Himanshu Juneja reviews the best phone yet from Google
The news of Google releasing its own mobile phones may have been an inevitable move for some, but for a good bunch of people, the demise of the affordable Android flagship is a moment worth pausing for. Keeping aside the question that which camp is more justified, the overall mood seems to be pretty upbeat.
Google adding another hardware after dabbling with chromebooks and tablets clearly spells out the company's ambitious designs. Google already had an edge with a crisp operating system which appeals across brands, and now it has its own hardware to go along with it too.
Making things even sweeter, Google has some exclusive software feature bundled as well.
But will Google's hardware foray bring about the final touches the company was missing? Or will the move make the other Android phone makers feel left out? Will the Pixel XL be the phablet to justify its hefty price tag and take on rival Apple's behemoth?
Let us take a closer look to get the answers.
1. Design and construction
The design on Google's Pixel XL is not exactly going to earn too many awards. The unibody phone doesn't tries to separate itself from the crowd. There are no defining features here to be honest. The rounded edges are not sharp and flow naturally into the sides.
The handset is carrying a lot of bezel, especially south of the screen. There is neither a speaker, nor any navigational buttons to be seen around. To further perplex things, there is no fingerprint scanner either.
Turn the handset around to find the circular fingerprint scanner, but there is another surprise waiting here.
The top one third of the back is glass, while the rest is the all aluminium construct. Apart from the fingerprint scanner, there is the camera along with its LED and the laser phase shift focusing system. Oh, and there are the antenna lines which look neat and are not an eyesore, neither do they look like forced.
As for the buttons, the left side has the Nano SIM tray, while the power button and the volume rocker are situated on the right side. The former has been given a texture for easy differentiation.
The 3.5 mm jack is thankfully present, and is right at the top. Finally, the bottom edge plays host to the USB Type C port, and has two grills on either side which looks like holding dual speakers, but unfortunately, only one is the real deal. The phone comes across as solidly built.
Google definitely did not have any plans to take half measures, and it went ahead with a 5.5-inch Gorilla Glass 4 protected AMOLED display panel. The resolution of 1440x2560p delivers a pixel density of 534 ppi, guaranteeing a crisp and pin sharp display.
With punchy colours and deep blacks, the contrast ratio comes out as excellent. Viewing angles too are fantastic, while the sunlight legibility is not an issue either.
The screen on the Pixel XL is definitely among the front runners to claim the crown of being the best in the business.
It was obvious that Google's flagship will come rocking the latest chipset inside. No surprises that it comes With Qualcomm's Snapdragon 821 configuration. The Quadcore CPU comprises of a set of dual Kryo cores operating at 2.15 Ghz for heavier tasks, while a more benign set of Kryo dual set of cores operate at 1.6 Ghz.
Google has implemented a dedicated sensor hub to recognise voice commands even when the handset seemingly is dozing off.
Adreno 530 GPU handles the graphics, and 4 GB of RAM completes the list of essentials. The 32 GB of storage capacity is good to see in the current times of HD video and picture taking capabilities.
Choc-a-bloc with connectivity options, the Pixel XL has features like 4G LTE, Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac), Bluetooth (ver 4.2), and A-GPS with GLONASS.
Having NFC capabilities is a welcome feature, but skipping the FM radio option surely is a missed opportunity. Type C connectivity options ensures USB 3.0 standard speeds.
5. Operating system
The Pixel XL comes running the Nougat (7.1), making it the freshest of the Android flavour. The unadulterated OS is the major draw for the user with the Pixel line up. Google has promised OS updates for two years, while the security patches will keep flowing for three years at the least.
Something about the Pixel really will raise some eyebrows. The Pixel phone carries, among other exclusive features, the Pixel launcher. The Google Assistant is something which will also be kept away from the other Android phones as it is baked into the OS.
Use another launcher, and it will still be accessible like native app.
There is a certain nostalgia factor running with the OS. The app drawer slides out from the bottom, just like when Android came freshly on the scene. The apps button is gone now.
App search feature is present on the app drawer, which is definitely a good thing. Long press the home button for launching the Google Assistant. This personal assistant is astonishingly aware of the details about your apps being run, and can dole out a very curated set of results from within the apps.
Apart from the contextual awareness, users can also summon it to grab details from device like calendar entries, call contacts, mails, read out messages, schedule that important meeting etc.
The Nougat has some other nifty features too, like the little 'G' logo for the Google search to keep things minimalistic, the multitasking comes alive with split window feature to run two apps simultaneously. Users get to adjust the separating window in the portrait mode only. At the moment, only limited apps are supporting it, but it will only be time when other apps start showing off this functionality.
The notification drawer gets the quick reply feature, which further enhances Google's credentials in this field. Apple has always played catch up in this department, and Google refuses to break its own momentum.
Users can also perform actions like share, delete, etc., from the notification panel itself. Swipe right on the home screen to access the Google Now feature.
There are quick toggles supplied now too. Pull down the panel further down, and there are more options for quick access. Users of course can arrange these toggles as per their preference. There is the 3D touch like feature incorporated here, but again limited to few apps.
The numbers should definitely go up in the future and it is a good thing to have the feature onboard, but it was an absolute shocker that Pixel handsets do not support theming option.
While the exclusive features may well be leaked one way or the other, will the other phone manufacturers take this snub in a harsh way? Only time will tell. Everything said and done, the experience with Android was slick and really something which will prove to be a major USP for the Pixel phones.
The 12.3MP sensor at the back has a f/2.0 aperture, and is equipped with phase detection and laser auto focus mechanism. Lack of Optical Image Stabilisation was a pure shocker. It has the Electronic Image Stabilisation, and a dual LED flash. The front facing camera is an 8MP affair.
While the camera specs may seem to be carried over from the last year's model, the trick here lies with how the increased prowess has resulted in some smart advances and management. Not to forget, the 1.55µm pixels help the cause a great deal.
By getting HDR+ onboard, Google's phone is poised to grab some impressive pictures, and by feeding a click of nine frames to the software, final image carries low levels of noise. The details and reproduction values attached here are stunning, and colours do not go overboard either. The details are lifted from the shadowy areas as well, while not blowing the other aspects out of control.
Google is looking into the flaring issue, but that is more along the lines of fine tuning rather than fixing something broken.
Keeping the noise levels low, HDR+ option brings a lot of zing to the package, and it will not be an overstatement to claim that Pixel XL is one of the best cameras in the business at the moment. Even the low light photography has been a revelation, where the details are picked up by the lens.
Double tap on the power key to rapidly launch the camera app, and you will be ready to fire away. Modes like Photosphere, and Lens blur are available. The former is basically the panorama mode, which surprisingly only delivered photos which were good in nature, and not the types to blow away the users.
For the Lens blur, the app prompts the user to move the phone a bit to capture the second shot. This allows the software to render the Bokeh effect and is pretty good with it.
Selfie lovers have a lot to look forward to here. The front facing camera does justice to the details, while keeping the skin tone very good. The HDR+ option is extended in this department as well, and gives a good option for getting altered results. Low light selfies really are not going to be just passable.
The videos do not disappoint. Starting with 4k videos, they are packed with details, while having accurate colours. Same is the case with 1080p videos. There seems like hardly a foot put wrong here. The sound though is only mono. Thankfully, the results are not disastrous.
Carrying a made to order operating system has its massive advantages. The phone basically steam rolls every task thrown its way and doesn't as much gives out a grunt. While dealing with more taxing HD content, the sides do get a bit warm, but this seems to be a trend that has caught up all the flagships.
There were no lags to be found with the launching of apps and even while switching between them. Multitasking was butter smooth, with split window operations being a joy to conduct.
The fingerprint scanner is very swift with its operations and is definitely one of the faster ones around, recognising its complete 360 degree dial. It doubles up as a touchpad for pulling down the notifications for quicker access.
Audio output is the weak performer here. It delivers audio at a decent quality, but distortion is apparent with higher volume levels.
A non-removable 3450 mAh battery powers the Pixel XL. Quick charging is supported, allowing the users to juice the battery fully in around an hour's time. The battery will last for a little more than a day's time on moderate to heavy usage pattern.
The handset comes with a neat OTG adapter, which allows importing of contacts, calendar entries, messages, iMessages from an iPhone and photos from the older phone over to the Pixel XL.
Also included in the box are cables with Type A and C connectors. Earphones are supplied as well.
The first Google phone in the phablet avatar really is a magnificent piece of hardware. Even those who were waiting for that premium device from Google camp will feel the urge to switch camp.
Pixel XL will no doubt enthrall the owners, but not everything is hunky dory. Price too is a huge factor here to ponder apart from the missed opportunities.
Not getting dust and water resistance, no dual speaker, and lack of OIS are baffling exclusions.
Even small things like the missing notification LED will count here.
Secondly, the price factor will definitely be counted, as Google has ditched the affordable category in its attempt to transcend into the exclusive phone territory.
Priced at Rs 67000, it is no budget friendly device. The slick performer is a well built device coming with strong configuration, superb camera and a good battery back up.
The screen is beautiful, and the unadulterated operating system with some exclusive feature sweetens the deal that much more. However the price tag still is something which will make only the serious buyers consider the device.