Google is now a hardware company, apparently. The search giant unveiled several products at its recent event in San Francisco, California, two of which are new smartphones — the Pixel and Pixel XL.
Google has “no plans” to produce another smartphone from its Nexus line, and that’s because the Pixel line marks the first time the device is completely “made by Google.” The smartphones feature tight hardware and software integration. If you have a Nexus 6P, you may be considering an upgrade to the Pixel XL. Below is our breakdown and analysis of the two Google heavyweight phablets, which can help you decide if you should cough up the dough to join Google’s new Pixel lineup.
Yearly upgrades often don’t produce great differences in terms of hardware performance, and that’s reflective in the internals of the Pixel XL. It shares almost the same specs as last year’s Nexus 6P, except for a few improvements.
The Pixel XL is a little smaller than the Nexus 6P, thanks to its 5.5-inch display. This means it’s a little lighter as well. The Nexus 6P has 3GB of RAM, but the Pixel XL adds an extra gigabyte. Both devices have 32 and 128GB storage options, but there is no 64GB model for the Pixel XL.
Related: Google Pixel and Pixel XL: Hands on with Google’s latest and Android 7.1
The Pixel XL features the latest processor from Qualcomm — the Snapdragon 821. In fact, it’s the first device in the U.S. to feature the processor, which is said to improve performance by 10 percent over the Snapdragon 820. But the Nexus 6P is powered by the Snapdragon 810, an outdated processor by 2016’s standards.
That’s not to say the Snapdragon 810 in the Nexus 6P doesn’t perform well. You won’t have any issues, but note that the Pixel XL features tight hardware and software integration. It’s unlike the Nexus line, where the software was designed by Google and the hardware was made by a third-party manufacturer. HTC is the manufacturer for the Pixel XL, with Google choosing the components to work with its operating system — similar to how Apple works with Foxconn to build the iPhone.
You’re undoubtedly going to notice that Android performs better on the Pixel XL than on the Nexus 6P, thanks to these software and hardware integrations.
Winner: Pixel XL
Design, display, and durability
Here’s the more subjective comparison. Personal preference applies to which smartphone looks the best, but we can say the Pixel XL felt a lot more comfortable to hold than the Nexus 6P. Its edges are more rounded and smooth. We like the “G” branding more than the large “Nexus” branding on the back of the device, and the half-glass back is certainly unique.
The Nexus 6P offers stereo front-facing speakers, but the Pixel only has a speaker at the bottom edge. It also seems like the Nexus 6P may have slightly smaller bezels, but the difference is hardly noticeable.
The 6P and the Pixel XL feature an AMOLED display with the same Quad HD resolution — 2,560 x 1,440 pixels. The 6P has a slightly larger display at 5.7 inches, as opposed to the 5.5-inch screen on the Pixel XL. You won’t notice much of a difference here, but we’ll have wait until we can review the Pixel XL for final judgment.
Both devices should have similar durability ratings thanks to the use of Gorilla Glass 4 — be aware that there’s potentially more glass to crack on the back of the Pixel than on the 6P if you drop it. And they’re not water resistant, so don’t expect to take them swimming.
In addition silver and black variants, the Nexus 6P comes in two more colors — gold and white. The Pixel has a black and silver option, but it also offers a unique “really blue” variant. It’s not often you see a blue phone, so a point goes to the Pixel.
It’s a tough call, but we think the Pixel’s glass back looks better than the glass visor on the 6P.
Winner: Pixel XL
Both smartphones have the exact same battery size, but Google claims the Pixel XL has longer battery life thanks to better control over hardware and software. The Nexus 6P has a standby time up to around 18 days, whereas the Pixel XL can go on standby for 23 days.
Internet use time for the Nexus 6P is around 10 hours on Wi-Fi, and 10 hours on LTE. For the Pixel XL, you can add 4 more hours on both Wi-Fi and LTE.
Winner: Pixel XL
One highlight Google is pushing for the Pixel smartphones is the camera — it has received the highest score on DXOMark for a smartphone camera. The experience was built from the ground up, with a proprietary gyro-based stabilization software for video, improved HDR+ that processes incredibly fast, and one of the fastest capture times Google has clocked in its various tests.
We tested the camera at the San Francisco event and it snapped pictures in succession at much faster speeds than the 6P. The Pixel also had a faster HDR+ processing speed. Google is also offering several Pro features in the camera, such as white balance presets, exposure compensation, automatic exposure and automatic focus locking, and viewfinder grid modes.
Pixel owners also get free unlimited photo storage in Google Photos at full resolution. This is already an option in Google Photos, but storing at full resolution will eat up Google account storage space for non-Pixel owners.
Both phones have the same megapixel count on both the front and rear cameras, but megapixels aren’t as much of a factor as software optimization. If anything, the unlimited, full resolution photo storage feature alone makes it a no-brainer to opt for the Pixel camera, rather than the Nexus 6P’s camera.
Winner: Pixel XL
The Pixel smartphones come equipped with the latest version of Android: 7.1 Nougat. The Nexus 6P is running Android 7.0 Nougat and will receive the beta version of 7.1 in November, when the Pixels launch.
But that doesn’t mean the Nexus 6P is going to have the same software as the Pixel. There are several Pixel-exclusive features, notably Google Assistant. Press and hold the home button, and you’ll find Google Assistant come up, asking what you need help with. The Assistant can run search queries, order an Uber, and more. The feature may end up on Nexus phones as Google is “exploring” ways to implement it, but it’s unlikely it will come any time soon.
Smart Storage, which automatically removes backed up photos from your device, and the Pixel Launcher are only on the Pixel. You also get 24/7 support built into the phone, complete with screen sharing in case you ever run into an issue.
Notably, there are a few features coming to other Android phones in 7.1: Night Light, a night mode; Launcher Shortcuts, similar to iOS’ 3D Touch; improved touch latency; fingerprint gestures that allow you to swipe down to bring down the notification drawer and more; Daydream VR support, and other seamless updates.
You can read more about the differences between Android 7.1 Nougat in the Pixel and other Android devices here, but it’s always going to be a surefire win for the Pixel line.
Winner: Pixel XL
Pricing and availability
Google is aiming for the big guns with its Pixel line — Samsung and Apple. Its devices are priced accordingly as well.
The base 32GB Pixel XL costs $769 and the 128GB model costs $869. At the time of launch, the Nexus 6P was $500 for the 32GB model — markedly cheaper. Still, Google offers device financing from the Google Store, where you can pay off the phone in monthly payments over the course of 24 months. This was not available for the Nexus 6P, which is no longer for sale on the Google Store.
You can pre-order the Pixel XL from the Google Store unlocked, and Verizon and Best Buy are selling the device as well. The Nexus 6P is still available from third-party retailers like Amazon.
Winner: Nexus 6P
Overall winner: Pixel XL
Sure, the Pixel XL’s price is quite a jump from the Nexus 6P, but strong software and hardware integration alone may be enough to warrant it. You’re getting the very best of Android, fast updates, 24/7 support, a much improved camera and internal specs, as well as unlimited, full resolution photo storage from Google Photos.
You’re also getting a better battery life, though we’ll have to test Google’s claim once we get a review unit.
You should buy the Pixel XL if you’re deciding between the two, but if you’re thinking about upgrading, that’s a different question. You won’t see a huge increase in performance (except for the camera, maybe), but it depends if you want access to Assistant. You can still use Assistant via Google Allo, a messaging app, or by purchasing a Google Home.
There is speculation that Google is looking to manufacture its own chips for its future products so that it won’t have to rely on HTC or other manufacturers. If that’s true, we may see even tighter software and hardware integration, and something truly special for Android in the next year or so.
You can always hold out until then, but don’t expect the price to drop. Google’s aiming for the high-end market for sure, as Rick Osterloh, head of the hardware department at Google, says as in his interview with Recode.