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Google Pixel Phone and Pixel XL review: Is Google killing off its smartphone standard-bearer?

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £599
inc VAT (SIM-free, 32GB model)

A fantastic camera inside the blandest phone around – Google's Pixel phone was great, but Google might be killing it off


  • Fantastic camera
  • Has the latest version of Android
  • Fast performance


  • Dull design
  • No dust- or water-resistance

Google Pixel and Pixel XL review: Google Assistant and Android 7.0 Nougat

As with every new Google smartphone, the Pixel comes with the latest version of Android. This time, it’s Android 7.0 Nougat, and one thing Google was keen to show off during its launch event was its brand new Google Assistant. This new feature is a great addition to the Pixel and can be activated simply by long-pressing the Home button or by speaking the “OK Google” key phrase.

It’s far more conversational than Google’s previous attempts at voice assistance, and it even has a message-like interface that mimics your real-life SMS exchanges. Largely, it works in the same way as before, but there are some enhancements.

My favourite is that it can now recognise previous snippets of conversation, without you having to spell everything out each time you ask it something new. For instance, ask it: “Where’s the nearest café?” followed by “How long will it take me to get there?”, and it will know that “there”, in this case, means the café you just asked it about.

The Assistant pops up in other apps, too, including Maps, allowing you to use the same conversational principles, such as adapting your route to take in petrol stations or somewhere to eat along the way. It works well in practice, but there were still occasions when it either didn’t recognise what I said or failed to understand what I was referring to elsewhere in the request log. It’s times like these when Google’s Assistant feels decidedly un-smart. But on the whole, it’s good to see Google finally give its voice recognition a bit of a polish and  repackaging.

And fans of Google Now and Now on Tap needn’t worry, since these features remain. The former’s card-based interface is still a right-swipe away from the homescreen, and the latter comes into play with an extra swipe up after you’ve launched Google Assistant.

Google Pixel and Pixel XL review: Battery Life

Now that I’ve had a chance to test both the Pixel and the Pixel XL, I’ve updated this section with battery scores for both phones. Generally, you’d think a bigger phone with a bigger battery would be the one to buy. However, that wasn’t the case in our battery life benchmarks, as it was the regular-sized Pixel that actually beat the Pixel XL.

Despite only having a fairly modest 2,770mAh battery, the Pixel lasted an impressive 16hrs 23mins in our continuous video playback test with the screen brightness set to our standard measurement of 170cd/m2. Compare this to the Pixel XL’s 3,450mAh battery, which lasted a still highly respectable 15hrs 55mins, and it just goes to show that bigger batteries don’t automatically equal better overall battery life. That’s more than enough for a full day’s use, if not well into the next morning, but it’s clear the Pixel XL’s larger screen definitely takes its toll on the phone’s stamina. 

That said, both scores start to look a little less impressive when compared with some of its rivals. The Samsung Galaxy S7, for instance, lasted 17hrs 48mins, and the S7 Edge achieved an even more outstanding 18hrs 42mins. There’s also the OnePlus 3 to consider, which lasted 16hrs 56 mins under the same conditions. The OnePlus 3 comes with a Snapdragon 820 processor, too, giving it almost as much speed as the Pixel phones, but it costs just £329 – less than half the price of the Pixel XL.

Google Pixel and Pixel XL review: Camera

That’s an incredibly tempting proposition if you’re a bit strapped for cash, but where the Pixel turns things around is with its superb 12-megapixel rear camera. The sensor on the rear of the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P was one of the best smartphone snappers I used last year, so it’s great to see it’s been improved even further on Google’s new Pixel phones.

With an f/2.0 aperture and large 1.55um-sized pixels, the phone’s low-light performance is simply stunning, wrestling away the S7’s smartphone camera crown in one fell swoop. While there’s still a small amount of mottling evident in darker areas of the frame, the level of fine detail the Pixel XL’s camera is capable of is stunning, and it overtakes the best efforts of the Galaxy S7 Edge with ease. I also found its colour balance more accurate and object edges much cleaner, showing fewer signs of aggressive edge enhancement. 

In outdoor shots, the difference was even more obvious. Fine details were much sharper on the Pixel than the S7 Edge, and I was even able to make out the thin strips of a double yellow line on a road in the distance in one shot. This detail simply blurred together on the pictures I took at the same time with the S7 Edge.

Google Pixel and Pixel XL review: Storage

If that’s what will swing it for you, then one thing you’ll have to decide upon early is how much storage you want, as neither Pixel has a microSD slot for expanding the phone’s 32GB or 128GB of storage. Google’s cloud services are on hand to help alleviate some of your storage woes, however: Pixel owners will receive unlimited free storage for all their photos and videos shot at full resolution, including 4K videos.

Google Pixel and Pixel XL review: Verdict

It’s certainly a welcome concession, but even this and the quality of its camera aren’t quite enough to persuade me that the Pixel or the Pixel XL are better buys than their main rivals. The Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge aren’t just faster than the Pixel Phones, they’re also longer-lasting and have a more attractive and practical design. Then there’s the OnePlus 3, which does almost everything the Pixel can at half the price. The Pixel has a better camera than its rivals, but we’re talking pretty marginal gains in the grand scheme of things.

The Pixel might have stood a better chance if it was cheaper, but with the regular Pixel starting at £599 for the 32GB version and the Pixel XL starting at £719 for the 32GB version, it just isn’t special enough to command these kinds of prices.

Throw in contract prices that will set you back at least £50-per-month, on top of a hefty fee up-front, and it appears Google has shot itself in the foot. I’d be tempted to bump it up a star if the price ever comes down – but right now, there are better phones out there for less.

Buy the Pixel Phone now from Google Store

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ProcessorQuad-core 2.15GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 821
Screen size5.5in
Screen resolution2,560 x 1,440
Screen typeAMOLED
Front camera8 megapixels
Rear camera12 megapixels
Storage (free)32GB (24GB) / 128GB
Memory card slot (supplied)None
BluetoothBluetooth 4.2
Wireless data3G, 4G
Dimensions155 x 76 x 8.5mm
Operating systemAndroid 7.1
Battery size3,450mAh

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