Google Pixel XL Screen: OLED THE WAY
An extra half-inch of screen space and a few extra pixels are all that separates the Pixel XL from its smaller brother.
Well ok, more than a few pixels. The 5in phone makes do with a 1080p display, but the 5.5in Pixel XL has a 2560x1440 resolution panel.
This might make it more of a handling nightmare for small-handed gadgeteers, but it really does help squeeze more onscreen at once - especially once you’ve tweaked the font size in the Settings menu.
It looks super sharp in the flesh, with punchy colours and excellent viewing angles. The AMOLED panel pumps out the kind of deep blacks and rich contrast I’m used to seeing on Samsung’s phones, without the over-saturation that usually comes with it.
Sure, whites aren’t quite as brilliantly bright as on an LCD screen, but it’s easily up there with the best 2016 has had to offer.
Google Pixel XL performance: POWER UP
It’s a similar story when it comes to internals. After all, what self-respecting 2016 flagship phone doesn’t have a Snapdragon processor and 4GB of RAM?
The Pixel XL is rocking a Snapdragon 821, Qualcomm’s latest and greatest quad-core chip. That’s more than enough to make Android Nougat feel as zippy and responsive as any other phone I’ve used this year, if not more so. If you’re just flipping between WhatsApp, Instagram and YouTube, it’s practically overkill.
If you’re bothered about benchmarks, the XL scores 4138 in Geekbench 4’s multicore test - edging ahead of the OnePlus 3 and last year’s Snapdragon 820, but lagging behind the iPhone 7 Plus. Apple’s phone scored an impressive 5452, thanks in part to the A10 Fusion chip working hand-in-hand with iOS, rather than relying on an off-the-shelf chip.
All that power comes in handy when you’re blitzing through Asphalt 8’s hectic race circuits, though. Frame rates are silky smooth, even on the XL’s 2K resolution screen. There’s nothing on the Google Play store right now that this can’t handle. It'll also come into its own in November when Google's Daydream View VR headset arrives.
The phone does start to heat up if you attempt a marathon play session, but you’ll rarely work it that hard over the course of an average day.
Google Pixel XL battery life: FULL CHARGE
It might have room inside for a bigger battery, but the Pixel XL needs it to keep that higher resolution screen running. That means it doesn’t exactly have much stamina.
Stick to the basics, like FaceBook, Twitter and WhatsApp, and you’ll easily get an entire day of use out of a single charge, but battery-sapping games and video streaming will drain you down to the danger zone in about twelve hours.
Basically, if you’re going to be hitting Clash Royale hard, make sure you’ve got a plug socket handy.
There’s no wireless charging either, but as long as you’ve got the bundled fast charging adapter to hand, you’ll be able to zap in an extra seven hours of battery in just 15 minutes. It’s handy when you’re in a pinch, but only when you’ve got the right plug with you.
BEST CASE SCENARIO
OK, custom cases are nothing new, but they’re a little trickier to find if you’ve just slapped down a lot of cash on a brand new phone. Especially if that phone isn’t a Samsung or Apple.
The good news for potential Pixel owners is that Google’s got you covered. It's created some bespoke Live cases of its own, which are just begging for you to upload your snaps and create a completely unique look.
Google’s website lets you drag, rotate and zoom your pics into place, then add some kitsch colour effects to really make it stand out from the crowd. I went for a double-dipped colour gradient, making my nighttime London Landscape look like the sun was bleeding from orange to purple. Neat.
The matte finish is fantastic, and has withstood scratches and scrapes that would have left other cases looking battered. Naturally it’s a perfect fit for the Pixel XL (or vanilla Pixel, if you like), without adding a whole lot of extra bulk to an already sizeable phone.
There’s even an NFC button on the back, which can open the camera, toggle Wi-Fi on and off, launch a particular app, or flip through different home screen wallpapers. It takes quite a bit of force to trigger it, but still - it’s a handy inclusion.
£35 (RM195) isn’t cheap for a case, even one you’ve designed yourself, but when the finished result lands on your doormat a few weeks later you’ll be impressed.
Google Pixel XL verdict
The Pixel XL is a bit of a puzzle. A £719 (RM3710) puzzle that I’m not sure I’ve managed to solve after a week of using one.
Right now, though, the OnePlus 3 is still the best value Android phone - it's half the price of the XL, but matches it for build quality and a near-stock version of Android. If specs, design and features like waterproofing are more important, the Galaxy S7 Edge still has the... well, edge.
There’s no drop-dead gorgeous design here. No mind-blowing battery life. No water resistance. It makes it tough to justify such a high price - and going purely on hardware specs, I’m not sure I can.
But then that never stopped Apple, did it?
The Pixel XL wants to be more than the sum of its parts. It’s not perfect, but it is still a genuine alternative to the iPhone - if you're after simplicity above all else. A brilliant camera, powerful internals and an undiluted Android OS that bleeds Google right down to the core help too, but it's the purity of the Google experience that you're really paying for here.
While other manufacturers were duking it out in the mid-range, the Pixel XL showed us how potent a combination Google’s own hardware and software could be. With a few more software updates and tweaks, it’ll be a force to be reckoned with.