Google Pixel XL first impressions: The first true Google Phone seems to have a lot of potential

We used the Pixel XL for a day and here are our first impressions.


The first phone by Google - the Pixel/Pixel XL - is all set to make its India entry come 25 October. Pixel signifies a new chapter in Google’s phone history. So far, Google had the Nexus line which was made in collaboration with partners such as HTC, LG, Motorola, Samsung and Huawei. Google had limited or no control over the hardware and had to optimise its Android OS to suit the hardware in order to provide the best stock Android experience. But something always seemed to be off.

With the Pixel, Google has complete control over the hardware (even though the phone is made by HTC) and software. Pixel’s birth also meant the end of the road for the Nexus line. Also with Pixel, Google has departed from the mid-range segment and entered the premium segment. A rarefied atmosphere where the likes of Apple iPhones and Samsung Galaxies rule.

We got our hands on the Pixel XL, the large screen variant of the Pixel. After using it for close to a day, here are our first impressions of the device.

Build and Design

Google Pixel XL first impressions: The first true Google Phone seems to have a lot of potential
First things first. Yes, the Pixel XL does resemble an iPhone on first glance. This was reiterated by every other person who first set eyes on the sleeping Pixel XL. But considering that it is made by HTC, some resemblance with the HTC 10 from the edges is also noticeable. It comes in three colour colour variants which have interesting names: Quite Black, Very Silver and Really Blue. Of these three colour variants the Really Blue will not be selling in Indian market.

Pixel XL (6)

However that doesn’t take away from the fact that Pixel XL is a good looking phone which feels sturdy. The phone’s metal frame is flat, but the corners have a rounded edge.

Pixel XL (8)

The ribbed power standby button and the plain volume rocker buttons are on the right and the nano SIM card tray is on the left. There isn’t any sort of sharp edge on the phone as such, apart from the very minor drop off from where the display meets the frame. Google has gone with a glass and metal design on the rear side, instead of having a unibody design, as is the norm in the premium segment. The only reason I can think off is that the glass top that gives a better grip than the slippery metal back.

Pixel XL (3)

The pearly white glass section on the rear side is slightly raised from the plane of the metal. It ensures that there is no camera bump, as the 12MP camera on the top left hand corner is flush with the surface. There is a circular finger print scanner in the lower half of the glass area. The antenna line is visible on the lower metallic half as well as three in the top half.

Display

Pixel XL (7)
The Pixel XL sports a 5.5-inch QuadHD display with a native resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels. This gives it a pixel density of 534PPI which makes it quite sharp. The AMOLED display is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 4 coating. The glass covering does rise a millimeter over the metallic frame. The bezels on the top and bottom are quite thick. The display is bright and offers good viewing angles. Thanks to the AMOLED display the black levels are quite good. But we need to watch videos and play high end games to get the whole picture.

Chipset, RAM, Storage

Google has kept the internals of both the Pixel and Pixel XL intact. The phones run on Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 821 chipset - which is also the chipset required to ensure the phone is Daydream VR ready. The Snapdragon 821 chipset houses a quad-core processor with two custom Kyro cores clocked at 2.15GHz and two Kyro cores clocked at 1.6GHz. These are paired with Adreno 530 graphics solution. There is 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM onboard. In terms of storage you get two variants - 32GB and 128GB. We got the 32GB variant for testing out of which the available storage space was 29.7GB.

Operating System

Pixel XL (10)
Being a Google Phone, the Pixel comes with the latest Android 7.1 Nougat OS. The OS looks different from the Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Also this is the first phone which has Google Assistant baked right into the OS. So all you have to do is hold on to the Home button and the Assistant is powered on, ready to take your voice commands / queries. The app drawer has been eschewed in favour of a swipe up mechanism which shows you all the apps you have. The preinstalled apps come with circular app icons and even the folders are circular in nature. Live wallpapers are interesting addition and they have a parallax effect when you swipe between home screens or just wake up the phone. Notification shade gives you a lot more control and take actions from the notification drop down itself. There are a lot many features which we will be exploring over the next few days as we test the Pixel XL.

Camera

Pixel XL (4)
The camera is one of the main features of the Pixel XL. Also Google has gone on a limb and called it not just the best camera on an Android phone but also the best smartphone camera ever. It comes with a 12.3MP rear camera with an f/2.0 aperture. It supports phase-detect autofocus as well as laser assisted auto focus. There’s a 1 / 2.3-inch sensor with a pixel size of 1.55 microns. On the front you get an 8MP 1 / 3.2-inch sensor which has an aperture of f/2.4 and pixel size of 1.4 micron. While the rear camera is capable of shooting 4K UHD videos, the front camera can shoot up to 1080p video. The Google Pixel XL lacks optical image stabilisation, but it makes use of the gyroscope to provide electrical image stabilisation (EIS) while shooting videos.

PixelXL samples (1)

I used the camera for a day and my first impressions is that it is certainly a very good camera. The focussing is speedy during daytime, but takes a slight hit in low light. The images are detailed, and I found them to have a slight greenish tinge in some images. One thing I did not like was that the Auto HDR mode is on by default. While that may be good, sometimes it gives a wierd sort of halo in daytime skies. The EIS on the video worked well during daytime. I still need to test all the features of the Pixel XL camera in detail, but a day’s worth of usage has me convinced that Google is on to something here, and not just making hollow claims.

Here are some resized image samples. Click on the images to see full resolution samples.

Pixel XL samples

PixelXL samples (5)

PixelXL samples (4)

PixelXL samples (3)

Battery and Connectivity
The Pixel XL comes with a 3450mAh Li-ion non-removable battery. It is accompanied with a 5V/3A or 9V/2A adapter which has a USB Type C input. It supports quick charge 3.0. USB power delivery for quicker charging. There is a USB Type-C to Type-C cable. You also get an Type-A to Type C cable for data transfer. In terms of connectivity you get 4G LTE support, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Wi-Fi direct, NFC, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS with A-GPS, GLONASS and no FM radio.

Conclusion
After using it for a day, the Pixel XL certainly seems to be an impressive Android flagship. A lot of parameters such as battery, performance, heat management and more still need to be rigorously tested.

The Pixel pricing starts from Rs 57,000 for the 32GB base model and goes all the way up to Rs 76,000 for the 128GB Pixel XL. The phone we are testing is the 32GB Pixel XL which is priced at Rs 67,000. Yes, Google is making no bones about the fact that it has the iPhone 7 / 7 Plus in its crosshairs.

The absence of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 will certainly be a boon for Google, as that audience may now look at the Pixel devices. Whether the Pixel XL performs well in all departments, as compared to Samsung’s other flagship - the Galaxy S7 / S7 edge or the Apple iPhone 7 / 7 Plus will be seen over the coming days. Check back for a detailed review of the Pixel XL next week.

We discussed the Google Pixel XL and the Apple iPhone 7 today on Facebook as well. Here is the complete video, which does show how the Pixel XL photos compare with the iPhone 7 Plus.

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