Conclusion

The Good The Bad
  • Class leading image detail across the ISO range
  • Noise well-controlled at higher ISOs
  • Very good dynamic range
  • Fast and accurate AF in all light levels
  • Very efficient video stabilization when camera is not panned
  • Good video image quality
  • High-quality slow-motion modes
  • Intuitive camera interface
  • Comprehensive selection of panorama modes
  • Very good front camera with HDR+
  • Premium build-quality and materials
  • Bright and sharp display with excellent viewing angles
  • Decent battery life
  • Prone to lens flare with strong light source inside the frame
  • Slight stuttering effect when panning in video mode
  • Very noticeable stitching errors in panorama modes
  • Lens blur mode inferior to competitors' versions
  • No manual shutter speed or Raw in stock camera app
  • No front flash function
  • Edited slow-motion video can only be exported via Google Photos

Overall Conclusion

If your smartphone buying decisions tend to be based on camera performance and features, 2016 has made things even more complicated. In the past you could simply pick the phone that offered the image output that was most to your liking. Now you have to make your mind up about dual-camera modules and if any of their features would be beneficial to your style of mobile photography.

The Google Pixel XL does not offer variable focal length, nor can its lens blur mode compete with the versions in most dual-cam equipped cameras. However, in terms of image quality the Pixel XL is an easy pick. Thanks to its excellent HDR+ mode that can be left activated at all times, it captures class-leading image quality across all light levels. Throw in an excellent QHD-display, premium materials and build quality, good battery life and the attractive design and straightforward operation of Google's pure Android 7 Nougat operating system and you've got yourself a package that should keep even the most demanding mobile photographers happy.

Features & Operation

The Pixel XL camera app has been designed with easy operation in mind and offers all you need for swift and efficient shooting in Auto mode. Those who want more manual control or shoot DNG Raw files have to look for alternatives in the Google Play Store, though. The Pixel hardware supports those functions but they have not been implemented in the stock camera app.

In terms of special modes the Pixel offers an unusually large selection of panorama modes, including Google's 360 degree Photo Sphere. Those modes allow for interesting ways of capturing your surroundings but the image output tends to show noticeably more stitching errors and artifacts than the panorama modes on some direct competitors. Lens blur mode is not on par with its equivalents on the Apple iPhone 7 Plus or Huawei P9 either. On the plus side, the 120fps/1080p and 240fps/720p slo-motion video modes can produce very appealing footage. Unfortunately, the only way to export an edited file is uploading it to Google Photos, though.

Image Quality

The Pixel XL is capable of capturing decent smartphone image quality in its standard mode but the device really comes into its own when HDR+ is activated. Thanks to clever multi-frame technology, the Pixel's HDR+ images show better dynamic range than most competitors in bright light. In lower light both detail and the management of image noise are excellent for a smartphone camera.

The Pixel camera is capable of capturing usable images in light conditions that not too long ago some DSLRs would have struggled with. The really good news is that, thanks to the powerful Snapdragon 821 processor HDR+ can now be on by default. Compared to standard mode the processing delay is hardly noticeable and won't be a problem in almost any shooting situation. Overall, the Pixel currently leads the smartphone pack in terms of image quality.

The Final Word

The Google Pixel XL is a well-rounded premium smartphone and currently offers the best image quality of all smartphone cameras. If you can live without the additional flexibility of the "tele"-lens in the iPhone 7 Plus dual-camera or the super-wide-angle in the LG G5, the Pixel XL is an obvious choice. If you don't like its rather large dimension, the sister model Pixel offers the same camera specifications in a smaller package with a 5" 1080p display.

Google Pixel XL
Category: Mobile Phone
Camera and Photo Features
Screen Quality
Ergonomics and Handling
Video Quality
Still Image Quality
Speed and Responsiveness
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
The Google Pixel XL is an all-around great device with a very good display that currently offers the best camera image quality in smartphones. It lacks the dual-cams and "zooming-capabilities" of some of its rivals, but if image quality is your number one priority you can't go wrong with the Pixel XL.
Good for
General shooting in all conditions
Not so good for
Panoramas and lens blur images
88%
Overall score

Sample Gallery

There are 49 images in our Google Pixel XL samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.

Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution.