The Pixel XL is an amazing achievement for the first Google branded phone but is it good enough to give the iPhone 7 Plus problems? Read on.
I switched, as an experiment, from the iPhone 7 Plus to the Pixel XL. This is my take after more than a month, expanding on — and wrapping up — earlier takes.
Note that I did not — and will not — ditch my iPhone 7 Plus. It’s still sitting right next to the Pixel XL on my desk.
And note that reportedly holiday sales of the Pixel were strong, with Pixel devices accounting for 12.3 percent of phone activations with Verizon, according to Bloomberg. Some stores didn’t have enough inventory to meet demand, the report said — which I can confirm, after canvassing local Los Angeles Verizon stores.
Chassis: For me, this is a pretty big deal. The weight, how it sits in your hand, and the ability to fit a large screen into a relatively small chassis (aka, bezel size) for one-handed operation are all boxes to be checked when buying a phone. Google succeeds here. Though slightly thicker (we’re talking only about a 1mm difference) than the 7 Plus, it’s lighter and, side by side, the Pixel XL is smaller and feels that way in your hand. That said, I can’t definitively say that the XL’s chassis is better than the 7 Plus’ (I’ve always liked the feel of the iPhone 6/6s/7). What I can say is that, at the very least, it’s the iPhone’s equal. And I’m guessing some may prefer the XL because of its smaller size despite having the same 5.5-inch display size.
UX (user experience): Subjective yet important. The only thing I’ll say here (because it’s so subjective) is that it was a painless switch to Android 7.1 Nougat from iOS. Everything I need is on both phones and once you’re inside an app, it’s often impossible to tell which phone you’re using. And compared to the Android that ran on my Moto X (2nd gen) a couple years back, Android is smoother/vastly improved.
Performance: Cite all the benchmarks you want but for what I do it’s a draw. Some benchmarks show the iPhone 7 Plus’ A10 Fusion processor beating the XL’s Snapdragon 821. Fine. But I don’t see it. Both phones are fast and smooth — and when I’m doing something as simple as scrolling a graphics-intensive Web page or more processor-intensive stuff like working with photos/video, both are faster than any smartphone I’ve used before.
Display: The Pixel’s AMOLED display is the future, Apple’s LCD the past. That said, Apple and its display partners have come up with the best LCD on an iPhone yet, as pointed out by DisplayMate Technologies. Just to look at casually, however, I like the Pixel XL’s AMOLED display better. It tends to be brighter, the colors more vibrant but the iPhone tends to reproduce more accurate colors in photos (in my experience). Not always but often. The upshot is that Apple’s LCD is so good that it’s able to keep up with Google’s AMOLED. But I don’t think that will be the case going forward as AMOLEDs pull away and yield devices that bend and fold.
Camera: I covered this already in previous write-ups, so I won’t delve a lot into it here. Suffice to say, I’ve taken lots of photos with both cameras and neither disappoints. The scary thing is how good the XL’s camera is right out of the gate (previous experience with Nexus phones notwithstanding). Photography review sites have praised the Pixel XL’s excellent HDR+ mode and image detail, among other things. One of the few XL shortcomings is the lack of 7 Plus’ optical zoom. Upshot: I think the two cameras are almost a draw though an amateur photographer I’ve consulted with favors the Pixel XL over the iPhone 7 Plus.
Battery Life: The XL has a “Doze” mode that is better than the iPhone 7 Plus at sipping energy. Depending on how much I’m using the phone on a particular day, this alone can extend battery life beyond the iPhone 7 Plus for me. But with more active use, the two phones are battery-life equals. (See this YouTube test for guidance.) I usually can get a day and a half (or longer) from both phones.
Google Assistant vs. Siri: The Pixel is the first Android phone to implement Google Assistant, an intelligent personal assistant. Google is the early leader here. In my experience, Google Assistant more often than not provides better responses to the kinds of questions I ask: spoken responses were usually more relevant/helpful than Apple’s Siri, which too often resorted to spitting out a bunch of search results.
Shortcomings vs iPhone 7 Plus: The Pixel XL is not as water resistant as the iPhone 7 Plus and, as I said above, raw performance benchmarks tend to favor the iPhone 7 Plus. Also, on a personal note, I am a heavy user of the Apple Watch Series 2. In fact, these days I probably spend more time on the Watch than I do the iPhone. So, I hope that Google and a partner follow through with a smartwatch, as has been rumored. A smartwatch that is tailored for its Pixel phones would be welcome and something I would use immediately and would make the Pixel experience that much better.