Saturday , December 16 2017

Pixel XL, phone by Google — Australian first-look

Before we jump into a discussion about the Pixel XL, we wanted to set out our review methodology. We’ve had the Pixel XL in our office since Friday last week, and this is going out at 12.01 am on Thursday morning. We’ve had barely a couple of days with the phone between other things, and we think that a phone of this importance deserves more than just a few days before publishing a review. So, this time around, we’ve adopted a different strategy.

First up — and in today’s post — we’re going to do a bit of a first look. I’m going to step you through some of the highlights of the phone and standout features. It will then be packed up and sent to another of our team to prepare a more fulsome review. Parallel to that, we’ll start the review process on the standard size Pixel as well. Google gave us a Pixel XL to review, on the assumption that the Pixel being mostly the same meant one review would be enough.

To an extent, it is; there’s far more the same than different between the two phones, but there’s enough that’s different to warrant a separate look. So, while Phil gets busy reviewing the Pixel XL, Jason or I will get started on a review of the Pixel. We’ll then compare notes, and see where we end up.

So, let’s get into a first look at the Pixel XL.

How did the Pixel come to be?

When the rumours of Google’s Pixel phones first circulated, I have to say I was sceptical at best. I thought that the Nexus brand still had strength in it, and talk of its demise was perhaps premature. However, as the rumours intensified, and as it became clear what Google had in mind for the new Pixel line of phones, I have to say my interest grew. It became clear that Google was no longer content to have others make phones for its premier operating system Android, and no longer content to have the showcasing of Android rely upon the design ideas of others.

With the Nexus line, Google ceded much (but not all) control to third party OEMs, who designed and built hardware to a specification. With Pixel, Google controlled the whole thing, though we understand they worked with HTC to design the phones, it was Google’s brand, Google’s input and thus a Google product.

With Pixel, Google wants to do something different. It wants to be known as a maker of hardware in its own right. It’s not as if Google hasn’t dabbled in this before: Google has already released two Pixel-branded Chromebooks, and a tablet last year in the Pixel C. The holy grail, though, is mobile. Google believes wholeheartedly that mobile is where it’s at these days, and it needs to be in that space.

This gave rise to two new phones from Google, announced a couple of weeks ago, and going on sale tomorrow. The two phones are virtually identical, save for screen size, screen resolution and battery configuration. Jason and I had the opportunity to play with the Pixel and Pixel XL at Google’s launch event in Sydney, and Duncan spent quite some time with the two in San Francisco.

I suppose it’s almost needless to say; Google have done a very good job here, and they’ve got everyone at Ausdroid interested in buying at least one … though there is some further thought to be had about the appropriateness of the pricing. So, without further ado, let’s take a brief look at the Pixel XL before it’s handed off for a more thorough investigation.

What’s inside?

Google’s Pixel XL is a 5.5″ phone with a giant 1440×2560 resolution display. It’s a touch bigger than LG’s G5 (which I had on the bench at the same time), and probably about the same size as a Galaxy Note 7 or S7 Edge. It’s not a small phone, but equally it isn’t overly large. The comment from those with smaller paws is that it’s a bit hard to use single-handedly, but otherwise the in-hand feel is good.

On that, the build is absolutely premium, but it is unmistakenly similar to another phone on the market. In fact, from a distance, especially from the front, it could be an Apple iPhone, except for the lack of a physical home key. I suspect these design cues are deliberately taken; the best way to increase adoption of a device is to make it look like something the market is already happy and comfortable with.

Flipped over, though, the differences appear. The Pixel XL has a metal casing, with a plastic/glass top-half on the rear. It’s a distinctive look; nothing else really does this at the moment. It defines a Pixel as a Pixel.

The overall feel, then, is one that is absolutely top shelf. There’s no cheap plastics. There’s no uncomfortable glass back. There’s just a premium metal casing with a tactile screen that’s neither too slippery nor too grippy, and it feels great.

Like many phones, I feel the Pixel XL is screaming out for a quality case to protect it from life’s knocks, but being a bit early for those cases to be around just yet, we might have to wait.

How’s it go?

With the latest Snapdragon 821 processor running at 2.15/1.6 GHz (quad core), paired with 4GB RAM and the latest Android 7.1 Nougat, it’s safe to say the Pixel XL veritably screams along. Just about every phone I’ve reviewed for Ausdroid has had some appreciable lag somewhere in regular use, but with the Pixel XL, I just haven’t found it. Switching apps is fluid, boot time is quick, and getting everything done just makes me feel like the phone is somehow pre-empting what I want it to do; there’s no other explanation for how it could be so fast and so smooth.

Performance isn’t just speed, it’s ease of getting things done, and how well it does them. Multitasking is a breeze on the Pixel, but we’ve come to expect this in 2016’s flagship devices, but there’s little doubt the Pixel XL is one of the smoothest amongst them.

Camera performance too is simply amazing. Performing well in almost every situation, the Pixel XL camera is close to setting a new standard in mobile photography. Last year I commented that mobile photography was reaching its peak, where smartphone cameras were truly giving DSLR-type cameras a run for their money in daily situations. Yes, you might not catch a professional photographer using a mobile in lieu of a full-frame camera, but for everyone else, the quality is 95% of the way there with a device that slips effortlessly into your pocket.

With the Pixel XL, and noting it has the highest ever DXOMark rating for a mobile, photography truly becomes something you don’t even need to worry about. Just point and shoot, and the Pixel camera will figure it out. Yes, some might say, it lacks Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS), but with a nice wide aperture and large light sensing elements, you just don’t feel like it’s missing anything.

For the kinds of photos I take — scenery, my kids playing in the park, beautiful places and buildings, and the odd selfie — I am not left wanting by the Pixel’s camera. In fact, the only realisation I’ve had is I wish I’d had this years ago. I no longer feel compelled to take any other camera with me, unless I’m doing something the Pixel simply isn’t designed to do (e.g. it’s no action camera…)

What about the software?

It’s very clear to me that the Pixel XL software is something different from what a Nexus phone released this year would’ve had. Just as Google took ownership of the hardware, so it has with software too — while Nexus was the best of Android, the Pixel line is the best of Google, and it really shows. Tight integration with Google’s voice recognition and artificial intelligence, useful apps and services… the Pixel truly is Google’s phone, and I for one love it.

From the most simple of things — looking up caller ID of callers in Google’s Dialer — to more complex interactions like seeking the advice of Assistant, and everything between (Allo, Duo, etc), the Pixel’s software experience is beyond polished. It feels crafted and yet minimal at the same time. The perfect mix of stock Android with just enough power and functionality from Google to make it something special.

Everything just works better. The lock-screen and interaction with notifications in Android 7.1 is sublime. The newly designed home-screen and launcher has me wondering whether I’d go back to a third party launcher ever again. The integration with Google’s Assistant trumps everything that’s come before, including Google Now on Tap (which kind of didn’t feel polished).

Assistant is just so easy to use; it’s accessible just with a longer press on the home button, and it starts listening to your voice immediately. You can ask it just about anything, like what the weather is, how long it’ll take you to get to work, does Donald Trump actually have small hands, and everything in between. Google’s Assistant is incredibly conversational, and you simply have to try it out.

It doesn’t just tell you stuff; you can ask it to do things for you too if your hands are tied. Need to set a reminder? Set an alarm to get up early tomorrow? Do some maths? Open an app by asking your phone? You can do all that.

Assistant works well in Allo, but it works a dozen times better still in the Pixel.

I usually experience moments of frustration with new phones as I learn their idiosyncrasies. Not so with the Pixel XL. If you know Android, you know this phone, and there’s nothing that’s tricky to work out; it just bloody works, and it does so incredibly well.

How’s it last?

This is one of the questions we’ll address more fully in our feature review, but for now I think I can say you’ll be pleasantly surprised; the Pixel XL has a large battery, and though it has a large display to power, it’s still very conservative. I haven’t had any issue getting a day’s use from the Pixel XL in early testing, and that’s with things like streaming music running most of the day, running the hotspot for hours on end, and playing with all the cool new features.

The other thing you’ll find is that the battery charges quickly, but without generating excessive heat. USB-C is fast becoming the standard for smartphones (that aren’t Apple ones), and your growing collection of USB-C cables will be well utilised here.

That said, you simply aren’t going to need the cables that often. A nightly charge is going to be in order for regular use, that’s my prediction, but if you’re frugal and want to extend that out to a couple of days, then you can use the battery saver mode to really stretch it out.

Still, with a battery that’s 3,450 mAh big, battery life will cease to become a constant worrying concern. The smaller Pixel, with its correspondingly smaller battery, might be a different story, but we’ll let you know as soon as we can.

What do I think?

This is just a first look. I haven’t had enough time with the Pixel XL to form a polished, firm opinion. On one hand, this phone just feels amazing. The software experience is simply sublime. I cannot think of a phone that I’ve used in recent time which is as consistently fluid and easy to use.

On the other hand, I have come to associate slightly bigger phones with slightly more features; I guess what I’m getting at is that at this size, it feels like the Pixel XL should kind of have a stylus … it just reminds me too much of the Note range in terms of stature.

Would I go out on Thursday and buy a Pixel XL? Yeah, if I wanted a 5.5″ phone, I absolutely would.

Would I go out and buy the 5.0″ Pixel instead? Yes, and I will.

So, with that, stay tuned to Ausdroid over the next week to ten days or so, when Phil will bring you a full review of the Pixel XL with the full Ausdroid treatment.

Google’s Pixel XL goes on sale on Thursday 20th October, starting at $1,269 for the 32GB model and $1,419 for the 128GB model. You can find them in Telstra stores around the country, at JB HiFi stores, and online at the Google Store.

Chris Rowland   Editor and Publisher

Chris has been at the forefront of smartphone reporting in Australia since smartphones were a thing, and has used mobile phones since they came with giant lead-acid batteries that were “transportable” and were carried in a shoulder bag. He saw the transition from AMPS to GSM, loved the Motorola StarTac, and got into Palm technologies in a big way. The arrival some years later of the original iPhone, and then the early Androids, awoke a new interest in mobile technology, and Chris has been writing about it since.

Today, Chris publishes one of Australia’s most popular technology websites, Ausdroid. His interests include mobile (of course), as well as connected technology and how it can make all our lives easier.

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38 Comments on "Pixel XL, phone by Google — Australian first-look"

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Member
Luke Vesty

Iiiiiiiiiiiii have a Pixel!!! 😎

hoboonthegogo
Valued Guest
hoboonthegogo
Long time reader – first time poster – Awesome website guys 🙂 So I’m a big Google Now voice recognition user and am very interested in Assistant versus Google Now. Chris mentions –> “It doesn’t just tell you stuff; you can ask it to do things for you too if your hands are tied. Need to set a reminder? Set an alarm to get up early tomorrow? Do some maths? Open an app by asking your phone? You can do all that.” All of those things I do currently with Google Now. Am using apex to launch G Now voice… Read more »
Member

And with those huge bezels, why on screen buttons? Why? The way Samsung have it set out is brilliant

Member
I don’t get why everyone wants either bezels stuffed with buttons or bezel-less phones. Bezels are necessary to give you somewhere to hold the phone without accidentally triggering the touch screen. A bezel-less phone would be a nightmare of false positives, and phones I’ve owned with capacitative buttons on the bezel (Galaxy S3, S6) have driven me nuts by accidentally touching the task switch or back button when trying to play a game or watch a video. I now have a Nexus 6P which has also been knocked for bezel size, but I wouldn’t want any less than what it… Read more »
Member

Obviously it’s a personal opinion. I love the small bezel of my Note 5 & never make accidental presses off the captive buttons. If anything, I have also a work phone HTC and make countless errors with the on screen buttons, especially accidentally touching the home button instead of space bar.

Member

Obviously it’s a personal opinion. I love the small bezel of my Note 5 & never make accidental presses off the captive buttons. If anything, I have also a work phone HTC and make countless errors with the on screen buttons, especially accidentally touching the home button instead of space bar. And you loose screen real estate

Chris
Valued Guest

The bezels are a bit annoying, but really you just don’t notice it after a while. It’s necessary to fit the right size battery in, and to make sure that you can hold it with the screen in the right place to actually use it. Hard to explain, but hold one and you’ll see.

Member

The screen, the screen. How good is it? How does it compare to S7 edge screen which is the best 5.5 inch screen around. Pixel XL should have been a 6 inch screen

Chris
Valued Guest

It’s basically the same display; it’s an AMOLED with high resolution and lovely colours. It has the added advantage of not having that annoying edge display 😉

Member

Thanks. Agree about the edge thing

Member

Is there anything that Assistant does that Google Now can’t?

Duncan_J
Valued Guest
Duncan_J

Cost $1419 :p

Member

Does it have double-tap-to-wake? With the fingerprint sensor on the back, I’m thinking that turning the phone on when it’s sitting on the desk would be quite annoying without dt2w.

Chris
Valued Guest

No, it doesn’t.

However, if you have the phone on charge, it does sort of have an ambient display, which you can just swipe on to wake it up completely. It’s not the same as dt2w but it’s almost as good.

Member

Thanks for clarifying, Chris. Might have to buy that Kidigi desk dock that you guys sell. 😉

Mike
Valued Guest
Mike

Nice post — can’t wait to get my hands on one 😀

Might be a silly question, but haven’t been able to find an answer — does it shoot in jpeg + RAW?

Chris
Valued Guest

The stock camera app doesn’t, no. However, being a Google phone, it supports all the nice Android camera2 APIs, so you can chuck a third party app on there to capture RAW if that’s your thing.

Member
Luke Vesty

Uhhhhgh I just want my Pixel to arrive already! Exciting times for Android. Incredibly exciting.

Interesting to note that the Pixel has headphones included in the box. According to a review from Walt Mossberg, found on the Verge, there were none included in his US box. A win for Australian consumers for a change!

Chris
Valued Guest

What a shame for him … but yes, the Aussie box had ‘phones in it.

Member

You make it sound way too enticing. I have a few worries though;
How long does it take to save pictures?
Do the message notifications go away after you quick reply them?
Does it have a silent option?
Can you send picture messages for people or still only for ants?
Bright enough to fight the Sun?
Thanks

Chris
Valued Guest
To save pictures? The HDR takes a moment or two to process after shooting, but it’s really neither here nor there. Uploading full quality photos to the cloud? Probably a bit slower, but if you let your phone upload on wifi overnight, who really cares. Message notifications don’t disappear just by virtue of quick replying. You can see a snippet of the conversation in the notification before swiping it off. Yes you can mute it. Yes you can send picture messages and they come through clearly. It’s an AMOLED, so it works in just about all lighting conditions without major… Read more »
Fred
Valued Guest
Fred
> The overall feel, then, is one that is absolutely top shelf. There’s no cheap plastics. There’s no uncomfortable glass back. There’s just a premium metal casing with a tactile screen that’s neither too slippery nor too grippy, and it feels great….Like many phones, I feel the Pixel XL is screaming out for a quality case to protect it from life’s knocks, Aggghhhh, this is a pet peeve. People going on about ‘no cheap plastics’ and ‘premium feel’ and then in the next sentence saying they need to put it in a case because otherwise it will look like a… Read more »
Member

What drives me nuts is people being disappointed by features that no phone has, or lack of design flair that has just made other phones irritating to use and quickly dated. What’s an example of a feature phone that looks interesting and is actually great to use? The Samsung edge displays are gimmicky, not supported by most apps and crap for VR headset use. Modular designs so far have been a massive fail. What standard of design are people holding the Pixel up to that it fails so badly by?

David Jacka
Valued Guest
David Jacka

Nice Z71 Chris! Now time for the flares, snorkle, diff lockers, lift kit, wheel spacers, safari bar and light bar.

Chris
Valued Guest

Mate, if this was my Z71, I’d be looking at all that, but sadly I’m only borrowing it. Review coming soon on Ausdroid 😉

David Jacka
Valued Guest
David Jacka
Not sure if you’ve said on here or not but the best way to get a pixel on Telstra is… Just get the mX byo plan and add on the phone over 24 months so you’ll pay $40 for the plan and from $45 to $59 for the phone. Plus you can have byo on 12 months so if they do a better option it’s easier to switch. Right now the mX byo is 7GB data and $1000 talk and text. That’ll save you $528 over the 2 years compared to the L plan for $121 with the 128GB Pixel… Read more »
The Technician
Valued Guest
The Technician

Will this fill my Note 7 void?

Duncan_J
Valued Guest
Duncan_J

Yes it will, it will fill mine tomorrow

TheDeviant
Valued Guest
TheDeviant

The LG V20 Will

Member

Nothing can fill the Note 7 void. V20 is LCD screen rather than AMOLED & they are 5.5 inch screens. Note users expect a 5.7 or bigger please

Jamie S
Valued Guest
Jamie S

Hey Chris, just curious, any reason you will go for the 5 inch variant?

Chris
Valued Guest

Yep, I love my phone to have a bit of a protective case, and the XL with a case on is just a touch too big for my car holder, and also my comfort 🙂

Jamie S
Valued Guest
Jamie S

Great thanks, that’s probably the way I’m headed too but I want to see them in person first

Member

Nice one Chris.
Interesting notes re the camera, I’ll have to go take a look!
Looking forward to the full review.

Also it’s Wednesday, jumped the gun by 24hrs 😉

Chris
Valued Guest

Review embargo was this morning to give people time to read some reviews before they’re in shops. The camera is pretty special though. Haven’t really tripped it up yet! Phil will certainly try.

Member

Ah cool.
Got confused by “.. and this is going out at 12.01 am on Thursday morning”

Andrew
Valued Guest
Andrew

Nice first impressions Chris.

I’ve ordered mine from Telstra, can’t wait to receive it!

Jamie S
Valued Guest
Jamie S

I knew you had one Chris, great photos and first look BTW.

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