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Phone Review: Google Pixel XL


Google's Pixel XL is one of the company's finest efforts, even if it isn't perfect. This high-end Android slab wraps top specs in an aluminum shell — but the hardware isn't the real story here. The Pixel XL is the first handset to ship with the new Google Assistant on board, and the finessed Android 7.1 launcher makes the XL a more usable phone. Here is Phonescoop's in-depth review of the Pixel XL from Google.

Is It Your Type?

The Pixel XL is a high-end piece of hardware that includes Google's refreshed user interface and the new Google Assistant. If you're all about the "pure Android" experience, then there is no option other than the Pixel XL. That is, if you can afford it. The Pixel XL costs as much as the priciest devices from Apple and Samsung, making it a luxury item for many.

Body

The Pixel XL is a large, metal-and-glass phablet with top specs. Though the phone was manufactured by HTC, Google designed every facet of the Pixel XL. That's good and bad. Google's branded smartphones have been a bit hit-or-miss in the style department over the years, and I'm not sold on some aspects of the Pixel XL's design.

Google's new Pixel phones are the Nexus series re-imagined. The Pixel and Pixel XL replace the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P, respectively. The Pixel XL boasts an aluminum chassis with glass panels on the front and rear surfaces; it is the larger of the two new phones from Google. The XL's shape leans toward the plain. Last year's Nexus 6P had more personality, as far as I am concerned. The XL has rounded corners, a rather thick profile, and simple curves. I like that the metal sides have rounded backs, flat edges, and a chamfered rim all at the same time. Personally, I pretty much hate the glass panel that takes up a big chunk of the rear surface; it just doesn't do anything for me. There's likely an engineering purpose behind the design tied to radio access. Even so, I'd prefer it if the entire rear panel were a single piece of aluminum.

With a 5.5-inch screen, the Pixel XL is a big phone. It doesn't have quite the footprint of an iPhone 7 Plus, but it's not much smaller. Most people will need two hands to use the Pixel XL effectively. I was able to use it one-handed more often than not, but there's no doubt it's awkward at times. If you have smaller hands, plan on using both paws most of the time. The Pixel XL's shape does help a little bit. The back edges have a nice rounded shape that makes the phone comfortable to hold. The smooth design means it slips into pockets easily. It doesn't weigh too much, either.

Build quality is very good, but not the absolute best I've seen. The glass panel on the rear surface, in particular, bugs me. There's a small gap near the top that stands out to my eyes and drives me nuts. The Gorilla Glass 4 front is pleasing to the thumb, however, and the metal chassis feels strong.

The Pixel XL's face is an exercise in Boring Design 101. It has generic curves, thick bezels, and doesn't stand out or impress in any meaningful way. I reviewed the black color. The bezel looks like a dark, dark gray to my eyes more so than black. The display is inky black when off and is clearly darker than the surrounding bezel. The user-facing camera, perched in the top-left corner, is hard to spot. A sensor positioned between the display and earpiece is hardly visible at all. These elements are much more visible on the white and blue versions of the XL. There are no buttons on the phone's face at all.

You'll find the screen lock button and volume toggle on the XL's right edge. The screen lock button is closer to the top. It has a nice, textured profile that helps differentiate it from the smooth volume toggle. The travel and feedback of the lock button are just about perfect. The volume toggle has a lower profile than the screen lock button and travel and feedback aren't quite as satisfactory. I wish the two controls were swapped so the screen lock button were positioned closer to the middle of the side edge. The SIM tray is tucked into the left edge of the phone and a 3.5mm headphone jack is in top. A USB-C port is placed on the bottom edge, flanked by speaker slits on either side. USB-C is slowly gaining more traction in the market, but compatible accessories are still a bit scarce.

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