Google Pixel XL Review: This is Not the Android Flagship You’re Looking For

Posted on November 9, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Android with 55 Comments

Google Pixel XL Review: This is Not the Android Flagship You’re Looking For

Google, we have a problem.

Your new Pixel XL is a great Android phone, but that’s a low bar. And it doesn’t offer enough of a bump over iPhone or, worse, its Nexus predecessors to justify the upgrade.

My initial reaction to this disturbing truth was to not blame Google. After all, the smartphone market of late 2016 is mature, and we’re awash in incredible choices.

But the only meaningful way to evaluate the Pixel XL is to determine how it fares in two key areas: Is it a credible Android-based alternative to the deep hardware, software, and services integration that Apple offers with iPhone? And does it provides any real advantages over other Android flagships?

In both cases, the answer is a decisive no.

No Android handset really offers the cohesive, reliable experience that iPhone users come close, though the Pixel XL perhaps comes closest. And compared to the Google Nexus 6P I was previously using, the Pixel XL offers only a few advantages. But it also falls short in some areas too.

That is not a success story, sorry. And as a result, after much internal debate, I have decided to return this phone to Google. In doing so, I will save about $800. More important, my conscience will be clear.

That’s personally disappointing, but it’s not all bad. The Pixel XL is indeed a great smartphone, and in the Android space it does offer some advantages over the competition. It’s a true flagship, with high-end specs, a mostly-pleasant hardware form factor, a tremendous software ecosystem, and the best mobile OS that’s not made in Cupertino.

And it’s just not enough. Not at these prices. And not when you compare it head-to-head with iPhone, especially.

The form factor is derivative, and looks almost exactly like an iPhone unless you really know what to look for. But despite a pleasantly smaller body than the iPhone 7 Plus with which it completes, the Pixel XL is thicker than Apple’s offering. So there’s no camera bump, but that’s because the entire device is thick enough to hide it.

camera

The screen is gorgeous: It’s a 5.5-inch 2560 x 1440 AMOLED display, and just a hair smaller than the 5.7-inch unit on the 6P. Apple uses yesteryear LCD technology for its own displays, but the iPhone 7 Plus manages to measure up nicely somehow. That said, the Pixel XL, like the Nexus 6P, offers a dark, contrasty view which many will find quite pleasing.

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

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

One could debate the relative merits of having a fingerprint reader on the front of the device (Apple) or on the back (Pixel), but I like both, and Google’s entry usually works quickly and accurately. (Why its surrounded by glass is unclear.) It also does so with a “pop” sound in the speaker, which I find both annoying and worrying, especially when you consider the calm, silent performance of the iPhone.

Speaking of that popping sound, it emanates from the Pixel XL’s single mono speaker, an inexplicable lapse for a smartphone flagship in 2016. The iPhone 7 Plus and Nexus 6P both sport stereo speakers, and both offer better, if not quite room-filling sound too. I can’t quite explain this one, but the iPhone drives wired speakers at higher volumes than the Pixel and Nexus, too.

I’ve spent a ton of time comparing the cameras of these three devices, and had originally planned a very long write-up to explain what I’ve found. But this one is easy to step through: The Pixel XL camera is better than that of the iPhone 7 Plus when both phones are used with their default settings, which basically amounts to auto-everything, including auto-HDR. But when you manually enable HDR on the iPhone, which you must do every freaking time, a real annoyance, the difference minimizes, and the iPhone’s sometimes flat and dull pictures start to look a bit more vibrant.

Any modern smartphone can take great shots outside in bright sunlight. Including the Pixel XL.

Any modern smartphone can take great shots outside in bright sunlight. Including the Pixel XL.

But I’m more concerned with how the Pixel XL camera compares to the Nexus 6P camera. Consistently, and in almost all conditions, the Nexus 6P takes better photos than both the Pixel XL and the iPhone. Part of the reason is its aggressive use of HDR+, which adds a pop to photos that some might frankly find a bit too much. But I love the look of the 6P’s photos, and its night/low-light performance is unmatched by the other devices. Where the Nexus 6P falls apart, however, is camera performance, and this is the one key advantage we see for the Pixel XL: Its camera performance rivals that of iPhone, and that is indeed a big deal.

Notice in this low-light shot that the whites are not white.

Notice in this low-light shot that the whites are not white.

Long story short, it’s a wash: The Pixel XL and Nexus 6P cameras are “better” overall than that of the iPhone 7 Plus, which seems to have somehow taken a step back from the quality of previous iPhones. But all three are “very good” to “superior” depending on the lighting conditions and other variables, and any of these cameras should be considered a great choice overall.

The Pixel XL offers fast charging, which is great, and I’ve had no issues getting through a full day with the device. But there’s no wireless charging, I assume because of the metal body. There’s also no true waterproofing—missing, too, on the Nexus 6P—not that I’d ever go swimming with a phone. I suspect it would survive a drop in a toilet or sink with some drying out, but I did not test that.

Let’s talk software.

Google touts its “new” Google Assistant as perhaps the key new feature of the Pixel XL: This is the only phone family to offer this interface, which you can trigger by saying “OK, Google” (after enabling this option) or by long-pressing the Home(round) button in the navigation bar. But the Google Assistant is just a new name for Google Now, which is available on older Android devices, including the Nexus 6P. And it looks and works the same.

Which is to say, poorly. With the possible exception of setting reminders, which I did find to be useful. Most of my interactions involved such things as checking on the weather, looking at traffic, and the like. It’s a nicety, but not yet a necessity. Put another way, it’s the future, and not full realized today.

reminder

Android 7.1 Nougat is a mixed bag as well. The round system icons in the new Pixel launcher make it seem a bit newer—by which I really mean “a bit different”—than other Android devices. But they’re also inconsistent with the most of the other icons on the home screen, though some third party apps—like Twitter—already support the new style.

home

Google opened up a fifth spot on the dock, which I like, and you now just swipe up on the Home button to access your app shelf, which displays all available apps. That works just fine. I also like the new wallpaper types for the lock and home screens, which include some neat live options that change as the day progresses. But these are just minor niceties. Overall, the clean Android experience you get with the Pixel XL isn’t really much improved over the clean Android experience you get with the Nexus 6P. And you can enroll your 6P in the Android developer program to get most of those new 7.1 features now. Hint, hint.

dock

One of the big mysteries with the Pixel XL is whether it will overcome the “performance rot” issues that has always dogged Android handsets. That is, everything is fine when you buy the device, but it slows down, often in annoying ways, over time, much like Windows PCs used to do.

So far, that hasn’t been the case, and the Pixel XL has offered steady and reliable performance for the most part. Navigating the UI, launching and using apps, and navigating between apps has mostly been glitch-free, something I can’t say of Android generally. Compared head-to-head with the Nexus 6P, the Pixel XL is noticeably faster, though both devices perform well.

But we can’t just compare Pixel XL to a year-old Nexus. And Google’s handset simply doesn’t match the overall performance and reliability of the iPhone. Ironically, I can see this very clearly when launching Google’s own apps on both phones: Yes, the iPhone is faster overall. Depending on the app, it’s often much faster.

The Pixel has some more subtle advantages, including a full complement of USB-C adapters and cables that ship in the box. And, possibly, its compatibility with Google’s DayDream View VR solution, which I will now not be testing.

in-hand

But with no huge advantages in functionality, Google could have still made a great case for its Pixel handsets if it had just priced them as it did last year’s Nexus 5X and 6P. But no. Google has instead opted to price the Pixel in the same stratosphere as the iPhone.

Are you kidding me?

The Pixel XL that I purchased—in “quite black” with a relatively paltry 32 GB of storage—cost an astonishing $770 (or $830 after shipping and taxes). A comparable iPhone 7 Plus is the same price. And is the superior phone on so many levels. Performance, reliability, consistency, and battery life especially.

As you may know, my reviews are based solely on personal experience. I don’t typically fall back on benchmarks, which I feel don’t tell the whole story, or on the long-winded explanations that usually accompany such comparisons. And it is here, in this very subjective space, that I’ve always been troubled by the Pixel XL. From the moment I took it out of the box, it has just never wowed me. Not even once.

Again, to be clear, it’s not because the Pixel isn’t a great phone. It really is, in many ways. It’s just that the Pixel has never risen above its competition in ways that I find meaningful or notable. I’ve never once taken a photo with it and thought, wow, this would never have been possible with the Nexus 6P or iPhone. I’ve never once been amazed by its performance, or reliability, or its general look and feel. I’ve just never made that special connection that oftentimes binds a person with a device that, frankly, is supposed to be very personal. I just don’t find myself caring about this thing.

Last night was very typical. Sitting in front of the TV, watching the CNN idiots blather on and on about the US presidential election, I had the three phones—the Pixel XL, the Nexus 6P, and the iPhone 7 Plus—arrayed in front of me, as has often been the case over the past few weeks. And time and again, unconsciously, I found myself reaching for the iPhone. I really do prefer it. Because it just works.

Ultimately, I expected more from Google’s first phone, mostly because of my hugely positive experiences with last year’s Nexus 5X and 6P. That it hasn’t delivered is surprising and disappointing.

So my advice goes like this. If you’re a Nexus 6P owner, you’re good: There is no reason at all to even consider a Pixel XL. Ditto for iPhone 6 or newer users: You’re already using the superior mobile platform.

But those coming from an older Android device face some interesting choices here. Were the Pixel XL priced at $500 and up, like the Nexus 6P, rather than at $770 and up, this would be a no-brainer and we’d be having a different conversation. But the Pixel is priced where it is, has the miscues and general blandness I’ve described. And we’re having a different conversation. And I don’t feel good about this.

The thing is, I’m not sure what to point you at. I feel very strongly that the pure Android experience we see on the Nexus and Pixel devices is an advantage, but the supply of last year’s Nexus 6P phones will dry up eventually. And while Motorola does offer a sort-of clean Android experience, those devices are not updated regularly like Google’s. What’s left? OnePlus? Samsung? Ugh.

So the Pixel XL has left a hole rather than filled one. And I have to imagine that wasn’t Google’s goal with this device.

 

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Comments (56)

56 responses to “Google Pixel XL Review: This is Not the Android Flagship You’re Looking For”

  1. 442

    To me, it's pretty simple.  If Google had offered more premium features they could have justified the premium price.  But they didn't.  My list of missed items:  1. wireless charging, 2. stereo speakers, 3. water resistance (this is not a big one for me, but it would have helped.) and 4. something different, like touch ID on the whole screen or full quad or something to make it stand out more than it does (this is what makes Samsung so great, are the little things that nobody else does or at least does well.)  Even then, if they'd just price it ever so slightly less than Apple, it would have been a no-brainer replacement for the iPhone.  It's getting sad the number of general market miss steps all the major OEMs are having these days...

    • 430

      In reply to Narg:

      Exactly...  Add Samsung Pay to that list, too, which is surprisingly convenient.  I was all ready to ditch my S7 Edge for a Pixel, but simply having the "Googliest" software experience available along with more timely updates is not enough to give up all of the other features... and certainly not at this price.

    • 2

      In reply to Narg:

      Yep. Or, priced it much lower. Either would have been great. I'm surprised this thing doesn't measure up.

  2. 309

    Having been one of the world's last people to move from Windows Phone, I was excited to see the world of apps I've been missing. But now I'm here, I'm having severe buyers regret over the Pixel XL. Having to deal with the failings of the Android OS really grinds my gears. I don't want to use GMail, but I can't directly use my contacts held in Office 365\Exchange, they only have a one way sync to the phone's contacts. Also, where are all the contact photos I've collected over the years? There's lots of niggling issues, but it looks like I'm going to be stuck with it for a while since it cost £820 (UK Pounds), (US Readers, that's about $300,000,000 US Dollars since the Brexit vote).

    I think that if I powered up my Lumia 950XL I'd see the clean UI and be seriously tempted to jump back.

    • 1292

      In reply to Engineerasaurus:

      I've still not completely moved off my Lumia 1020. Basically the SIM card is moved over and I'm playing with apps lol! The App / Ah-ha moment that Paul talked about when moving to an app supported platform happened for me. I opted to go the cheap route though because I refuse to pay those ridiculous prices. I went with a Blu Vivio 5 which didn't break the bank and Microsofted the hell out of it! Haven't setup Outlook or my main outlook.com email address on it yet though. Limping along with my Gmail account that I didn't use much until I got this phone.    

    • 430

      In reply to Engineerasaurus:

      One-way contact sync?  Are you using the Outlook Android app?  If so, don't (for now)...  I personally use Nine (technically "Nine - Outlook for Android") and LOVE it, but even the stock Gmail app should let you set up 2-way contact sync.  The one-way contact sync thing from the Outlook app on Android drives me nuts and has been an issue for far too long at this point for them not to have fixed it.

    • 1466

      In reply to Engineerasaurus:

      Have you tried the Nine mail client, it might help you out. It did for me.

    • 309

      In reply to Engineerasaurus:

      Okay, Nine installed. Loving that. Outlook uninstalled. Much better. Cheers.

  3. 5510

    This is funny. The Pixel has been widely acclaimed by practically ALL reviewers to be a great smartphone.  It was obvious to me, from Paul's initial analysis that he wasn't going to give this phone a great review and he didn't. 

    The Pixel doesn't match iPhone's overall reliability? That's clearly what others haven't said. Here, Paul gives no specific reason to his claim. When he opened an APP, did he use a stopwatch to time it? Second, in regards to the camera...I can't believe he doesn't see the obvious difference between the Pixel and the Nexus 6P. If he did, he's not reporting it and there is a huge difference of epic proportions between the Pixel and the 6P that is often comparable to the iPhone.

    All in all, this is not a very good review. The general consensus of the Pixel (made by other reviewers) is that it is comparable to the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxies., thus justifying the $700+ price points. Also because the Pixel is Google's new flagship, not only will it get the updates faster, but will also work the company's other products very well.

    As stated, knowing Paul's disdain for Google....why am I not surprised? (LOL)

    • 6477

      In reply to Bats:

      That's true.

      I went through the other way around.  Android is better in user experience so I ditched iPhone 6.

      I suspect Paul doesn't even use Nougat's quick app switch (alt-tabbing) feature which makes Windows users mouth water.. and doesn't know likes of Action launcher either. 

      As seen in bunch of reviews and videos, Pixel is faster than iPhone in unlocking, launching light-apps, shooting camera combined with double-clicking button shortcut, and transition animation (all of which I do everyday), while iPhone is definitely better in gaming performance (which I don't care).

  4. 5400

    I think sending it back b4 getting the daydream VR setup is a mistake. The relatively lower resolution of all iphones make them less than ideal for VR viewing, and also there is much less camera integration when taking VR photos on iOS (you have to use separate apps for google streetview and cardboard camera). The 6P should still be a good VR phone though.

  5. 8348

    Pretty shocking review, especially if someone was scouring the internet trying to make a decision on buying the Pixel. My .02...

    I bought a Pixel XL after my 3rd Droid Turbo 2 failed, the first of which I received as an insurance replacement of a phone I purchased in 2012 (yes, this is the first phone I've actually purchased since 2012). My daughter has an iPhone 6P, that I borrowed for a week before I purchased the Pixel. My thoughts:

    - No contest on battery life. The iPhone made it through my day exactly zero times without needing a charge. I typically have over 40% of battery life left on the Pixel XL at the end of the day. I dunt have access to a charger while working, so it's a huge deal for me.

    - The display is head and shoulders above the iPhone.

    - How OCD must one be to think that the shape of the icons on the home screen matters? They're all the same size on the Pixel and that some are round while others are square is totally inconsequential to me.

    - My perception is that the Pixel launches apps faster. Combine that with split screen and the 'usability' experience is superior to the iPhone.

    - The Google Assistant is FAR better and more reliable than my experience on the DT2. I use the GA all the time and it performs as advertised. Absolutely smokes Siri.

    - Not concerned about the lack of a waterproofing credential. There's a video on YT of a user completely submerging the Pixel for an hour and the phone operates fine after the experiment.

    - Speakers: I don't care. I listen through a BT headset at work and connect to a real sound system at home. When over had to use speaker phone, it was fine.

    Heads up against the iPhone, the Pixel XL is simply a better phone. I wanted to like the iPhone better, but it's an inferior phone.

    Price: Why would I object to paying the same price for a better phone? Because other, inferior Android phones cost less? No. The Pixel is the best Android phone I've used by a mile. If Apple can't innovate substantially from where they are today (and they haven't recently), the Pixel will win this war.

  6. 5543

    I understand the concerns and the criticism – especially over price, but I’m on the opposite side of where Paul came down on this - which is rare. I sent back an iPhone 7 to get the Pixel XL and have no regrets so far. I was initially going to get the 7+, but Verizon wanted 45 days to get the 7+ to me, so I decided to try the XL after having both the 5x and 6p.


    I support a lot of iOS devices and between the 7 and 7+ coming back constantly from users who want their old devices back because of the headphone jack “courage” to the freezing, coverage issues, voicemail issues, phone app issues, etc… with iOS 10 on everything from a 5s to a 7+ I am not regretting my decision to this point. I do regret that run-on sentence though. Photos from the iPhone 7 when I had it were constantly blurry and horrible (imo) and the Pixel XL has been great (again – so far and imo). Maybe the 7+ would be better, but at this point I still wouldn’t know because the initial order I placed in early October still lists an 11/30 ship date for the 7+ from Verizon.

    Granted, I did not personally shell out the money for the device (it was company paid) so that might have changed my mind, but as is I’m perfectly happy. The XL does everything I want it to do.

    To each their own.

  7. 8346

    Whats that? I couldn't understand you. I think you had Apple's dick in your mouth.

  8. 2790

    I'm ready to go to Android but I am yet to find anything more compelling than my Lumia 930!  I almost went the Note 7 until those fire stories started emerging, now I'm back to square one - would prefer a pure Google experience anyway, just the hardware is so uninspiring!

  9. 661

    my mobile experiences include three Android phones, two from HTC and a Moto X. 

    I decided to give Windows a whirl and purchased an overpriced Lumia 830 which i found pretty nice. my current phone is a 640 because the 830 developed a problem with its microphone and it was cheap. To be honest there are some features from the 830 I miss but hard to complain about a $29 replacement phone that performs good enuf for my needs.

    I have -zero- investment in the Apple ecosystem though my wife does have a iPad mini - but she is not a big app purchaser. her main use is facebook, kindle and browsing web. Neither of us consume much music or watch movies or TV on these devices. Her current phone is a Moto X. She is not a power user but she does take a lot of pictures with her iPad and sometimes with the Moto X.

    we will be replacing these devices sometime soon. I am looking for options. I am struck by sticker shock on iPhones, Samsung Galaxy 7's and the like... they are luxury purchases. It seems that the Moto devices have slipped a bit since Lenovo bought them. Nexus might be feasible. I may just cave and tell her to get the Galaxy. 

    Left to my own devices, I might continue in the Windows world but it is inevitable that will only postpone a transition. I am tempted to get the 950 just because it is under $300 on AT&T now and probably is a good value - that punts the ball down the road 2-3 years. I am intrigued that there have been some new Windows phone other than Lumia. I am not waxing for the Surface Phone (again I am cheap).

    basically my question(s) are what mid level phone would you recommend that has suitable storage options (IOW not a 16GB iPhone). Which OEM provides the cleanest image?, which don't? One thing is my wife hates change so the closer the experience is to the Moto X, the better (custom skins might be an unpleasant learning curve).

    is the 950 for $300 a good value given I accept the limitations of the OS and Ecosystem?

    thanks for any feedback

     

    • 2585

      In reply to Simard57:

      You can get a certified Nexus 5 for under $100. Start there if you're cheap. But this is a device you use a TON - based on that, you should treat yourself... much like shoes or chairs. Good luck.

      • 661

        In reply to jbuccola:

        I am cheap --- but not that cheap. The $300-$400 range is what I am looking for.

        • 821

          You can get a Nexus 6P at that price range (I'm about to sell a 32GB N6P for $350 - not saying that to advertise but just to show how realistic that price is). As long as you can accept the large size, that's one of, if not, the best Android phone you can get that is near stock Android software, has premium features, is well-supported, and is in that price range.

  10. 5646

    I went looking for a "pure" android to replace my aging Nexus 5 (marshmallow)  & the wife's Nexus 4 (lollipop) mainly due to Google dropping support (updates) for these devices but didn't want to spend nearly $1k australian on a Pixel, Samsung. I eventually settled on a UMI Plus which has filled the gap quite well with decent specs for sub $300.

  11. 6019

    A really great review. Thank you. Most reviews I've read regarding the Pixel phones have been by Android fans who seem to gush over it, purely because it's new. It's refreshing to have some honest criticism.

  12. 6672

    Given the importance placed on camera performance, a testing methodology "...which basically amounts to auto-everything" will rarely reveal the best camera. It only predicts satisfaction for novice or lazy users. A test of ultimate image quality requires that all settings available in the camera app be brought to bear and optimized for each test image. The current method is akin to evaluating amplifier power based on loudness when first unboxed, with no regard for the position of the volume knob.

    The complaint about "low-light shot (where) the whites are not white" simply highlights the reason that a white balance adjustment is a slider and not an on/off button. Using default "auto" settings is a crap-shoot at best, and will not get you the best possible pictures.

  13. 5189

    Oh , but you will pay for a "Crappy iPhone"  ,   The Pixel XL is the Best Cell phone on the Market.

  14. 1088

    I really need a phone to replace my 950XL - but, came to same conclusion and canceled my pre-order.  It's a great phone, but not worth the $1040 i was about to pay for it.  I hope they do better with Pixel 2...

  15. 4261

    I just don't understand the reason for the huge slab of glass on the back of these phones.    No one has yet produced a reason for it other than claiming that it is for improved antenna performance.   But that ignores the fact that these phones already have the usual antenna lines on all 4 sides, so why the need for a new pane of glass that covers half the back of the phone?  Are there new types of antennas that need this large an opening in order to receive a good signal?    My uneducated guess is that without the pane of glass, this device would look exactly like the iPhone in all respects other than the Home button being on the back instead of the front, so there was a need to "differentiate" in some way to avoid a copyright suit.    If this is the case, they failed miserably in my opinion.

  16. 1816

    I switched my Nexus 6P from Verizon to Project Fi a month ago and I love the Fi service. You don't mention the impact on Project Fi that these expensive phones will have. When the current supply of relatively inexpensive Nexus devices dries up, who is going to want to join the service? Fi is aimed at people who want good cell service at a fair price. I'm not sure how Fi survives when the only option for phones are premium devices.

    • 5240

      In reply to DaddyBrownJr:

      Exactly! Now, Project FI is for people who need a great deal on service but somehow have an enourmous amount of money to spend on a top-of-the-line phone. I bought a Nexus 5X because $200 for the phone $20-30/month on Project FI service was a great deal I could afford. When that 5X gets too old to be useful, I'll have to go to Cricket Wireless or someplace and get a crappy Android phone that never gets updated. My only hope is that the Pixel completely bombs and Google goes back to making an affordable phone again.

      • 1816

        In reply to Michael Rivers:

        I don't want the Pixel to bomb; I actually hope it becomes a marketplace success. I just worry that only having a premium device option on Project Fi will doom the carrier. They really need to have a moderately priced handset option.

  17. 1139

    Curious if you'd recommend this for a person coming back to Android after abandoning it years ago for Windows. Right now I'm running a 950XL and I'm wanting out, for obvious reasons. Sentiment shared about OnePlus and Samsung: ugh.

    • 821

      In reply to Vuppe:

      I just got a Pixel last weekend. I upgraded from a Nexus 6P just like Paul. Unlike Paul, I'm really liking my Pixel. I have the non-XL version and I like this phone a LOT more than the N6P even if it has lower resolution (similar DPI) on the amazingly gorgeous screen (the N6P was no slouch, either).

       

      I initially didn't order a Pixel because I didn't think it would be a good upgrade but I was wrong. Paul is right that the speakers were downgraded but that's incredibly unimportant to me (my phone is on mute 20 hours a day and if I'm using it for media or speakerphone, a Bluetooth device is involved). Google Assistant is definitely more than Google Now, but not in hugely significant ways yet. No waterproofing. All that is true.

      But.

      Battery life is pretty great! As long as you don't have a battery hog app (many blame Android OS or Android System in the battery stats even though it's still the apps fault), battery is amazing. I'm getting 5 hours of screen-on-time easily, 6 hours if I don't run heavy 3D games but just surf, play music, make calls, etc. Paul says it looks like an iPhone aesthetically but this is an HTC look and HTC has done this look longer than Apple. And in this day and age, a slab is a slab for the most part.

      The real shining points for the Pixel, though, are these things:

      1) Software speed. This rivals Apple's on their good days and beats them on their bad days.

      2) Camera speed. This phone taking HDR shots is as fast as an iPhone taking non-HDR shots.

      3) Camera quality. It's undeniably one of the best camera on a phone. All phone cameras in this category can take great photos and the real distinguisher is how rare are the bad photos? I find they're rarer with the Pixel than other phones. So take that for what it's worth but for my purposes (we had our first baby this year), this is the best camera I've seen on a phone.

      4) This isn't the best battery life on a phone, but it's easily better than average.

      5) Long-term software support.

      6) Screen is gorgeous! Some people think it's over-saturated (and it is) but there's a checkbox to enable sRGB mode that makes the screen properly calibrated for those who don't prefer the saturation.

       

      The main thing going against the phone is really the price but there are some options to help with that, too. Some deals, bundles, but mostly if you're on T-Mobile then you can get them to reimburse you $325 if you're on one of their most popular unlimited data plans. That was what caused us to upgrade, and we're so glad we did!

  18. 6991

    I sorta knew my Nexus 6p was gonna be good for awhile.  Hopefully the Windows app store picks up so I can get a Surface Phone eventually.

  19. 7971

    I would never pay such a price for this phone! There are many other flagship android devices with better features, at a much lower price: GS7/Edge, Huawei P9 etc. These pixels phones are nice, great specs, but have ZERO stuff to justify the pricing. I cannot pay over 700$ on it just because it has pure Android and a virtual assistant..lol

  20. 217

    Great review Paul, cheers. I'm happy to see a real unbiased review, I actually got banned from Reddit's /u/GooglePixel page because my thoughts were similar to yours. The reviews were obviously so over the top and biased it wasn't funny. I bought a OnePlus 3 and I love it, but I also work for a mobile security company (and started my own mobile app dev company) so leaving the iPhone out is silly. So with the money I saved from buying a OnePlus 3 I ordered a refurbished iPhone 6s and I love that phone more - it's just more consistent and reliable, not to mention the hardware is better. But I'm keeping both phones for now.

  21. 4629

    Hi Paul, thanks for the honest review. I am a Lumia 930 and iPhone 6 user. The iPhone is my daily driver and, although I still enjoy the Windows 10 Mobile experience, I was not too sure which phone to upgrade to. To get a good phone costs quite a lot these days and is really an important investment. iPhone 7 Plus it is.

  22. 268

    Some pretty well reasoned points. Although the headline is wrong. The Pixel XL was the Android flagship I was looking for. I pretty much agree with the analysis and review - it is the best Android phone available as you said. It is overpriced - totally agree. It is also the phone I wanted and I have no buyer's remorse. My kids are glad that my wife and I got a Pixel XL too as the kids now get our 1 year old Nexus 6P - which is still a great device. Fortunately we have been handing down 1 year old phones to the kids (who use them for 1 year more) for a few years now - which works great.

  23. 214

    Breakthroughs are uncommon. None here, is what I hear.

    Sigh - one must wonder if we're at a point of diminishing returns from a pure hardware standpoint. With all the players drawing on the same technology pool, hardware differentiation decreases. Putting the weight where it should be, or the user experience.

    SO, the IPhone wins from the standpoint of providing the best user experience, which is what it's all about. Maybe I'll break down and buy my wife an iPhone 7 as a reward for living with a 950 for the last year... I'll stick with my 950xl a while longer as punishment for same...

  24. 64

    I think it's important to remember this is a v1 product. It doesn't excuse the price, but it does explain the lack of certain features, like waterproofing. For the first phone that Google fully designed themselves, I think they did a pretty stellar job. It's a bit unfair to compare it to the Nexus or iPhone lines because of that. That being said, I feel pretty confidant that the Pixel 2, or 3, will be the real phone we're all looking for.

    I have a Pixel XL coming this Friday, and while your review definitely has me thinking, as of this moment, I'm fairly sure I'll be keeping it. I've heard bad things about the 6P's hardware feeling a bit cheap, and buttons breaking. And to me, the extra few hundred is worth it to have what amounts to the best Android phone there is right now (even if it's only a slight lead), along with the exclusive features (night mode is a must for me), and a longer support period.

    Great review, definitely some stuff to consider.

  25. 8337

    My recent frustrations with the Windows phone had me starting to look elsewhere. Alas the Pixel and I thought it may be my way out and on from my 950. But from your honest review, I feel that I will be truly disappointed. The premium asking price for this device doesn't justify the switch. Nothing new or exceptional to see. On the other hand, for a clean Android experience (and secured), is it shameful to consider looking at the new Blackberry DTEK60? Some persons think this a worthy flagship for an exceptional cost.

  26. 8321

    Actually the pricing of the Pixel is not really at pair with the iPhone.  The sticker price is, but that is politics. Most users get their higher-end phone subsidised with a carrier contract. Given the identical contract, T-Mobile Germany sells the Pixel XL 128GB more than 200 EUR cheaper than the iPhone 7 plus 128GB.  It would be surprising, if the same doesn't apply to US carriers as well.  Paul, how does this change your review and recommondation?

  27. 5486

    You've been spoiled by owning a 6P, widely recognized as the best Nexus, and probably one of the best all-round Android phones ever released, at a sensible price too. The Pixel phones are great (really great) and stand up very well on their own, but Google's pricing for these phones will make anyone have second thoughts.

    Google have almost designed them to look like iPhones and price them exactly like iPhones, so people who like the look of the iPhone (and are prepared to pay Apple prices) would feel comfortable moving to the Pixel. That's how I see it. I'd love one, but I'll never spend that much money on a phone. My N5 is still ticking over nicely, but I'll probably replace it next year, but not with a Pixel.

    Still, Google seem to be taking a lot of orders for the Pixel's, so they're not complaining I'm sure. What they really want though are people to actively chose the Pixel over an iPhone, or even better migrate from iOS to Android.

  28. 5914

    I know that you don't read other reviews Paul. But on Anandtech, the hardware of the phone is not that great either.

  29. 4524

    I think Google had to sell their souls and raise the price of the Pixel phones in order to make a deal with Verizon.  They tried the low-priced, go-it-alone strategy with the last Nexus phones and probably didn't sell all that many.  This strategy might not work either, but I think they had to give it a try.

    Also, the high price gives them plenty of room to run sales... and everybody loves a sale!  I think they will be steeply discounted during and after the holidays.

  30. 6014

    I'm sorry to hear that the Pixel didn't measure up to your hopes, Paul.  I'll take your word for it, since I've never seen one and have no intention of spending that much money on a phone that lacks wireless charging and waterproofing.  Still, your phone articles always amuse me because you write as if one considering a Pixel would also consider an iPhone.  I have neither personal experience nor 2nd hand experience where this is true.  People either use iPhones or Android phones and aren't interested in switching - either because they're not technically savvy enough to navigate such a transition, are happy where they are, or prefer the design philosophy inherent in either Android/Windows or iOS/MacOS. 

    My wife and I are setup using both Google and Microsoft products, in large part thanks to you and Mary Jo, so that we can transition our entire digital lives between platforms easily - but despite that, I think Satan would skate to work the day we got Apple products.  We're both too picky, and the limitations would drive us nuts.

  31. 996

    Totally agree that the pixel has now created a hole for the pure android experience. That sucks, but I'm actually not surprised that google did this. They seem to continue making missteps as of late and eventually it'll start to bite them.

    • 412

      In reply to Lewk:

      The closest you can get are Motorola Phones. I got my wife a Moto G4+ and she is thrilled with it and it is quite good for a mid-range phone. Beyond a Motorola app or two, it is close to pure Android SANS updates. 

  32. 8341

    Not sure how to reconcile this review with dozens of others that call it the best thing since sliced bread.

    I also never understand comments like this..... "No Android handset really offers the cohesive, reliable experience that iPhone users come close, though the Pixel XL perhaps comes closest." Besides the grammar issues, it's just not true. "Experience" is a truly subjective thing. I've tried Apple in the past and just really don't like the "experience" at all. I also switched from Mac to PC years ago for the same reason, a subjective  personal "experience" preference. There are many, many people that made the switch from Iphone to android. There must be a reason why they are subjecting themselves to such an inferior experience. 

     

  33. 412

    Coming from Lumia ICON, Note 5 and Note 7, my only obvious choice (after the Note 7 mess) was the Pixel XL. I just couldn't take a chance on a "skinned Android" like LG V20 and didn't want to take a slight step back with a Galaxy 7 series I wanted a flagship with a good camera ans the Pixel XL was my choice. I got it for a decent price on Verizon and MOSTLY, I'm happy. The speed is amazing for an Android phone and the camera never lags. 

    The Camera is what I want to discuss. It has been a mild disappointment. I'm seeing more grainy photos than I ever did with my Lumia ICON and Note 7. The low light shots are very hit and miss, a problem I rarely had on ICON and Note. Taking photos while recording a video are not recommended as they are very grainy. Again, a problem I didn't have on my Note 7. But to give it credit, most of the time, the photos have been very good, though I had to fallback to 4:3 as the quality of 16:9 isn't up to pair. 

    Here's my two main reasons for not using the iPhone 7+ 256GB I have sitting here at work waiting on someone since I didn't want it: iTunes and File Management. 

  34. 318

    For my money, the Pixel XL is the best Android smartphone package on the market. Why? Great camera performance and photo quality. Beautiful screen. Unbelievably good battery performance. Large screen option. Large internal storage option. Effectively unlimited photo/video online storage. Buttery smooth user interface and completely clean Android operating system experience. Sure it doesn't have waterproofing nor stereo speakers, but these are nice to haves rather than must haves. I'll take the package of pros and cons above over any other Android phone on the market today. I probably would have selected the Samsung Note 7, but can't for obvious reasons, and the brand damage done to Samsung more broadly means that none of its phones will be an option for me for multiple generations. And finally, for me iOS is bloated, complex, inconsistent, unintuitive and restrictive and therefore an iPhone is not an option. Especially as innovation and excitement are much more likely to come from the Android space rather than the iOS space. I've been using the Pixel XL since release date, and have no hesitation in recommending it.

    • 2

      In reply to openmisere:

      So, to be clear, it's a great phone. But it's not a good upgrade for users with a year-old phone. Regardless, the problem is price: It's just very expensive.

      • 318

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        The Pixel certainly is expensive, and I wish it were less expensive. However, when thinking about pricing, I think a lot of people are anchored to how the Nexus line was priced and I'm not sure that is the right/helpful comparison. Instead, look at the Samsung Galaxy S7 & iPhone 7, which are also expensive phones - but plenty of people buy them - and IMHO I think the Pixel XL represents a better overall package than both of these right now.

  35. 2394

    I'm leaving AT&T and going to Fi, inside a month from now, so my options are pretty limited, but for me, it's exactly like Paul said - that's too much money not to opt for a 6P instead. It's not the first time I've switched from Windows Mobile, but hopefully it is the last.

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