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Google Pixel XL review: Just like the Pixel, only bigger

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Let's make it official: the Google Pixel XL is the best high-end, super-sized phone on the market. Like its very similar, though smaller and less expensive Pixel sibling, the Pixel XL brings together premium performance, aesthetics, and ergonomics better than any other phone in its class.

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8.8

Google Pixel XL

The Good

The beautifully designed Google Pixel XL features a superb camera, an expansive display and the robust Google Assistant.

The Bad

The XL is Google's priciest phone yet. The camera Lens Blur feature needs improvement and it's not as water resistant as its top-tier rivals.

The Bottom Line

Get Google's fantastic Pixel XL if you can cough up the cash and simply want more pure Android goodness on a bigger screen.

Early 2017 update

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The Google Pixel XL.

Josh Miller

It's the Pixel XL's ultra-pure Android Nougat 7.0 experience that gives it the edge over the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, the previous standard-bearer in the jumbo smartphone category. That -- and its more natural integration with Google's Daydream View VR -- makes the Pixel XL the Android phone to beat.

And given that we likely won't see a new version of it until the spring or summer, or a new iPhone until the fall, the Pixel's place as our favorite phone should be safe for at least the next season or two.

Editors' note: The original Google Pixel XL review, first published in October 2016, follows.

It's the Google Pixel XL's time to shine. With Samsung's $3 billion, exploding Galaxy Note 7 fiasco painfully out of the picture, the 5.5-inch Pixel XL is the premier high-end large-screen phone to get.

Its overall excellent camera and deep integration with Google's new Assistant software give it an edge over the OnePlus 3 and LG V20. Samsung's Galaxy S7 Edge remains an outstanding 5.5-inch phone as well, but the Pixel XL (and smaller, somewhat cheaper Pixel) compels us with that pure, unadulterated Android experience.

I can (and do!) heartily recommend the Pixel XL for large-screen users who want a top-notch camera and pure Android with prompt updates. To save a little cash, opt for the smaller Pixel.

This review answers your major Pixel XL questions, but because both Pixel phones are so incredibly similar, you should read my complete Pixel review for all the nitty-gritty details.

Google's Pixel XL serves up more pure Android goodness

See all photos

Wait, what happened to the Nexus?

For the past six years, Google partnered up with other phone makers like Motorola, Samsung, and most recently Huawei and LG, to make its Nexus phones. But Google is ditching that sub-brand and starting over. Now, it's folding these two phones into its family of in-house designed products, known as Pixel (which already includes a tablet and laptops). And though HTC assembled the Pixel phone and Pixel XL together, Google designed and engineered it.

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Goodbye Nexus, hello Pixel.

Josh Miller/CNET

What's the difference between the Pixel and Pixel XL?

Google's two new phones are nearly identical. The only hardware differences are the XL's larger, sharper display (with a higher pixel density) and bigger battery. It's also pricier, at about $120, £120 and AU$190 more than the Pixel. Everything else, including the processor, camera and design, are the same.

Because there's so little difference, choosing between the two really comes down to size -- if you like a larger phone, get the Pixel XL. Otherwise, the Pixel's just fine. Unlike the case of the Apple iPhone 7 and dual-camera iPhone 7 Plus, you won't miss any features by going smaller.

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The Pixel (left) and the scaled up Pixel XL (right).

Josh Miller/CNET

Google Pixel vs. Google Pixel XL

Google PixelGoogle Pixel XL
Display size, resolution 5-inch; 1,920x1080 pixels5.5-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels
Pixel density 441 ppi534 ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 5.66x2.74x0.34 (at its thickest)6.09x2.98x0.34 (at its thickest)
Dimensions (Millimeters) 143.84x69.54x8.58 (at its thickest)154.72x75.74x8.58 (at its thickest)
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.04 oz; 143g5.92 oz; 168g
Mobile software Android 7.1 NougatAndroid 7.1 Nougat
Battery 2,770mAh3,450mAh
Price off-contract (USD) $649 (32GB); $749 (128GB)$769 (32GB); $869 (128GB)
Price (GBP) £599 (32GB); £699 (128GB) £719 (32GB); £819 (128GB)
Price (AUD) AU$1,079 (32GB); AU$1,229 (128GB)AU$1,269 (32GB); AU$1,419 (128GB)

What's so special about Google's Pixel phones?

Two things. First, it comes with "pure" versions of the Android 7.1 Nougat software out of the box, and will be the first in line for future updates. Second, the Pixels have Google Assistant, an AI bot that uses machine learning and Google's vast search database to answer all kinds of questions. It can look up facts and places to eat, schedule reminders, translate phrases and more.

You interact with Assistant with your voice in a conversational, natural way, and it has a chat-like interface. After every interaction, there are suggested follow-up queries you can tap on to keep the conversation going. Compared to other voice assistants like Apple's Siri and Google's own previous Now platform (both of which sort of check out after finishing each task), Assistant builds upon previous queries, which made me interact with it longer.

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Firing up Google Assistant (left) and asking Assistant where to find Japanese tapas nearby (right).

Lynn La/CNET

Is the camera all it's cracked up to be?

Yes. The Pixel camera blew us away. Photo quality is better than the iPhone 7 Plus, which was already terrific. There's just a few small flaws. One, the Pixel's Lens Blur feature for portrait shots absolutely pales in comparison to the iPhone 7 Plus' "bokeh" effect on Portrait mode. But this is an optional feature that Google can hopefully improve with a software patch, though without the 7 Plus' two rear cameras, it may never get iPhone-good. Second, although low-light pictures looked great on the Pixel, videos didn't look as clear. Go ahead and look at my photos in the slideshow below, and click here for CNET's head-to-head camera shootout as well as video shootout between the Pixel and the iPhone 7 Plus.

Just how good is the Google Pixel's camera?

See all photos

Is the Pixel XL as fast as other phones?

The two Pixels come out neck and neck with each other, and other big-screen Android phones too, like the V20 and the Galaxy S7 Edge (all of these Android phones use Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820 processor, while the Pixels use the 821). The OnePlus 3 edged out the XL in some tests, but the iPhone 7 Plus' proprietary A10 processor blew past all devices.

That's in diagnostic testing. In real life, the Pixels are fast, and speed differences are hardly noticeable. If you use any devices for your day-to-day needs, you're good to go.

Google Pixel XL Benchmark Scores

Google Pixel XL 1556 4201 28256Apple iPhone 7 Plus 3531 6106 37889Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 1724 4062 28031LG V20 1579 3634 29152OnePlus 3 1752 4159 30337
  • Geekbench 4 Single-Core
  • Geekbench 4 Multi-Core
  • 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

How's the battery life?

The Pixel XL's bigger battery doesn't make much of a difference in longer life. Compared to the Pixel, the two are about the same (makes sense: its bigger screen sucks more power), but the XL runs about 30 minutes longer. In our lab tests, it clocked an average of 13 hours and 49 minutes of continuous video playback on Airplane mode. That's longer than the V20 and iPhone 7 Plus. The OnePlus 3 clocked in 14 hours and 17 minutes though, and the Galaxy S7 Edge outlasted them all with a 19-hour run.

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Lab tests for battery time put the Pixel XL on the high end of 13 hours.

Josh Miller/CNET

Google employs fast charging technology that's supposed to charge the Pixels quickly. In 30 minutes, the XL was back up to 36 percent and fully charged within 2 hours. That's not incredibly fast considering that phones employing Qualcomm's Quick Charging technology usually take about an hour and a half for a full charge. So, the Pixel XL could stand to charge even faster.

If I don't get the Pixel XL, which phone should I get?

If the Google Pixel XL's impressive camera, useful Assistant and pure Android OS aren't compelling enough for you, you still have some ace options. The iPhone 7 Plus is one of the most well-built phones around, is fully submersible underwater, trounces the XL with its portrait shots and is fully integrated in Apple's ecosystem. The Galaxy S7 Edge is also dunkable, has expandable storage and an enduring battery life. And while I prefer the XL's camera, the OnePlus 3 still takes decent shots, is packed with high-end specs and costs nearly half as much.

Google Pixel XL Specs Comparison

Google Pixel XLApple iPhone 7 PlusSamsung Galaxy S7 EdgeLG V20OnePlus 3
Display size, resolution 5.5-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels5.5-inch; 1,920x1080 pixels5.5-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels5.7-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels5.5-inch; 1,920x1080 pixels
Pixel density 534 ppi401 ppi534 ppi515 ppi401 ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.09x2.98x0.34 inches (at its thickest)6.23x 3.07x0.29 inches5.9x2.9x0.3 inches6.29x3.01x0.3 inches6.01x2.94x0.29 inches
Dimensions (Millimeters) 154.72x75.74x8.58mm (at its thickest)158.2x77.9x7.3mm150.9x72.6x7.7mm159.7x78.1x7.7mm152.7x74.7x7.35mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.92 oz; 168g6.63 oz; 188g5.5 oz; 157g6.24 oz; 177g5.57 oz; 158g
Mobile software Android 7.1 NougatiOS 10Android 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 7.0 NougatAndroid 6.0.1 Marshmallow
Camera 12.3-megapixel12-megapixel (telephoto); 12-megapixel (wide)12-megapixel16-megapixel; 8-megapixel (wide)16-megapixel
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel7-megapixel5-megapixel5-megapixel8-megapixel
Video capture 4K4K4K4K4K
Processor 2.15GHz + 1.6GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 821A10 chip (64-bit)2.15GHz + 1.6GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapgradon 8202.15GHz +1.6GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 8202.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820
Storage 32GB, 128GB32GB, 128GB, 256GB32GB, 64GB (varies by region)64GB64GB
RAM 4GBTBD4GB4GB6GB
Expandable storage NoneNoneUp to 200GBUp to 2TBNone
Battery 3,450mAh (nonremovable)21 hours talk time on 3G, 16 days standby, 13 hours internet use LTE3,600mAh (nonremovable)3,200mAh (removable)3,000mAh (nonremovable)
Fingerprint sensor Back coverHome buttonHome buttonBack coverHome button
Connector USB-CLightningMicro-USBUSB-CUSB-C
Special features Google Assistant built-in; unlimited cloud storage; Daydream VR readyWater-resistant; taptic home button; dual rear cameras with 10x zoom and depth of field modeWater-resistant; wireless chargingRear cover release key; both cameras capture wide-angle images; secondary screen on topNotifications toggle, dual-SIM, Dash Charging
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8.8

Google Pixel XL

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 9Camera 9Battery 8