The Google Pixel XL is as good as the iPhone 7 Plus and makes jumping to Android painless.
Though the 5-inch Pixel and 5.5-inch Pixel XL are the first Google-branded phones, the company has a fairly long history of designing and making phones. The Moto X, via Google’s (albeit brief) ownership of Motorola Mobility, was in effect a Google phone. Google of course also honed its phone making and designing skills with the Nexus series of phones dating back to 2010.
So, Google was already an experienced phone supplier when it introduced the first branded Google phones last October, the 5-inch Pixel and 5.5-inch Pixel XL. And it shows. The Pixel XL that I have been using for more than a month has excellent build quality and is teeming with top-notch tech, including a great camera and the most advanced intelligent personal assistant that I’ve used.
Here are some of the highlights of the Pixel XL that made an impression on me.
The switch: It has been an effortless switch to the Pixel XL and Android “Nougat” 7.1 from my iPhone 7 Plus. I’m not saying that it will be a permanent switch (I’m still attached to the 7 Plus and my Apple Watch Series 2) but it’s an easy transition when you’re using a great phone. And once you’re inside an app it’s easy to forget which phone you’re using.
Google Assistant: The Pixel is the first Android phone to implement Google Assistant. If smartphones are going to be graded in the future on how intelligent they are, Google is the early leader. I’ve found that the Pixel XL usually provides better responses to the kinds of questions I ask. Google often provided more relevant, concise, informative answers than Apple’s Siri, which often simply spewed out a bunch of search results.
Camera: I've taken tons of photos with both the Pixel XL and iPhone 7 Plus— and both cameras are excellent. The scary thing is that Google was able to come up with such a great camera this fast. Photography review sites, such as Digital Photography Review, have praised the Pixel XL's excellent HDR+ mode, the image detail, and fast and accurate autofocus, among other things.
It’s close enough between the Pixel XL and the iPhone 7 Plus that I consulted with an amateur photographer. That person, in blind tests, leans toward the Pixel XL in image quality.
Build: Despite having the same-sized 5.5-inch display, the Pixel XL is both smaller and lighter than the 7 Plus. The build quality is on par with the iPhone 7 Plus, and that’s saying a lot.
Battery life: The XL has a “Doze” mode that excels at drawing the bare minimum of energy from the battery when the phone is not in use. This alone can extend battery life beyond the iPhone 7 Plus for me. But with active use, the two phones are close. This YouTube test is instructive at showing how close the battery life can be for the two phones. I usually can squeeze out a day and a half (or longer) from both phones. I’ll call it a draw.
User experience: I’ve had enough back and forth between iOS/iPhone and Android that I still the think iOS is a slightly more refined experience, since Apple has had more practice at integrating the hardware and software. That said, Google is well on its way to replicating that hardware-software cohesion with the Pixel phone. That is one of the reasons that Google began making its own phones so I can only expect this to improve in the future.
Shortcomings: The Pixel XL is not as water resistant as the iPhone 7 Plus and the camera does not have the 7 Plus’ optical zoom. Also, raw performance benchmarks tend to favor the iPhone 7 Plus. Those are a few non-trivial things to keep in mind.
The Pixel XL starts at $769.