A Look at Google Pixel and Pixel XL

Unless you’ve been under a rock, you’ve probably seen Google’s Pixel advertised either online, during primetime television, the World Series, Sunday football, or pretty much anyway that Google can blast an advertisement your way. Google is proudly touting the Pixel as their first smart phone, which may seem a bit confusing to anyone who has seen or owns Nexus series phone.

The explanation is simple. The Pixel and Pixel XL are the first phones designed and engineered from the ground up by Google. The Nexus series phones, while always excellent, were the product of design and manufacturing partnerships with various phone makers such as LG, HTC, Samsung, and Motorola. So while the Pixel and Pixel XL are still manufactured and assembled by HTC, it is very much Google’s first phone.

That’s all well and good, but what is the result of Google taking the reins and how does their brainchild stack up to the competition? Let’s take a look at the Google Pixel and Pixel XL.

Hardware and Performance

Hardware and Performance

  • Snapdragon 821 CPU with Adreno 530 GPU
  • 4GB RAM
  • 32GB or 128GB storage
  • Cat 12 Data Speed (up to 600-Mbps downlink)
  • Available in Silver, Black, and Blue finishes

It says quite a bit about the Pixel and Pixel XL that the most boring part of the phone is the hardware specs, despite having one of the most powerful mobile processors on the market with the custom Snapdragon 821 Pro, and lightning quick 600Mb download speeds where available.

Not that the specifications aren’t remarkable, but like any good phone, it’s when that hardware is put to good use that the phone really shines, so we won’t spend too much time dwelling on numbers and benchmarks.

It should be noted however, if expandable storage is a deal breaker for you, you won’t find it with the Pixel. Instead, the Pixel and XL are available in either 32GB or 128GB varieties.



There isn’t really any other way to put it but to say that the Pixel looks like an iPhone. It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and if that’s the case then Google is laying it on thick. Whether or not that is a bad thing is subjective, and iPhones have a reputation for being some of the most beautifully designed phones on the market, so Pixel and Pixel XL look every bit as good with a few notable differences.

Pixel phones have an aluminum unibody design with glass accents, including an interesting dual tone glass and aluminum combination on the rear of the phone where the fingerprint senor is located; a curious if not striking design choice that for better or worse is not found on any other phone.

Another interesting design choice is the shape of the phone, which is actually wedge shaped and slightly thicker at the top of the phone, perhaps to keep the camera from protruding from the device.

The bottom of the phone has a small speaker and a USB-C port for charging and data transfer. Those interested in pushing people into the pool should be aware that the Pixel is only IP53 splash proof, and not submersible, so it will not survive that type of hilarious prank.

A final note about the design, music lovers will be happy to know that Google did not “courageously” omit a headphone jack from the Pixel.

Pixel and Pixel XL Compared

Pixel and Pixel XL Compared

  • Pixel - 5.6 x 2.7 x 0.03; 5.04oz
  • Pixel XL - 6.0 x 2.9 x 0.3; 5.93oz

While some phones, most notably the iPhone 7 Plus, are making good use of the extra room that comes with their super-sized phones, the Pixel and Pixel XL don’t do anything particularly special with the freed up real estate.

The main difference is, of course, a larger screen on the XL, which has a 5.5” AMOLED screen, a half inch larger than the Pixel’s 5.0” AMOLED display. The XL also boasts a higher resolution and pixel density, coming in at 1440x2560 534ppi compared to Pixel’s 1080x1920, 441ppi screen. This is a much welcomed changed compared to other phone manufacturers who have made it commonplace to increase the screen size but keep the same resolution.

The other somewhat obvious upgrade is an increased battery life in the XL, which features a 3450mAh Li-Ion battery, nearly 25% larger capacity than the Pixel’s 2770mAh battery.



A huge amount of the buzz generated by the Pixel has stemmed from the camera, or to be more specific, how incredible the Pixel is at capturing photos. At the Pixel unveiling, Google VP Brian Rakowski stood on stage and proclaimed the Pixel camera as the best smart phone camera ever made.

If camera prowess was all about specs, you may think that Rakowski got a little carried with his declaration, since a 12.3MP f/2.0 camera without optical image stabilization doesn’t exactly sound like it’s going to light the world on fire. But, the software driving the camera is every bit if not more important than the hardware, and year in and year out, we see different smart phones with the exact same camera hardware that have vastly different results when snapping photos.

Google knocks it out of the park on the Pixel camera with their new HDR+ and digital image stabilization that produces photos that blow just about every smart phone and most point and shoot cameras out of the water. HDR+ has been seen on Nexus phones before, but the special attention to the Pixel is obvious in the striking photos taken in auto mode, thanks to the unique way HDR+ operates. Rather than a single long exposure used in most HDR shots, which makes the image susceptible to blur from slight hand movement, Pixel’s HDR+ takes several short exposures and combines the image, making even the most novice smart phone photographer feel like a pro.

Pixel does just about everything else you expect out of a smart phone camera, including shooting in 4k @ 30fps and 1080p @ 120fps. There is one unique and notable feature on the Pixel, however, and that is the ability to use digital image stabilization while shooting video, which gives smooth, almost hover-like feel to videos shot while moving.

Cameras are one of the most important aspects of smart phones in this day and age, and if the camera is a major selling point for you, it doesn’t get much better than Pixel and Pixel XL.

Software and Google Assistant

Software and Google Assistant

Pixel is the launch platform for Android 7.1 Nougat, but that has taken a back seat to a number of software changes that make the Pixel uniquely different from the Nexus line of phones.

While Nexus phones always strived to be a pure Android experience, with no superfluous UI tweaks or enhancements so commonly found on smart phones, the Pixel takes a somewhat different direction. The phone still has the stock Android feel that made Nexus phones so popular, but has heavy Google integration at every turn, most notably with the debut of Google Assistant.

Google Assistant is the evolution of Ok Google, and is meant as an answer to Siri, Cortana, Alexa, and any of the other software assistants found on seemingly every piece of tech these days. Google Assistant is a refined Ok Google (and is still launched by saying “Ok, Google”), made to feel more personable and lifelike. Just like any good assistant, Google Assistant will send text messages for you, make phone calls, and of course answer all of life’s important questions.

The other major addition on the software front is the addition of app shortcuts, which is like a right click on a PC, or more appropriately, Apple’s 3D touch. Long pressing on app shortcut enabled app icons will bring up a quick action menu, letting you perform quick tasks such as composing an email or text message without launching the app and doing it manually.

Other small changes on the UI include a few gesture based controls such as swiping down on the rear fingerprint censor to open the notifications tray, and twisting the phone to switch from the main camera to the front facing “selfie” camera.

Final Thoughts

There is a lot to like about the Google Pixel, but one final aspect of note is the price. Unlike the Nexus series, Google set out to directly take on premium smart phones like the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy, and that comes with a premium price tag, as the Pixel and Pixel XL start at $649 and $769, respectively.

Also, you may have seen advertisements from Verizon stating that Google Pixel is available exclusively on Verizon. That is only half true, the exclusivity comes in where the phone can be purchased at retail. If you want to walk into a store and buy a Pixel or Pixel XL today, you can only do so at a Verizon store. However, you can purchase the Pixel and Pixel XL directly from Google, which will be factory unlocked and free from Verizon bloatware.

November 1, 2016
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