Google Pixel XL Review
Google’s Nexus program was always the highlight of the insanely ambitious nature of the Android software team. Nexus devices were generally considered the gold standard for Android phones and set the tone for the next wave of devices. The one drawback to the Nexus program was always that Google didn’t directly influence the design of these devices. In fact, each device was manufactured by one of Android’s prominent hardware partners. HTC, Samsung, LG, Motorola, and finally Huawei all got their chance to make a Nexus device, but none of them really perfected Google’s vision of a truly ‘Google Phone.’ Enter the Google Pixel, a phone marketed to be #madebygoogle both inside and out.
Initially, I was devastated to learn that Google was killing the Nexus program. After all, I’d spent the last 6 years using almost exclusively Nexus devices, and I hadn’t planned on stopping. I debating on skipping the Pixel at first until I had an epiphany–It wasn’t the devices that kept me using Nexus devices, it was largely the software. The software that Android’s design chiefs spent hours pouring over to ensure a great end to end-user experience. Thankfully that same great experience ported over into the Pixel, and makes it the greatest Android device I’ve ever used. Powered by Android 7.1, the Pixel has essentially Android’s most capable OS version yet. So capable, that I’d put it atop the rankings for smoothest user experience on a smartphone. Period.
Let’s start with the hardware, shall we? The Pixel and Pixel Xl have a really unique design with a mostly aluminum body, separated by a small piece of glass on the back. On the inside of the Pixel is where all the magic is hidden. There’s a Snapdragon 821 processor, backed by 4GB of RAM and 32 or 128GB of storage available. There was absolutely nothing that I could throw at this phone that would slow it down or cause any hiccups whatsoever. 3D games ran super fast, apps were smooth and responsive, all thanks to the powerful processing inside the Pixel. The Pixel has a 2,770 mAh while the Pixel XL has a 3,450 mAh battery inside. Both phone were supremely impressive when it came to battery life and efficiency. On my Pixel XL review unit, I was able to go all day on a single charge and well into the next. The Pixel Imprint sensor on the back is also lightning fast, and registers almost instantly. There’s also a rapid charging capability present on the Pixel that promises 7 hours of battery life, with only a 15 minute charge.
Google has dramatically improved the user interface within Android over the years. While 7.1 isn’t necessarily and monumental jump in capability, the refinements of the software are second to none. Perhaps my favorite new addition is the Google Assistant, a beefy super powered take on Google Now. The assistant is accessed just like Google Now used to be, with a long press on the home button. Instead of being greeted by a voice powered version of Google’s search engine, you get an AI enhanced personal assistant. Google’s Assistant worked very well throughout my trials, and while not being 100% accurate, was mostly perfectly in line with what I asked. Setting appointments, creating reminders, or just Googling things in general was easy, and results came back in under 2 seconds majority of the time. What’s more important though, is the Google Assistant is contextually aware now, which leads to more diverse and complex answers. If you ask the Assistant who the 32nd President of the US was, you’ll get the answer (Franklin Roosevelt BTW), and then you could ask a follow-up question like “How old was HE” and you’d also get an answer (63 BTW). There’s also a new “Night Mode” which kills the blue light that gets emitted from your display, in an effort to help you night owls get a good night’s rest after midnight Facebook sessions.
One of the consistent caveats to owning a Nexus device was always the camera. No matter how great the rest of the hardware was on Nexus devices, Google just couldn’t nail down a great camera experience. This time around though, Google took the reigns themselves and churned out an amazing photo and video experience on their devices. Google made sure to brag about the awesome capability of the Pixels camera, and they were right to do so. The Pixel has probably the best camera on a smartphone. Ever. Period. Low light, high light, sunny, whatever… there were no bad conditions to shoot in. Photo capture was fast and effective thanks to new image processing software present inside the Pixel. There did seem to be a constant JJ Abrams-esque Solar Flare effect in majority of my photos outside, but it wasn’t a big enough deal for me to discount the otherwise incredible capabilities the Pixel camera presented. Image stabilization with video recording is another bright point within the camera itself. I shot a video with an iPhone 7, Nexus 6P, and Google Pixel while moving and the results were pretty alarming. The Nexus performed the worst by far, but the iPhone wasn’t too far ahead of it. The Pixel video maintained a consistent frame rate and smooth motion detail the entire time, giving the Pixel a distinct advantage over every other smartphone on the market.
Having used the Pixel XL for nearly a month now, it’ll be really hard to go back to my Nexus. The premium build quality and software alone makes this the best Android device available hands down. Google may have a hard time convincing customers that it’d be worth the $650 or $750 for the Pixel or Pixel XL respectively, though as one of the biggest selling points for Nexus devices has been affordability. Be that as it may, Google has aligned the pricing of the Pixel with that of other flagship devices namely the iPhone and Galaxy family. Those looking for the premiere Android experience, the Pixel is it. No manufacturer reimagining of what Android is supposed to be, instead you get Google’s unfiltered take on their greatest achievement yet. The Pixel is available now exclusively through Verizon Wireless, or direct from the Google Play Store.