The Nexus brand has been around for nearly seven years now. As technology matured, the Nexus phones demonstrated consistent improvement from one generation to the next; however, the brand’s inconsistency resulted in a series of seemingly one-off devices rather than a cohesive family. Screen size steadily increased from the original Nexus One’s 3.7-inches to 5.96-inches on the Nexus 6, which was then followed by two smaller-screened models the next year—the 5.2-inch Nexus 5X and 5.7-inch Nexus 6P. Price too has fluctuated over the years: After the Nexus One launched at $529, subsequent models jumped back and forth between the midrange and flagship categories, with launch prices dropping as low as $299 and reaching up to $699. Even the naming convention has varied: one phone used letters (Nexus S), one used numbers in letter form (Nexus One), some used numbers that roughly correlated with screen size, some used numbers and letters (Nexus 5X and 6P), and there was even a Galaxy thrown in.

The one feature shared by all Nexus devices, the one that sets them apart from all other Android phones, is the software—a pure Google experience that’s free from OEM and carrier bloatware with access to timely software and security updates directly from Google. The fact that Google, predominantly a software and services company, needs to commission its own line of phones to showcase Android’s latest features speaks to the fractured nature of the Android ecosystem and the sorry state of software support among OEMs and carriers. Even a year after its release, only 19% of devices are running Android 6 and less than 1% are running Android 7, which was released nearly three months ago. This means that 80% of all Android devices are running an operating system that’s at least two major versions old, according to Google.

Google’s latest phones, the Pixel and Pixel XL, still provide that pure Android experience along with at least two years of timely software and security updates, but the new branding is about more than clearing away the Nexus naming clutter. Google is now asserting more control over hardware development, ostensibly to deliver a more cohesive, premium experience centered around artificial intelligence (AI) and Google’s ever-expanding Knowledge Graph, a semantic-search system that catalogs objects and the many connections between them. The new Google Assistant, an integral part of the Pixel experience, serves as a gateway, allowing you to query this treasure trove of data using natural voice commands and contextual queues from the environment.

Google is also pushing for a more unified VR experience with new features in Android 7 and its Daydream View VR headset and controller that works with Daydream-ready phones like the Pixel and Pixel XL. Because of its steep hardware requirements—accurate sensors for head tracking, high-resolution displays, powerful processors—VR will be limited to flagship phones initially.

Google’s Pixel branding may also be seen as a shot across the bow by its Android partners, who rely on an impartial Google to provide them with an operating system and an equal opportunity to compete in the hardware market. The last time Google tried building and selling its own hardware running its own operating system, which occurred several years ago during its ill-fated acquisition of Motorola Mobility, Samsung almost jumped ship, threatening to use the Tizen mobile operating system instead. Google clamped down and persuaded Samsung to stay with Android, and after it sold its Motorola unit to Lenovo, the waves subsided. In the years since, Google has placed further restrictions on what its partners can do with Android, and now that it’s getting back into the hardware business in a roundabout manner, selling phones that directly compete with its partner’s products, competitive tempers could flare once again.

Google Pixel Phones (2016)
  Google Pixel Google Pixel XL Google Nexus 5X Google Nexus 6P
SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon 821
(MSM8996 Pro AB)

2x Kryo @ 2.15GHz
2x Kryo @ 1.59GHz
Adreno 530 @ 624MHz
Qualcomm Snapdragon 808

4x Cortex-A53 @ 1.44GHz
2x Cortex-A57 @ 1.82GHz
Adreno 418 @ 600MHz
Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 v2.1

4x Cortex-A53 @ 1.56GHz
4x Cortex-A57 @ 1.95GHz
Adreno 430 @ 600MHz
Display 5.0-inch 1920x1080 AMOLED 5.5-inch 2560x1440 AMOLED 5.2-inch 1920x1080 IPS LCD 5.7-inch 2560x1440 SAMOLED
Dimensions 143.8 x 69.5 x 7.3-8.5 mm 154.7 x 75.7 x 7.3-8.5 mm 147.0 x 72.6 x 7.9 mm
136 grams
159.3 x 77.8 x 7.3 mm
178 grams
NAND 32GB / 128GB (UFS 2.0) 16GB / 32GB (eMMC 5.0) 32GB / 64GB / 128GB (eMMC 5.0)
Battery 2770 mAh
3450 mAh (13.28 Wh)
2700 mAh (10.3 Wh)
3450 mAh (13.18 Wh)
Front Camera 8MP, 1/3.2" Sony IMX179 Exmor R, 1.4µm pixels, f/2.4 5MP, 1/4" OmniVision OV5693, 1.4μm pixels, f/2.0 8MP, 1/3.2" Sony IMX179 Exmor R, 1.4μm pixels, f/2.4
Rear Camera 12.3MP, 1/2.3" Sony IMX378 Exmor RS, 1.55µm pixels, f/2.0, PDAF + Laser AF, HDR+, dual LED flash 12.3MP, 1/2.3” Sony IMX377 Exmor R, 1.55µm pixels, f/2.0, Laser AF, Auto HDR, dual-tone LED flash 12.3MP, 1/2.3” Sony IMX377 Exmor R, 1.55µm pixels, f/2.0, Laser AF, Auto HDR, dual-tone LED flash
Modem Qualcomm X12 LTE (Integrated)
2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Category 12)
Qualcomm X10 LTE (Integrated)
2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Category 6)
Qualcomm X10 LTE (Integrated)
2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Category 9)
SIM Size NanoSIM NanoSIM NanoSIM
Wireless 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 2x2 MU-MIMO, BT 4.2, NFC, GPS/GNSS 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 2x2 MU-MIMO, BT 4.2, NFC, GPS/GNSS 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 2x2 MU-MIMO, BT 4.2, NFC, GPS/GNSS
Connectivity USB 3.0 Type-C, 3.5mm headset USB 2.0 Type-C, 3.5mm headset USB 2.0 Type-C, 3.5mm headset
Launch OS Android 7.1 Android 6.0 Android 6.0
Launch Price $649 / $749
32GB / 128GB
$769 / $869
32GB / 128GB
$379 / $429
16GB / 32GB
$499 / $549 / $649
32GB / 64GB / 128 GB

Powering the Pixel’s VR and machine learning experiences is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 SoC. The biggest difference between the 821 and the Snapdragon 820 that powers most of the flagship devices released earlier in the year are higher peak frequencies for the CPUs and GPU. However, the Pixel’s four Kryo CPU cores and Adreno 530 GPU use the same peak frequencies as the Snapdragon 820, negating the 821’s performance boost.

The Snapdragon 821 SoC is backed by 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM, which should prove sufficient for heavy multitasking. The Pixels come with either 32GB or 128GB of UFS 2.0 NAND, and like the Nexus phones before them, there’s no microSD card support for storage expansion. Instead, Google expects Pixel owners to leverage its cloud storage and is offering unlimited backups for photos and videos. This should help alleviate at least some storage pressure when paired with Android’s Smart Storage feature, which automatically removes photos and videos that have been backed up, although the stock phone's 32GB of internal storage may still prove inadequate, especially for people who want to watch videos offline. For those users who do need more space, Google offers 128GB models as a premium option.

The Pixels’ wireless capabilities are equal to other premium flagships, including dual spatial stream 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi (2.4GHz and 5GHz), Bluetooth 4.2, and NFC for use with Android Pay. There’s also a Qualcomm X12 LTE baseband processor integrated into the Snapdragon 821 SoC that supports speeds of up to 600 Mbps on the downlink (3x20MHz carrier aggregation with 256-QAM) and 75 Mbps on the uplink (1x20MHz with 64-QAM).

Frequency Band Support
  North America Rest of World
FDD-LTE 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 7 / 8 / 12 / 13 / 17 / 20 / 25 / 26 / 28 / 29 / 30 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 7 / 8 / 12 / 13 / 17 / 18 / 19 / 20 / 21 / 26 / 28 / 32
TDD-LTE 41 38 / 39 / 40 / 41
GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
WCDMA 1 / 2 / 4 / 5 / 8 1 / 2 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 8 / 9 / 19
CDMA BC0 / BC1 / BC10 BC0
TD-CDMA - 34 / 39

Rounding out the cellular hardware chain are a pair of Qualcomm RF transceivers, which work together to enable 3x carrier aggregation, and a Qualcomm QFE2550 dynamic antenna matching tuner, the principal piece that enables Qualcomm’s TruSignal Antenna Boost technology, which works to improve reception and reduce power consumption by matching the impedance between the antennas and the RF front end. The Avago and Skyworks power amplifiers include envelope tracking, which saves power by adjusting the power supply to better match the requirements of the output signal.

Google’s Pixel phones come with an impressive list of internal hardware, but it’s not enough to guarantee a premium experience. Hardware calibration, software tuning, and industrial design also play important roles in shaping our overall perception of how a device performs, and this is where Google’s more hands-on approach could pay dividends. Now it’s time to take a closer look at the Pixel XL and determine if it’s really the ultimate Android phone.

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  • andrewaggb - Wednesday, November 16, 2016 - link

    Went phone shopping this past weekend. Everybody was pushing the Pixel pretty hard but honestly I didn't like it.

    Samsung has better screen to body ratio's and I dislike the virtual home button. Open chrome and it takes up a chunk of the screen, on the samsung phones you get text in that area instead. Cameras and screen weren't any better than samsung's either. I'd take an s7 edge over the pixel anyday.

    But I was pleasantly suprised by the LG V20. Unfortunately the only carrier I could find it on doesn't have coverage in my area but the phone itself was pretty nice. Really wide angle selfie-cam (wider fov than my note 5 which already has a wider fov than most phones), nice large screen (that looked good, unlike the g5 that I think has a terrible screen), and the extra 2nd screen at the top for music controls/wifi/clock etc is a nice little touch as well.
  • ithehappy - Thursday, November 17, 2016 - link

    This is pretty ridiculous! They are charging same as iPhone and S7E, but they don't give you a great display? Or like you mentioned, the camera even, which is Pixel's main selling point, S7 outperforms it in low light? What the heck is this? I wanted to buy this phone when it cooled down in price a bit, but especially after reading the Display section I think I am out! If OnePlus 3's display is better (more accurate is better in my dictionary) then I would simply go for it, it costs like 70% less too! Jeez!

    That display completely putting me off from this. Really sad.
  • syrious - Friday, December 16, 2016 - link

    Yea, you'd be better off with the OnePlus 3 or waiting for a S8, the displays on the sammy phones are phenomenal.
  • AMD718 - Sunday, November 20, 2016 - link

    Reading through the comments, it's apparent to me that you have both Nexus/Pixel advocates and haters. The haters, as expected, are thoroughly delighted by this review as it plays to their confirmation bias. At the same time, the advocates are disheartened because it allows them no confirmation bias. But, let's be honest - The authors are biased as well. This isn't a cut on the authors. It's merely recognition that they are, in fact, human beings and not technology-reviewing robots impervious that remain 100% objective at all times. So, there is subjectivity in this article and people would be well-served in reading many reviews when they are looking for a new device. As an example, the TechSpot Pixel XL review (google it, not putting the link here) rates the Pixel XL's dispaly in sRGB mode as excellent -
    "... in my testing with the Pixel XL in its sRGB mode, this display is the most accurate I have seen. In my punishing custom CALMAN 5 accuracy test, the Pixel XL recorded an astonishing dE2000 value of 1.18, which indicates near-perfect color performance. The Pixel XL also reported near-perfect grayscale accuracy and spot-on gamma."
    Similarly, other reviews offer drastically different assessments of the camera relative to the competition.
    Bottom line, look at this review as one of many resources that you can draw upon to make your own conclusion. AnandTech's review is certainly professional and high-quality, but it is not the end-all-be-all.
  • ithehappy - Sunday, November 20, 2016 - link

    Damn! I never heard about this Techspot, but will surely read their review. I really don't know how there could be this massive difference in calibration results when same tool is used, there can't be a human error, so I don't know what to say really!
  • Androider - Sunday, November 27, 2016 - link

    The launcher being evicted from memory is a familiar phenomenon for any Nexus user when you push the device. Happens on my Nexus 7, 5 and 6p. You get a completely black screen for maybe 3-6 seconds while the launcher is either restarted or swapped in. I have no doubt it would happen on the Pixel unless Google has rearchitected the whole thing, which they clearly haven't.

    This is exactly the type of thing you won't find in a few days of testing, but will run into after using the phone for weeks and months. Thank you Anandtech for a thorough, and honest review! Android has a lot going for it, and it is my platform of choice, but you have to be honest about its shortcomings.
  • lokesh - Wednesday, November 30, 2016 - link

    I don't agree because still i vote for iPhone 7 than Google Pixel XL. In iphone i can download paid apps with vshare app but i don't know how to download paid apps for free in Google Pixel XL.
  • Zovuvazz - Wednesday, November 30, 2016 - link

    I recently purchased a Pixel and have three things to say about it:

    1. It is the first Android phone I've ever owned about which I have no complaints. Everything about it works perfectly. It reminds me of iPhones, to some degree, in how polished the interface looks, feels, and works.

    2. The bezel at the bottom is quite useful as an area of the phone in which touching it doesn't accidentally cause something to happen.

    3. Its design is "boring"? Only to attention whores, perhaps.
  • syrious - Friday, December 16, 2016 - link

    FINALLY a true review of the Google Pixel phones, people over hype this phone so much. TBH I think its absolute garbage and isn't ready to compete with Sammy or Apple.

    I mean the phone isn't even waterproof, how are you making a device that isn't water resistant in 2016?
  • eh_ch - Sunday, January 1, 2017 - link

    This review is lies, the Pixel rocks.

    Crazy fast, smooth scrolling, camera is incredible and this review stole a month of enjoyment of my Pixel from me. I

    hemmed and hawed, and then it was out of stock, so it was another week before it was available again, and then another three weeks to ship.

    Anandtech I love your articles, but the criticisms of Apple fanboyism are ABSOLUTELY correct.

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