access to the upcoming forecast, a look at your stocks, updates on your interests, and the latest news stories. It builds off the great experiences from Google Now and Cards but puts it into a more perfected package.
You can access all of your applications by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. This is different for Android, and I really like this change. You can scroll through all of the apps, search for specific ones, and see the most recently used ones at the top row.
Similar to 3D Touch from Apple, long pressing on certain applications presents information. For instance, a long press on Maps will let you get directions to home or work with a tap. With the camera application, you can easily take a selfie, and it works with some third party applications like LinkedIn and Evernote. More applications will support this soon after launch.
Also similar to iOS, is Night Light mode which puts a warmer or cooler tint on the display depending on the time.
Motion gestures are back, and there is a very unique one on the Pixel. A swipe down on the fingerprint sensor will pull down quick settings. It seemed like a gimmick at first, but it comes in very handy. You can also double press the power button to open the camera and twist the device to switch in between cameras.
Live Wallpapers have been updated with Android 7.0 Nougat. On the Pixel XL, the default wallpaper is Aurora and will change colors throughout the day. It does this in correspondence with the weather and time of day. There are other live wallpapers like ones of nature and of cities that will change throughout the day.
The Pixel XL has a vibrant 5.5-inch QHD AMOLED display with a resolution of 2560 X 1440 and 534 pixels per inch. It is a very colorful display and is quite sharp, plus it gets some added durability with a layer of Corning Gorilla Glass 4. The large real estate of the screen makes it easy to use the multitasking features of Android 7.1 Nougat as well.
A large 3,450mAh non-removable battery is inside the Pixel XL. I should note that along with not being removable, the battery cannot be wirelessly charged. The good news is that it lasts a full day with heavy use and will still have some power when you go to bed at night. And for those day when you really push it to the limit, Google’s included charger can do fast charging. The battery life of the Pixel is on par with the iPhone 7 Plus and Galaxy series but falls short of the Moto Z Play.
Powering the Pixel XL is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor clocked at 2.15GHz with 4GM of RAM. The graphics are powered by a 1.6GHz Adreno 530 GPU. When both of these come together, you get a 64Bit quad-core experience. While on GeekBench it clocked in as a 1736 single-core and 4012 multi-core score, it performed much better in real life.
The Pixel XL is a very powerful smartphone that can outpace all of the Galaxy’s and the previous Nexus devices. I was able to run power intensive applications with ease and had multiple downloads going on at once. Processes like this would force the Moto Z Play and other Android devices to crash under the pressure. Google put an excellent processing system in the Pixel XL, and it really shows.
In the United States, Verizon has an exclusive for the Google Pixel XL, and the smaller Pixel. They are the only carrier who will be selling the device and I have to say this is both good and bad. On the plus side you get Verizon’s insanely fast, truth be told it is lightning-fast, 4G LTE and XLTE network. The latter of which uses a new type of spectrum which has more room for devices. Another good thing is Verizon really cut down on the bloatware, but what remains to be seen is how updates will work. I am hoping it will be similar to how Verizon handles the iPhone updates, in that they don’t get int he way at all. And hopefully this means when Google issues an update for the Pixel and Pixel XL, the Verizon variant will get it as well.
Throughout my testing the Verizon network performed incredibly well, with no buffering and no service outages. Websites loaded quickly, 4K YouTube streams handled well, and it felt like there was no lag. Verizon is selling the Pixel and Pixel XL direct from their online store and retail locations. Google is also selling an unlocked version of the Pixel and Pixel from the Google Store.
Google really said it a home run with the camera, and it performs pretty well in almost every situation. Let’s start with the main camera; the Pixel XL has a 12.3-megapixel lens paired with Phase Detection Autofocus, Laser Detection Autofocus, and a dual-LED flash.
Photographs come out great with a correct balance of color and vibrancy in appropriate measure. I had it set to HDR Auto for most shots, and it worked well. At times low light could appear grainy, and some indoor images appeared to have a blue tint. Outdoor photos look very realistic and have an impressive amount of detail to them. Google also added in several pro features like focus lock and white balance controls.
HDR being turned on led to some great images, even with processing taking a bit longer. But the technology behind this is some complex software that delivers an impressive result.
Video is where Google said the Pixel XL shines and it does a pretty good job. It can record at up to 4K at 30 frames per second, but also does Full HD and slow motion videos. Video stabilization, unfortunately, was hit or miss, but it definitely helped to reduce motion. Most of the time it still left a swaying effect on the video. Quality in terms of visuals was very high and met my expectations of the device.
On the front, Google opted for an 8-megapixel camera that does HD video at 30 frames per second. It performed very well with selfies and with video calls though Duo.
I’m going to say it– I really like the Pixel XL, and it is the best Android smartphone on the market. It will most likely stay the best Android device out there for the remainder of the year. In terms of best overall smartphones, it comes in tied with the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, but it does put up an impressive fight.
For this being the first smartphone truly made by Google, the company did an incredibly impressive job. The design is similar and it works, plus the molding of glass and aluminum on the back looks great. You get a sharp display, an excellent processor, all of Android 7.1 Nougat in all its glory, and the incredibly smart Google Assistant. The camera is impressive, even though it falls short at times with video stabilization. Wireless charging would have been nice.
But when it comes down to facts, this is the smartphone that can go head-to-head against all other top tier smartphones and just about always come out on top. If you want an Android phone, you should get the Google Pixel and if you want an iPhone, stop and look at the Pixel. Google might just change your mind– either way you are getting an incredible device.