Google Pixel XL: The Morning After

Posted on October 22, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Android with 37 Comments

Google Pixel XL: The Morning After

iPhone 7 Plus (left), Google Pixel XL (middle), Nexus 6P (right)

A day later, it’s already clear that Google’s Pixel XL is a viable and valid challenger to the iPhone 7 Plus. And that’s great news for Android fans, given the recent implosion—sorry—of the Galaxy Note 7.

But that leads me to perhaps my strangest and most obvious observation over the first 24 hours with the device.


I can’t explain this well, but the Pixel XL screen seems smaller than those of the iPhone 7 Plus and Nexus 6P. Even though it really isn’t.

Looking at just the specs, I see the following:

Apple iPhone 7 Plus. 5.5-inch, LED, 1920 x 1080 (401 ppi)

Google Nexus 6P (2015). 5.7-inch AMOLED, 2560 x 1440 (518 ppi)

Google Pixel XL. 5.5-inch, AMOLED, 2560 x 1440 (534 ppi)

The biggest difference between the iPhone 7 Plus and Pixel XL (from a display size perspective) is that the Pixel launcher—the Pixel’s home screen, basically—is less efficient. The shelf at the bottom takes up the same space as the iPhone’s dock, but because the system buttons are virtual and onscreen, they add to the wasted space.

NOTE: I had previously mislabeled the resolution and ppi of the Pixel XL. Sorry about that. –Paul

And those system buttons almost never go away. If you run an app like Google Maps, for example, the onscreen buttons take up valuable on-screen real estate that isn’t wasted on the iPhone. And while that was true on the Nexus 6P too, that device had a bigger screen, so the effective amount of usable screen space was the same as the iPhone 7 Plus.

Size and weight

But it’s not just that. In the hand, looking at the device’s screen as one would, the Pixel XL just seems smaller. In fact, when I took it out of the box, I did a double-take to make sure Google hadn’t inadvertently sent me the smaller 5-inch Pixel. No, I received the right model.

Here, once again, we must turn to the specs to understand the differences in size and weight.

Apple iPhone 7 Plus. 6.23 x 3.07 x 0.29 inches, 6.63 ounces

Google Nexus 6P (2015). 6.27 x 3.06 x 0.29 (larger at the camera bump) inches, 6.28 ounces

Google Pixel XL. 6.09 x 2.98 x 0.31 (average) inches, 5.92 ounces

And there, I think, we find an answer. With the understanding that I am now more familiar with the size and heft of the iPhone, as I’ve been using it daily for the past month, we can see that the Pixel is both physically smaller and lighter. The differences may seem subtle on paper but, again, I noticed it immediately.

In any event, I have an easier time using the device one-handed, though the on-screen system buttons negate the advantage the Pixel’s virtual keyboard should have over the iPhone’s. (The top left of the keyboard is further away and thus harder to reach.)


I feel very strongly that using a modern smartphone without even a bit of protection is a mistake, though I understand that covering up your expensive new bauble isn’t ideal either. Apple makes nice leather cases for its iPhones, and I always get one. With the Nexus 6P, I went through a variety of cases, all of which were awkward in some way, and none of which was ideal.

But I was happy—and, as it turns out, lucky—to get a silicone Pixel XL case for this phone. They’re sold out as I write this, and when I purchased it, the only option was gray. But again, I’m glad to have it, and while it’s not the same quality as those leather iPhone cases, it’s everything the Nexus 6P cases are not. Which is to say easy to get on and off, and comfortable in the hand.

I’m not normally a fan of silicone anything, but I like the grippy feel this case provides, and unlike the Nexus 6P case I otherwise like the best, it doesn’t block the USB-C port at the bottom. Sometimes the little things really do matter.

Apps and storage

I spent a lot of time yesterday installing and configuring apps on the Pixel XL. This is something I could do in a less painful and time-consuming fashion, and because I can’t remember most of my online passwords, I had to do it in front of my PC with a password manager handy. But there’s nothing like the smell of a clean, newly-configured smartphone in the morning.

As I write this, I’ve downloaded a few audiobooks in Audible, synced podcasts in Pocket Casts, and downloaded my offline Pocket content. I’ve not synced any music, though I will, and I don’t see me needing any video content on this device. That said, I’m wondering if the 32 GB model I purchased offers enough storage, as I’ll be quickly filling it up with photos.

By which I mean, of the 29.70 GB of available storage in the device, I am already using 15.20 GB, or a bit over half. There are 85 apps installed on the Pixel XL, and they take up 7.6 GB of that space. The next biggest offender, storage-wise, is System, at 5.4 GB, but I can’t do anything about that, obviously. Over time, photos will grow to be the biggest storage user, I know.

The device has never gotten hot, and I’ve tested it both with and without the case. (As many of you have probably experienced, the act of installing and updating apps at initial setup is often when the phone will get the hottest. Unless of course you use VR.) I’m never really going to play games on the thing, but I did install a first-person shooter called Critical Ops and run through the introductory level. Cool as a cucumber. (And the game looks pretty good, too.)

More soon

So I’ll report back within a few weeks with a full review unless something major comes back. But with some many devices failing the “morning after” test, I’m happy to see that the Pixel XL—expensive as it is—has held up well to more than just a cursory examination. You’d be amazed how often that isn’t the case.


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  1. 7 | Reply
    wunderbar Alpha Member #290 - 3 months ago

    Paul, I'm sure no one else will make a comment on this, no one at atll, but the Pixel XL has a 1440p screen, not 1080p.  The 5" pixel is 1080p.


    Again, I'm sure no one else will mention this to you either here or on Twitter, so I thought I'd be the first. ;)

    1. Paul Thurrott
      0 | Reply
      Paul Thurrott Alpha Member #1 - 3 months ago
      In reply to wunderbar:

      lol thanks. 


      Sorry it took so long to fix. Copy and paste is sometimes difficult in Windows 10. :)

    2. 0 | Reply
      DKRowe Alpha Member #1135 - 2 months ago
      In reply to paul-thurrott:

      Are you getting unwanted line feeds when you copy tabular data? That started for me with Edge after the Anniversary update. I have to open the page with IE to get the right formatting after paste.

  2. 1 | Reply
    jwames2 Alpha Member #1815 - 3 months ago

    Paul, the pixel xl has a 2560 x 1440 screen. The smaller pixel is 1080p

  3. 1 | Reply
    dcdevito Alpha Member #220 - 3 months ago

    I'm glad Google made a "premium" phone, but I don't think it's worth the money. The 6P was the right balance of premium and value, and they followed up with a marketing bait-n-switch and now call themselves premium. I don't (and didn't) buy it. Google isn't (and may never be) ready for prime time - what sets this phone apart is Assistant, which is a half baked product at best. Google Now and Google Now on Tap are actually more functional right now than Assistant, so (not including you Paul, you're doing your job) early adopters have to wait for it to be a viable product anyway. This makes no sense to me.

    As a Google user for many years, this is nothing new, but now to charge a premium price for it they need to be rightfully scrutinized.

    1. Paul Thurrott
      1 | Reply
      Paul Thurrott Alpha Member #1 - 3 months ago
      In reply to dcdevito:

      You may be onto something. It's not clear what this offers over the much less expensive Nexus 6P.

  4. 0 | Reply
    Narg Alpha Member #420 - 3 months ago

    I agree on the case statement, and there are perfectly good 100% clear cases too.  So the "sans case" argument to me is dumb.  My personal favorite are the Incipio cases with the inner soft material and outer hard.  Almost perfectly drop resistant with that case.  Very protective.

    1. 0 | Reply
      zbecka Alpha Member #2154 - 3 months ago
      In reply to Narg:
      You know what is dumb?  All the not-insignificant talk about "premium materials" and "feels good in the hand" and then sticking it into a case and not getting to experience it.
      I have had a "modern smartphone" since the iPhone 3G and have not had a case on any of them.  I (and crazy person warning here) even went back to the default L 950 XL back cover after using a Mozi wooden one for a month! 


  5. 0 | Reply
    JerryH Alpha Member #248 - 3 months ago

    So I received mine yesterday too. After all the "premium" talk from people who got to touch them at the announcement I was disappointed that it looks and feels less premium than the Nexus 6p that I am replacing. The lower weight probably adds to that feel of not being as premium. It did get pretty warm (unlike Paul's) when it was both plugged in and downloading apps. It didn't get warm during normal usage though. 

    I tried the USB C to USB C cable it comes with for the transfer function. It did pretty well. However getting a restored home screen made it painfully apparent that the launcher on the Pixel XL has one less row of icons than the Nexus 6P had. That's plain annoying, especially since the rounded icons make all of the icons look significantly smaller and makes the screen look quite a bit less colorful. I haven't gotten use to the new way that folders (or icon groups) now show 4 tiny little midget icons representing the icons in the folder on the Pixel XL launcher. I'm sure I'll get used to it - but side by side it makes the Pixel XL home screen just look, well, drab. Again, I'll get used to it. Speed wise it seems fine. Wordament (fun word game from Microsoft) still does stutter a bit from time to time while making words - but damn, that has to be the game itself because nothing else seems to stutter or lag.

  6. 0 | Reply
    brad9999 Alpha Member #1402 - 2 months ago

    Paul, re your comment " because I can’t remember most of my online passwords, I had to do it in front of my PC with a password manager handy". I have just purchased the Pixel Xl and installed lastpass (which i think you use or used to use also) it has a mode that runs in the background and for most apps it was able to log me on and only a few did i have to copy paste my password. Very handy and quick to setup the new apps.

    On another note i would be keen to read in your review, what you app you use for key tasks, mail, calendar, messaging, launcher etc.


  7. 0 | Reply
    a_seeker Alpha Member #2137 - 3 months ago

    According to Google, the XL display is 5.5 inches QHD AMOLED at 534ppi and GSMArena reports resolution 1440 x 2560 pixels (~534 ppi pixel density).

  8. 0 | Reply
    dhallman Alpha Member #560 - 3 months ago

    It is good to see this phone is getting consistant reviews from generally all sources.  If I were Samsung I would be quite worried and a bit angry about this device.  Especially after the Note issues.  I wonder what steps they are looking at going forward?  Sure they can match the Pixel (and some will argure they already do - and exceed it in some ways).  But the Android market will clearly never be the same especially at the high end.  I would expect Samsung to react in a big way.

  9. -1 | Reply
    Waethorn Alpha Member #2235 - 3 months ago

    "I’m not normally a fan of silicon anything"

    Then you should quit your day job.



    1. 0 | Reply
      johnbaxter Alpha Member #745 - 3 months ago
      In reply to Waethorn:

      Thanks Wae. I must be getting old letting Paul get by with "silicon" for "silicone". But as one who watched his mother work on her IBM 650 code homework, I already knew myself to be old.

    2. Paul Thurrott
      1 | Reply
      Paul Thurrott Alpha Member #1 - 3 months ago
      In reply to johnbaxter:

      Hold the presses. I left off an "e."

    3. 0 | Reply
      randystich Alpha Member #2081 - 2 months ago
      In reply to paul-thurrott:

      let the presses roll, I found the e and a m hiding next to "so"  "But with some many devices failing the “:-)

  10. -1 | Reply
    Cristian Alpha Member #1164 - 3 months ago

    Hi Paul,

    You might've heard, but the Pixel XL has a 1440x2560 QHD screen (534 ppi).

    You mixed your specs with the 5-inch Pixel. 

    No judgement here. I'm sure the specs are hard to read on that seemingly smaller screen :)