Friday, March 10, 2017

Google Pixel XL Phone Review, Part 1: The Long Wait

As the new owner of a Google Pixel XL Android phone, I'll be writing a series of posts to review my experiences with Google's new flagship handset. In this first post, I'll... be talking about the ordering experience, because I don't actually have the phone yet. Mostly I'll be complaining about the incredibly looooooong wait for the phone: I ordered it on February 13th, and am expecting to receive it on April 6th. That's a long 7 weeks of waiting. As I write this, I "only" have 4 weeks to go. Talk about agonizing. What I can do in first this post is discuss why I chose this phone (despite the long wait), and what I've learned about it. 
I won't go into the reasons for the delay, since I don't really know them. Google says it's due to high demand. Others speculate it's due to poor planning and management. Since this isn't Google's first phone, it is hard to explain.

Why the Pixel?

Why this phone? Well, my previous two phones have been the Moto X (first generation) and Moto X (second generation), which are also Android phones. I liked the Moto X a great deal, especially the "Moto actions" and other nice touches: I can just wave my hand above the phone to wake it up; I get battery-efficient notification icons; and the phone knows if I am looking at it and won't go to sleep. I also liked that I could design my own customized phone, choosing front (white), back (leather, engraved), and accent (silver). So why not just stay with Moto? Well, I was thrilled when Google bought Motorola Mobility; unfortunately, they've since sold it off to Lenovo. The current Moto phones all seem to have a camera bump, which is something of a deal-breaker for me: I want my phone to lie flat on the desk.

So, I looked around. For a variety of reasons I'm not a big fan of Samsung and LG given past experiences. I'm also quite weary of all the bloatware carriers tend to install on Android phones, often apps that can't be deleted. When Google announced the Pixel it made a lot of sense: no carrier bloatware, a finely-tuned Android experience, high-end hardware, and the best possible integration with Google services. Yes, it's pricey--but it seems like the best choice given what I value (pure Android experience, good hardware, backed by a company I have some respect for). And so, I placed my order and am now waiting (impatiently). In the meantime, I've read dozens of reviews by others so I have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

Having settled on a Pixel, I chose the larger XL model (5.5" screen) - Google's answer to the iPhone Plus. This is a bit of a departure for me, but I'm thinking the larger screen will be easier on the eyes. My wife got an iPhone Plus recently, and it took her about a week to get used to the larger device. I also went with the 128GB storage, because one of my few complaints about the Moto line was that I'm always running low on storage space. As for the color, my first choice would have been silver and after that blue; alas, almost everything was out of stock. When I finally could order something, it was the black. No matter, I'll be putting a skin on it.

The Ordering Experience

The ordering experience was simple enough. Since I'm not going through Verizon (poor coverage where I live, plus refusal to put up with any more carrier bloatware), and since the Pixel isn't available through any other carriers, that means I'm getting it directly from Google. The Google Store ordering experience is what you'd expect from Google: it's simple, and easy to use. Except...

Except that I couldn't actually order one. What's odd about the ordering experience is the backlog, and how that's being handled. When I first visited the Google Store in January, they were sold out, at least in the configurations I was interested in. And, you couldn't pre-order the phone. All you could do is get added to a waitlist (an email would come your way when a phone was available for order). After a few weeks, now in February, I still could not order the phone I wanted. Tired of this, I decided to cave on color, and ordered what was available: a black 128GB Pixel XL.

The Google Store shows you a Pixel and lets you change the base unit (Pixel or Pixel XL), color, and storage. As you change the configuration, you can see the phone from front, side, and back perspectives.

Google Store - Pixel

Here's the unit I ended up ordering: a Black Pixel XL 128GB.

Google Store - Pixel XL

Finally, my phone was ordered--but I was still in for a looong wait. A 7 week wait.

What I'll Like about the Pixel XL

👍 Free Unlimited Cloud Backup of Photos and Videos

The Pixel gives you unlimited storage of images and videos in Google Photos (cloud storage). Android users normally get this feature anyway, but not at full quality. For Pixel owners, they are archived at full quality.

👍 Great Battery Life

The battery life is reportedly very good. There's also fast charging: you're supposed to be able to get 7 hours of battery life from 15 minutes of charging.

👍 Speed

The Pixel's speed is reported as fantastic by reviewers - even after the honeymoon period. This is due to a fast processor plus a really well-tuned edition of Android. This is the whole point of the Pixel line: with Google in control of both the hardware and software, the phone really sings.

👍 Great Android Experience

Reviewers are also in agreement that the Android experience is first-rate. There are all sorts of improvements and refinements to be found, some important and some just to be more Apple-like. Given that the rest of my household is on Apple phones, being more Apple-like won't be a bad thing. 

  • New Pixel Launcher.
  • Round icons. 
  • Long-press to get application shortcuts. 
  • Swipe gestures, such as swiping up to get the app tray. Swipe down on the rear fingerprint sensor to see notifications, swipe back up to dismiss.

👍 Camera

Google is advertising the best camera available for a smartphone. Reviews either agree or call it a close second to the iPhone 7. Either way, I'm sure to be happy with this camera.

What I Probably Won't Like About the Pixel XL

👎 Don't Get It Wet

One ding against the Pixel is it isn't waterproof. That's mostly a big deal just because its becoming a standard on high-end phones. For the high price, the Pixel should also be waterproof.

👎 Unique Features that No Longer Are

The features that are supposed to be unique to the Pixel are rapidly become available anywhere. You can install the Pixel launcher on other Android phones. As of this week, the Google Assistant is no longer exclusive to just the Pixel.

👎 Pixel 2 Rumors Already Circulating

Each week, more details are coming to light about the Pixel 2, which will apparently be released near the end of 2017. Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for my first-gen Pixel.

👎 Avoiding Damage

Although the Pixel is reportedly well-made, it also seems prone to picking up scratches, especially on the rear glass panel. I'll admit it, I'm one of those people who prefer to use their phone without a case. This of course has bitten me in the past: my first Moto X cracked when I dropped it just a month in; with my Moto X second gen I was ultra-careful and avoided any mishaps. 

Given the expense of the Pixel, I'm going to give in and get some protection. I've decided to go with a skin from ColorWare, which I recently ordered and will receive in a couple of weeks. It's Techno Blue, and looks like this. Of course, I'm told these skins can also get scratched so I'll still need to be careful.
Pixel XL skin by ColorWare

Well, I think that's all I can say for now. I'll share more when I actually get the thing. In the meantime, I'll be practicing how to be more patient. I hear it's a virtue.

Next: Pixel XL Phone Review, Part 2: Google Messes Up Fulfillment

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