The Google Pixel XL Review – Google’s Final Rough Draft?

Google Pixel XLI’ve had the Pixel XL for a little over a month now and I have really liked the phone.  Now when I say I really like it, I’m not saying it is the best phone or even my favorite phone.  With the initial hype around the Pixel and Pixel XL, I knew it would be my favorite phone.  After using it and thinking about it, I’ve found that it really isn’t.  Now don’t get me wrong, it is an amazing phone and is very well put together.  However, there are a few things on it that leave it feeling as if it isn’t a finished product.  Today we’ll go over both the good and the bad.  Hopefully, by the end of the review, you’ll be able to decide whether or not the Pixel XL is the phone for you.

On the outside, the Pixel XL is a great looking device.  It comes with a 5.5-inch screen and a 1440×2560 resolution.  The screen is Corning Gorilla Glass 4.  The Gorilla Glass covers not only the screen but also all the bezel around it.  Up top, we have a front-facing 8-megapixel camera, an in-call speaker, and various sensors. 

The back of the device is mostly aluminum but features a glass piece on the top third.  The glass serves to make the phone stand out and look more appealing.  Google claims it also somehow acts as an antenna.  In the top left corner of the back, we see the primary 12-megapixel camera, the flash, and more sensors. Towards the bottom of the glass section is the fingerprint scanner.  On the right side, we have raised power and volume buttons. The power button has a cross-hatch texture to it that helps differentiate it from the volume buttons.  On the opposite side of the device, we have the SIM card tray.  At the bottom of the device, we have a USB-C port, a speaker, and a microphone.

Google Pixel XLThe Pixel XL comes with some pretty impressive specs.  It comes with a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor and 4GB of memory.  Powering it all is a 3,450 mAh battery.  The processor is a great processor but the memory is what really helps this phone to fly.  It is the first device I have ever used with this much memory and it shows.  No matter what I try to do, I cannot make my Pixel XL slow down or stutter.

Where the device really shines is with the software.  Android 7.1 was built with several optimizations specific to the Pixel and Pixel XL.  Much like Apple does with their iPhones, Google oversaw every aspect of the Pixel’s development.  Google made sure that every piece fit together exactly where they wanted, and they built 7.1 in such a way that it took advantage of every piece.  You get a blazingly fast experience that feels more premium than any OEM skinned version of Android.  It is so well done it even puts many of the old Nexus devices to shame!

Up until now, the Honor 8 has been my go-to device when I need a phone that can take amazing pictures.  The Pixel XL is a worthy contender and does an amazing job.  Pictures taken with the XL are extremely sharp and vivid.  Despite some issues with bright lights and halos in some pictures, the Pixel XL takes pictures that are comparable to my Canon DSLR.  If you need an awesome camera you can guarantee that the Pixel XL will meet your needs.

One of my favorite aspects of the Pixel XL is the battery life.  I have never used a device with this kind of processing power that gives me battery life like the Pixel XL does.  With almost all of my other devices I could make it through a day but by the end of the day, the battery would be getting low.  With this phone, I can sometimes skip my standard overnight charge and go almost a full second day before I need to start charging it.  When it does need charging it charges super quickly and gives me the juice I need to wrap up the day.

Now we’ve talked about specs and some of the better aspects of the device.  I’m going to dive into the issues that left me wanting just a bit more, or that made me feel as if the device is incomplete.

Google Pixel XL - ChinOne of the first things I noticed with the Pixel XL, as well as the Pixel, was the huge chin at the bottom of the screen.  There is a giant piece of gray beneath the display that serves absolutely no purpose.  It helps to balance the look of the device as it is the same size as the top where the speaker and sensors are, but it is really just wasted space.  Google missed an opportunity to use this space for capacitive buttons, a front-facing speaker, or even just a logo.  As it is now, it is a big gray space that does nothing.  It is mostly a cosmetic complaint but it still drives me crazy.

Rather than using the chin to put a front-facing speaker, they put the speaker on the bottom of the device, next to the USB-C charging port.  The speaker is underpowered and is easily covered when holding the phone.  It is also just a single speaker.  There is no dual speaker function on the Pixel or Pixel XL, even though there was room for it with the chin.

Another complaint is about the glass on the back of the device.  I get that they were trying to make the device look fancier and trying to improve the antennae.  But why did they use glass that is so easily damaged?  My friend, Alex, also got the Pixel XL and he scratched it within an hour of getting it.  Mine didn’t scratch quite so quickly but in a day or two, it had a very light surface scratch.  It still looks great and is barely noticeable but it leaves the door open for more damage unless you put on a good case.

I also feel that when Google announced the Google Assistant it was way overhyped.  It was a slightly smarter version of the existing Google Now but even though it is smarter, there are things it can’t do that Google Now can.  Try asking Google Assistant, “who sings this song?”  It will tell you that, “I can’t identify songs yet.”  Try it on any relatively new device with Google Now and it will start listening and try to find who sings the song it hears.

Google Pixel XL - Volume & PowerAnother way the Pixel XL feels incomplete or unfinished is with the number of things that weren’t enabled when released.  Some of them are easy to correct but others not so much.  The phone came with a notification light but you have to enable it in settings.  It came with the option to enable the battery percentage display in the status bar but you had to unlock the hidden System UI Tuner to do it.  Harder to enable is the Double Tap To Wake feature.  It is available in the kernel but isn’t available as of right now (although it is now available on the Pixel through an OTA update).

Now, my biggest complaint about the Pixel XL.  The price.  The Pixel XL goes for $769 for the 32GB version and then $869 for the 128GB version.  Yes, it is a premium device.  Yes, it is a great device with amazing specs.  Is it worth the insane price jump from the old Nexus line of devices?  I don’t really believe it is.  The Pixel XL has many specs that are on par with the Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X and is missing features that are common in many other devices today.  If I’m going to pay top dollar for a device I would hope that it adds enough benefits or features to make it worth the extra cost.  The Pixel XL is an awesome phone but I don’t feel like I get enough bang for my buck.  If the price weren’t an issue, I would gladly recommend the Pixel XL to anyone.

To me, the Pixel XL feels like a rough draft.  It is a very well put together rough draft but it is rough draft none the less.  Google has so much potential here with the Pixel XL but they are just beginning.  I imagine the Pixel XL 2 will have many more features and be a complete package.  Google is smart enough that they can learn from their mistakes and improve the device more and more with each successive phone.  I can’t wait to see what they come up with for the Pixel XL Final Draft.

Are you ready to take the plunge and order your Pixel XL?  Order it here: Google Store

Once you’ve ordered it you should probably get a case or two to protect it.  Check out our case reviews for the Pixel XL with the playlist below.