Google Pixel XL full 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 .

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.

Pre-orders in the UK began immediately after the launch event, and the Pixel XL release date is 20 October. You can also get the phones from Google, EE and Carphone Warehouse.

From 17 February 2017 the Really Blue Google Pixel XL is available to pre-order online through EE and in store at Carphone Warehouse, with the phone going on sale 24 February. This is a limited edition, so available only while stocks last.

The 32GB Really Blue Google Pixel XL will be free on a £50.99/month EE tariff with unlimited UK minutes and tests, plus 7GB of mobile data. You'll also get a free Daydream VR headset.

Google also gave details on Google Home and the new Chromecast Ultra.

Also see: Google Pixel XL vs iPhone 7 Plus

Google Pixel XL review

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.

Google Pixel XL design

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 screen

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.

It's nice that the Pixel Imprint fingerprint scanner supports 'moves', although you'll need to switch this on in the settings. It means you can swipe downward on the fingerprint scanner to access the notification bar and a second time for quick settings. It's a shame, then, that you can't swipe up for the app draw and right for Google Now.

Google Pixel XL Imprint sensor

Nestling under the smart metal casing is a large 3450mAh battery that Google claims will give you 32 hours of talk time, 14 hours of Wi-Fi browsing, or 14 hours of video playback. We found the Pixel XL will comfortably last a full day unless you hammer it and light users may even get a couple of days. We'll update with a battery benchmark soon.

Fast charging is also supported (no wireless here), with plugging the device in for fifteen minutes via the USB-C port resulting in seven hours of power. In our test the device charged a decent 20 percent in the time period. It's worth noting that the supplied charger requires a USB-C to USB-C cable which is provides as well as a full-size USB to USB-C cable.

Either side of the USB-C port are two slots which you'd be forgiven for assuming are stereo speakers. In fact, just one is for the speaker which is a disappointing step down from the front facing speakers of the Nexus 6P. There is a headphone jack, though, which is perhaps an important issue if you're trying to decide between the Pixel XL and iPhone 7 Plus.

Cameras are of course a big selling point for smartphones these days and the Pixel XL places its trust in a 12.3Mp rear unit with 1.55µm pixels that Google says was given a rating of 89 by DXO Mark, which is the highest score ever awarded to a smartphone. The camera is no different to the smaller Pixel, or on the most part, the Nexus 6P.

Pixel XL test photo

It now has phase detection autofocus as well as laser but it's strange to see a lack of optical image stabilisation. Perhaps Google didn’t want a camera bump, something it pointed out at the launch event. Instead, the phone uses digital stabilisation and while it helps makes things smoother, it's no match for the optical version.

Those of a selfie persuasion will find the 8Mp front facing camera to be a fine way to capture plenty of duckfaces and holiday group shots. You'll also be able to make use of this with Google's new video calling app, Duo.

There's no doubt the cameras are excellent quality but we're struggling to think why Nexus 6P owners would upgrade or why anyone else wouldn't be satisfied with a rival at a lower price. There are things exclusive to the Pixel like Smartburst and Pro controls but it's not like there aren't plenty of decent camera apps out there for you do download. There's also the fact that the iPhone 7 Plus (same price remember) has dual cameras with one being 2x telephoto.

Google Pixel XL review: Software

As you’d expect from Google’s own smartphone, the Pixel XL arrives bearing Android Nougat but the very latest iteration of the world’s most popular mobile OS in version 7.1.

It's a clean, smart update, which doesn't change things too much but does introduce the ability to slide up from the main screen to open the app tray and replaces the Google bar with a small tab on the left. The round icons won't be to everyone's taste tough.

Pixel XL Nougat 7.1

There are a few touches here and there, including the ability to blur the background wallpaper image which we found ludicrously useful almost straight away. You can also choose daily wallpapers or even Live Earth ones which move as you do things.

Google has also added a Night Light which turns the screen a red hue at, erm, night to ease the strain on your eyes and help you get to sleep. You can also get support from the firm, via call or chat, straight from the settings menu.

Speaking of the settings menu, we like the new notification style slots at the top which mean you can quickly switch things off like the Wi-Fi hotspot quickly and easily without having to delve into the menu.

The Pixels are the first phones to have Google's new Assistant 'built-in' so although you'll be able to download it on other phones in the future, you can long press the home button on the Pixel XL anytime to launch it.

Pixel XL Google Assistant

This impressive organisational tool is essentially a powered up version of Google Now and can help schedule your diary, answer queries, get directions to events, and control various apps on the phone. It's something that Google is making the central point of its entire range going forward, so as you use it on a phone, tablet, or even Chromebook, it will learn more about your preferences and improve in its suggestions.

Another included app is Google Allo, the new messaging app that also incorporates Google Assistant. This seems to have replaced Hangouts, which isn't a bad thing, allowing group chats and even has a privacy mode. You can read more about in our How to use Google Allo guide.

Google Duo also now comes as standard. This video messaging service is similar to Apple’s Facetime (and indeed Google’s Hangouts), is free and works on both Android and iOS. See: What is Google Duo?

The Pixels are the first Daydream - Google's new VR technology - ready devices. To celebrate this the company also announced the £69 Daydream View headset at the event, which will work with Pixels to bring immersive gaming worlds to users. It's a step up from Google Cardboard, that's for sure.

Read next: Best new phones coming in 2017

Specs

Google Pixel XL: Specs

  • 5.5in QuadHD display running at 1440 x 2560 resolution, Snapdragon 821 CPU 2.15 GHz + 1.6 GHz, Adreno™ 530 GPU 64-Bit Quad-Core processor , 4GB RAM, 32GB or 128GB storage, 12.3MP rear camera, 8MP front camera, 3450mAh battery, 4G LTE, 802.11ac WiFi, BT 4.2, USB-C charging port, Fast Charging support, headphone jack, Android 7.1 OS

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