It’s been three weeks since I published my original review of the Google Pixel XL. Here’s a quick follow-up.
To recap, while I feel that the Google Pixel XL is a great Android phone, that’s a low bar. And where this handset under-delivers is for potential upgraders: The Pixel isn’t demonstrably better than the Nexus 6P it replaces, at least not in ways that are important to me. And it is still handily beaten by Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus, despite the issues I have with that device’s camera.
That sounds overly negative, I know. But I really feel that we, collectively, often fall for the “new is always better” trap, and that looked at objectively, the Pixel XL, while quite nice, isn’t necessarily “better.” Especially given the price.
But when a friend inquired over Thanksgiving about replacing his aging Lumia Icon on Verizon, he noted that he wasn’t sure where to turn. He had, he said, read my review of the Pixel XL and realized I wasn’t too impressed.
Actually, in the context of “user coming from Windows phone and looking for the best new Android phone to buy,” the Pixel XL is a compelling option, thanks to the fact that it will get updates regularly going forward, including first access to new Android features. The only stumbling point, I told him, was the price: The Pixel handsets are not priced any lower than expensive iPhone or Samsung Galaxy flagships.
His response was interesting. He told me that he viewed a smartphone as a two-year commitment and that spreading the price $750 price tag he’d be paying for a 128 GB XL over that time frame wasn’t onerous. (It’s a bit over $30 per month.) Too, he’d be joining Project Fi, which I’ve been promoting. Because it’s awesome.
Selling this friend on an iPhone was a non-starter: For reasons that are largely emotional, he’s not interested in anything Cupertino has to offer. (My wife, usually cold and logical when it comes to such things, feels the same way.) So I didn’t even bother trying to explain that the iPhone 7 Plus offered superior performance, reliability, consistency, and battery life.
So this conversation brought together a few things that had been coalescing in my mind. I had written in the Pixel XL review that I intended to return the device and thus save the roughly $800 I had spent on it. (This is money I don’t have, and I’d be paying it off over some several months.) But I procrastinated on this return because I had until the end of November to follow-through on it.
So when I visited The Netherlands a few weeks back, I used the year-old Nexus 6P, and not the Pixel XL, because I feel that the Nexus camera takes better photos. To be fair, it’s a subtle distinction—the Pixels take fantastic photos too—and is tied to an HDR+ default on the Nexus that some people may not like as much as I do. I brought the Pixel to Europe just in case, but never took it out of the bag.
However, over this time, I was reminded of some reasons why it may make sense for me to keep the Pixel kicking around. These are reasons that only make sense because of what I do for a living: If I were a “normal” person, I’d have returned this thing weeks ago (or never purchased it in the first place). But I am very interested in testing the DayDream View virtual reality solution, which currently only works with Pixel devices. Pixels get new Android features first, and Pixels include some unique features of their own. Indeed, Google is already fixing some of the issues I have with this phone in adding “double-tap to wake” and “life to check phone” gestures in a recent update.
Put simply, yes, the Pixel XL is probably the best new Android phone available today. It’s expensive. Too expensive. And with Google ceding the price wars, there’s an opening now for great phones in the $400-$450 range. I’m open to ideas about reviewing some.
And I very much prefer the iPhone overall: In going back and forth between the two over the past few days, picking up the iPhone and feeling the curiously excellent but simulated home button click under my thumb, is just comforting. But the Pixel, while, uninspiring, is solid too. And it offers great performance and early access to new features and updates. And very high prices. Which, ultimately, is why I have a hard time recommending it.
Some, of course, are unconcerned about such things. It must be nice.