The first batch of Google Pixel and Pixel XL reviews are out, and it looks like Google has a winner on its hands. Despite my initial skepticism surrounding the handsets, Google seems to have delivered a handset that is the sum of its greater goods.
If you have been on the fence about the Pixel or Pixel XL, check out our review roundup below to know how good the handset is.
If one thing is clear, it is that the Pixel looks like an iPhone. Depending on how you feel about the iPhone’s design, this is either a good or bad thing.
Let’s start with familiar and say the obvious thing: the Pixel kind of looks like an iPhone. Every high-end phone these days is designed with some combination of metal and glass, and so you could argue that there are only so many ways to make a rectangle. But even so, look at the bezels on the front, the curves at the corners, the antenna lines, and the placement of the speaker; the thing looks very familiar.
In terms of performance, the Pixels leave every other Android phone out in the dust. But considering Google itself develops Android, this is not surprising.
The Pixels are fast — noticeably faster than Samsung’s Galaxy S7. On performance alone, these are easily the best Android phones you can buy. For a phone made by Google, that’s absolutely the expectation — it’s just good to note that at its first time at bat, Google hit a home run.
The Pixel XL’s selling point is its battery life as it can easily last a day.
In my experience, the Pixels are lasting a couple of hours longer than comparably sized iPhones or Nexuses. That’s better than the “about a day” you get from most phones these days, and it’s so good that I’m a little worried that it won’t last or my results are an outlier. So I’ll note that two other reviewers I spoke with were less pleased with the battery life on the smaller Pixel. If you care about battery life, definitely get the XL. It feels much smaller than the iPhone 7 Plus, too.
As for the 12MP rear shooter of the Pixel XL, it sits right there at the top with the likes of the Galaxy S7 and iPhone 7 Plus. The specs of the camera might not seem impressive on paper, but Google’s fine tuning has done wonders here. The improved camera speed is also a huge selling point over the Nexus 6P and previous Nexus devices.
The Pixel bested the iPhone in picking up detail and color in my test shots. To my eyes, it seems to be making more pleasing decisions with lighting and HDR, too. I want to put the emphasis on “more pleasing,” because my hunch is that if we looked at the raw input each sensor is getting we’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference.
But for me, the most important thing is that Google seems to have finally fixed my biggest gripe about most Android cameras: the speed. The camera app opens fast and takes pictures immediately. Google also has figured out a way to make HDR feel fast — the camera defaults to HDR auto and though sometimes it takes a couple of seconds to process the HDR image, it happens in the background, freeing you to take more shots.
Google Assistant is impressive, accurate, smart, but it still needs more work.
When you ask the Assistant for information that can be culled from the web, it’s impressively, sometimes ridiculously, smart. It can read the screen and then tell you who the cast is for the TV show you’re reading about — then understand follow-up questions about someone like Lee Pace (who is a nationaltreasure). The Assistant can read back relevant sections of how-to articles, complete with spoken sourcing.
In general it’s less likely to frustrate you enough to stop using it like Siri, but it’s not radically better. For example, it can tell me when the next debates are but it’s not smart enough to understand its own answer has enough information to add it to my calendar.
To be very clear: the Google Assistant is absolutely the smartest of the assistant bunch, but it’s not yet in a class of its own. Google knows so much more about me than, say, Apple, and it’s assistant should reflect that. Because Google itself is placing so much emphasis on the Assistant, it should be held to a higher standard than all the rest — and there’s clearly still some work to do.
On the iPhone-like design:
The much-discussed iPhone similarity is kinda there, I guess, though I feel like this has been largely overstated. Sure, the Pixel’s spartan front face looks a bit like an iPhone with the home button chopped off, but then there’s only so much you can do with a rounded rectangle of tapered 2.5D glass. The most obvious inspiration seem to have come from phones like the HTC 10 and One X9, with a little Nexus 6P DNA snuck in. What’s more, the Pixels feel nothing like their Apple-built rivals in-hand.
The reality is that Assistant is, at the time of writing, very much a version 1.0 product. When it works, it works well — Assistant is generally smart about the way it handles questions or requests about the data Google already collects. But it can be hit and miss about things you’d expect to work: For example, “Play the new album by [band name]” in Play Music. Or “Show me my next trip.” Or “Who’s the guy from the Mobile Strike ads?” Or “How long does it take to get to Camden?” When it fails, usually it fails pretty intelligently, offering up a web link that would probably be helpful in the place of a personalized answer from Google’s vast data reserves.
The excellent 12MP shooter:
For the first time, Google has a camera that can stand proudly alongside the Galaxy S7 and iPhone 7. I was skeptical about the lack of OIS, but between the upgraded sensor, the beefier CPU and ISP (image signal processor) and some welcome software tweaks, Google has a highly impressive camera setup. Captures are quick, there’s plenty of fine detail in a wide variety of lighting conditions, and Google’s Auto-HDR+ trickery produces photos with excellent dynamic range in situations where many rivals stumble. Colors are punchy, but not excessively saturated. And even in challenging lighting conditions, such as dark restaurants at night, a good amount of fine detail and color detail is preserved.
The Google Pixel XL is my new daily driver. As for the smaller Pixel, I know it’s going to take a lot to tear Daniel Bader away from this compact Android powerhouse. (Ed: True.) Both are excellent smartphones which we can wholeheartedly recommend, even with their sky-high price tags. The question of whether a smartphone can be worth $700 to $1,000 in 2016 is a debate altogether. But if any phone is worth that amount of cash, the Pixels are. Just as that same argument can be made for the iPhone 7 or Galaxy S7.
The Google Pixel doesn’t exactly have the most stunning a smartphone has ever had, but it’s definitely not bad. It’s going to draw comparisons to its competitors, though — that’s for sure. First, the phone will almost certainly be compared to the iPhone thanks to its antenna lines and large top-and-bottom front bezels. That bottom bezel, sans a home button like the iPhone, is probably the most unsightly part of the Pixel. It’s just a huge chin.
One of my biggest praises of the Pixel and Pixel XL is the camera app’s performance. The Nexus devices were long plagued with low-quality cameras and bad camera performance, and Google has basically fixed these problems completely with the Pixel. In fact, the camera might be my favorite part of the phone. It’s super fast, there’s no lag, and the viewfinder consistently pops up in 1 or 2 seconds flat. And that brings us to the cameras themselves, which are also impressive to say the least…
And the EIS is magical:
One thing that I have to rave about is this phone’s EIS when recording video. The lack of OIS on this phone was one of the biggest “don’t knock it ’til you try” moments I’ve had in my many few years of reviewing phones. The lack of OIS was one of the biggest “really, Google?” moments for me at the October 4th announcement event, but I have been proven so wrong. The EIS that Google is packing on this phone is borderline magic in my opinion — I think it even beats hardware OIS in some cases.
If there is one camera review that you need to watch, make sure its from Droid-Life. The EIS sample footage included in the video shows just show impressive EIS works on the Pixel and Pixel XL.
So, the Pixel and Pixel XL have turned out to be pretty impressive handsets if the first set of reviews are to be believed. Will you be buying the handset now? Or are you still going to wait for its price to drop before picking one up?