​Google Pixel XL full, in-depth smartphone review: Phones just got smarter

Daydream VR now makes this a must-have phone

Google Pixel XL
  • Google Pixel XL
  • Google Pixel XL
  • Google Pixel XL
  • Expert Rating

    5.00 / 5

Pros

  • Google Assistant's A.I. is innovative
  • Superb camera
  • Fast
  • Unlimited cloud storage
  • Fast charging
  • Daydream VR compatibility

Cons

  • Battery life is modest
  • Expensive
  • Not pretty
  • Single speaker is retrograde step
  • Not waterproof
  • 15% price hike for Aussies

Bottom Line

It is as good as or incrementally better than everything else on the market but the A.I-enhanced Google Assistant elevates it to another level of smartphone technology. However, now that Google's amazing Daydream VR is here - and it's currently exclusive to Pixel - this is the phone to buy.

Would you buy this?

  • Price

    $ 1,269.00 (AUD)

Pixel XL Battery Life

We tested the Pixel XL with its 5.5-inch screen and 3,450mAh battery (the smaller, 5-inch Pixel will require less power for the screen but comes with a smaller 2,770mAh battery so we can’t tell how comparable this is). To be frank, this was the only disappointing element of the phone. We’ve been using it for almost a week and it struggles to last a full day. We suspected that the always-on Google Assistant might be to blame for this and got a bit further into the evening when we turned it off (an action which undermines the whole purpose of the phone).

We’ve been pretty brutal with what we’ve been doing with the phone – the camera makes us want to take more pictures and we’ve been using some SatNav and 3D games like Asphalt 8 each day. We’ve also done some VR. But we’ve done that with other phones too.

Related: Apple iPhone 7 Plus review: including Portrait Mode

This is a workhorse phone so it’s not fair to just use it less to stretch the battery out. At least the battery offers fast charging – and if you use the attached cable and charger the blurb says you get, ‘Seven hours charge for 15 minutes of charging.’ We’re not convinced by the seven hours figure but it does charge quickly.

Frankly, it’s the same with our Samsung Galaxy S7 and, to a lesser extent the iPhone – the better the phone is, the more you use it, the more power-intensive tasks you use it for and the more the battery suffers. But we can’t escape the fact that you’ll struggle at the end of the day without plugging it in.

Other features

If you buy a Pixel then you’ll get unlimited cloud storage for photos. Other companies give you large amounts of cloud storage for some time but this is really very generous and useful – especially with the cloud integration of the constantly-improving Google Photos app which is now very mature. iCloud can be great for sharing pictures, but it starts charging after 5GB. As such this is a significant value-add for the Pixel.

The Pixel comes with a two-ended USB-C cable for use with the included fast charger plus a regular USB-to-USB-C cable with a USB-C adaptor. These can be used to transfer data (including SMS messages) from an old phone to a new phone faster than other methods. It’s handy if you want to move photos across but otherwise using NFC transfer can work just as well.

While not as waterproof (or dust proof) as other phones (including Samsung’s Galaxy S7s), both the Pixel and Pixel XL are IP53 certified which means they are dust and splash proof but only in limited situations. It’s better than nothing.

There is no micro-SD card slot.

Conclusion

So should you buy it? We’d put it ahead of every other Android phone on the market in terms of traditional, all-round performance and phone features… just.

As for being better than an iPhone? That depends entirely on your relationship with the Apple ecosystem. Google Assistant arguably nudges it ahead in terms of phone-only features but Apple’s services and design are likely to keep people from jumping ship from iOS to Android.

The Pixel’s key features are Google Assistant and its increasingly-seamless, smart integration with the Cloud. Talking to your phone like it’s a person is now more likely to become a very popular sooner rather than later. This new technology comes with quite the price hike but we’re inclined to say that the innovation is worth it – having this level of A.I. in a smartphone elevates the whole market – the smartphone just got smarter and that’s a big deal. Hopefully we’ll see it in other Android phones sooner rather than later but as mentioned above – don’t hold your breath. This is the unique selling point of the Pixel and part-justifies the inclusion of the top-end, expensive insides. Ordinarily we’d expect such technology to be offered as a tech demo to show off to other Android manufacturers as something to aspire to, but here we have an actual retail model. We’re impressed.

In terms of which model to choose, if you’ve got unlimited cloud storage do you really need to spend hundreds of dollars more on the 128GB variants ($1,229 and $1,419)? We don’t think so and thus the value sweet spot appears in the 32GB models at $1,079 and $1,269 (XL). Of course, if your internet connection is poor or expensive then 32GB may feel limiting quickly and you’ll also lament the lack of a microSD card slot. Unfortunately, it’s also worth noting that Google is stinging Australians with a 13-15 per cent Nice Beaches Tax which counters the value of all the free cloud storage a bit.

The alternatives are the mature Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge which is now available at around $849. It represents a significant cost saving for not very much difference at all – there’s no Google Assistant but everything else is comparable and you’ve nifty extra features like the three-tap Emergency call and My Knox security partition for private files, messages and apps. The S7 can be had for around $749 and is the same but smaller. These have been the kings of Android (in terms of all-round performance and features - not value) until the Pixel appeared.

Elsewhere there’s also the excellent Huawei Mate 8 (around $629) and P9 (around $700 - with its superb camera) which are still both great choices. If Google Assistant became available on all of these phones then there’d be very little difference between them and the Pixel beyond the vast price difference but again, that’s not likely to happen soon.

If the Pixel looked better and/or offered better battery life and didn’t come with a tax for Australians we’d be happier recommending it as the best phone on the market outright. However, while technically it is the best all-round phone on the market, many people will be happier saving hundreds of dollars going for the better-value, nearly-as-good, older alternatives. Nonetheless, the Pixel is now the Android flagship and the first appearance of what the market will be next. If you can afford it, that’s the cachet you’re paying for.

Related: Tech 21 Evo Check protective phone case for Google Pixel XL review: First Pixel case we've seen

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