Google Pixel phone and Google Pixel XL review: Meet the new gold standard for Android smartphones


There’s a huge amount of advertising push surrounding the Google Pixel phone right now, but although it feels like it, this isn’t the first time the Google has sold smartphones under its own name. Every since the first Nexus handset, the HTC Nexus One, it has wheeled one or two out a year, and most times enthusiasts have lapped them up.

They’ve never quite broken into the major league occupied by Samsung and Apple, which is presumably why Google has taken the decision to abandon the Nexus project and rebrand its smartphones as premium, Pixel devices.

This is an important moment in the smartphone industry. Why? Because the new Google Pixel phone and its supersized cousin, the Google Pixel XL, represent a paradigm shift. The Pixel phone is Google, finally, going out on a limb and stamping its own mark on a smartphone, and it’s going directly after the big boys.

The clue is in the pricing, which let’s face it, is going to be a huge disappointment to fans (and I count myself among them) of the now-defunct Nexus brand. The Nexus name always stood for reasonable prices, great specifications and a chance to keep up with the freshest, most up-to-date version of Android. The Pixel brand retains only two of those key strengths, ditching low prices in favour of iPhone-matching, wallet-shrinking starting prices of £599 for the Pixel and £719 for the Pixel XL.

The key question has to be, then, do the new Google phones deliver? Are they as good as the prices suggest they should be or has Google slipped up? The answer is, as it so frequently is to such rhetorical questions, a bit of both.

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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, 32GB; £699, 128GB £719 inc VAT, 32GB; £819, 128GB

Google Pixel phone and Pixel XL review: Design

First up, the Pixel phones both look great. From a design perspective, I prefer them to Apple iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. I was sent the larger of the two to review and was immediately struck by how much impact a little cut in weight and height makes. The Google Pixel XL simply feels more comfortable to hold and slip into the pocket than the iPhone 7 Plus, the standard Pixel even more so, and I’m a fan of the way it looks too.

Essentially, it’s a progression of the design seen on last year’s Nexus 6P, just a little more polished. It could even be described as a touch outlandish, with its inset glass camera surround spanning the top third of the rear panel, encompassing the camera and circular, centre-mounted fingerprint reader.

I like it; you may not, but at least you couldn’t call the design bland.

What I’m not so keen on, and more than a little disappointed by, is the relative ease with which that glass rear seemed to scratch and scuff. Not three days after first easing the Pixel XL from its box, and being very careful about how and where I put it down in the interim, I found several short, light scratches marring the surface. I dread to think what it will look like in a year or so’s time after I’ve grown tired of being ultra-careful with it.

Something else I don’t like is the phone’s lack of dust and water resistance. Although it has become apparent since the launch of the two phones that there is a modicum of protection, the two phones are only rated at IP53. That second number is the one that refers to water resistance, and a figure of three, according to Wikipedia, denotes protection from “water falling as a spray at any angle up to 60° from the vertical shall have no harmful effect, utilizing either: a) an oscillating fixture, or b) A spray nozzle with a counterbalanced shield”. So, it’ll probably be okay if you’re caught in a rain shower, but it may not survive you dropping it in the bath.

The iPhones and Samsung phones are IP67 and IP68 rated, affording protection against complete immersion at a depth of at least a metre, and for up to 30 minutes, so they’re far more robust when it comes to the wet stuff.

So, there’s some good news and some bad news. Everything else about the Pixel is firmly middle of the road, right down to the good old-fashioned 3.5mm headphone jack on the top edge and the white/silver and black/charcoal colours it’s available in. It’s good to see at least one manufacturer rejecting the idea of offering a lurid rose-gold finish.

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