Google Pixel XL First Impressions

Posted on October 21, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Mobile with 30 Comments

Google Pixel XL First Impressions

My Google Pixel XL arrived today, allowing me to get started with the obvious comparisons: The iPhone 7 Plus with which it competes and the Nexus 6P that it replaces.

The good news for Google fans is that the Pixel seems to capture the basic essence of the iPhone, both in physical form and in a more spiritual sense. And that’s both good and bad: Like the Nexus 6P before it, the Pixel delivers on a level of quality that helps justify its lofty price. But it also looks a little bit too much like the iPhone.


The one major exception is the rear of the device, which bears an unfortunate design. The top third of the Pixel’s rear is covered in glass for some unfathomable reason, presenting an unnecessarily smudgy area that looks and feels different than the rest of the device. Fortunately, this is solved nicely by the $35 Pixel cover I also purchased. And that case provides a nice tactic experience of its own.

Nexus 6P (left) and Pixel XL (right)

Nexus 6P (left) and Pixel XL (right)

The Pixel also differs from the iPhone with its rear-facing “Pixel Imprint” fingerprint reader, but then the Nexus 6P and 5X had identical designs. We could debate the “proper” placement of such a button, but suffice to say that both choices—under the screen, per the iPhone, or on the back—have pros and cons. The Pixel’s fingerprint reader appears to be as fast and accurate as its predecessors.

Google’s fixation with Apple extends to the packaging, which has more cubby holes than a big SUV, and they’re filled with all manner of cables and adapters. There’s a USB-C to USB-A cable, which is to be expected, but also a UBC-C to USB-C for those with more modern devices that have already dropped the standard USB port. There’s also a nice power adapter, which only works with USB-C, and then a USB-C to USB-A dongle. For some reason.


Turning on the device, you’re greeted to a fairly standard Android initial setup experience that has just a few interesting changes. There’s a Copy your data option right up front which will let you transfer information from an iPhone or other smartphones. That’s smart. (Though I have not tested that.) And of course setup for both the fingerprint reader and the new Google Assistant, which is a centerpiece of sorts for this device.


The stock Pixel home screen is Spartan and features the new round icons that I believe will be making their way to Android 7.1 on other devices as well.


And these icons aren’t just round: You can tap and hold on them to reveal context menus, as with Apple’s Touch 3D and right-clicking on PCs, which provide additional entry points into the underlying apps. But these menus take a step past previous implementations and let you drag them to the home screen as discrete icons. So, for example, if you like the Take a Selfie option you see from the Camera app’s menu, you can use that as an icon too.

Speaking of the camera, I’ve only taken a handful of shots, and outside on a clear and sunny day. But here, already, I can see how this camera could stack up against the Nexus 6P and iPhone 7 Plus, which I also quickly tested. With all three on just the default auto shooting mode, the iPhone’s were the most washed out, though things inmproved when I manually enabled HDR+. (Why this can’t remain enabled is unclear.) The Pixel XL’s shots were colorful and clear, and of high quality. And the Nexus 6P’s were the most colorful, almost artificially so, with a very pronounced HDR quality.

The first photo I took with the Pixel XL.

The first photo I took with the Pixel XL.

How you react to such a photo is a personal matter, I guess, but I found both the Nexus 6P and Pixel XL photos to be “better” than those of the iPhone. But things were roughly even when I enabled HDR+ on the iPhone. I will need to take a lot more photos before this issue is settled.

Transferring my Project Fi SIM from the Nexus 6P to the Pixel was easy enough, though I sign-in to the phone with a custom Google Apps domain, and not with the Gmail account I have to use with Project Fi. (This is a weirdism of the Google ecosystem.) But I was able to easily sign-in to Project Fi from within that app and was up and running in minutes.

Looking ahead, I have a few obvious avenues of exploration once all my apps are installed and configured. I’m very curious about camera quality of course, and that will be an ongoing thing over the next few weeks. I’m also very interested in performance, as Android has always lagged iPhone in this area, no matter what the platform. With its high-end processor and gobs of RAM, the Pixel will be an interesting test. And if Android can’t run well on this phone, then Android is simply broken. We’ll see.

I’m also curious what small advantages I’ll see thanks to Android 7.1. Some features are coming to older phones, such as my Nexus 6P, which is enrolled in the beta. But some will not. For example, Night Light remains tied to Pixel and other phones that ship natively with 7.1.

Ultimately, I’d like to come to some stock conclusions about how this phone compares to the iPhone, and whether it’s worth its heady asking price. My base Pixel XL with 32 GB of RAM cost over $800 after taxes and other costs, and “good enough” just isn’t good enough in this stratospheric pricing category.

So will the Google Pixel XL measure up? We shall see.


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  1. 1 | Reply
    wunderbar Alpha Member #290 - 2 months ago

    Specific to the USB-C to USB-A donble you weren't sure why it had, that's to facilitate the setup opton that let syou copy data from an iPhone.  You plug your iPhone into the Pixel via that adapter, and it sucks the information from the iPhone that way.

    1. 0 | Reply
      evox81 Alpha Member #1939 - 2 months ago
      In reply to wunderbar:

      That's... fascinating. Considering individual manufacturers haved offered this funcationality via Wi-Fi for years, I'm trying to understand the logic of including a dongle in the box.

    2. 0 | Reply
      roland - 2 months ago
      In reply to evox81:

      The dongle is also an OTG/Host adapter dongle/plug thing, I believe. Not just useful for data transfer from your old phone.

    3. 0 | Reply
      TripQue Alpha Member #983 - 2 months ago
      In reply to wunderbar:

      I got my Pixel XL yesterday and used said adapter to transfer data from my Galaxy Note 4.  It copied almost everything, even things I didn't expect (such as my custom ringtone).  I think the advantage over Wi-Fi transfer is speed and reliability.  Loving the new phone!


    4. 0 | Reply
      jgraebner Alpha Member #1129 - 2 months ago
      In reply to wunderbar:

      The dongle also works for transferring from Android phones with micro-USB instead of USB-C.  At least for Android, wifi was an option as well, but the cable is a lot faster.  I'm not sure if iPhone works over wifi or not.

  2. 1 | Reply
    bbold Alpha Member #669 - 2 months ago

    It's no HP Elite X3, that's for sure. I don't understand anyone spending any more than $2-300 on an Android device. When I think of Android, I think of cheap throwaway phones. I used to be a user when I had less cashflow, now I'm all in on W10M.

  3. 0 | Reply
    MacAguar Alpha Member #1547 - 2 months ago

    i think that the pixel xl is an nice device. i hold them since 2 day's ago. the life time of the battery pack is good. but when i put on the bluetooth ( it's off by standard ;-) ) the time goes a litte bit down.  when i will compare the iphone 7 and the pixel i love the pixel more.  thank's paul for the first impression. 

  4. 0 | Reply
    rbwatson0 Alpha Member #1592 - 2 months ago

    32 Gb of RAM! Holy smoke thats more than I have in my desktop computer.  I wonder if you meant for that to be general storage?

  5. 0 | Reply
    wolters Alpha Member #390 - 2 months ago

    My PIXEL arrived too (Verizon) rep forgot to order the XL but will get it next month so using the standard Pixel for now. Quick first impressions...fastest Android Phone ever...Camera is great but will put it to real tests this weekend. I like the Pixel only complaint is I sure can't fall back to a 5" after using an ICON and Note Series Phone for the last 3-4 years. 

    Quick Note on the Verizon Pixel...I only had two "bloatware" apps and they are uninstallable. AND...I did receive a Google Software update yesterday (Pixel Launcher) that was OTA...a very good start and it kind of makes those "dont get Pixel from Verizon stories" a moot point...SO FAR...

    1. 0 | Reply
      roland - 2 months ago
      In reply to wolters:

      Got the XL at the local verizon store. 32GB. they were (at the store) out of the 128's, but looking at my old phone, Never got near that, so I'm not worried. 


  6. 0 | Reply
    Narg Alpha Member #420 - 2 months ago

    I'm personally getting tired of the "looks like X phone" argument on reviews.  I'm not sure the iPhone was the first on "that" look, and it's pretty much set in stone now that most smartphone will look similar anyway.  So repeating that is getting, well, very very old.

    Also, that picture was amazing.  I do believe the Pixel has trumped all on camera quality.

  7. 0 | Reply
    JacobTheDev Alpha Member #31 - 2 months ago

    I waited about 18 hours to order mine, and I seroiusly regret it. It wont be here for another month D:

  8. 0 | Reply
    bassoprofundo Alpha Member #408 - 2 months ago

    Looking forward to hearing your take after more usage...  Still shaking my head at the price...  I'm currently on an S7 Edge at home and a Note 5 for work, and while going back to the more "pure" Google experience intrigues me, I can't justify it at that price tag AND while losing wireless charging, waterproofing, Samsung Pay, SD card support, (and the S-Pen on the Note 5).  That's a LOT of stuff to give up and a lot of $$ for the privilege.

  9. 0 | Reply
    JerryH Alpha Member #248 - 2 months ago

    Mine is on the Fed-Ex truck and out for delivery. I'm waiting to compare notes with you Paul. I think I may try the "transfer data" thing to see if it migrates your app settings. Previous versions have downloaded the same apps and all, but never actually any of the settings. So maybe this will be an improvement.

  10. 0 | Reply
    sgbassett Alpha Member #1093 - 2 months ago

    I don't have a Pixel, but I did just receive an iPhone 7 Plus. My current phone has been a Samung Galaxy Note 5. The Note 5 was definitely a premium phone a year ago and I was generally satisfied with it, except perhaps for battery life and the lack of expandable storage. I have been with Android since the first Motorola Droid.

    My wife and daughter have been iPhone users for several years, so I was not entirely unfamiliar with using one. I am the resident tech person in the family, so when a new phone needs to be set up or a problem needs to be solved, I am the one who has to do it. 

    Still, despite being somewhat familiar with iPhones and iOS, I was still surprised by how much smooth and faster the iPhone 7 Plus feels compared with my Note 5. And it seems to be a much better "phone" to making and receiving calls - although that is not how I use it most of the time. It also connects more quickly and reliably to all of my Bluetooth accessories (Uconnect on my RAM, my Bluetooth headsets, my Pebble watch, etc.). I am looking forward to the time in the very near future when Samsung with release its Gear Manager for iOS so I can use my Gear S2 with the iPhone 7 Plus. 

    I still have the Note 5 and could return to it at any time just by swapping SIM cards. So far, I don't see that happening. But it has only been a few days. Let's see how well the iPhone wears on me and whether the restrictions and limitations of iOS will become a problem.

  11. 0 | Reply
    goodbar Alpha Member #1306 - 2 months ago

    I just hope the smaller pixel is not lesser quality like the 5X vs 6P.  I'd still like a high quality smaller phone.

    1. 0 | Reply
      wolters Alpha Member #390 - 2 months ago
      In reply to goodbar:

      I received the 5" by accident and re-ordered a XL but I'll be using the 5" for a while. Coming from the ICON and Note Series of phones, wow, my eyes is a huge drop in clarity for me...but that isn't the phones fault...the camera is amazing, ths performance runs circles around any Samsung phone I ever had and pure Android feels quite good.