Google Pixel XL First Impressions

Next week, iPhone is 10 years old; sales started on June 29, 2007. Please see my post about that day—”The iPhone Moment“—and another on the tenth anniversary of the device’s unveiling, “The iPhone Metaphor“, from January of this year. Strangely, I celebrate by abandonment. Twelve days ago, my family switched to Verizon from T-Mobile, and in process I gave up iPhone 7 Plus.

Appropriately perhaps, as I write this sentence, Talk Talk’s “Living in Another World” streams from Tidal. Yeah, that’s me, with respect to iPhone 7 Minus—what I started calling the thing after learning that Apple makes two models, one of which in part is incompatible with Verizon and other CDMA carriers. You want model A1661 and not A1784. Rather than get another Minus, I chose to try something else: Google Pixel XL, which overall user experience is as good and in many respects so much superior. 

I bought the Apple smartphone mainly for the camera—the dual-lens design that had the second acting as 2X optical zoom—and to maintain seamless digital lifestyle with 15.4-inch MacBook Pro (packing the useless Touch Bar) and iPad Pro 9.7 (which Apple made obsolete earlier this month with release of the 10.5-incher). But, yeah, I was “living in another world”, caught up (once again) in the fanfare, marketing hype, and promise of better personal computing.

The Featured Image is the first photo I captured using the Pixel XL. Overall, I am more satisfied with the Google shooter than the Apple. There is a depth—3-D quality—common among the pics, and the camera consistently focuses accurately and balances color and contrast properly, even in outdoors San Diego, where harsh sunlight casts long shadows. Google Photos outclasses Apple Photos in all the ways that matter, including original (rather than reduced) uploads not counted as using storage space; that’s a benefit offered to Pixel or Pixel XL owners.

Too bad that Google doesn’t invest as much promoting its device’s benefits as does Apple, which creative and compelling iPhone 7 Plus photo lifestyle advertisements are all over prime-time TV. Competitors continually fail to follow the fruit logo company’s marketing lead; aspirational advertising, and lots of it, sells products. And when competing devices aren’t promoted, mindshare and sales go to the brand that is. Grumbling aside, Pixel XL advertising isn’t absent, and even shows up unexpectedly. Last week, as I entered the movie theater for “Wonder Woman”, an advert for the smartphone, and its photo benefits, played on the big screen.

Good phone photography is a major Pixel XL benefit, but Google Assistant unquestionably is the killer feature. Rather than being annoyed, I enjoy notifications asking, for example, “Are you at The Hub?” One tap brings up loads of useful information, including a map of the shopping center’s stores. Notifications also ask for reviews and photos, which I haven’t given yet, for various destinations. But I likely will for some places in the future. The tactic allows Google to improve Maps and engage customers. I love it.

The Android 7 Nougat user interface is super clean, and smoothly flows on the Pixel XL. I am enormously impressed with performance—and battery life! Nougat is so appealing, I ordered a Pixel C tablet nearly two weeks ago. Tomorrow is the last day I can return it for refund, something I had considered doing because of iPad 10.5. But after extensive in-store usage, on five separate trips to the local Apple shop and Best Buy, I don’t see perceptual performance advantages over the Google tab. Granted, the Pixel C is an older device, and there is no stylus support like with Apple Pencil. The only thing I miss is Apple News, which is a fantastic iOS app. But Nougat is so much more efficient tablet operating system, and it pleases the eyes more on that gorgeous 2560 by 1800 screen than does iOS on iPad 10.5 and its wimpier 2224 by 1668 resolution.

Reviewers all bark about how much the new iPad is about the future and iOS 11. I’ve got the beta running on the 9.7-incher and Android O beta on Pixel C. Maybe it’s all personal preference, but even version 11 looks and feels outdated to me—iconoclast to the concepts that made iPhone so compelling a decade ago, or even the original iPad in 2010: Responsive, human, immersive. Where Google streamlines, Apple adds complexity, which departs from the Steve Jobs-era emphasis on simplicity.

Returning to Pixel XL, I enjoy using the phone, and that’s a major benefit. I will explain more about this benefit, and others, when writing my eventual review. Specs for those who want them:

Pixel XL: 5.5-inch AMOLED display (2560 by 1400 resolution; 534 pixels per inch); 2.15GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 quad-core processor; 4GB RAM; 32GB or 128GB storage; 12.3-megapixel f/2 rear and 8MP f/2.4 front cameras; 4K video capture (30 frames per second); rear-mounted fingerprint reader; headphone jack; USB Type-C connector; WiFi ac; Bluetooth 4.2; NFC; 3,450 mAh battery; Android Nougat. The 128GB model sells for $869.

iPhone 7 Plus: 5.5-inch IPS LED display (1920 by 1080; 401 ppi); Apple A10 processor; 3GB RAM; 32GB, 128GB, or 256GB storage; two 12MP rear cameras (f/1.8 and f/2.8); 7MP f/2.2 front camera; 4K video capture (30fps): front-mounted fingerprint reader; 3.5mm audio adapter in box (no headphone jack); Lightning connector; WiFi ac; Bluetooth 4.2; NFC (but capability-restricted until iOS 11); 2,900 mAH battery; iOS 11. The 128GB model sells for $869.

To be clear: Other than the carrier restrictions on my iPhone 7 Plus, I wasn’t displeased with the device—and I would have kept it when switching to Verizon. But the misfortune presented opportunity to experience Pixel XL and see what wonderful work Google did designing its first truly branded (but, granted, white box manufactured) smartphone. That’s a wrap until my full review.