Google’s Pixel XL is the Android phone we’ve always wanted. It’s as gorgeous, powerful, slick, and easily upgradeable as the iPhone. It’s the best Android phone of 2016 hands down. One question remains: Is this the Android phone that will make you want to leave the iPhone behind for good?
A familiar design with a bit of Google magic
Maybe it was that new phone feeling or the subtle little G for Google on the back of the phone, but the Pixel XL has a magic quality about it. This is it! The first Google Phone!
Just like the majority of Android phones these days, the Pixel’s body is mostly aluminum. It looks like a cross between an iPhone and the Huawei Honor 8, thanks to a mixed media design that uses metal and glass; it’s high-end with nice texture. The phone feels silky smooth against your fingers and provides an interesting contrast of materials.
Of course, there are two huge problems with glass: It picks up fingerprints and it’s very fragile. Luckily, the glass panel is small and located up at the top of the phone, so you’re not likely to touch it too much. It picks up fingerprints, but not as many as a Galaxy S6 or S7. The part that gathers the most smudges and starts to look funky is the fingerprint sensor, which is also coated in glass.
The glass doesn’t reach all the way up to the edge of the phone, so it shouldn’t crack if you drop it on its corners. However, if it falls at a weird angle or plunges to the concrete glass-face-first, it’ll crack — and probably be a pain to replace.
We’re not really fans of glass-backed phones, so we’re glad the Pixel is mostly metal. Still, you’ll probably want a case if you’re a klutz or you hate fingerprints. Luckily, Google lets you design your own Live Case with art, maps, or your own photos for $40.
As far as comfort goes, the Pixel XL may be a big 5.5-inch phone, but it is comfortable to hold. It’s about the same size as the iPhone 7 Plus, but a little thicker and shorter. The phone’s edges have a slight ridge to them for added grip, and the metal feels sturdy. The volume rocker and power button are easy to locate and press, and the power button has a nice texture to it so you can tell which button is which.
For ports, there’s a headphone jack at the top of the phone, a SIM card slot on the left side, and a USB Type-C port at the bottom along with the speakers. After a few months with the jackless iPhone 7 Plus, it was nice to plug our trusty headphones right into the 3.5mm jack. It’s so weird to find it at the top of the phone, though. What year is it? 2011?
Powerful specs and smooth performance
Google made one helluva phone. The sharp Quad HD screen with its 5.5-inch size and 2,560 × 1,440 pixel resolution looks great. It’s perfectly luminous and colorful. It looks gorgeous next to the screen on the iPhone 7 Plus and less over-saturated than the Galaxy S7 Edge.
The Pixel XL runs silky smooth. We have yet to run into any hiccups, lag, or performance issues with the Pixel. Apps open quicker than ever; moving between home screens is smooth and fast; and content loads and scrolls without any stutters on apps like Twitter and Chrome. Everything just works.
When we first set up the phone, we downloaded 20 plus apps and dozens of songs for offline listening all while using the phone and setting up apps. The Pixel didn’t have a single problem through all this stress testing, though it started getting pretty hot. It eventually got so hot that it stalled for a few minutes and we had to restart it. But that only happened once. We think this may be a software issue and we’re asking Google about it. We had a similar heat episode when we first got our standard Pixel, but it also disappeared.
Since then, we’ve had zero problems with it and it doesn’t run hot during ordinary use. That’s all thanks to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 and the 4GB of RAM. The Pixel comes with 32GB of internal storage, and there’s a 128GB variant as well — sadly, there is no MicroSD card slot. However, you get unlimited photo storage with Google Photos at full resolution on the Pixel, so you should be set.
In case you want some benchmarks, we put the Pixel XL through a bunch of them:
- Quadrant: 29,827
- 3D Mark Slingshot: 2,313
- Geekbench 4: 3,945 multi-core and 1,588 single-core
- AnTuTu: 138,946
Meanwhile, the iPhone 7 has an AnTuTu score of 178,397, which clearly blows every Android phone out of the water. The A10 Fusion chip from Apple is sure to perform better, but benchmarks aren’t the end-all and be-all of performance. You’ll be more than satisfied with what the Pixel offers.
Pure Android perfection
There’s nothing like pure Android on a Pixel phone. Finally, we see a true marriage of hardware and software on one Google-made device. Android has never run smoother or looked better. The Pixel has a special launcher and unique features that you won’t find on any other Android phone. The entire experience is very polished.
There’s no longer an icon for the app drawer, but you can still see all your apps with a single swipe up from the bottom of the screen. It feels smooth and intuitive. The lack of the app drawer icon unclutters the main interface, too. So all you see are the back, home, and multitasking icons.
he Google search bar is artfully hidden, too. To access it, you just tap on the colorful G logo in the upper corner. Out pops your search bar and the microphone for voice queries. Google Now cards are also just a swipe away, as always. It feels more like iOS than ever before, so even long-time iPhone users will feel at home.
Elegant design tweaks continue throughout the interface, including several that won’t be available on other Android phones when Android 7.1 drops. The new caller ID screen, the black notification drawer with a blue brightness slider, and the blue accents throughout the OS, like in the Settings menu, are exclusive to the Pixel.
One of the more interesting additions is Quick Actions, which is similar to 3D Touch on iOS. Press and hold an icon and you’ll get shortcuts like “New Incognito Tab” on Chrome. You’ll have to wait for developers to add shortcuts for their apps, as right now only a handful of Google apps utilize the API.
The Pixel XL (and standard Pixel if you want a smaller phone) is our favorite Android phone, and the best one you can buy right now.
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Is there a better alternative?
There is no better Android phone in existence. The Pixel XL is the best Android phone we’ve ever used and the only one that has ever come this close to dethroning the iPhone. If you’re cheap, on a budget, and don’t care about important things like timely software updates and customer support, you’re welcome to check out the ZTE Axon 7 or the OnePlus 3, both of which offer similar specs for about $200-300 less. However, if you want the best Android phone ever, buy the Pixel XL.
If you’re on the fence between the iPhone 7 Plus and the Pixel XL, you can’t go wrong with either. They are the two best phones that you can buy today — period.
How long will it last?
The Pixel XL should last you at least two to three years. Since it gets automatic software updates and security patches directly from Google, it is the most future-proof Android phone on the market.
Should you buy it?
Yes. This is the Android phone we’ve been waiting for. This is the one to buy. Go, buy it unlocked from the Google Play Store, though.