Our Verdict

The Pixel XL features top-of-the-line specs to introduce Android 7.1 Nougat to the world. This VR-capable phone has a fast processor, smart AI software and a superb camera, all sandwiched into a funky design.

For

  • One of the best phone cameras around
  • Streamlined Android software
  • Google Assistant is promising

Against

  • More expensive than a Nexus phone
  • Peculiar design and no always-on screen
  • No stereo speakers or waterproofing

Update: Our Google Pixel XL review includes Google Daydream View VR headset testing and details on where to find the Google Pixel XL in stock.

The Google Pixel XL, along with the Google Pixel, is the first phone 'made [almost entirely] by Google', and it’s the best way to experience the latest and greatest that Android software has to offer.

It puts the immense power of Google search behind everything you do with the all-new Google Assistant, a context-understanding AI that’s often smarter than Siri and Cortana. Sorry, Apple and Microsoft fans.

The Pixel XL also launches with the Android 7.1 Nougat update, which gives the phone virtual reality powers when paired with the newly released Google Daydream View headset.

Even if you’re not into VR, this means it has top-of-the-line specs good enough for power-hungry gamers, and that’s fantastic news for anyone who wants a fast phone years down the road.

The phone debuts the Snapdragon 821 processor, with 4GB of RAM inside of a glass-and-metal body. The camera is touted as 'best in class', and the 5.5-inch Quad HD screen looks superb.

Google is ditching the affordable, developer-focused Nexus brand in favor of the Pixel XL and its smaller 5-inch Google Pixel counterpart. This makes these new handsets more expensive, but they also showcase greater ambition on Google's part.

The Google Pixel XL is sized and priced to compete with the elegantly designed Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (that's the one that doesn't explode) and iPhone 7 Plus – and Google has picked the perfect time to launch a brand new entry on our best phones list.

Right now, with Apple’s headphone jack-less iPhone 7 irritating longtime fans and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 cancellation disappointing users, loyal customers of those brands may be looking elsewhere for the first time in years. So let’s zoom into this Pixel XL, to see if it’s as good as all of the hype claims.

What's in the box? Find out in our Google Pixel XL unboxing video

Price and release date

  • More expensive than any Nexus handset
  • But in line with Apple, Samsung and LG phones
  • On contract from Verizon in US and EE in UK

The Google Pixel XL launched on October 20, and it’s Google’s smartphone all grown up. That means it’s more expensive than the now discontinued Nexus 6P. These are adult prices, folks.

Higher prices haven't mattered to Android users. Google Pixel XL is sold out for the next several weeks through the Google Store and Verizon. Google's official site has you join a nondescript waitlist, while Verizon promises the 32GB phone by the end of December and the 128GB phone by January 2017. Ouch.

Your best bet to finding a Google Pixel XL in stock in the US is to check out Best Buy. The American retailer ships it as soon as this week. If you find it at a nearby store, you can reserve it online now and pick it up today. Word of advice: Don't go to the store without buying and reserving it online first.

It costs $769 (£719, AU$1,269) for the 32GB version, and $869 (£819, AU$1,419) for the 128GB model. There’s no 64GB in-between edition, and no microSD slot for expandable storage.

You’ll notice that these are the exact same prices as for the iPhone 7 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and new LG V20 in the US, so Google is simply following an unfortunate trend there.

Not willing to pay full price and willing to wait? In the US, the Pixel is a Verizon exclusive on-contract, costs $32.08 a month over 24 months and comes with day one updates, according to the American carrier.

But we still suggest skipping the contract and paying everything up front for the SIM-free Pixel XL. It’s not filled with Verizon apps, and it works just as well on AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint thanks to having both GSM and CDMA antennas.

In the UK, you can get the Pixel on contract from EE, paying £9.99 upfront and then £55.99 per month for 10GB of data and unlimited calls and texts.

Design

  • Premium – but peculiar glass-and-metal – design
  • No camera bump on the back whatsoever
  • Not waterproof, and no stereo speakers

Google called the Pixel XL design “bold” during its initial announcement, noting that the back of the phone’s glass-and-metal makeup gives it “personality and character."

If that sounds like a backhanded compliment, it’s kind of deserved. It’s almost as if Google heard that people like metal phones, but also like glass phones, so it decided to throw in both.

It’s an odd, two-toned mix on the back side, making the Google Pixel XL feel like we’re one step away from unwrapping the Neapolitan ice cream of smartphones.

The odd, two-toned mix on the back side makes it feel like we’re one step away from unwrapping the Neapolitan ice cream of smartphones.

Matt Swider

The good news is that, as funky as it looks, the materials are solid: strengthened Gorilla Glass 4 for the top third around the rear fingerprint sensor and camera, and polished anodized aluminum on the bottom two-thirds where your hand wraps around the phone.

Clutching this phablet shouldn’t be a problem if you could get the taller Nexus 6P in your hands. It measures 153 x 76 x 8.58mm, and tapers off to a depth of 7.31mm around the back.

It’s slightly thicker and boxier than most phones, including the iPhone 7 Plus at 7.3mm, but not quite as tall or, more importantly, wide. Normal-sized hands will do okay here.

Google has thrown a lot into the Pixel XL design, but there’s one thing you won’t find: an annoying camera bump. The rear camera is completely flush with the glass plate on the back, a design feat that Apple and Samsung have yet to achieve.

Unfortunately, the Google Pixel XL doesn’t live up to those manufacturers' waterproofing standards. Its IP53 rating means you can’t get this one wet, never mind accidentally dunk it in the sink, pool or toilet. That's a deal breaker for the clumsy among us.

On the front, surrounding the 5.5-inch display is a rather big 'chin' for a phone that contains no physical home button. All of the face buttons are on-screen, while the riveted sleep/wake button and smooth volume rocker are on the right side.

It does, however, use that extra room at the top to include a headphone jack. There’s a speaker on the bottom, but while there are two speaker grilles, there’s just one firing out sound. If you accidentally cover it up with your finger (which happens a lot when playing games and watching movies), it kills the volume. It's extremely easy to do holding the phone in landscape mode.

Showing that it does, in fact, have 'personality', the Google Pixel XL colors include Very Silver, Quite Black and Really Blue, a poke at ridiculous phone-color naming conventions.

Really Blue, a limited-edition and, so far, US-only Google Pixel color, sold out within hours of the pre-order launch. Thankfully, Google promised to restock it soon. It's not that limited.

You’re probably going to get a Live Case to cover up the peculiar glass-and-metal design anyway, so if you can do without a water-resistant phone and stereo speakers, you’ll be fine. 

Display

  • Bright and colorful 5.5-inch AMOLED display
  • Better for VR than the 5-inch Google Pixel
  • No rise-to-wake or always-on screen

The Google Pixel XL further proves why AMOLED displays look the best for smartphones, thanks to its colorful and bright screen that outclasses LCD panels every time.

It’s vivid and ready for virtual reality on a budget,  the latter being one key reason we’d suggest you upgrade from the normal-sized, 1080p Google Pixel. If you're into VR, big phones and more battery life, this one's for you. If not, save your money.

The screen looks better than an iPhone 7 Plus, but it’s missing one key feature we like about Apple’s display and newer Samsung and LG handsets: a rise-to-wake or always-on screen.

Having to reach for the tiny, side-mounted sleep/wake button on this phone just to light up the lock screen made us miss this informative display feature. 

The rear fingerprint sensor pad (not a button) lights up and unlocks the phone with authentication, too, but that's only useful when it's in your hand, not sitting on a desk. At least give up a double-tap-wake feature to light up the lockscreen.

An Ambient Display modes does lights the screen up in a black-and-white color palette when notifications come in, but it’s just not the same.

Google has finally upgraded its new phone to include a Night Light mode that matches the iOS 9.3 feature. It lacks the adjustable orange-to-blue levels Apple has had from the beginning, and turns from blue to orange rather abruptly at sunset, but it’s a start.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Swider is TechRadar's gadget-savvy, globe-trotting mobile editor in Los Angeles. As an expert in iOS and Android, he owns over 120 phones that someone keeps setting the alarms on – simultaneously. He received his journalism degree from Penn State University and is never seen without his TechRadar headphones.