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Pixel XL Review: Living With Google’s Flagship Smartphone

As News Editor of Silicon UK, Roland keeps a keen eye on the daily tech news coverage for the site, while also focusing on stories around cyber security, public sector IT, innovation, AI, and gadgets.

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REVIEW: After several months using the Pixel XL, Roland Moore-Colyer gives his verdict on the 100 percent Google phone

Google’s Pixel brace of smartphones are the search giant’s first attempt at designing phones completely by itself; where the Nexus devices were created with the assistance of HTC, Samsung, LG and Huawei, the Pixels are Google’s vision through and through.

Over the last few months, I’ve been using the Pixel XL, the bigger near ‘phablet’ sized model, and the flagship of the Pixel range.

It took over smartphone duties from my Samsung Galaxy S6, a critically claimed mobile that’s nearing the two year mark, a point at which many people will look to upgrade their smartphones.

In a nutshell, the Pixel XL is the best pure-play Android smartphone you can buy, but it needs a close inspection to see if it can rival other flagships such as Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Edge and the iPhone 7 Plus.

Divisive design

Google Pixel XL design 2Let’s start with the design; it’s one that will polarise the opinions of many. HTC actually provided the manufacturing of the Pixels, so unsurprisingly the Pixel XL has is solid and well-made, if lacking some of HTC’s own design magic.

Sporting a premium glass and metal body, up front the Pixel XL has a 5.5 inch QHD display slathered in Corning’s Gorilla Glass 4 to prevent it from getting too scratched with less than careful use.

But rather than pushing the display as far to the edge of the chassis as possible, the Pixel XL surrenders a good chunk of space to the bottom part of the phone, which unlike many other similar-sized smartphones on the market contains no physical buttons, though the bottom edge does house a single rather than stereo speaker array and microphone.

The same amount of space is given to the top of the phone where the front-facing camera, sensors and a 3.5mm headphone jack are housed.

Without any physical buttons, the Pixel XL seems to have space on its from that is going used, that may be down to the way it houses its internals, but to my mind its a bit of a shame to see the phone’s chin lacking any function. It’s also thicker than my Galaxy S6 and the latest batch of iPhones, with a girth of 7.3mm at its thinnest where the phone tapers of at its chamfered edges.

At 128g it is heavier than its rivals, but I prefer the heftier feel this give and the edges make it easier to hold in one hand than other phablet-bothering sized mobiles.

On the left right hand side is the volume rocker and the power button, the latter which has a riveted texture to it making it easy to locate when fumbling away in the dark. It’s a nice touch, so while the Pixel may not have the silver surround on my Galaxy S6 it offer does more functional design.

Around the back, the Pixel XL has a two tone look mixing anodised aluminium with a glass panel occupying the top third of the chassis. While this housed a responsive and easy-to-find in the dark fingerprint scanner, it gives the Pixel XL the appearance of a cross between an iPhone 7 and a Neapolitan ice cream.

Google Pixel Design rearIn the grey-tinged Quite Black option, I find the design to be interesting enough and nice and solid to the touch without being too fussy, though the other colour options really Blue and the white-looking Very Silver, lack the more refined look of the darker shade.

Also, Google has worked hard to make the rear-camera flush with the back panel, thus avoiding the camera bump its rivals sport which prevents them from being placed flat on a surface.

But while Google has managed this feat, the Pixel XL lacks the waterproof chops of the iPhone 7 and Samsung’s Galaxy S7 models, so that means no emailing in the shower, though the mobile can withstand a few spots of rain.

Overall, the utilitarian appearance of the Pixel XL may lack the impact of say the Galaxy S7 Edge, but at the same time the function over form approach allows the display to really capture the attention.

Delectable display

Google Pixel reviewAnd what a display that is. Unlike the smaller Pixel with its 1080p screen, the XL has a 2650×1440 QHD resolution display that makes it razor sharp and everything from graphics, to text and icons are crystal clear.

Much like the other top-end Android handsets, the Pixel XL makes use of the AMOLED display technology, which provides rich colours, deep blacks and a big dollop of contrast. Traditionally these displays have presented much brighter and vivid images than the Retina displays found in iPhones and on iPads.

This is true for the Pixel XL, though compared to the AMOLED panels in Samsung’s Galaxy flagships, the colours are slightly more natural, though perhaps not as accurate as those the found in the latest Retina displays.

But unless you plan to do some very precise photo editing on a smartphone, the display is more than acceptable and at a manageable 5.5 inches makes browsing Chrome and tapping out emails via Gmail a pleasure. Meanwhile watching videos and gaming on the phone is pretty much as good as it gets on the current crop of Android phones.

The colour, sharpness and response of the display also make zipping through Android 7.0 Nougat, where Google’s latest mobile operating system made its debut, really shine.

Continue to page 2 to read about Android Nougat on the Pixel XL…