Google Pixel XL review
Google pulled the covers off its newest smartphone creations earlier this month - the Pixel and the Pixel XL. The new devices mark a departure from the Nexus line that has served the company well for so long, bringing high-end specs and prices to match. Let's see how the Pixel XL shapes up to the likes of the Samsung Note 7 or the iPhone 7 Plus in our Google Pixel XL hands-on review. See also: Best phones 2016.
Also see: Best Black Friday Phone Deals
Before we dive right into the review, it's worth pointing out that although the 'Phone by Google' is marketed as such, it is in fact manufactured by HTC. Also see: Google Pixel hands-on review.
Google Pixel XL review: UK price and release date
One of the reasons the Nexus line has been so popular, alongside the fact that they were generally excellent phones, was the price. With the Pixel range Google has decided to move up to the premium end of the market, both in terms of specs and pricing, where it will compete head to head with the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, iPhone 7 Plus, and other flagship handsets. Also see: Google Pixel vs Pixel XL.
The Pixel XL comes in two models, a 32GB version which costs £719 and a more capacious 128GB iteration that will set you back a whopping £819. That's quite a difference from last year’s Nexus 6P which started at £449 for the 32GB version.Also consider that phones like the OnePlus 3 offer very similar specs for just £329.
It's actually exactly the same pricing as the iPhone 7 Plus, so Google must be confident that the new design and construction will be able to take on such exalted company -brave move, Google.
Google Pixel XL review: Design and Build
At first glance the Pixel XL is reminiscent of the current iPhone design thanks to its gently curved metal frame and large lower bezel. This isn’t really a surprise as the iPhone itself seemed to borrow a few aesthetic choices from some Android phones like HTC models. It also has elements reminiscent of other existing phones like the HTC 10 and Galaxy S7.
The Pixel XL's dimensions of 76x155x 8.6mm and 168g weight make the new model more manageable than the Nexus 6P. It feels a lot nicer in the hand.
There's a sizable chin below the screen which is home to nothing, on the outside at least, which is a shame. This is offset by smooth rounded edges though that allow the XL to sit snugly in the palm, and while you won't want to use it one handed too often it's a very nice phone to hold.
The power and volume buttons are all found on the right of the handset, with a double tap on the former launching the camera even if the screen is off. A Nano-SIM card tray is all on its lonesome over on the left flank, so fans who hoped that the switch to the Pixel brand would see the introduction of an SD card slot will be disappointed. USB-C is the charging port of choice, just as it was on the Nexus 6P, and a quick look at the top of the device reveals a headphone jack! Glory be.
Turning the device over reveals the lower half to be the same matt aluminium as the sides, but the upper section that houses the fingerprint reader and camera is a polished glass finish. It’s an interesting look that makes a change from the plain old metal backs that now come as standard on so many flagships, but one that not many people are enamoured with. We've asked quite a few people and the feedback is mostly negative on this element. We think it looks better in black compared to white.
The fingerprint location on the back is handy when you're holding the phone, it's naturally where your index finger lands. However, you'll need to use the lockscreen if the Pixel XL is sitting on a flat surface like a desk which can be annoying.
Google has opted for a range of colours that include the amusingly named Quite Black, Very Silver, and a rather fetching Really Blue that has already won our hearts, although this is a limited edition for the US only. For shame Google, for shame. There will also be a number of colourful Live Cases available from the Google store which can show off photos or even a section of Google Maps.
The Pixel XL comes with an IP53 rating, which translates to light dust and water spray protection. So the device is not waterproof or even water resistant, which feels somewhat lacking in the modern flagship stakes. For some this will be a deal breaker, especially now the iPhone is waterproof and to be honest, we expected more from Google at this price point.
Google Pixel XL review: Specs and hardware
As this is the larger of the two new Pixel phones it comes equipped with a 5.5-inch Quad HD AMOLED display that boasts a resolution of 2560x1440. If that's too big, the regular Pixel is a more manageable 5in but just Full HD. The screen is up there with the best with excellent contrast and colours – similar to Samsung phones, the display can look like a glossy magazine at times.
The driving force behind pushing all those pixels, pardon the pun, is a quad-core 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 CPU running at 2.15Ghz and 1.6GHz, aided by an Adreno 530 GPU and 4GB of RAM. This is a potent combination and we found the unit to be snappy and responsive even with multiple apps open. Flagship performance has rarely been an issue for quite some time now
As mentioned earlier, you can get the Pixel phones in either 32- or 128GB storage capacities with £100 between the two. You'll want to seriously consider which you one you get, too, as Google doesn't offer expandable storage. This is a strangely Apple-like decision, which follows on from the Nexus range, considering the vast majority of its partners making Android phones include a Micro-SD card slot. It's something which differentiates from the iPhone but Google clearly isn't bothered about this.
Something to factor into your decision as to which storage model to buy is Google's Smart Storage which will automatically clear older photos and videos when your device gets full – those that have been backed up that is, and Google is offering unlimited space for any photos or videos taken on the Pixel XL.
As you'd expect from a flagship phone, the Pixel XL offers dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC and CAT 9 LTE. Infrared ports seem to be a thing of the past.