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: The Google Pixel 2 XL has been announced, jacking up the screen real-estate to six inches over 5.5-inches. It has trimmed away the bezels to give the display the star treatment, but the price has been boosted up to $849 (AU$1,399, about £630).

We're at work on our final review, but we'll be sure to update this one as well so you can decide which is the best device for you.

Original review follows below.

The Google Pixel XL, along with the Google Pixel, are the first phones '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 launched with Android 7.1 Nougat, runs Android 7.1.2 and will be the first to get the Android O. Going with that latest and greatest theme, it was also the first phone to get Google Daydream View VR headset powers.

Even if you’re not into VR, this means you're getting 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 chipset, with 4GB of RAM inside of a glass-and-metal body that's half-iPhone 7, half Samsung. The camera is touted as 'best in class', and the 5.5-inch Quad HD screen looks superb.

Google is ditching its 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.

(Image: © Google Pixel XL)

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 Galaxy Note 7 cancellation disappointing users, and the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus costing more than ever, Apple and Samsung's customers 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

  • Finding the Google Pixel XL in stock is still difficult
  • 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

Believe it or not, the Google Pixel XL is still almost impossible to find in stock. The official Google store has you join a vague waitlist more than seven months after launching on October 20, 2016 – that's bad.

It costs $769 (£719, AU$1,269) for the 32GB version, and $869 (£819, AU$1,419) for the 128GB model. It’s Google’s smartphone all grown up and that means it’s more expensive than the now discontinued Nexus 6P. These are adult prices.

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

There’s also no 64GB in-between internal storage size, and no microSD slot for expandable storage to make 32GB more tolerable. You have to go big if you're recording a lot of high-resolution video.

You have better shot at finding Google Pixel XL in stock at a carrier store. Verizon sells it on contract, and it's available right now in the US. It costs $32.08 a month over 24 months and comes with day one updates.

You can skip the contract and pay everything up front for the SIM-free Pixel XL. It works just as well on AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint in addition to Verizon 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 materials.

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. 

It does have rather thick bezel at the top and bottom, despite having no physical home button at the bottom. It looked okay at launch, but more than sevn months later, with the bezel-less LG G6 and Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus out, we're hoping the rumors are true that there'll be a curved screen in the Google Pixel 2.

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.

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 and it did on December 1. It's not that limited. You may have to join a wait list, depending on your phone configuration of choice.

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.