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Google Pixel XL Long-term Review: Time for some new blood?

Google Pixel XL long-term review: With the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL now out of the bag and the company’s original Pixel phones still on sale, are you doing yourself any favours by picking up the larger XL a year on from its original release or is it time to embrace some new blood?

Google Pixel XL long-term review: Design

2017 hasn’t been kind to the Pixel’s aesthetic. We were surprised by how bulky the phone was when it made its debut, with a larger forehead and chin, relatively deep bezels and a thick body overall compared to rivals at the time. Offerings from the likes of Samsung, Motorola and Honor since its original launch haven’t helped either.

The Galaxy S8 is the epitome of cutting-edge smartphone design, with a higher resolution, curved edge-to-edge display and a slimmer, sexier waistline, despite housing a bigger 5.8-inch screen. The Pixel XL’s glass ‘visor’ attempted to capitalise on a shift towards glass-bodied flagships at the time, but it feels more iPhone 6 than it does iPhone 8. The revised take found on the Pixel 2 XL looks a lot more appealing by comparison.

It would seem, especially with the decision Google has made with its new Pixel phones, that the headphone jack really is a dying trait amongst flagships and the original XL is at least one of the few that retains this feature, meaning no awkward adapters or dongles required.

The unibody design does still feel perfectly strong and sturdy, having endured plenty of bumps and knocks over the last 12 months without so much as a knick visible. That said, most high-end phones, including the two most recent generations of iPhone, possess IP67-certified (or higher) dust and water resistance. The measly IP63 on offer from the XL means it’s comfortable in a light shower but not much else.

USB-C was starting to grow in popularity when the XL first arrived on the scene and nowadays it’s commonplace, meaning more locations and chargers out there that play nice with the XL’s principal port. The fast-charging capabilities on offer are still great too.

What works?

No camera bump and the convenience of USB-C. A snappy rear-mounted fingerprint sensor is appreciated too.

What doesn’t?

The Pixel XL is a chunky monkey that lacks some of the more refined aesthetics and design elements of rivals.

Google Pixel XL long-term review: Screen and media

We’re partial to AMOLED tech over LCD, with its deeper blacks and punchier colours, so the 5.5-inch Quad HD panel on the XL is still an excellent offering that’ll please most media fans. It’s also large enough for comfortable multitasking, although Android’s lack of a native one-handed mode and those large bezels render the phone a little unwieldy in certain situations. After the Asus Zenfone AR and now the Pixel 2 XL, it’s still probably one of the best devices for enjoying Google’s Daydream VR platform.

We were hoping for some of HTC’s BoomSound audio goodness when we learnt that it was the company responsible for creating the Pixel and Pixel XL’s hardware, but alas, we weren’t so lucky. The single downward-facing speaker setup, although crisp and loud, is easily obscured and lacklustre in quality. At least its successors boasts dual front-facing stereo speakers.

What works?

Its sharp, vibrant AMOLED screen.

What doesn’t

Its underwhelming speaker, but at least there’s a headphone jack.

Google Pixel XL long-term review: OS and features

We were fans of the pure Android Nougat experience that the Pixel XL brought to the table at launch but the recent update to Android 8.0 Oreo has kept things feeling fresher still.

There are some subtle benefits, like better notifications and battery management, more dynamic icons and improved keyboard input, as well as more noticeable additions like picture-in-picture functionality.

Beyond that, the Google Assistant is still a useful inclusion that feels well-integrated into the look and feel of the XL’s user experience, we just want some of the new features that, for the time being, are unique to its successor, such as Google Lens.

What works?

A clean, snappy user experience was recently made even better by an upgrade to Android 8.0.

What doesn’t?

We’ve seen what’s coming thanks to the new Pixel 2 phones and we want it on our XL now!

Read next: Best voice-controlled AI assistant

Google Pixel XL long-term review: Performance

We’ve seen little in the way of performance degradation from the Snapdragon 821 and 4GB of RAM powering the Pixel XL, which isn’t that surprising considering it was the beefiest chipset around when the phone launched. We suspect that the XL will give you at least another 12-months of trouble-free use, or as long as Google continues to ply the phone with timely software updates.

You aren’t gaining anything by opting for the new Pixel 2 XL if it’s fast-charging you’re looking at. The 3450mAh battery inside the first-generation XL still offers seven hours use from just 15 minutes charge time, whilst general usage still presents us with a day, to a day and a half of use per charge; that hasn’t changed.

As there’s no expandability, the basic 32GB skew feels a touch claustrophobic by comparison to most flagships that have launched since the original XL did. If you have the option, consider the 128GB model for the sake of longevity.

What works?

The phone still feels as fast and as fluid as day one. Battery life and fast charging haven’t degraded in a year either.

What doesn’t?

No expandability will always be a bug-bear but it’s particularly frustrating for those who are saddled with the smaller 32GB storage option.

Google Pixel XL long-term review: Cameras

The Pixel and Pixel XL boasted a ground-breaking camera, tempered by DxO Mark’s (at the time) record-breaking score when they launched. The XL’s main 12-megapixel snapper is still an excellent camera that works well in practically any environment. Its strengths lie in its incredibly fast autofocus and shutter, as well as great low light performance, considering it relies solely on EIS for stability.

The quality presented in our Google Pixel camera review still stands and it’s still a great smartphone camera in 2017, albeit with a somewhat stark feature-set compared to most rivals.

You can’t knock the ongoing offer of unlimited free photo and video backup at full resolution, including 4K video footage too.

What works?

The camera setup still impresses with its responsive focus, shutter and free unlimited, uncompressed photo and video storage.

What doesn’t?

It still lacks some of the more creative camera modes of rivals.

Google Pixel XL long-term review: Verdict

When the successor to a great phone appears on the scene it calls into question everything that makes the original so great. Google has unquestionably scrutinised both the Pixel and Pixel XL in order to find their biggest pain points and alleviate them however it can.

In the case of the Pixel XL, it might not be a looker, might not have the new edge-to-edge display of its successor and a smattering of other 2017 flagships, but it’s still an unmistakably powerful phone that has plenty of life left to give.

Whilst we’re holding out for a price drop in light of Google’s new Pixels, no such offering has materialised yet, leaving the Pixel XL in arguably a worse position than its smaller sibling, with a starting price of £719 for the 32GB version and £100 more for the 128GB model.

If you can find the latter storage skew at a more reasonable price by shopping around, the phone’s capabilities won’t disappoint you, but if its biggest shortcomings in design and display irk you, then look elsewhere for a new flagship. You can get a lot for your money, more than Google’s willing to give you, anyway.

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