We are only a few weeks into March and I already have an email from Alaska Airlines to say I’ve reached MVP status for another year. The last few months have been a whirlwind of travel with 42,000+ miles so far. I have been to Silicon Valley, had a steak in Texas, and took the family to a luau in Maui. Throughout it all, I’ve had the new Google Pixel XL with me for photos and to stay in touch.
The Pixel is Google’s latest smartphone and it is packed with smart features that you won’t find anywhere else. There are two versions of the Pixel: the regular 5-inch screen version and a larger 5.5-inch version called the Pixel XL (which is what I tested). They are identical in every respect except for the size of their batteries, the resolution of their screens, and, of course, their prices: the spectrum ranges from $649 for a 32 GB Pixel and goes all the way up to $869 for a 128 GB Pixel XL.
When you travel a lot, battery life is a big issue. I have a collection of battery packs that I bring on business trips. You really can’t find a place to charge your phone at a convention. But in my experience, the Pixel XL lasted several hours longer than my iPhone of a comparable size. I often could get a full day and a half of use before needing to charge, which is exceptional given how much technology is packed into the phone.
During our Hawaii trip, I used the Pixel XL to take photos in a variety of light conditions – daylight, moonlight, Tiki torch light – and all of the photos were Instagram worthy. The camera on the back of the Pixel is 12.3 megapixels and the images were always sharp. I had a difficult time discerning any difference between the photos I took with the Pixel and the photos my wife took on her iPhone 7.
Speaking of the iPhone, the design of the Pixel XL feels familiar with its combination of metal and glass. Usually my tech savvy friends will comment when they see a new phone in my hand, but they only really noticed when I showed the Pixel’s back. Google put the fingerprint sensor on the back, and I really like having it there. It took me a few days to adjust to this after using an iPhone, but I found it was more natural to rest my finger on the back to unlock my phone. You can also set it up so that when you slide your finger on the fingerprint sensor, it pulls down the notification shade.
Another modern feature is the use of a USB-C cable to charge, instead of a micro USB, which helps replenish the battery quickly. You can get a near full charge with just an hour of charging. My complaint is with the cable’s design. You need to plug into a dongle which then plugs into the power brick. This extra piece came loose a couple times and my phone didn’t charge. It is also one more piece to lose, which tends to happen when you travel a lot. The design does give you some versatility in how you can use the cable, which could be a benefit for some.
The Pixel XL is noticeably faster than other phones. It has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, 4 GB of RAM, and an impressive OLED screen that showed deep blacks and vibrant colors that came through even in the Hawaiian sunlight.
It is one thing to have an impressive engine. It is an entirely different thing to see it in action. The flagship feature of the Pixel XL is the Google Assistant. You launch the Assistant by long-pressing the home button and then talking, just like Siri on the iPhone, or by saying “OK Google.” I used this feature many times while traveling to stay up to date on flight times, weather reports, or sports scores. I was impressed with how well Google could understand me even when I asked questions in noisy places.
The Google Pixel phones are available exclusively through Verizon, which has been my carrier for the last few years. Verizon has excellent coverage wherever I travel and they were just rated the #1 network in Washington for the 7th time in a row by RootMetrics. If you buy the Pixel, I recommend the new Verizon Unlimited plan which gives you unlimited data, unlimited calling and texting, along with HD video and hotspot functionality. It is hard to resist a deal like that on America’s largest and most reliable network.
Overall, I was impressed with the Google Pixel XL and would recommend it over the iPhone if you don’t mind the price tag. The Pixel has a wonderful screen and an incredible camera. It is fast and has remarkable battery life. Best of all, it comes with the latest Android features which means you can do some amazing things with your phone no matter where you travel.