Hands-on review: UPDATED: Google Pixel XL

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You don’t have to shop in the big-and-tall section of stores to want the Google Pixel XL. It’s a powerful phablet, at a still-reasonable size, and it’s made by Google.

This 5.5-inch Android phone is the successor to last year’s Nexus 6P, as Google is altogether ditching the affordable, developer-focused Nexus brand in favor of the Pixel XL and smaller 5-inch Pixel.

You’re getting top-of-the-line specs, but a noticeable price bump. It once again has a full-metal body and 2K resolution screen, but debuts a blazing-fast Snapdragon 821 processor with 4GB of RAM inside.

A big highlight we are testing out right now for our review is the 12.3MP camera on the back and 8MP on the front. Google says the rear camera is the best ever. We’ll be the judge of that. If you’re upgrading from a two-year old phone, the fingerprint scanner is also a big deal.

What hasn’t changed in the move to the Pixel XL moniker is that is features latest version of Android: Android 7.1 Nougat. This gives the phone Google Daydream VR capabilities to rival the Samsung Gear VR.

Google Pixel XL

Google Pixel XL is sized to compete with the elegantly designed Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (that’s the one that doesn’t explode) and iPhone 7 Plus, but does Pixel really pack enough punch to make it to our best phones list? Let’s find out.

Price and release date

Google Pixel XL price is more than your average Nexus phone at launch. The official price in the US is $769. That’s just as much as an unlocked phone from any other manufacturer, including Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus.

Google Pixel XL

Alternatively, in the US, you can buy the Google Pixel XL at Verizon and pay that price over the course of 24 months at a rate of $32 a month.

The Google Pixel XL price in the UK is £719. Again, that’s expensive for a Google-made phone. The same goes for Australia, where the phone costs AU$1,200.

Google is readying its new Android 7.1 phone to launch on October 20. Pre-orders begin today, October 4 in the US, UK and Australia.

Design and display

The Google Pixel XL blends together glass and metal, and it’s attractive, even if the two-tined design on the back and large front bezels aren’t as attractive as a Samsung phone. And it’s way better than the renders that leaked.

Google Pixel XL

Glass makes up the top half of the back, where the fingerprint sensor and camera reside. There’s nothing on the button-free front of the phone, as Google features on-screen buttons in stock Android.

Specs

This is probably the first smartphone you’ll be able to try with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 processor. It’s a step ahead of the Snapdragon 820 that’s in just about every big Android phone launched in 2016.

Google Pixel XL

What’s that mean for you, exactly? The new System-on-a-Chip promises better performance to the tune of a 10% increase in speed. It’s snappy from our quick testing.

It’s also helped out by the fact that there’s 4GB of RAM here, giving you a higher ceiling for opening up all sorts of intensive apps at once. The Nexus 6P had 3GB of RAM, which was the norm for 2015.

Once again, there’s no microSD card slot in the Pixel XL. That hasn’t changed in the Nexus-to-Pixel conversion. Instead, you’ll have to rely on the 32GB or 128GB of internal storage here. No, there’s no 256GB model here, either.

Camera

Don’t let the 12.3MP camera fool you in an age where other Android phone makers have 20MP camera. The Google claims that the Pixel XL camera is the best ever.

Google Pixel XL

We’re heard promising claims before from Google, and while the Nexus 6P camera was good, it was still far from the best next to Samsung and LG phones in dimly light environments.

The rear camera captures larger 1.55 micron pixels and have an f/2.0 aperture, so we’re eager to test out how exactly these camera specs amount to “the best.”

On the front, there’s an 8MP front-facing camera, which is better than a lot of the 5MP selfie cameras that we’ve seen on many Androids. We’ve snapped a few selfies and it’s hard to tell the difference in a poorly lit demo room.

Google Pixel XL

4K video is also here, and we’re interested to see how it turns out next to the Samsung Galaxy S7 and LG V20, since both phones feature impressive steadyshot technology. Google showed a demo of it working flawlessly, of course. Check back for camera samples in our full Google Pixel XL review.

Battery life

Impressive specs are nothing without a longevity. Luckily, the Google XL battery life is supposed to last more than a day thanks to a 3450mAh battery capacity.

That’s the same size as the Nexus 6P battery, but it’s likely to last even longer. That’s because the Google Pixel XL display is slightly smaller at 5.5 inches instead of 5.7 inches. It’s less screen to light up.

Google Pixel XL

There are two more reasons the Google XL battery is likely to be better in 2016. First, the Snapdragon 821 processor should be more efficient than the Snapdragon 820 chip.

Second, and most importantly, Android Nougat features behind-the-scenes Doze 2.0 technology that better suspends needless activity while your phone is idle, on your desk or in your pocket.

We’ll run a full battery life test on the Google XL when we get a final review unit in our hands.

Early Verdict

You won’t have a rough transition between liking Nexus phones and enjoying the Google Pixel XL. It’s still the best way to enjoy the latest version of Android.

Google Pixel XL

It won’t take forever to upgrade to Android 7.1 Nougat because it’s here out of the box, complete with Google Daydream VR capabilities. All future Android updates are going to debut on this phone, too.

Even better, it’s the first to the fast Snapdragon 821 processor in the Western world. The Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe didn’t come out in time to claim its “world first” title in the US and UK.

All of this makes the Pixel XL a more expensive phone – but the cost is in line with other top-tier flagship handsets. It’s just more money the a Nexus device.

But think about it, no Nexus debuted new specs and new software. Google is finally giving toward providing consumers with both on a stock Android device. That’s a big switch.

Google Pixel XL

We’ll have to get used to the Pixel name and this phone’s two-toned of shiny glass and matte metal on the back, and do our best to forget about the needless bezels.

That’ll be a simple ask if the camera and battery life hold up in our forthcoming final review of the new best way to experience the latest Android has to offer.

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