Google’s Nexus lineup was a great way to show off pure, stock Android. But this year, Google has shifted from partnering with OEMs to make Nexus phones to something that more pure Google, with the introduction of the Pixel phones. Google’s Pixel lineup of devices which started with the Chromebook Pixel combine solid premium hardware with Google’s software.

After using the Pixel XL for a few weeks, this is easily the best phone that Google has produced since the introduction of the Nexus lineup back in 2010 with the Nexus One and my favourite phone from this year.

  • Design & Hardware (hardware and specs)
  • Software (all about that Android)
  • Camera (a picture is worth a thousand word right?)

For this review, I used the Pixel XL in quite black and it was paired with either the MK Access Dylan Smartwatch or the Skagen Connected Smartwatch throughout the duration of the test period. This review will refer to the Pixel as one phone for consistency, even though it comes in two size variant with slightly different specs. Even Google’s retail boxes for them are the same, apart from a small label to distinguish the regular Pixel and Pixel XL. 

Design & Hardware

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When you first pick up the Pixel, it feels great in the hands. It’s not to bulky and not too thin that it’s going to break easily, Google has struck a perfect balance.  The entire device is made out durable anodised aluminium and Corning Gorilla Glass 4 on the front and the top half of the back.

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There’s no denying that Google is really trying to make the Pixel phones, their iPhone killer, it has similar design aspects to one, if it didn’t have the G logo on the back, someone might mistake it for an iPhone.

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Technically the device is manufactured by HTC, there is no HTC branding because it’s not really the traditional partnership between Google and OEM like with the Nexus devices. Google has built and designed these phones from the ground up, they had input on every aspect.

The Pixel phones come in two sizes, the standard Pixel comes with a 5-inch display with a resolution of 1920×1080 while the Pixel XL comes with a 5.5-inch display with a resolution of 2560×1440 and both devices have AMOLED displays. Both the Pixel and Pixel XL are being powered by the Snapdragon 821 processor with 4GB of RAM.

Pixel (left) and Pixel XL (right)
Pixel (left) and Pixel XL (right)

On the back, you’ll also find the fingerprint sensor (also called Pixel Imprint) and it’s quick sometimes not as quick as the sensor on the Nexus 6P from last year.

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The Pixel phones are sold unlocked and can be used on any carrier in the world. This means that you can pop in a nanoSIM from a local carrier and you’re good to go. It even has support for LTE around the world.

The fingerprint sensor is located on the back of the device, just like on the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P from last year and Google has called the sensor, Pixel Imprint (instead of Nexus Imprint before). The fingerprint sensor can also be used for some gestures such as, if you were to swipe down on the sensor, it brings down the notification shade/quick settings.

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The display looks great from all angles, no matter how you look at it. Videos looks especially great on it but like other smartphones with high-res screens, I wouldn’t stare at this screen (of the XL’s higher-res display) for more than an hour or so.

When you hold the device, it feels smaller than it is. However holding the device, it may seem a bit slippery and you may be prone to dropping it (I would recommend getting a case and there are few good ones out there).

Pixel XL with Google Live Case.
Pixel XL with Google Live Case.

Along with that, the build quality of the Pixel is great. The volume and the power buttons have a great feel to them. That metal design feels great in the hands, it makes feel like a premium device, which is what you should expect from Google’s Pixel lineup.

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Some other things to note about the phones, is that the standard Pixel has a 2,770 mAh battery while the Pixel XL has a 3,450 mAh battery and both are able to get 7 hours of additional battery life in just 15 minutes. Unlike the iPhone 7/7 Plus, there is a 3.5 mm headphone jack and both have USB Type-C ports.

I would typically take the Pixel XL off the charger at around 7:30AM and it would be at around 30% by the end of the day. The battery life last longer with the help of Doze improvements in Android 7.1 Nougat. You won’t need to charge your Pixel as often or in the middle of the day because of the Doze feature.

In addition to coming to two sizes, the Pixel comes in two colours (available in Canada), Quite Black (which has a black front and black back) or Very Silver (which has a white front and silver back), and for storage, it comes in 32GB or 128GB.

(L-R) Pixel in Really Blue (US Only), Very Silver and Quite Black.
(L-R) Pixel in Really Blue (US Only), Very Silver and Quite Black.

The 32GB Pixel costs $899, while the 128GB Pixel costs $1029. For the 32GB Pixel XL, it costs $1049 and the 128GB Pixel XL costs $1179 and both devices are eligible for Google’s Device Protection (formerly known as Nexus Protect) for $129 and it gives you an additional year of coverage for mechanical breakdown and 2 years of protection against accidental damage.

The Pixel phones are available from the Google Store (but some variants have yet to come back in stock like the Pixel XL, as of this writing, the XL is still sold out at the Google Store) and carriers such as Roger, Bell and Telus in Canada (but they’ll only carry the 32GB version).

 

Software

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The Pixel phones are the first phones running Android 7.1 Nougat and the first phones with the Google Assistant built-in. The Google Assistant is new name for Google voice search & Google Now/Now on Tap.

Google Assistant
Google Assistant

Google has also given Android a visual overhaul in 7.1 (maybe not to the extend of going from 4.4 Kitkat to 5.0 Lollipop). The settings has been redesigned with a new layout and made easier to navigate as well as a new black, blue and white colour scheme.

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The Pixel phones also come with a Support tab in the settings, so you can easily chat or call with a Google support expert 24/7.

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You’ll also find the usual, custom app permissions, improved microSD support, granular app & memory management and better battery performance. As well as new features that were introduced in 7.0 Nougat such as Multi-Window, redesigned notifications (such as Quick reply, bundled notifications) and Doze Improvements.

In addition to the standard pre-installed Google apps, Google’s new communications apps, Allo and Duo are also pre-installed on the Pixel phones as well.

Like the Nexus devices before it, Google has skinned the Pixel phones with how they feel Android should look, so it’s not exactly pure vanilla Android but it’s close.

 

Camera

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HB4116

Both Pixel phones have the same 12-megapixel rear-facing camera which DxOMark gave its highest ever mobile score of 89, which beats out the iPhone 7/7 Plus. There is also a 8-megapixel front-facing camera which should be great for taking selfies.

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In my hands-on time using the Pixel’s camera, it performed well and was very fast when launching the camera app and going straight to taking pictures quickly.

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The main camera on the Pixel is one of the best that I’ve used, even beating out the camera on the Galaxy S7 and HTC 10. The camera on the Pixel takes great low-light photos and is perfect for almost any situation.

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One thing to point out is that the devices don’t have optical image stabilization (OIS), instead the phone’s gyroscope is hooked up to the camera system to provide smoother images and videos. Google is also including Unlimited Google Photos storage at original quality, so you can store your 4K videos in Google Photos without losing quality.

Here’s some more photos taken on the Pixel.

Final Thoughts

Pixel XL in Really Black
Pixel XL in Really Black

If you’re looking for a premium Android smartphone, that has the best camera out there and can basically be used on any carrier in the world, then the Pixel is the one you should choose and is a better alternative to the HTC 10, Galaxy S7 and LG G5.

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If it wasn’t for the high price tag, the Pixel would be the absolute perfect all-around device and the best way to experience Android. It pairs great hardware with great software and an awesome camera to boot. Even with the high price point, it still offers a great value for an awesome smartphone that even beats the iPhone.

Pros

  • Great screen
  • Solid performance
  • The best Android experience
  • Amazing camera
  • Excellent battery life
  • Premium design

Cons

  • Price may be too much for some
  • Not completely waterproof, only water resistant

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