Pixel XL Review: Living With Google’s Flagship Smartphone

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

Slick snapper, solid stamina

Pixel XL rearAs readers of Silicon, you’ll be more interested in the work capabilities of the Pixel XL, but a flagship, phone needs to have a good camera. And in this respect the Pixel XL doesn’t disappoint.

On paper, the spec seems middling; a 12.3 megapixel lens with an aperture of f/20 and no optical image stabilisation, unlike that found in my Galaxy S6’s 16 megapixel rear snapper.

But in real-world use the camera is top notch. Using its automatic HDR+ mode, the Pixel XL snaps vibrant colourful photos; perhaps not as saturated with colour as those captured by my S6 or it’s the newer Galaxy S7, but to my eye the picture quality is more detailed. Colours and white balance are arguably more natural on the latest iPhone, but some may prefer the vivid results of the Pixel XL.

Googke Pixel camera testIn reality, the quality of smartphone cameras in the current crop of flagship smartphones is so good that the difference are rather subjective, and you’d need to be ham fisted to not take a decent photo using either Google’s, Samsung’s or Apple’s top handsets.

Google Pixel camera test 2For live conferencing and recording video out in the field or at meetings, the camera can capture video in 4K with solid stabilisation, while the front-facing camera has capable eight megapixel lens. Thanks to slick integration with Google Photos, pictures and videos are automatically uploaded into the cloud, with the search giant’s smart tech neatly extracting useful data such as location.

Having a good camera is no good if the battery life is poor. Putting aside the capacity of the battery pack and focusing on real use, the Pixel will last on average a day and a quarter under fairly solid use, likely thanks to the rigorous optimisation by Google.

Watch videos with the brightness cranked up and that reduces somewhat, but compared to my Galaxy S6, which chewed through battery life like it was on its last meal, the Pixel XL is far superior.

Even when the battery starts to dwindle, both Pixel models offer fast charging through their USB Type-C port. With in 15 minutes of charging you’ll be left with enough battery life to survive the commute to and from the office.

Final thoughts

Pixel XL frontNow we come to the tricky part; can I recommend the Pixel XL? For fans of a pure as-Google-intended Android experience, I give you a resounding yes, as the Pixel XL is fantastic for that, though I suspect such fans will already have their hands on a Pixel XL.

Members of Team Apple curious about Google’s flagship will find the Pixel XL to be both better and worse than the iPhone 7 Plus in different areas. But as good as Android Nougat is, long-term iOS fans will likely remain unconvinced by this version of the OS.

As for rest, people like myself who have both iOS and Android products and enjoy the fawning over top-end hardware, the Pixel XL is a tricky entity. The 32GB Pixel XL I have starts at £719 with monthly costs on contract around the £50 mark.

Under the current deals on offer the Pixel XL is more expensive than the impressive Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, which has waterproofing, expandable storage and a removable battery that the former does not. Also the Edge has a design that warrants salivating over while the Pixel XL is more polarising.

Then there’s the upcoming but as yet unannounced Samsung Galaxy S8. While the Galaxy S7 was an iterative upgrade over its predecessor, the Galaxy S8 promises to be a properly exciting smartphone with a kitchen-sink esque amount to features.

So while I will happily keep using my Pixel XL over other any other current Apple or Android smartphone, I would recommend that anyone looking to upgrade in the next month or so should wait and see what Samsung’s next flagship is like.

Overall, the Pixel XL is still a brilliant smartphone. It’s the device the Galaxy Note 7 was meant to be before its battery started exploding. And it shows what Google can do when it has full control over a handset from start to finish.

To my mind the Pixel XL is similar to Microsoft’s first Surface hybrid; a great concept and hardware package only with a few flaws that stopped it from hitting greatness. Microsoft eventually struck gold with the Surface Pro 4, so I have no doubt Google will be able to do the same with the successor to the Pixel XL and I for one can’t wait to see it.

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