Amazon Review by Whiskey Tango
41 people found the following review helpful
very nearly an iKiller; as impressive as it is expensive
Google Pixel XL 4G LTE w/ 4Gb RAM, 32Gb device storage - Very Silver (direct from google)
While I’ve demo-ed every Nexus phone that Google has fielded to date, none have ever held my interest.
The Pixel XL is not just the latest iteration of “Nexus” smartphones. While falling far short of perfection, the Pixel XL still sets a very high bar of hardware design and tight software integration for the entire Android ecosystem to aspire to (if not fully exceed).
This Google-branded foray into the high-end smartphone battlefield also falls short of being a full-blown iKiller, but it comes mighty close.
First, mention must be made of where the Pixel XL fell short of perfection:
- Non-user-removable internal battery
While the Pixel XL’s on-paper specs for active use and standby charge life are very impressive, consumer electronics Lithium-ion batteries suffer irreversible internal damage and loss of calendar life once they are discharged below 50% of their original factory full-charge rating. This is why so many iDevices wind up requiring battery replacement service after ~100-300 full discharge/charge cycles. That’s fact, not apocryphal (and true for the majority of consumer electronics Lithium-ion batteries).
Consumer electronics Lithium-ion batteries really benefit from being kept topped-off as much as possible (which is one reason that there’s a huge after-market for external battery packs and a cottage industry for replacing failed internal batteries). But, no matter how hard one tries, smartphone batteries just wind up becoming discharged below 50%, which then shortens the calendar life of that battery. Then you have to pay, one way or another, sooner, rather than later, for replacement.
Another Lithium-ion battery problem is physical shocks delivered to the battery. It not just Smsng Glxy Nt 7s that melt, catch fire and/or explode. Drop/shock ANY Lithium-ion battery hard enough and you have created an electro-chemical time-bomb that can go into internal cascade thermal overload at some unknowable/unpredictable future date/time. No “safety circuitry” can stop it, once it starts. Hard physical shocks can induce short-circuiting inside a consumer electronics Lithium-ion battery. So, you should quickly recycle and replace a Lithium-ion battery that has been physically shocked.
These are but two VERY COMPELLING REASONS for end-user replaceable internal smartphone batteries. Yet, Google decided against it.
- No built-in wireless charging capability
While this is not a must-have, think about how much money Google wants for the Pixel XL and look around and see how many similarly priced smartphones natively support wireless charging. This is a surprising and retro disappointment in the PXL.
While this is in keeping with Google’s long standing refusal to allow for user-expandable device storage, 32Gb of internal device storage is a pittance in the face of storing 4K video and so-called VR content. My existing production smartphone has 32Gb internal storage, which is 48% full, and a user-added 64Gb 95Mb/sec microSDXC card, which is 70% full. (I do run a number of professional network and IT testing tools on that smartphone, many from the extSdCard.) All of this would NEVER fit in 32Gb. And don’t forget how much device storage must be kept freely available for full Android OS upgrades/updates.
I don’t care for cloud storage of personal/sensitive data, period. Even though Google promises free, unlimited, original resolution image/video cloud storage for Pixel customers, that’s going to mostly be useless to me. I don’t trust Google with much of anything that I can’t automatically TNO-encrypt, pre-cloud, and maintain as TNO-encrypted in-cloud. Also, think about the data plan costs of moving high-res images and 4K videos to-and-from the cloud. And how well do you think 4K video streams over LTE? Cloud is not for me. Please, give me an option to fully utilize a fast 256Gb microSDXC on-board expansion card.
Google’s hob-nailed boot steps down on my neck by continuing to refuse to support high-speed/high-capacity expansion storage. That is kind of EVIL at these high price points in the Android universe.
My push back is to use a USB3.1/USB-C external memory card reader with the PXL for literally external SDcard backup storage. Sadly, I can’t conveniently run apps from the card reader, but I can keep tons of data backed-up and freely available to me without the vagaries of “streaming.” (Just read the horror stories of people who lost way more than they bargained for by placing irreplaceable data in someone else’s cloud storage. Yeah, that really does happen.)
- The built-in speaker is mono only
Again, for the price, look at how many similarly (and even lesser) priced smartphones have built-in stereo speakers.
- Only rated IP53 for dust and water splash resistance
Smartphone makers keep playing games with the resistance of their devices to environmental particulates and water damage. While I’m not demanding IP-68 rated full submersibility from Google, as long as smartphones continue to use cheap tin for solder joints and board traces, a phone as expensive as the Pixel XL can and should do better than IP-53. Please, Google, set a better standard for everyone else to match.
None of these shortcomings are showstoppers, but they are all disappointing displays of Google’s stubborn engineering arrogance/hubris.
And now, the MANY THINGS TO REALLY LIKE ABOUT THE PIXEL XL, things that are definitely iSLAMMERS…
- Rapid battery charging, longer runtimes and standby charge
Battery run times and standby charge life will depend on exactly how you use your phone. That said, the paper specs on the Pixel XLs 3450mAH battery are: 32 hrs LTE talk, 14 hrs LTE data, 14 hrs WiFi, 130 hrs music play, 14 hrs video play and 522 hrs standby.
I don’t personally expect to see these numbers, myself, because of my app loadout and tendency to find myself in areas of marginal to poor LTE signal coverage (inside Faraday-cage-like structures and/or high ambient EM/RF interference); but these numbers are beefy, nonetheless. As long as Nougat (Android 7.1) doesn’t serve up any nasty runaway built-in services/processes, the PXL battery should outlast a Nexus 6 doing the same things. My other smartphone, even with its significantly bigger battery, doesn’t come close to the PXL’s promise.
Google claims the PXL can be charged (from O?) to 7 hrs of talk time in 15 minutes. I have to interpolate 7 hrs talk to mean less than 25% of full charge. If charging rates are linear (which they may not be), that would imply a full charge in something over an hour of continuous charging. While I’ve never fully discharged the Lithium-ion battery in my production smartphone, I know that fully recovering from a 50% discharge takes slightly less than an hour, and that battery, fully charged, is supposed to hold 4900 mAH, which is considerably more than the PXL’s 3450 mAH. So, I’m not sure how rapid Google’s rapid charging actually is in comparison. In a real world charging test, with WiFi on, LTE/BT/NFC/GPS off, but PXL otherwise in standby, charging from 79% to 100% took 27 minutes.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there’s more to the safe and sane “rapid” charging of Lithium-ion batteries than just the basic dance of balancing voltage, current and internal temperature. The chemistry and physical internal structure of the battery has to specifically support rapid charging, too. Google is keeping totally mum on exactly which Lithium ion chemistry they chose for the Pixel XL’s battery. I can say that the phone does not warm up, at all, during charging, very much unlike my other smartphones.
I left a fully charged Pixel XL, with an equivalent production loadout of apps, on standby (WiFi off, LTE off, BT/NFC off, GPS off, Airplane mode on) side-by-side with an older smartphone (that also happens to have a much higher mAH battery than the Pixel XL), for nine hours. At the end of this test, the Pixel XL had drained 1% of it’s full charge. The other smartphone drained 63% of it’s full charge. Part of the Pixel XL’s standby performance could be battery chemistry, part of it is definitely the advanced power management of the Snapdragon 821 cpu.
- Bezel-ed 1440v2560 QuadHD AMOLED display
The AMOLED display is outstanding even in broad daylight. 534 pixels per inch makes for very vivid/rich images. I don’t have to shade the Pixel XL’s screen to see what it’s showing me in broad daylight. I’m also OK with the scratch resistant Gorilla Glass 4 (vs the more allegedly crack resistant Glass 5), because there’s a functional bezel surrounding the screen’s edges. (My PXL will live inside an Otter Box Defender case, too).
I am adamantly pro-bezel for candybar style devices, as long as that bezel is both functional and durable. I’m not mounting the PXL up on a wall. I don’t need any smartphone to be a functionally compromised “work of art.” My PXL is always going to be in hand or standing by on a custom carry retractable rig or dash mounted. The purpose of a bezel, in my world, is to protect the edges of the glass from damage and prevent unintended screen touches/button presses. Bezels that don’t do both are useless to me. Edge-to-edge, bezel-less screen glass really means, to me, more surface area to attract damage and more unintended taps/presses. The bezel on the PXL is AOK by me.
- Android Nougat 7.1, Qualcomm Snapdragon 821+Adreno 530, 4GB RAM
Pixel XL ships with factory Android 7.1 and keep in mind that Nougat on PXL is a different beast from Nougat on Nexus, and just about anything else, for now.
Un-rooted Nougat allows forcing apps to extSdCard so that you may test for yourself whether or not they will run (sans widgets) from extSdCard, by overriding the app’s manifest. More power to the End User is a good thing.
Surprisingly, there is no real file manager on the PXL’s Nougat and Chrome is the only factory installed Internet browser. If you need to setup Microsoft Exchange Server ActiveSync accounts, do not disable the Gmail app. Nougat 7.1’s Settings | Accounts only lets you setup Google accounts if the Gmail app is disabled. The reasoning behind these decisions by Google eludes me.
The Snapdragon 821 is a quad-core CPU, with two full-power and two low-power cores for maximizing performance while also aggressively managing power consumption. The GPU is Adreno 530, 4K and VR capable. RAM is LPDDR4 and absolutely necessary for software to continuously leverage hardware performance. Bravo on all counts.
The Pixel XL’s main camera is a Sony IMX378 12-megapixel image sensor, with photon gulping 1.55micron pixels and a f/2.0 aperture lens. Google’s proprietary (and compute intensive) HDR+ technology makes it the fastest image capturing HDR camera available on a smartphone today, across a range of lighting levels. The PXL can shoot 30 fps 4K video (3840x2160) and uses software video image stabilization, rather than optical image stabilization. That software actively reads the Pixel XL’s internal gyro-sensor (@200Hz) to rapidly compute adjustments for shakes/jiggles. Fewer physically moving parts is AOK by me.
This camera has no optical zoom, only digital zoom. Normally, I’m an optical zoom bigot, but the Pixel XL’s 4K-capable alchemy has expanded my opinion of digital zoom. Plus, if I insisted on optical zoom, I can always clamp on an appropriate third-party helper lens.
By default, HDR+ is always enabled and the camera essentially always captures frames in video mode. For still photography, 10 of 30 RAW frames captured are then sampled/composited together to produce a final JPEG image. This alchemy of hardware and software synergy develops significantly better images than from any other smartphone that I have used. The PXL takes the fastest and best non-flash, low-light photos of any smartphone that I have owned.
There are downsides though. The main cam can only shoot 12.3MP in 4:3 mode. The best you can get in 16:9 is 8.3MP, because you are cropping away some IMX378 sensor data to simulate a widescreen image.
In all of the main camera video modes (720p, 1080p and 4K) you do not have granular control over frame rate. Google Camera v4.2.022.135443920 (a Google Play update to factory Nougat 7.1) does allow you to select a pre-determined high frame rate (“slow motion”) for video on the Pixel XL.
Functioning as a GPS-enabled dashcam, the Pixel XL is so good at 1080P night vision that I wish it could project a heads-up display on the windshield. The levels of low-light illumination and contrast are quite remarkable, even with on-coming high beam lights. Everything remains in focus even when traversing pot holes and turns. The only limitation is that the 16x9 landscape video is not wide enough to catch all four corners when stopped at an intersection. An add-on lens will be required to widen the field of view.
- 3.5 mm stereo headset jack, USB-C charging/connectivity port
Hooray for the stereo headset jack! I deliberately don’t use Bluetooth headsets of any kind and have ALWAYS used pro-grade wired headsets with cell phones from Day One, for brain EM/RF safety and conversation privacy.
The even bigger deal, for me, is the USB-C charging and connectivity port. USB-C is the unifying data/power port of today and the future. It compliments and exceeds USB 3.1. Plug reversibility means there is no upside-down orientation. USB-C seriously future-proofs the Pixel XL across a wide array of companion devices that support USB-C, DisplayPort 1.3, HDMI 2.0 and/or USB 3.1 protocols. And there are adapter cables for legacy USB. The one thing to be aware of is that improperly terminated USB-C cables can inflict electrical component damage, so make sure you only obtain USB-C cables from reputable makers that properly implement the grounding specs.
Because Android implements extSdCard as USB storage, I can use the PXL’s USB-C port to connect a USB3.1 compliant, USB-C external memory card reader, which allows for memory card-based local data backup and rapid transfer of bulk data across devices.
Google tells me that the PXL’s USB-C port is a full implementation, so it is supposed to be able to push 4K video to an external monitor, using an appropriate adapter.
I personally don’t trust Google and I’m far from alone in that.
I have always HATED the annoying invasiveness of GoogleNOW and it’s all-or-nothing “privacy” configurability. Now, we get Google Assistant, which is supposed to be gNOW “on steroids.” (Similar/parallel concerns about privacy invasion and information hemorrhage make me equally despise Microsoft’s cynical implementation of Cortana on Windows 10.)
I don’t want/need any corporation placing a digital diaper around my brain pan in a lop-sided trade for el corpo’s definition of “convenience.” It’s bad enough as it is with three-letter-agencies peering into spaces that ought to be private/personal with zero value-add for me.
Fortunately, I can go into Nougat’s Settings and defang the leaking-to-the-cloud “features” in the Google app (trading away OK Google functionality) and Disable or (even better) Uninstall Android Pay, Gmail (with the previously mentioned caveat), Google+, Hangouts, OK Google enrollment, carrier bloatware, etc without “rooting.”
My privacy matters to me. My thought process is not for Google to reverse engineer. I do use highly effective applications, from non-affiliated vendors, for voice command, stand-alone/off-line navigation, traffic conditions, etc. I also use four different security hardened web browsers on each of my mobile devices. The Pixel XL will be no different (although finding reliable offline voice command is proving to be very tricky). Information about me that begins compartmented in the real world needs to stay that way, until I say otherwise, on a case-by-case basis. One time, blanket permissions are an insult to me. I also try not to put things into the cloud unless I can “TNO” encrypt, pre-cloud, and keep it that way in-cloud.
The only way that Google Assistant can play a role in my world is if the bulk of the processing happens on-device, local to me, with highly granular permissions on and redactions of personally identifiable meta-data that I’m only then willing to share with Google or anyone else on a case-by-case basis. That and only that is Do-ing No Evil by Me. All of that is do-able, too, but Google just doesn’t see fit to.
During my review of the Pixel XL, Google (not Verizon) pushed the ~33MB 05 Oct 2016 Security Update for Nougat 7.1 to my Pixel XL. (My high-end S… N… # is still waiting its 05 Oct Security Update for Marshmallow 6.0.1 from my ALWAYS-LATE-WITH-THE-PATCHES US other carrier.) Again, bravo, Google. Updates should be direct to device from Google for ALL Androids.
24x7 TS is a must as there is no PDF User Guide available for the Pixel XL. And, yes, it’s really 24x7.
The on-line FAQs are quaint. I haven’t tried Chat Support. I have called in and not gotten answers to some questions that I’ve posed (like battery chemistry). And, yes, Google’s engineers are working on the Bluetooth pairs, then summarily disconnects software bug.
I agree with others that the Pixel XL is very expensive, but, at this time, it’s hard to find many of the PXL’s features and functionality at any other price point. So, if you need what the PXL has to offer, then I do recommend it.