Google Pixel XL Review

Google Pixel XL

Posted: , posted by Stephen S.




This camera may be powered by ego, but when you're as big as Google, that actually works

Google Pixel XL Review

Like a lot of other recent flagships, Google's making some big claims when it comes to the Pixel XL's camera performance. In its promotion for the handset, the company doesn't mince any words, calling this “the highest rated smartphone camera. Ever.”

Around back we've got a 12.3MP camera with an f/2.0 aperture lens and big 1.55μm pixels. And up front there's an 8MP selfie cam. But more than resting the Pixel XL's reputation on the camera hardware itself, Google turns to software and additional sensor hardware to really get the most out of these sensors.

Google Pixel XL Review
Camera interface - Google Pixel XL Review
Camera interface - Google Pixel XL Review
Camera interface - Google Pixel XL Review

Image quality

Fast and high-quality, it's a point-and-shoot fan's best friend

Google may be aiming for the stars with the Pixel XL's camera, but to a large extent, it really does deliver. The camera's fast as hell to use, grabbing focus in a snap thanks to both its phase-detection and laser-assisted techniques, and even HDR processing doesn't really slow things down.

About those HDR capabilities, though: while they work well and produce some nice-looking shots, we couldn't help but notice Google being a little heavy-handed in steering users towards them. While camera settings like your flash preferences or what resolution you want to shoot in are recalled for future photo sessions (as right they should be), every time you jump back into the camera app it defaults to auto-HDR; there's no way to force the phone to remember that you'd prefer to have HDR off by default. That's ultimately a minor quibble, thanks to how painless it is to have the auto-mode engaged.

Even some tricky exposures with blown-out backgrounds ended up looking pretty nice, and while the camera struggled with focus occasionally in extreme low-light environments, the images it grabbed were impressively low-noise, with nice clean blacks.

We're not sure if it's really the best camera ever on a smartphone – that's one heck of a high bar – but the Pixel XL is very much up there among some of the best-performing models you can pick up today.

Video recording

Who needs a tripod when digital stabilization works this well?

A lot of the good stuff from the Pixel XL's still-image performance carries over to video, especially in terms of focus speed – refocusing during video recording is fast and effortless.

The camera supports shooting modes up to 4K (as we'd only hope), but the real story is less about resolution and more about stability. While the Pixel XL doesn't offer an optically-stabilized camera, it does take advantage of Google's advanced stabilization algorithms, acting in concert with on-board sensors to digitally remove camera-shake from your footage.

We've seen plenty of software-stabilization efforts from other phones, but Google's implementation really does appear to live up to the hype. While the “laggy” effect on the viewfinder can be a little distracting while filming, the end results are incredibly impressive, especially compared to unstabilized video.


Great, well-balanced sound, but we crave a return to stereo

Last year, the Nexus 6P had a pair of dual front-facing speakers. Unfortunately, the Pixel XL can't quite live up to the same expectations, moving back to a single bottom-edge speaker.

What it lacks in lush stereo sound, though, the speaker goes a long way towards making up for that with really nice, clear, balanced sound. You get crisp highs and thumping lows, all without much discernible distortion. And though this isn't the loudest speaker we've ever tested, it subjectively feels extremely powerful with its output.


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Google Pixel XL

Google Pixel XL

OS: Android 9.0 Pie 8.1 Oreo 8.0 Oreo 7.1 Nougat
view full specs
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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