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.

Display

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.)

Case

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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Comments (37)

37 responses to “Google Pixel XL: The Morning After”

  1. 313

    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. ;)

  2. 217

    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.

  3. 4266

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

  4. 5530

    agreed about the wasteful use of screen real estate by the on-screen buttons and the pixel launcher - and the phone has a chin. Goodness. But that's all forgivable if the phone's battery life, performance, and camera is great.

  5. 5623

    Any of the Moto devices with the shatterproof screen can be used without a case. I have the Moto Z Force, have dropped it many times but no worries.

  6. 268

    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.

  7. 442

    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.

    • 5119

      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! 

       

  8. 5510

    Display:
    I don't understand about Paul's screen efficiency issue. LOL. I think he's just so use to those non-customizeable Windows Phones and iPhones, that he's not use to the Android way of life. However, there is good news! Because it's Android, you can always change the homescreen. As a matter of fact, Google encourages Android users to go crazy with their use of other LAUNCHERS. Believe me, if Apple gave iPhone users the ability to customize their homescreen, those people would take their joy to the streets! After all, doesn't Paul love that Arrow launcher by MSFT Garage? I still don't understand why the Garage Team hasn't made a Metro launcher for Android. Third parties do make Windows Phone like launchers for Android, though i don't know why since majority of humans in the planet hate it enough to not use a Windows Phone and Windows 8. So this screen effiency is not even an issue. Seriously what's next? The rounded edges are not round enough?

    Cases:
    In regards to the cases, I thought Paul was using one of the Google Live Case, where Paris was his design of choice? Didn't he say he owned one of those on Windows Weekly? If that is so, then why would go thru a variety of "awkward"cases then? It's not a fair comparison to do, especially against a genuine Apple iPhone leather case. That's just common sense. Third Party cases will almost always provide a different feel experience for Android phones, because of the variety of phones. Let's also get one thing clear about cases. Case selection is a subjective choice made by the consumer. With all due respect, Paul's hands are different than all of ours. After all, Paul is a guy who complains about a rumored AiO keyboard about not being ergonomic enough. He even self professed that he has fat fingers. For me, buying a case is subject to only one thing,....protection and not just from scratches, but from total breakage. The only thing, I don't apply physical protect is the actual front screen.

    Apps and storage:
    Why the problem with online passwords? After all, Paul is the one who introduced all of us to LastPass. That's what I used and all apps that required my personal passwords were installed in no time at all.

    Here Paul talks about storage of photos and videos. Apparently he didn't get the memo about unlimited full resolution photo and video storage on Google Photos. Let's get another thing clear. This is Google, NOT Microsoft. I seriously doubt that they are going to remove this Pixel perk if people overuse it.

    All in all, like I've said and will continue to say that the Pixel marries software to hardware for the first time ever in Android history. To expect it to behave like a next generation Nexus to a iPhone isn't fair.

    When Paul writes this full review, I hope it's a comprehensive one analyzing the complete Android experience. I am not talking about measuring the Pixel to the iPhone, because that would be like an Italian going to Paris and complaining about the spaghetti and pizza served in a French Bistro. If Paul is really going to do a serious review, I am talking about using the Pixel 24-7, with full utilization of the Assistant and the Pixel's involvement with Google's smart home components (Home, Wifi, Nest, etc...). After all, the heart of all things Google is that Knowledge Graph. Of course this can be access through the iPhone, but why do so... non-natively?

    • 484

      In reply to Bats:

      I don't know andrioid that well...  What I think Paul is referring to is this as wasted screen:

      You reference laucnhers - do they have the ability to remove those buttons or allow them to be handled differently?  If not that does seem like inefficent screen usage vs say the iPhone.  Less screen real estate available to apps.

       

  9. 5554

    In reply to James_Wilson
    LOL @ HP Elite x3.  Overpriced device with no apps on dead platform.  Not even bitter Wmobile clingers are buying it.  Overpriced accessories (continuum dock $599, HP Cloud service $579/yr) , this thing is death warmed over. 
  10. 5553

    A slow burn is hardly an implosion.

    Implosion is a process in which objects are destroyed by collapsing (or being squeezed in) on themselves. The opposite of explosion

  11. 5553

    The awkward moment you realize you flip phone over to use FP sensor and that you wished you had a home button with the FP sensor built in.?

  12. 2787

    Interesting point about the 'Navigation' keys being part of the display instead of capacitive keys (like on my HTC 10 and S7 Edge). That must bring the 'actual' screen size down to about the 5.2 inches the HTC 10 has.

  13. 7094

    As to the navigation bar, as a long time Android user I much prefer it to iOS's navigation paradigm, but to each their own. What I'm curious about, is there a way in settings to hide it or go fullscreen? On my previous phone that had the navbar you could hide it and then swipe up from the bottom if you needed it. That said it doesn't really eat up that much space and disappears for any video content, which is the only time it ever felt like it could be considered in the way.

  14. 7096

    The camera... I cant wait to hear about the camera.

  15. 7064

    Paul, obviously people have already mentioned it is a qHD screen on the XL but as far as screen efficiency goes it may be worthwhile going into the display settings and setting the "Display Size" to small. That will fit a lot more onto the screen. Unless you have done that already. 

  16. 7063

    85 apps taking up 7.6GB of space?

    That's interesting because I have 107 apps plus the other stuff taking up a total of 5.19 GB of space (Nexus 5x). No Audible books though. I would be interested to know which apps were the largest.

    • 5615

      In reply to DataMeister:

      Yeah, I've got 124 apps on my 5X (no idea how I ended up with so many, I try to prune it regularly) taking up "only" 6.34 GB. The biggest "offenders" are Player FM (505 MB), Google Play services (447 MB), OneNote (272 MB), Google App (264 MB) Chrome (264 MB) and Docs (254 MB). There are 11 apps using between 100 MB and 200 MB; the rest are less than 100 MB each.

      It's not surprising to see the podcast app taking up a lot of space, but I sure wish I could get Google's apps to slim down a bit. And why the heck is OneNote so chunky? 

  17. 7062

    I have used thin Amzer black cases on several phones and they provide a good amount of protection without being bulky. Have dropped phones onto hard surfaces with no damage. One additional advantage of using a black case is it camouflages the fact you are carrying an expensive phone--from a little distance it is impossible to tell what phone you have, unless you are using a smaller iPhone since there is nothing that looks similar.

  18. 5093

    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).

  19. 591

    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.

  20. 7062

    Personally, one of the biggest attractions for me is that the Pixel comes in a smaller size. Currently I'm using a Nexus 5X and it is just a little bit too big for many pockets and is a little awkward to one hand. I prefer smaller phones and lust after something the size and quality of the iPhone SE. First and foremost a phone to me is a portable communication device with a good camera, and when I am not on the move I almost always have various fullsize computers and laptops that will always provide a better experience than a phone.

    • 5539

      In reply to TenFour: FYI, the Pixel is a tiny bit shorter and narrower than the 5x, both in thin silicon cases. Not sure it would be obvious without holding them against each other. The Pixel is a bit thinner as well. This is based on having them both right here, not numbers on a page. The Pixel is a bit wider and taller than an iPhone 6s in a silicone case as well, again, direct comparison. Lumia 950 is right in this size ballpark too. For me this seems like the ideal size.

       

  21. 2006

    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.

    Thanks

  22. 1387

    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 :)

  23. 5234

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

    Then you should quit your day job.

     

    #firetheeditor

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