Review: Google Pixel XL From Verizon

I’ve been an Android fan since the original Motorola Droid from Verizon.  It was my first smartphone and my first glimpse at how you could really take a tech device and make it your own.

Different launchers and keyboards, widgets, and endless apps kept me tweaking my phone, changing up the way it looked and functioned.  I even ended up spending a considerable amount of time in Android forums talking to other enthusiasts.

All that flexibility with Android did lead to some frustrations. Sometimes things didn’t work quite right or needed some researching to make work correctly.

That’s why when friends and family asked what smartphone they should get I’d always consider how technically savvey  the person was.  If they were a tech geek like me I’d recommend Android. Not so techy?  I’d point them in the direction of an iPhone. (Sorry Mom).

Well, Android has matured over the years and the Pixel XL from Google has me changing my tune. It, along with the smaller Pixel, are the first smartphones designed from the ground up by Google and are running the latest operating system by Google: Nougat 7.1.

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Because of the Pixel and Pixel XL, I can finally recommend an Android phone to both my tech geek and technology challenged friends that want a solid phone that just “works” without any frustration.

Verizon Wireless recently sent me a Google Pixel XL to use as my own to see what I thought and share a review with you.  I put it through the paces for two weeks and have nothing but love for this smartphone!  Here are some of the highlights.

Camera

The Google Pixel XL has the best camera of any smartphone that I’ve used.  The rear camera is 12.3 megapixel and the front camera is 8 megapixel… perfect for taking great selfies.

There are a few things that I really love about the camera.  It’s fast. Really fast. A quick double press of the power button instantly opens the camera.  Double twist your wrist and it switches to selfie mode.

Google really has done a great job with the image stabilization in the video camera.  I shot video of basketball games and dance performances… sometimes 3 and 4 minutes at a time and there was no shakiness in the videos.  Very impressive.

Another thing to consider is full resolution uploads to Google Photos. Both the Pixel and Pixel XL come with full resolution uploads instead of the normal free high quality uploads offered by Google.

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If you aren’t using Google Photos to back up your smartphone pictures you really should.

Battery life

Having a device get you through an entire day is important.  From my experience with the Pixel XL, you won’t have to about battery life. Its’ 3450 mAh battery more than handled everything I do on an average day with plenty of extra juice to spare.

In fact, when I really pushed it, I got two full days of use with a total screen on time of 4.5 hours.  Pretty impressive, if you ask me.

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The Pixel XL charges fast.  It went from 2% to around 60 percent in an hour.  Another hour of charging and it was at 100%.

As with any smartphone, if you’re worried about battery life get yourself a portable battery back and you can ease your battery anxiety.  Click here for a review of one I use and recommend.

Speed

This is by far the fastest smartphone I’ve used.  From regular social media apps to graphics intensive games (Pokemon Go)… this thing handles them all like a beast.  No lag.  No force closes.  No random reboots.  These are all things I’ve experienced on other Android devices.

The data speed is what you’d expect from Verizon’s network… fast and reliable.

Screen

The screen is bright and has great color.  I had no problem seeing it in full sunshine.  The nighttime mode is perfect for the evening hours, removing some of the blue tint to make it easier on the eyes.

Normally I put a screen protector on my phones.  I ran this phone “naked” (no protective case or screen protector) for two weeks and the Corning Gorilla Glass 4 screen stayed scratch free.

Google Assistant

One of the perks of having a Pixel Phone is being the first to use Google Assistant.  It’s currently exclusive for Pixels and is a new way to get things done.

You can say the hot words, “Ok, Google” and the assistant takes over asking you what you want.  You could ask it for the weather or to tell you what’s on your schedule for the day.

In my experience, Google Assistant works pretty well.  A few times it didn’t recognize my voice but perhaps it’s because I mumbled.  Since this is Google’s first offering of Assistant I have no doubt that it will become more fine-tuned and robust with features in the future.

One of my favorite things to do is to tell Google Assistant to, “take a selfie.” It automatically opens the camera app and gives you a 3 second countdown until it takes the picture.

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Pixel Launcher

The home launcher on the Pixel doesn’t come with all the extra bells and whistles that you’d expect from a 3rd party launcher like Action, Apex, or Nova… but it offers just enough to make it a quick and clean experience.

I like how it slides right to a Google Now screen when swiping from the left edge to the right.  This gets you quickly to important info you want to know on a regular basis.  Your local weather, sports scores, reminders, news you’ve shown interest in… even where you’ve parked your car… it all shows up here.

These days I’m less about “tricking out” my home screen and instead opt for keeping my favorite apps on the main screen and a calendar widget to the screen on the right.  This set up works great for me.  A quick swipe up from the bottom and I have access to everything else in the app drawer.

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Speaker

The sound on the Pixel XL is loud and clear.  My only complaint is in the speaker placement.  I tend to rest the phone on my pinkie which fell right in line with the speaker when holding the phone in portrait mode.

This tended to muffle the sound a bit but depending on how you hold the phone, this may not bother you.  It’s not a deal breaker for me.  Just means learning to hold the phone a little different.

Holding the phone, as I normally do, in landscape fashion the sound is great, reflecting off the natural cup in your hand.

Security

I’m a big fan of using a lock on my smartphone.  Typically, I go with a pin lock… but I really liked using the fingerprint ID on the Pixel XL.

It’s perfectly placed on the back of the phone and offers no excuse not to secure your phone.  It’s quick and never failed me. Not even once.

Cables

The Pixel and Pixel XL use USB type C cables.  This could be seen as both a positive and a negative.

The negative is that it’s a new connector so none of your current Android cables will work.

The positive is how fast it charges.  You can get seven hours of battery life off a quick 15 minute charge.

Another positive: there is no “correct” way to plug it in.  My current Android cables have a top and bottom.  Only one way to plug them in.

The cables for the Pixel plug in no matter how you grab it which is especially helpful late at night plugging in the phone in the dark to charge on the night stand.

While some might see it as a downside to needing new cables, I see this as a positive.  A lot of my current cables are starting to show their age.  After years of use, the connection isn’t as tight as when they were new.  If I’m replacing cables anyway I’d prefer to replace them with the latest and greatest.

By the way, the Pixel and Pixel XL do come with a cable and charger so you’ll have everything you need right out of the box.

Storage

The Pixel and Pixel XL come in two storage sizes: 32GB and 128GB.  My review unit was a 32GB model.  I loaded all my usual apps, downloaded the latest episodes of my favorite podcasts, took tons of pictures and videos, and didn’t even use up half the storage.

That said… if I was buying one I’d probably opt for the larger storage size to load it up with music and movies.

Physical Size

My current personal phone is a Nexus 6 which is slightly larger than the Pixel XL.  This made the size of the Pixel XL easily manageable for me.  If you prefer to not have a large smartphone I’d recommend going with the smaller Pixel.

The only real differences in the Pixel and the Pixel XL are the screen and battery size.  It only makes sense that the Pixel XL has a larger battery to support it’s larger screen.

Conclusion

The camera, battery life, and smooth operation make this phone a no-brainer for anyone wanting a new smartphone.  I tend to hold on to my phones for awhile and could see this phone easily meeting my needs for the next 2-3 years.  Maybe more.

Since it’s Google’s “baby” you know they’re going to give it love and attention with plenty of updates.

It’s not a cheap phone but it is in line with what you’d expect to pay for a newer iPhone.  At this writing, Verizon is the only U.S. carrier that Google has partnered with to carry the Pixel and Pixel XL.

You can pick one up for $199 – $419, with a two year agreement, depending on the storage capacity of the Pixel you choose. Verizon currently has a trade-in special so be sure and check with you local Verizon store to see if you qualify.

I’ve enjoyed using the Pixel XL for 2 weeks and will be sad to send it back!

Disclaimer:  I was provided a loaner Pixel XL with service from Verizon to use to facilitate this review.  All views expressed are my own.

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