Tired of waiting for the newest productivity-boosting features on your smartphone? Google’s Pixel XL is the answer. Since it’s made by Google, the 5.5-inch smartphone gets the latest Android operating system updates before any other phone. That means you get instant access to things like the new Google Assistant, which can help you update your calendar, set reminders, manage your email inbox and a whole lot more, totally hands-free.
Plus, the Pixel XL boasts long battery life, zippy performance and a roomy display that’s perfect for multitasking. That’s enough to make this $649 handset one of the best business phones on the market today.
The Pixel smartphone actually comes in two sizes. The Pixel XL has a 5.5-inch display, but there’s also a smaller version – simply called the Pixel – that boasts a 5-inch screen.
The Pixel XL isn’t as sleek as either the iPhone 7 Plus or Galaxy S7 Edge, but it’s still a nice-looking smartphone. It actually has a lot in common with the iPhone, with gently rounded corners that rest easily in your palm. The top of the phone’s back side is a square glass panel, which gives the device a distinctive look. It comes in black, silver and blue exteriors.
Like most new smartphones, the Pixel XL sports a USB-C charger on its bottom edge. The USB-C standard is great for fast charging and fast data transfer, but keep in mind that it’s not compatible with micro-USB chargers you might already have at home from older Android phones.
The biggest disappointment here might be the lack of a microSD card slot for expanding the phone’s internal storage (either 32GB or 128GB, depending on which model you pick up.) The omission is particularly disappointing since you will find a microSD card slot on Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Edge.
On the bright side, the Pixel XL is lighter than rival 5.5-inch smartphones, weighing in at 5.04 ounces. Its closest competitors are a bit heftier, including the Galaxy S7 Edge (5.36 ounces) and iPhone 7 Plus (6.63 ounces).
The Pixel XL’s 5.5-inch screen is big, bright and beautiful. More importantly, it’s large and sharp enough for serious multitasking. The screen’s large size lets you take advantage of the phone’s built-in split-screen view, which lets you view two apps at once in a side-by-side configuration. That’s handy when you want to reference the calculator or a webpage while drafting an email.
The display has a super-sharp resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels, which makes screen-intensive tasks such as viewing large documents feel quite comfortable. Text looks really sharp, and images are crisp and colorful. When I watched the HD trailer for the upcoming Power Rangers movie, I could make out tons of detail in a rushing robot army, and glowing blue particle effects from a magical attack popped.
The phone’s screen is nice and bright too. The Pixel XL’s screen tops out at 393 nits of brightness, which outshines rival smartphones such as the HTC 10 and LG G5. That’s a perk, since a bright display is easier to view outdoors or in direct sunlight.
Sure, plenty of smartphones come with fingerprint readers these days. But the Pixel XL's rear-mounted reader is one of the best I’ve used. The sensor here feels as quick and reliable as any other smartphone fingerprint reader I’ve tested, whisking me to the phone’s home screen without fail during each test. Plus, its rear-facing orientation makes it really easy to reach. A fingerprint reader is a nice bonus for workers, since it lets you keep your work phone locked down without fussing with a password screen.
If there’s one thing that separates the Pixel XL – as well as the smaller 5-inch Pixel – from rival Android smartphones, it’s the fact that it gets major software updates well before any other device. That’s understandable, since Google itself is cranking out both the hardware and software for the Pixel XL. Users of phones from other manufacturers, such as Samsung’s Galaxy line, usually have to wait months for the latest version of Android, and many third-party handsets never receive the updates at all.
The Pixel XL runs Android 7.0 Nougat – the latest version of Google’s mobile operating system – right out of the box. Nougat adds a bunch of business-friendly features, including new multitasking tools like split-screen view and a feature that lets you switch between two apps with one tap. You also get enhanced security, including the ability to encrypt your system at the level of individual files; longer battery life thanks to a new automated low-power mode; and an improved messaging interface that makes it quicker and easier to fire off replies.
Updates aren’t just more timely; they’re also less of a hassle. Gone are the days of staring at a progress bar while waiting for a new system update to install. On the Pixel, system and security updates download as soon as they’re available, then install silently in the background. You’ll be running the updates as soon as you reboot your device. And since security updates are faster and easier to install, your work phone will always be as secure as possible.
The Pixel XL’s best feature is Google Assistant, Google’s version of Siri. It’s essentially an updated version of Google Now, the company’s existing virtual assistant software. Like Google Now, the Google Assistant app lets you schedule appointments, set reminders, place a phone call, hail a cab, perform simple web searches and a lot more, all using voice commands. But Google Assistant improves on Google Now by being more conversational. In other words, it keeps track of your conversation and lets you ask context-sensitive follow-up questions using natural language.
Say you’re trying to schedule a dinner meeting with a client at a nearby restaurant. After asking Google Assistant to show you the restaurant’s location on a map, you can say “book a table there.” Your phone will know that you’re talking about the same restaurant and can then initiate a booking via the OpenTable app.
What makes Google Assistant really easy to use is that the Pixel XL is always listening for your voice commands. Just say “OK, Google” to initiative the voice command prompt, then say what you want the assistant to do. I was really impressed by how responsive the feature is; it responded instantly to my voice nearly every time I tried it. Google Now and Siri both offer hands-free activation too, but Google Assistant is the most responsive voice assistant I’ve used.
In addition to being more conversational than Google Now, Google Assistant has a few perks. These include a special chat interface that lets you keep track of your questions (and Google’s answers), so you can quickly reference recent interactions.
The Pixel XL will effortlessly last through the workday and beyond. The phone ran for an impressive 11 hours and 11 minutes in our battery test, which involves continuous web browsing over Wi-Fi. That outlasts rival phones, including the iPhone 7 Plus (10:38) and Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (10:09). The smartphone average is about eight hours and 30 minutes.
If you do find yourself out of juice, you can recharge in a hurry thanks to the phone’s fast charging capabilities. Google says the Pixel can get up to seven hours of extra battery life with just 15 minutes of charging, which will really come in handy for charging up during a short business flight layover.
Performance and specs
You won’t find a speedier Android phone than this one. The Pixel XL blazed along during bouts of heavy multitasking, effortlessly switching between apps and tasks without a hint of lag. The phone is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 processor with 4GB of RAM and either 32GB or 128GB of internal storage.
That configuration allowed the phone to crank out a really impressive score of 4,146 on the synthetic Geekbench 4 test, which measures overall performance. That beats the Galaxy S7 Edge (4,035), though the iPhone 7 Plus was even better with a score of 5,392.
Fast performance, long battery life, and a screen that’s big and sharp enough to handle the most rigorous multitasking – what more could you want from a work phone? The fact that you get access to productivity-enhancing software updates like the new Google Assistant before anyone else is just icing on the cake for workers who want the best possible Android experience.
Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Edge still slightly edges out the Pixel XL in our business phone rankings, thanks to extra security features that are strong enough for the corporate crowd, as well as a microSD card slot that lets you expand that phone’s internal storage. But individual workers who want a top-notch smartphone can’t go wrong with the Pixel XL.