Google Pixel XL Review - Best Android Smartphone?

What is the Google Pixel XL?

This is the Google Pixel XL. Googles very first smartphone completely designed by Google, although tech technically manufactured by HTC. This is Googles vision of a high-end smartphone, designed to take on phones like Apples iPhone 7 Plus and even The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.

This is the first time Google has decided to completely ditch the Nexus brand, and a lot of people are upset, but there’s a very good reason behind this decision.

If Google creates a high-end smartphone in which they can optimize their software and hardware together, this will push other smartphone manufacturers into raising their game and creating better products to compete.

So has Google made the best Android smartphone for 2016? Here’s my Google Pixel XL review.

Google Pixel XL Cosmetics.

First thing you will notice about the design of the Google Pixel is that it’s nice, clean but nothing all that innovative. In fact the bezels are quite big and many consumers feel the front of the Pixel smartphone actually looks much like an iPhone.

You will find a fingerprint scanner on the back that works great, this however only makes me wonder why the chin or bottom of the smartphone has such big bezels.

The width and the length of the Google Pixel is actually smaller than the iPhone 7 Plus, and the edges instead of being all round are actually chamfered, making the phone much easier to hold in your hand.

Google Pixel XL compared to iPhone 7 Plus
Google Pixel XL compared to iPhone 7 Plus

When you look at the smartphone from the back the design changes. To me it looks very Googley, you have the “G” Google logo on the bottom with no other branding present.

At the top of the phone you have smooth, reflective glass that starts and ends just below the fingerprint sensor.

There’s also a rear facing camera that’s completely flush with the phone casing and of course this smartphone features an audio jack at the top.

On the bottom you’ll see 2 speaker grills in which only one of them is an actual speaker. Compared to the Galaxy S7 Edge speaker, the Pixel comes up trumps, however it becomes obvious that speaker quality is not so good when compared to the iPhone 7 Plus.

Google Pixel XL compared to iPhone 7 Plus - back
Google Pixel XL compared to iPhone 7 Plus – back

The Google Pixel XL display.

The display on the Pixel XL is 5.5″ QHD and AMOLED. I have to say that colors on the display look fantastic and vibrant. The screen can get pretty bright, bright enough for outdoors at least. Compared to the Galaxy S7 edge display, I actually found the S7 Edge both brighter and colors even more vibrant than the Pixel.

The Pixel XL doesn’t have an “always on” display but it has an ambient display, lighting up when your notifications pop in, a feature I personally like.

Google Pixel XL 5.5" AMOLED display
Google Pixel XL 5.5″ AMOLED display

Google Pixel XL performance.

When it comes to performance there’s one area that the Pixel XL does better than any other android smartphone out there.

Google spared no expense and installed a new Snapdragon 821 processor with 4GB of ram giving the Pixel a 10% performance increase right out of the box, just from hardware alone.

Google designing both the hardware and software gives them the ability to blend the two like no other company has done before. This is a pretty big advantage and is an advantage a company like Apple has enjoyed for a number of years.

This advantage has resulted in the Pixel XL featuring a very clean and finely-tuned version of android. This also means a device free of bloated apps or themes that other manufacturers like to include on their own devices.

Google Pixel XL Software

Google has however included some of their own software experiences that you’re not going to get on other android phones.

The first experience, upload as many 4K photos as you like from your smartphone to Google photos. This means you have unlimited storage for all your photos on your device, which is pretty neat.

On top of this a brand new 24/7 support feature where you can go into the settings, click on a tab and chat with a Google representative to get support for your smartphone. You can also use this feature by calling from your device where then the representative can take over your phone remotely and diagnose the problem.

I did try to use this cool feature, however unfortunately the feature wasn’t active at the time.

If you decide to buy the Google Pixel XL then it’s worth noting that you will notice the launcher is going to look a lot different from the launcher you might be used to on the Nexus 6P.

The Pixel has its own personal launcher.

Icons on the bottom for the home menu are more refined, rounded out and clean. On top of this the Google search bar is no longer there. Instead you have a quick button which extends into your search menu. The Pixel XL gives you a clean, fast interface and the impression that Android was always meant to be this way.

The biggest feature that Google has promoted about this smartphone has to be its brand new Google Assistant. You can imagine this as being “Google Now” version 2.0. This feature is now significantly better and more accurate.

I have to say it’s pretty insane how much further ahead Google is in the AI war compared to every other manufacturer out there, especially when it comes to context.

You have cool gestures that you can use with the Pixel XL, a quick double tap on the power button will give you access to the camera. A compare against the Galaxy S7 edge and I found the Pixel was slightly slower at loading its camera however still pretty quick.

Inside the camera application a twist of the wrist will let you switch cameras from front to back for quick selfies.

The back fingerprint sensor can also be used to scroll up or down through menus and websites. This I found to be very cool.

Google Pixel XL luancher menu
Google Pixel XL luancher menu

Google Pixel XL Battery.

In terms of battery life I can report I was easily getting a full day of use before needing a charge. Throughout my routine I would usually end the day with between 10% and 30% battery life before bedtime. So there’s definitely room for improvement here.

Compared to the Galaxy S7 edge battery, the 7 edge is better. The S7 has a bigger battery, where’s Google Pixel features a 3450 MAH battery which is fine, and will just about get you through the entire day.

For those that are curious I managed to get about 4 hours of screen-on time before needing a charge. However one thing the Pixel XL has, is extremely fast charging times.

The back of the Pixel is made of aluminium, so no wireless charging here.

Google Pixel XL battery life
Google Pixel XL battery life

Google Pixel XL camera.

Another hard promotion from Google is its Camera. The Pixel XL boasts a 12MP sensor on the back and is recorded to be the best camera on a smartphone to date according to DXL Mark.

It’s worth noting that I tend to take DXL marks results with a pinch of salt, as I find DXL results don’t take real life into consideration.

This being said, in my view the Pixel XL camera definitely sits in the top 3, sitting between the iPhone 7 Plus and Galaxy S7 Edge. You won’t get as natural looking photos as the iPhone 7 Plus, however they won’t be as saturated or warm as the Galaxy S7.

So if you like a nice combination of both iPhone and Galaxy cameras, this is what the Pixel XL can offer you.

One area that shocked me with the Pixel XL is how good the image stabilisation is. There’s no optical image stabilisation as Google uses software, and utilising its gyroscope, accelerometer to help stabilise the image. In terms of stabilisation overall the Pixel XL definitely does the best job compared to every other smartphone I have used, but then finding the picture quality in video not nearly as good as the iPhone 7 Plus.

Camera quality - Pixel XL Vs iPhone 7 Plus
Camera quality – Pixel XL Vs iPhone 7 Plus
Camera quality - Pixel XL Vs iPhone 7 Plus - River and barn
Camera quality – Pixel XL Vs iPhone 7 Plus – River and barn
Camera quality - Pixel XL Vs Galaxy S7 Edge
Camera quality – Pixel XL Vs Galaxy S7 Edge
Camera quality - Pixel XL Vs Galaxy S7 Edge - Closeup
Camera quality – Pixel XL Vs Galaxy S7 Edge – Closeup

Wrapping up this review.

The Google Pixel XL pretty much nails everything that I could want from an Android smartphone. Great display, good enough battery life, great camera and an incredible software experience. The Pixel XL is available in both 32GB and 128GB, making the storage ride a lot easier.

Where the Pixel XL might fall short for folks is when it comes to design. For a premium smartphone and the premium price tag, the Pixels aesthetic is quite frankly basic, and you may expect to own more of a head-turner in 2016. The Pixel XL has anĀ IP53 certification which suggests a low water and dust resistance. However after talking to a Google representative, they assured me the phone can withstand substantial water exposure. So I went looking and found a great water resistance test on the Google Pixel by a Youtuber Haris Craycraft

Should you buy the Google Pixel XL?

The Google Pixel XL is still one of my favourite smartphones in 2016, despite the obvious let downs. It’s hard to ignore Googles opportunity to optimise both software and hardware together, and for me is a feature that has really paid off. Google assistant really does make you feel like you have a smartphone of the future.

The Pixel XL may not offer the best hardware experience when compared to Samsung or iPhone, but if you want a fast, reliable software experience on good hardware, then the Google Pixel XL is probably the best Android smartphone you can buy in 2016, even if Googles vision of a high-end smartphone isnt as flashy as you might expect.

Thank you for reading my Google Pixel XL review.