Google Pixel XL Review

Google Pixel XL

Posted: , posted by Stephen S.



Interface and Functionality

Google goes out on a limb with Nougat, yet the changes feel really successful

Google Pixel XL Review

The Pixel phones may not be the first to launch with Nougat, but they do hold the honor of introducing us to Nougat's latest incarnation: Android 7.1. That means the arrival of new features like the long-awaited split-screen mode for apps, as well as changes to familiar areas of the Android interface, like the display of notifications.

One of the most jarring, at least for users expecting a traditional app drawer, is the new way software is accessed, by way of a swipe up from the screen's bottom edge. While at first you may find yourself continuing to hunt for the right icon to tap to, the movement quickly becomes second nature, and we can't see users having too many objections.

Another noteworthy change to the way you access expected Android features concerns the standard Google search-bar widget. The one you know and love is still present, waiting for you to drop it into place if you so choose, but the Pixel XL is instead pushing users in a new direction, with a slightly less conspicuous pop-out search bar that spends its days tucked away in a corner of the home screen, just waiting for someone to tap and expand it.

There's also a new way to get to Google's voice-drive assistant, now with a major makeover in the form of the Google Assistant. In addition to saying “OK Google” anytime you like (even with the screen off), you can access the Assistant by briefly holding down the on-screen virtual home button (since the swipe-up mechanic is now the new app drawer).

The Assistant isn't some all-new voice-powered solution, and if you're familiar with Google Now, this is going to seem like the natural progression of things – in fact, “natural” may be the key word here, as the Google Assistant really focuses on back-and-forth spoken interactions with users that can be utterly conversational in tone.

At least, that's the dream – and it works with some queries, picking up on contextual cues. Others are less successful, and far too often for our taste responses from Assistant simply dumped us into a web-search result.

When you take full advantage of Google's software and services, the results can be pretty impressive – though we can imagine privacy advocates being a little sketched out. The phone will recognize when you're hanging around at a restaurant or shopping center, and helpfully trigger a notification with menus and review, or an in-store Maps diagram to help you find your way around. Like other recent Android builds, you get from Nougat what you put into it, and the closer you allow Google to scrape your mails, appointments, search history, and location data, the more interesting and often legitimately useful information it will offer to share with you.

If something does go wrong with your Pixel XL experience, help is just a few taps away, thanks to Google's 24/7 support, accessible both via phone and online chat.

Finally, while fingerprint scanners were introduced to Nexus phones last year, the “Pixel Imprint” scanner on the Pixel XL is a particularly nice one, offering a really neat gesture control: while using the phone, you can swipe down across the scanner to access your notifications – or swipe twice for expanded quick settings. It's the same effect as if you swiped down on the screen itself, but really, really convenient to use.

Processor and Memory

Google doesn't skimp on the latest silicon, but performance gains aren't huge

Google Pixel XL Review

This year's been populated by flagship after flagship running Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820 processor. It's a very capable chip, but after so many phones offering similar capabilities, we've been itching to check out the next big thing. There's bound to be some debate over just how “big” it really is, but the follow-up to that chip is now here, with the Pixel XL packing a new Snapdragon 821.

That single-digit model-number bump should help soften the news that we're not looking at a major overhaul of the 820's capabilities, but instead a chip that's a little bit faster – Qualcomm says that users can expect a speed increase in the range of 10 percent.

Our benchmark tests didn't show the 821 coming out ahead of the 820 in every situation we threw at it, but most of the time it was either neck-and-neck with the 820 or – true to Qualcomm's promises – slightly ahead. So while you shouldn't expect the Pixel XL to run circles around existing 2016 flagships, it's definitely up there in the upper echelons of their ranks.

Google pairs that chip with 4GB of RAM, which we'd only expect for a phone of this stature. While some users have debated the need for phones with quite so much memory, we're hoping that things like Nougat's split-screen multitasking will begin convincing them why it's very much in our interests to have RAM to spare.

Storage options include 32GB and 128GB models, with no microSD expansion. While the 32GB base level is fine, it might have been nice to see 64GB, instead – especially after the arrival of the Note 7. But with Google's free-storage offer for the Pixel XL's photos and video leveraging some cloud muscle to take the pressure of local storage, we can understand how 32GB can look like more than enough.

Subjectively, the Pixel XL is smooth as butter to use. The combination of the latest Android software and a next-gen processor gives us an interface that just soars by under our fingertips, as if the pixels wish they had a reason to move just a bit faster, if only to show what they can really do. From system menus, to Maps, to Chrome, to the camera, the user experience is fast and responsive all around.


LTE capabilities so fast, your carrier may be afraid of it

So far we've been looking at hardware that's at the forefront of the latest tech, and that story continues for the Pixel XL's wireless connectivity. Your carrier may not support high-speed LTE Cat 12 just yet, but when it does the Pixel XL's ready to pull down blistering 600Mbps download speeds.

On the wired front, Google's going all-in with USB Type-C, after introducing the connector to the Nexus 5X and 6P last year. That means shipping the Pixel XL with a nice assortment of Type-C cables, as well as adapters ready to interface the handset with your existing gear – including a Quick Switch adapter you can use to bring your old messages, contacts, and files over to the new phone.


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PhoneArena rating:
Display5.5 inches, 1440 x 2560 pixels (534 ppi) AMOLED
Camera12.3 megapixels
Qualcomm Snapdragon 821, Quad-core, 2150 MHz, Kryo processor
4 GB
Size6.09 x 2.98 x 0.34 inches
(154.72 x 75.74 x 8.6 mm)
5.93 oz  (168 g)
Battery3450 mAh, 32 hours talk time

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