Google Pixel XL Review: Google's in the ring!

By Prasid Banerjee | Updated 14 Dec 2016
Google Pixel XL Review: Google's in the ring!
  • The Google Pixel XL takes on every flagship in the market today, including the iPhone 7 Plus. But does it succeed?

Rating: 77/100

Pros

- Great camera
- Fast
- Great display

Cons

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- Battery life needs to be better
- Design doesn't belong to this price range

The Android and Pixel teams work separately, just like the Android team works with Samsung and others to bring you “the best” smartphones in the market today. Google tried hard to tell us that the new Google Pixel(₹ 30499 at flipkart) and Pixel XL smartphones are not meant to compete against other smartphones. Let’s face it though, they’re a threat not just to the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, but also the Android flagships out there.

We got our unit of the Pixel XL today, so we’re understandably not ready with a review. However, many of our regular tests are complete, and we can present a fair view of the phone right now. Note, that we will be updating this review in the coming days, and will arrive at the final score.

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Build and Design: Utilitarian...

The Google Pixel XL(₹ 36990 at amazon) may look like an iPhone in pictures, but it sure doesn’t feel like one. Its chamfered edges and flattened edges are distinctly different, while the glass area on the back gives it an unique, if confusing, appeal.

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Frankly, I do not understand why the glass part of the back exists. It doesn’t seem to add anything to the design and breaks the seamlessness that a smooth metal back can provide. In fact, the Pixel XL doesn’t feel like the solid aluminium slab as the iPhone does, and that’s a bummer. The Pixel XL doesn’t feel as premium as an iPhone, or flagships from Samsung or HTC.

I’m not particularly fond of the Pixel XL’s design, but I’m definitely not writing it off as a badly designed smartphone.

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Having said that, I like how light the Pixel XL is. While 168 grams doesn’t really fall into the light category, the weight distribution inside seems quite well done. The Pixel feels significantly lighter than the iPhone 7 Plus, a tradeoff the iPhone makes for its solid aluminium body. It also feels more compact, even though it’s only about a hair smaller than the iPhone and thicker.

The fingerprint sensor on the back is easy enough to reach, and while the Pixel XL isn’t suited to single handed usage, I find it much easier to use this with one hand than many other 5.5 inch smartphones.

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I’m not particularly fond of the Pixel XL’s design, but I’m definitely not writing it off as a badly designed smartphone. It’s functional, but not eye-catching, something many want their smartphone to be. Also, if this is Google’s take on the phablet, then I can’t wait to find out how compact the Pixel is.

Display: QHD AMOLED done right...

Google stuck to the Android resolution war. The Pixel XL has a QHD panel, and it’s also in the AMOLED family. To its credit, the company has tuned the display’s colour tone to avoid major oversaturation. Yes, colours do look somewhat yellowish, but it’s really not worth complaining about.

The touch response is great, and it feels premium, and the contrast is top-notch, just like the new iPhones. The Pixel XL’s display can feel a tad dull with adaptive brightness on, but it’s actually brighter than the iPhone. The Pixel XL achieves a maximum brightness of 805 Lux, against the iPhone’s 710 Lux. In fact, even the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge achieved a maximum of about 750 Lux on our tests. The OnePlus 3 is the closest, at 800 Lux.

The Pixel XL's display is one of the best you can get today, which is an imperative at a starting price of Rs. 67,000.

Performance: Fast but not an iPhone...

This is our first experience with the Snapdragon 821. According to Qualcomm, this SoC builds on the SD820, providing 10% better performance. And that, is quite difficult to spot. That said, Google has somewhat achieved the goal of reducing the effect of fragmentation on Android. 

The Pixel launcher is evidently not just about appearance. Android feels a lot smoother on the Pixel than on other smartphones. The Pixel hasn’t stuttered since yesterday, but it doesn’t achieve the fast load times of an iPhone either. The phone is also easier to stress out than an iPhone, similar to most Android flagships.

 

The Pixel launcher is evidently not just about appearance.

Under 10 minutes of 4K recording, the Pixel XL hit the 38 degree celsius mark after 2 minutes. From here on, it rose to 42 degrees at the 5 minute mark, which finally ended at 40.5 degrees after 10 minute mark. In comparison, the iPhone 7 Plus hits the 41 degree mark only after the full ten minutes, dangling at below 40 before that.


The Pixel XL at below 40 degree celsius, without throttling (Red: Temperature, Blue: Processor Clock Speed)


Pixel XL at elevated temperatures (Red: Temperature, Blue: Processor Clock Speed)

From here, the phone was put through continuous heavy graphics rendering for about 15 minutes. Sadly, the Pixel XL’s algorithms can’t keep the temperature steady. The temperature went up to a maximum of 47.2 degrees, at which point you could see lags even when pulling the notification drawer down. Of course, this isn’t a practical scenario, but I would have preferred it if the Pixel could keep the temperature more in control.

Further, the QHD screen does reduce the Pixel XL's graphical capabilities. The phone can render less frames on GFXBench's Car Chase test than the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge or even the OnePlus 3. The performance is about 30% lower than those phones, because of their smaller displays. However, real world performance on the Pixel XL does seem much smoother. The Pixel's user experience is indeed as close to an iPhone as Android gets. The app load times are extremely low and unless you try to run games like Asphalt 8, Injustice: Gods Among Us etc. 

Camera: Amongst the best...

Google claims the Pixel XL's 12.3MP camera is the best a smartphone has ever that. That's a tall claim to live up to, but the company gets dangerously close to it. Depending on your colour preferences, you may actually find this to be better than the iPhone 7 Plus at times. Where it lags behind, though, is in low light performance. The Sony IMX378 is a direct upgrade to the Nexus 6P's IMX377 sensor and it retains the 1.55 micron pixel size. This is larger than the iPhone and allows the Pixel XL to retain more light than that device, despite its smaller f/2.0 aperture.

In practice, the Pixel XL actually produced better details than the iPhone 7 Plus when shooting under brightly lit conditions, however, the white balance is off, producing cooler tones. The colours on the Pixel XL are not as true-to-source as the iPhone 7 Plus, but you'll know this only if you look at the photos on a calibrated display, or placed side by side with an iPhone. To be clear, the iPhone also produces slightly warm photos, but their much closer to the source than the Pixel XL. Under low light, the Pixel XL's images still produce cooler white balance, and much more noise than the iPhone 7 Plus. The shot is still great, but gun to my head, the iPhone is indeed better.

The Pixel XL (above) produces better details than the iPhone 7 Plus (below)

The Pixel XL indeed has one of the best cameras in the market today, but I  wouldn't quite crown it as the "best camera ever"

Under brightly lit conditions, the Pixel XL (above) can produce better details than the iPhone 7 Plus (below), but the white balance is off

What it all comes down to is that the Pixel XL indeed has one of the best cameras in the market today, but I  wouldn't quite crown it as the "best camera ever". Know that if you buy the Pixel XL you'll be getting one of the best cameras you can today, but depending on your preference, you may or may not agree with me. Check the gallery below to form your own opinion, and check out our comparison between the iPhone 7 Plus and Pixel XL for more on the camera.

 

Google Pixel XL Camera Samples

 

Battery: Come on, Google!

The Pixel XL has a 3450 mAh battery, much like many other Android phones that are breaking the 3000 mAh mark today. It lasts for about seven hours on the PC Mark battery test, which is not bad, but neither is it acceptable for a flagship phone. For most, the phone should last for about a work day, but just that. Its QHD screen sucks battery, while the fast processor isn't easy to manage either. The battery life on the Pixel XL isn't dissappointing, but one wonders what the smaller Pixel would be like if the phablet is at this level.

Frankly, I'm disappointed with the battery life. For me, the battery life was the make or break feature for the Pixel XL, and it seems Android isn't quite ready to take the next step yet. The Pixel XL doesn't last me any more than other Android flagships, and that's a problem at Rs. 67,000. 

Bottomline: It takes more to beat the iPhone...

The Google Pixel XL is a great smartphone, and an even greater Android phone. It is the best that Android can offer today, but I'm not very fond of Google's approach to the high-end market. At Rs. 67,000, the design really needs to be worth showing off, which for me is a big downer despite the phone's other flaws. If you have the money and don't want an iPhone, then sure, buy it, the Pixel XL is a great first attempt by Google. However, it'll take more work to beat the iPhone.

Buy Google Pixel XL at Rs. 67000 on Flipkart

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Prasid Banerjee
Trying to explain technology to my parents. Failing miserably.
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