Pixel XL on Verizon is Google’s first phone

Several auctioneer friends have been anxiously awaiting my reviews of the Pixel XL and the LG V20. Since both devices are excellent choices for auctioneers, I’m posting them to AuctioneerTech, starting today with the Pixel XL. Check back in a couple weeks for the review of the LG V20. Visit aarontraffas.com for reviews of other devices.

The Google Pixel XL

Since the day it was announced, I’ve been anxious to get my hands on a Google Pixel XL. Google makes Android, which has historically run only on hardware designed by third party manufacturers. The Google Nexus line has been sold by Google, but it was still hardware designed by other companies. With the Pixel, Google designed both the hardware and the software to work together. I love a pure Android experience, and the combination of unadulterated Android on premium hardware from Google sounded like the perfect combination. My friends at Verizon let me spend the last month with a Pixel XL, the larger version of the two Pixel models, and I’ve been really impressed with the quality and the experience.

Hardware

img_8895The phone comes in 32GB or 128GB capacities and is available in colors called Very Silver, Quite Black and Really Blue. My review unit was Very Silver.

The build quality of the Pixel XL is superlative. The metal back and sides yield a solid feel in the hand, and the phone is devoid of branding or logos, save for a tasteful G on the back. There’s a layer of smooth paint surrounding the fingerprint reader on the back, which is an interesting embellishment to an otherwise silver back. The power button and volume rocker are on the right side, the headphone jack is on the top and the USB Type-C port is on the bottom between the stereo speakers.

img_8898The Pixel XL has a 5.5″ AMOLED screen, which I think is a great size for most people who like larger phones. The Pixel XL is too thin and smooth for me to use comfortably without a case, and I’m not big on putting my phone in my pocket, so I grabbed a Youmaker belt clip holster case that made the Pixel XL really easy to use and keep with me on the farm and around the house.

The phone unfortunately lacks an SD card slot, and 32GB is getting to be too small, especially for lots of photos and podcasts, so the 128GB is definitely the version of the Pixel to get.

Software

img_8894The Pixel brings a very clean implementation of the latest version of Android, but also includes features not found yet on other phones running Google’s software. Google Assistant is a new voice only interface to Google’s services that’s only currently available on the Pixel, Google Home and within Google’s new messaging app, Allo. While there’s speculation that Assistant may be available on other devices in the future, right now it’s a very compelling reason to get a Pixel.

Moves is a section in settings that allows me to enable the triggering of events based on physical actions. For example, swiping down on the fingerprint reader can display the notification shade. Double pressing the power button can launch the camera. It seems to be an area that Google will continue to update, as news broke last night that some users are seeing two new moves added with a recent update, including my beloved double-tap to wake. The new moves aren’t yet on my Pixel XL, but I can only assume they’ll be coming with the next software update.

The new Night Light setting will reduce the amount of blue light during night hours, and the times can be configured manually or synchronized with sunset. It allegedly makes it easier to sleep, though I find the red screen sometimes difficult to use.

I did find one noticeable software problem that seems to be unique to Google’s pure versions of Android. On both my Nexus 6 and the Pixel, I can find no way to disable the hotspot timeout. I rely heavily on my phone’s hotspot for my tablets and laptops, and it’s really frustrating to have to re-enable the hotspot every time it decides to turn itself off. Other phones have a setting to adjust the timeout or turn it off, but not the Pixel. I hope this oversight is fixed in future updates.

Camera

Camera ranking company DxOMark gave the 12.3MP camera on the Pixel the highest score of any phone on the market. It really is quite good, but instead of providing a bunch of manual controls like other phones, the Pixel wants to make taking pictures easy. The interface is simple and uncluttered, and aside from settings for HDR, white balance and flash, there’s not much the I had to worry about when taking some of the fastest and most reliably good pictures from any phone on I’ve seen. Here’s a comparison between the Pixel XL, left, and the LG V20, right.

The video from the camera is even more impressive. Videos shot with the Pixel XL can be automatically stabilized. The video below is unedited, and the picture is so stable it looks like it was shot with a drone or a steadycam.

Also worth noting is that Google Photos offers unlimited backup for Pixel photos at the original image quality. Because it’s keeping the original images, a setting called Smart Storage can be configured to automatically remove older pictures and videos from the phone, while keeping them safely in the cloud.

Battery and power management

2016-10-31-00-25-21

The battery curve is really good

The Pixel XL is the first phone I’ve tested that has a battery that I believe might get me through most of the day. I’m notoriously hard on batteries, especially when I’m on the farm on the fringes of mobile data coverage. Most phones, including recent releases like the Galaxy S7 and LG G5, leave me looking for a charger in the midafternoon. One day I cut milo starting at 11 a.m. with spotty coverage on only a part of the field, and the Pixel was still alive, though barely, at 6 p.m.

It’s my understanding that the Pixel’s battery longevity is due to software optimizations. I still wish it had a replaceable battery and wireless charging, but it does support USB Power Delivery, which means it can simultaneously use data and charge quickly over the USB Type-C connection. While USB Power Delivery is the best standard for future fast charging, it only charges at regular speed with the myriad Quick Charge chargers that litter my house and vehicles.

Reception

img_8896I don’t have a way to objectively test phone reception, but ever since the Galaxy Note 3 taught me how different phones can perform on the same network, I’ve always tried to pay attention to cellular performance. I used LTE Discovery to compare the signal strength of the Pixel XL with the Nexus 6 while riding in a car on a road with poor coverage. I’ve always considered the Nexus 6 to have excellent reception, but the Pixel XL always showed an equal or stronger signal than the Nexus 6.

Summary

As I put the Pixel XL back in the mail to Verizon today, I’m going to miss the speed and drop-dead simplicity of the camera. I’ll miss the full resolution backups offered by Google Photos and the Google Assistant. If I were to improve on the Pixel, I’d add a removable battery, wireless charging and an SD card slot.

The Pixel is Google’s first attempt at making a smartphone from start to finish, and it delivered a premium phone with excellent software and a great camera.

Google Pixel XL camera demonstration

As always, here’s a selection of unedited pictures I took while reviewing the Pixel XL.

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Aaron Traffas, CAI, ATS, CES

twitter.com/traffas | aarontraffas.com | aarontraffasband.com

Aaron Traffas, CAI, AMM, CES, is an auctioneer from Medicine Lodge, Kansas. He is currently community evangelist for Purple Wave in Manhattan, Kansas. Aaron serves as the current president elect for the Kansas Auctioneers Association and in the past has served on the National Auctioneers Association Education Institute Board of Trustees. He is a past instructor at CAI and co-wrote and instructed the ATS designation course from NAA. He currently instructs the Internet Auction Methods course offered by the NAA. During the summer, Aaron operates a farm in south central Kansas. Aaron is an active singer and songwriter and the Aaron Traffas Band's latest release, Enter: The Wind, can be found at iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.