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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