Google Pixel and Pixel XL review: Hands on with the latest Google phones


The launch of Google’s first in-house manufactured smartphones – the Google Pixel and Google Pixel XL – marks the first time the search giant has nose-to-nose with Apple on both software and hardware fronts after years of partnering with third-party manufacturers such as LG and Huawei. That’s a big deal. It means Apple has another big rival to deal with in the smartphone space, and one with the muscle of Google means it should be worried, or at the very least mildly concerned about where the industry is heading.

But what are these two new phones like? Well, after months of rumours and leaks… then more leaks and rumours, I finally got my hands on the two phones at the launch event, at which Google also unveiled the Daydream VR headset and Google Home (which, alas, is not currently destined for UK release). And, as you might expect of a pair of smartphones priced at exactly the same level as Apple’s two flagships, the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, they’re very nicely made things indeed.

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Essentially, the look of the Pixel is a progression of that seen on last year’s Nexus 6P but sleeker and more attractive. It could even be described as a touch outlandish, with its inset glass camera surround spanning half the entire rear panel, encompassing the camera and circular, centre-mounted fingerprint reader. The result is eye-catching – in a good way – and the rest of the physical design is right up there with the best of them as well.

Both the Pixel and Pixel XL are surrounded by a slender, slightly squared-off aluminium frame. The power and volume rockers are in sensible positions along the right edge, the SIM tray is on the left edge, and the speakers are in the bottom left and right corners facing down. A USB Type-C data/charge port delivering “up to seven hours of battery life in just 15 minutes” sits between them. It’s probably worth pointing out, too, that there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack here, on the top edge. Google was keen to point this out at the launch, to much chuckling from the attending crowd.

Overall, the design is neat, understated, solid and smart: everything you’d expect of a Pixel product in fact, and the fact it looks a little out of the ordinary is just a bonus. I’m a fan of the colours the phones come in, as well: “Quite Black”, “Very Silver” and “Really Blue”. Very knowing.

Google Pixel and Pixel XL: Key specifications

Google Pixel

Google Pixel XL

Screen

5in, 1,080 x 1,920

5.5in, 1,440 x 2,560

Processor

2.1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 821

2.1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 821

RAM

4GB

4GB

Size (WDH)

70 x 8.6 x 144 mm

76 x 8.6 x 155mm

Weight

143g

168g

Software

Android 7.1 Nougat

Android 7.1 Nougat

Rear camera

12MP, OIS

12MP, OIS

Front camera

8MP

8MP

Battery capacity

2,770mAh

3,450mAh

UK price

£599 inc VAT

£719 inc VAT

Google Pixel and Pixel XL review: Core hardware

Where Google’s Nexus phones have succeeded in the past is by including a top-level specification at a reasonable price. That’s certainly true of the raw hardware specifications of 2016s Pixel phones.

Both phones are identical in most of the important areas. Each has a 2.1GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor and 4GB of RAM forming the core performance partnership. The phones come in 32GB and 128GB variants, just like Apple’s iPhone 7, but there’s no super-expensive 256GB option. 

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