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Google Pixel and Pixel XL Review: Google Does It Right

Google has never competes in the high-end smartphone market, sticking with the lower-priced Nexus phone and relying on the inclusion of the Android operating system on true iPhone competitors like Samsung and HTC. That led to a proliferation of Android smartphones that never quite felt “complete,” either clunky in design or overburdened with apps and features.

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With Samsung discontinuing the Note brand, as it happened, this was the perfect time for Google to introduce its first models (actually manufactured by HTC but completely designed by the search giant) aimed at the upscale market: the Pixel and Pixel XL. And the phones are outstanding.

The Specifics

First, let’s clarify the difference between the two models (other than $120 in retail price). The Pixel has a five-inch screen while the Pixel XL’s has a screen that’s a little bigger (and sharper) at 5.5 inches, and the XL also has noticeably longer battery life; with either model, the battery lasts longer than any other phone we’ve seen. With those two exceptions, the two Google phone models are exactly the same.

Google Pixel

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What do they look like? It may have been deliberate or it could just be a coincidence – but the Pixel looks an awful lot like an iPhone.

The Pixel’s glass and metal construction, and its curves and bezels, will immediately remind you of an iPhone. There are subtle differences, like a slight wedge shape that eliminates the familiar iPhone “camera bump” and the placement of the fingerprint scanner reader on the back, but Apple devotees will feel very comfortable picking up the well-balanced Pixel – which was probably the goal. The one drawback is that unlike the iPhone 7, the Pixel is not water-resistant; we’re sure Google will take care of that issue in future releases.

Storage starts at 32GB on base models with an upper limit of 128GB, the processor is a very fast Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 with 4 gigs of RAM (enough for running VR apps), and of course the Pixel runs on Android 7.1. There’s one speaker, a headphone jack, and a great feature of this phone is that it can be charged by USB Type-C with fast-charging mode.

The Performance

Using the Pixel is a very satisfying experience. It’s faster than any Android phone you’ve ever used, right around the same speed as an iPhone. Even some of the built-in features and apps that always seem to hang on Androids, like the camera, come up quickly and run without the usual lag.

Google Pixel and Pixel XL

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Speaking of the camera, that’s apparently the reason Google chose the name Pixel: the 12-megapixel/4K camera is really that good, producing outstanding results – bright, sharp and beautiful – made even better by the photo and video enhancement found on most Android smartphones. There’s no optical image stabilization, but we’ll expect to see it in the future.

The Pixel also includes Google Assistant, basically the equivalent of Siri but a lot more reliable and conversational (and able to interface with Google search), as well as the Google messaging app Allo and videophone app Duo. Like any Android, you can find yourself with toomany confusing windows displayed on the screen at times, but that’s the only real drawback to the Pixel that we’ve found.

The Conclusion

The Pixel and Pixel XL are devices that Android devotees will find eye-opening, and ones which even an “iPhone person” can truly love. When you realize this is only the first iteration of Google’s high-end phone, it’s not hard to imagine that future versions of the Pixel will challenge the iPhone’s dominance before long.

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