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Hands on with Google Pixel XL 1st Generation 8.1 Beta

The 1st Generation Google Pixel and Pixel XL were always intriguing devices. People either thought it was either one of the best Android phones to have been made or was a blatant rip off of the HTC One A9. While it could not be denied that its software was the best we had seen with Android 7.1.1 running on the Snapdragon 821, colorful, and punchy Samsung AMOLED panels, amazing cameras and the promise of lightning fast software updates the question still stood, was it worthy of succeeding the Nexus line of phone Google had previously pushed and how would this idea of a premium phone designed and branded by Google themselves fare in a market of Samsung Galaxies, and Apple iPhones? Fortunately, the phones were held in high regard by reviewers and consumers alike, however, how does it fare the Android 8.1 beta software in the age of the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL?

Performance on this open beta is excellent. The battery life has not been inconsistent or dropped since the stable version of 8.0 Oreo came out with its added battery life improvements however your results may vary as can happen with beta software. You will not notice (for the most part) the typical stuttering or instability of applications that we have seen with previous betas. The camera has not changed for better or for worse which we will further discuss when we discuss what hasn’t changed however just know I have never had the camera pause or lag and has maintained its amazing photo quality. This is more an incremental beta rather than a large change such as we saw going from 7.1.2 to 8.0.0.

The overall software experience has not changed much from 8.0 to 8.1. You can expect minor tweaks such as the notification shade color changing from white to black depending on whether your background is lighter or darker (something I changed fairly immediately as I am a sucker for dark themes). If you have a Bluetooth device connected to your phone you can now see the battery level of the connected Bluetooth device (given it has a battery). With this new update the onscreen buttons now dim to reduce screen burn in as well as there no longer being the developer option to move to SRGB mode which I know some people (myself included) were a fan of; you cannot change the color profile as you can on the Pixel 2 line from what I have observed. There was also a nice minor addition where the power off and restart options now show up next to the power button when the power button as if the menu is coming right out of the power button (a nice touch if I do say so myself) instead of it just showing up out of nowhere in the middle of the screen. We also saw the Do Not Disturb toggle feature be fixed in this release.

 

There are a few software options that were also not added that we did not see included that I was personally hoping to see. One of those features were the Live Picture mode found on the Pixel 2 line of devices. Although it is known that you can sideload an APK (first camera picture) to obtain the feature it would have been nice to see in the native camera app (second camera picture). The new Pixel 2 launcher has not been added from what I can tell however it is unknown if this will be added in the future. There were obvious features that we did not see added that are not expected to be added due to hardware restrictions such as the squeeze to activate Google Assistant, as well as the feature that constantly searches for playing music. While we are on the topic of software not added you can expect to be behind on security patches on beta releases of Android as the November 5th security patch has still not been rolled out.

 

A few features have acted up in my time with the operating system update. The main culprit has been Android 8.0’s new Picture in Picture mode (unfortunately one of my favorite features). While using this feature with both YouTube and Google Maps I have seen these apps stop in the background and not be able to be reopened while videos or maps were still playing on screen and when I went to interact with the app everything would freeze up resulting in me needing to restart the phone (which thankfully doesn’t take long in Android 8.0 or 8.1). However, if this is a feature you live and die by I highly recommend not upgrading to this version just yet.

Although this is not the largest update it is a welcome incremental update to an already stellar beta version of Android and as someone who has used nearly every beta Version of Android since the first Nougat beta on the Nexus 6P I can say this is, by far, the most stable beta thus far. That being said, I do not recommend running out and signing up for the beta. If you are anxiously awaiting Android 8.1 I suggest waiting for the next beta to roll out and see if it is still buggy. I suggest keeping an eye out for our next look at the next beta which has been slated to come out in December and make your decision from there. It is clear from this beta version that Google has realized that casual users are interested in using betas and have worked to make them more stable, however, a good beta does not mean a stable version by any means. I cannot stress that enough, tread lightly as rolling back to Android 8.0 stable does result in a forced factory reset.

Disclaimer: I have been using the 128gb Pixel XL since August of 2017 and have been running beta builds since I got the phone in early August of 2017. I am also running the phone on AT&T with normal use being watching about 1 hour of YouTube videos on WIFI, an hour or so of article reading, and intermittently playing Pokemon Go on mobile data, as well as using applications such as Snapchat, Facebook, Allo, and Textra throughout the day with the brightness near full. The phone has rarely gotten me through a full day of use and normally gets taken off the charger at 9am and needs to be topped off at around 5pm.

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