The Google Pixel XL, along with the Google Pixel, is the first phone ‘made [almost entirely] by Google’, and it’s the best way to experience the latest and greatest that Android software has to offer.
It puts the immense power of Google search behind everything you do with the all-new Google Assistant, a context-understanding AI that’s often smarter than Siri. Sorry, Apple fans.
The Pixel XL also launches with the Android 7.1 Nougat update, which gives the phone virtual reality powers when paired with the newly released Google Daydream View headset.
Even if you’re not into VR, this means it has top-of-the-line specs good enough for power-hungry gamers, and that’s fantastic news for anyone who wants a fast phone.
The phone debuts the Snapdragon 821 processor, with 4GB of RAM inside of a glass-and-metal body. The camera is touted as ‘best in class’, and the 5.5-inch 2K-resolution screen looks superb.
Google is ditching the affordable, developer-focused Nexus brand in favor of the Pixel XL and its smaller 5-inch Google Pixel counterpart. They’re more expensive handsets, but also showcase greater ambition on Google’s part.
The Google Pixel XL is sized and priced to compete with the elegantly designed Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (that’s the one that doesn’t explode) and iPhone 7 Plus – and Google has picked the perfect time to launch a brand new contender for our best phones list.
Right now, with Apple’s headphone jack-less iPhone 7 irritating longtime fans and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 cancellation disappointing users, fans of those brands may be looking elsewhere for the first time in years. So let’s zoom into this Pixel XL, to see if it’s as good as the hype claims.
What’s in the box? Find out in our Google Pixel XL unboxing video
Price and release date
- More expensive than any Nexus handset
- But in line with Apple, Samsung and LG phones
- On contract from Verizon in US and EE in UK
The Google Pixel XL launches on October 20, and it’s Google’s smartphone all grown up. That means it’s more expensive than the now discontinued Nexus 6P. These are grown-up prices too.
It costs $769 (£719, AU$1,269) for the 32GB version, and $869 (£819, AU$1,419) for the 128GB model. There’s no 64GB in-between edition, and no microSD slot for expandable storage.
You’ll notice that these are the exact same prices as for the iPhone 7 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and forthcoming LG V20 in the US, so Google is simply following an unfortunate trend there.
Not willing to pay full price? In the US, the Pixel is a Verizon exclusive on-contract, costs $32.08 a month over 24 months and comes with day one updates, according to the carrier.
But we’d suggest skipping the contract and paying everything up front for the SIM-free Pixel XL. It’s not filled with Verizon apps, and works just as well on AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint.
In the UK you can get the Pixel on contract from EE, paying £9.99 up front and then £55.99 per month for 10GB of data and unlimited calls and texts.
- Premium – but peculiar glass-and-metal – design
- No camera bump on the back whatsoever
- Not waterproof, and no stereo speakers
Google called the Pixel XL design “bold” during its initial announcement, noting that the back of the phone’s glass-and-metal makeup gives it “personality and character”.
If that sounds like a backhanded compliment, it’s kind of deserved. It’s almost as if Google heard that people like metal phones, but also like glass phones, so it decided to throw in both.
It’s an odd, two-toned mix on the back side, making the Google Pixel XL feel like we’re one step away from unwrapping the Neapolitan ice cream of smartphones.
The good news is that, as funky as it looks, the materials are solid: strengthened Gorilla Glass 4 for the top third around the rear fingerprint sensor and camera, and polished anodized aluminum on the bottom two-thirds where your hand wraps around the phone.
Clutching this phablet shouldn’t be a problem if you could get the taller Nexus 6P in your hands. It measures 153 x 76 x 8.58mm, and tapers off to a depth of 7.31mm around the back.
It’s slightly thicker and boxier than most phones, including the iPhone 7 Plus at 7.3mm, but not quite as tall or, more importantly, wide. Normal-sized hands will do okay here.
Google has thrown a lot into the Pixel XL design, but there’s one thing you won’t find: an annoying camera bump. The rear camera is completely flush with the glass plate on the back, a design feat that Apple and Samsung have yet to achieve.
Unfortunately, the Google Pixel XL doesn’t live up to those manufacturers’ waterproofing standards. Its IP53 rating means you can’t get this one wet, never mind accidentally dunk it in the sink, pool or toilet.
On the front, surrounding the 5.5-inch display is a rather big ‘chin’ for a phone that contains no physical home button. All of the face buttons are on-screen, while the riveted sleep/wake button and smooth volume rocker are on the right side.
It does, however, use that extra room at the top to include a headphone jack. There’s a speaker on the bottom, but while there are two speaker grilles, there’s just one firing out sound. If you accidentally cover it up with your finger when watching something in landscape mode, it’ll kill the volume.
Showing that it does, in fact, have ‘personality’, the Google Pixel XL colors include Very Silver, Quite Black and a limited-edition Really Blue, a poke at ridiculous phone-color naming conventions.
You’re probably going to get a Live Case to cover up the peculiar glass-and-metal design anyway, so if you can do without a water-resistant phone and stereo speakers, you’ll be fine.
- Bright and colorful 5.5-inch AMOLED display
- Better for VR than the 5-inch Google Pixel
- No rise-to-wake or always-on screen
The Google Pixel XL further proves why AMOLED displays look the best for smartphones, thanks to its colorful and bright screen that outclasses LCD panels every time.
It’s vivid, ready for virtual reality on a budget, and one of the key reasons we’d suggest you upgrade from the normal-sized Google Pixel that’s just Full HD or 1080p.
The screen looks better than an iPhone 7 Plus, but it’s missing one key feature we like about Apple’s display and newer Samsung and LG handsets: a rise-to-wake or always-on screen.
Having to reach for the tiny, side-mounted sleep/wake button on this phone just to light up the lock screen made us miss this informative display feature.
Google does include an Ambient Display feature that lights the screen up in a black-and-white color palette when notifications come in, but it’s just not the same.
Google has finally upgraded its new phone to include a Night Light mode that matches the iOS 9.3 feature. It lacks the adjustable orange-to-blue levels Apple has had from the beginning, and turns from blue to orange rather abruptly at sunset, but it’s a start.