Google Pixel 2 XL Review

As former, very satisfied, owners of the original Google Pixel, it was only natural we wanted to be one of the first to check out the successor to the original Google Pixel and Pixel XL, and so we did with the Google Pixel 2 XL. However, when it comes to a device with surrounding controversy, you don’t get much bigger than the Pixel 2 XL, maybe less so Pixel 2, so you can imagine we were even more intrigued about reviewing the device to see whether all those worries were, not only valid, but, even there at all!

One thing instantly evident about the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, versus last year, is that it’s definitely not just size which separates the regular and XL model, the display is completely different in relation to design. Whilst the 5 inch Pixel 2 shares most attributes from the original Pixel, a 16:9 1080p AMOLED panel and those over-exaggerated bezels, the Pixel 2 XL delivers a more modern 18:9 2880 x 1440 pOLED (more about that later), and a more lesser bezel design.

Performance

One thing we loved about last years Pixel and Pixel XL, is that minus the change in size, the phones were the same thing regardless of which you ended up picking, and that hasn’t changed here either! Whether you go for the Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL, you’ll have the latest Snapdragon 835, backed up by 4GB of RAM. Performance is negligible between the two, though naturally the Pixel 2 will likely be a smidgen faster as it’s pushing less pixels, pardon the pun, but on the 2 XL unit we’re reviewing, we’ve seen no performance hiccups whatsoever.

Speakers and Audio

One of the nicest changes on the second generation Pixels is the introduction of dual Front-Firing Speakers, to which we rejoice a loud “thank you, Google”, as the single firing Speaker on the original Pixels wasn’t just poorly placed, but probably one of the easiest to cover up Speakers on a Smartphone we’ve ever experienced! The Speakers are loud, though we’ll be honest rather flat in terms of sound, you’ll still get much more bass from an iPhone 7 or later Speaker, but still night and day from the previous!

One oddity we’ve noticed, which makes little sense, is whilst the devices do have dual Front-Firing Speakers, only the bottom Speaker is utilised for Notifications?! You can still hear Notifications, and Ringtones still have decent Volume, but it makes little sense as to why just the bottom Speaker is used. We’ve yet to hear back from Google on the matter, whilst it’s not a deal breaker, it’s still honestly odd.

And, yes, despite making a ruckus about it last year, Google did ditch the headphone jack this year on the Google Pixel 2, and Pixel 2 XL. Whilst most of us are beginning to get used to this, as it becomes normal for manufactures such as Motorola, HTC, and, naturally, Apple, devices, it remains that extra inconvenience one would prefer to not have to deal with. We are happy that Google quickly changed the ridiculous price of their Adapter from £20, to £9, as that price was more than pathetic, though it did get us thinking, just how good is the DAC in this adapter.

Well, whilst we wouldn’t consider ourselves “true audiophiles”, we most certainly are regular music listeners on our Smartphones, and we went straight to the same Sony headphones we’d used on Apple’s headphone adapter, to the Pixel one, and we have to be honest here and just say it, this adapter is better! Audio is much more rich, bass actually comes through, and not at the expense of treble, like certain Beats headphones used to be. Volume could be better, though should you use services such as Play Music, Google have an Equaliser you can use (on Android only), where you can increase the output velocity which garners that as a non-issue. But, no, we’re satisfied with the quality of this adapter … sure, it’s still an adapter, but least it’s a good one. We’ve always found Apple’s to be, especially on our second iPhone 7 unit, rather flat.

Camera

One thing everyone rants on about with any Pixel branded device, is of course the Camera. Whilst you can rave about the best Smartphone rating on DXOMark, at the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding, though we’ll just tell you now, these Cameras have been knocking the Competition out of the water, specifically in terms of stills, and the newly renamed Portrait Mode, which works incredibly despite the lack of dual-lens set-up at the back, we’ve a comparison of that below!

But first, let’s get the hardware out of the way, regardless of whether you choose Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL, you’ve a 12.2MP Rear Camera which gains OIS this year, on top of the already stellar EIS, as well as a very capable wide-angle 8MP Front Facing Camera. Both Cameras at at 1.4 μm, though differ in the Aperture, with the rear Camera at f/1.8, whilst the front f/2.4. The rear Camera features laser Autofocus, plus dual pixel phase detection which allows instant Portraits post processed, however, whilst the front only offers Fixed Focus, it too can deliver some incredible Portraits, the likes of which have been easily beating those from the iPhone X!

We though it best to, at least, do a quick comparison between the results of Portrait Modes between what Apple offer on their iPhone 7 Plus, 8 Plus and X, against what Google outputs on their new Pixel 2 devices, and, well, just take a look yourself;

 

As you can see from the comparison of a Flower subject, the difference in the results are striking. It’s worth mentioning that, whilst both the iPhone and the Pixel 2 take Portraits, you don’t get a Live Preview like you do on iOS, this hasn’t mattered so far as the results have been near-perfect, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Here’s another shot taken from the Pixel 2 XL, highlighting the ability to use Portrait Mode on things such as Pets. In this example, you can see how the picture separates the Cat very well, specifically by ignoring blurring the whiskers. What we think is incredible, is how both the Front, not just the Rear, can produce these Portraits using a single lens and Machine Learning.

The Front Camera on the Pixel 2 (and XL) can record up to 1080p 30fps, whilst the rear Camera can shoot up to 4K at 30fps, 1080p at either 30, 60 or 120fps, as well as Slo-mo 720p video at 240fps. Whilst this naturally can’t compete with the latest iPhones 4K at 60fps, as the Qualcomm chipset doesn’t support it, this is still a fantastic visual Video Shooter!

HOWEVER, we must address the Elephant in the room, being the Audio quality from Video Recordings. Whilst, if we’re honest, we’ve being experiencing ample Audio recording from the Pixel 2 XL unit we have, we know many units have issues with post-processing, likely due to software incorrectly managing noice cancelling, though ours seems to be fine, presenting clear audio and none of that muffled background as seen around. Though this, we expect, is why the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL didn’t fair too great on the Video side with the DXOMark Scores. (We’ll be posting a quick video example to show this soon)

Design and Build

Design wise, Google left nothing much to be surprised about with the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, the same Pixel lip at the top of the back, be it much less pronounced, Fingerprint scanner remains in the same place, though no longer around the glass area, and the G logo at the bottom. The design isn’t terrible, but it’s definitely not one that will blow you back. For those who want that extra flair, maybe better suited with the Black and White Pixel 2 XL, or either the White or Blue variants of the Pixel 2.

One change to the design however, one we’re very happy about, is that the front of the Pixel 2, or Pixel 2 XL is actually black, not an awful brown colour found on last years Pixel. This, however, does transfer to the other colours too, unfortunately, so whilst it’s great that black is black on the black model, if that makes sense, it does mean regardless of colour the front will be black on both Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL.

If we have one gripe about the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL its the build. Don’t get us wrong, they feel high quality in the hand … except the back! Unfortunately, Google decided to go all LG G5 on us, and cover the metallic finish with a plastic-feeling coating. This, allegedly, is so the device can deliver an IP67 Dust and Water Resistance, which we doubt, but it creates a rather less appealing feel in the hand than we’d like, some have argued it feels cheap, which we wouldn’t completely disagree on, though we’d more state it feels like a mid-ranger, not cheap.

Naturally, if you’re someone who always shoves a Case on their devices, this won’t be a problem for you, and even if you don’t it might not either, but something to keep in mind, and may be one of the reasons you may wish to check the device out in a Store before purchasing.

Android Oreo

The Google Pixel 2 XL comes running the latest and greatest from Android, being Android 8.0 Oreo. Despite being a brand new operating system, Google have already released updates to fix some initial first day niggles, which we’ll get to shortly, though we have to say, performance has been snappy and quick, animations are the smoothest we’ve seen on a Smartphone this year, this is the fastest real-world use Smartphone you can buy right now, despite what Benchmarks would have you believe, but we all know they’re synthetic and mean nothing in the real world.

One of our favourite additions to the Oreo experience has to be Notification Dots. In Android Nougat, Google brought the ability to tap and hold an App icon to get additional functionality, now with Notification Dots, should you have a Notification from an App, it will show a colour co-ordinated Dot, and if you do the same tap and hold, you’ll be able to interact or dismiss Notifications on an App level. It’s convenient, its visual and works really well. Oreo also brings native Picture in Picture, built in to Apps such as YouTube (Red) and Google Maps, with other Apps likely to follow.

Whilst Oreo may not bring much in terms of visual changes to the experience following Nougat, it further refines Android, in a way we’ve been want Apple to follow since the demise of iOS 7, though with iOS 11 we’re more than far away from that ever happening. Google have brought Android finally to that level of refinement and polish, with iOS safely in the distant past.

Example of Now Playing in action on the Always On Display

One of our favourite new additions to the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, is a feature called “Now Playing”! Oddly disabled by default, you can find it using the Search in Settings. Now Playing basically does what you’d expect, and tells you automatically, with no work of your own, what song is playing in the background! And, whilst it’s not perfect, Google stated it wasn’t just yet, when it knows a track, it tells you very quickly and displays it on the bottom of the Always On Display, or in Notifications if unlocked.

Should you wish to make further interaction with the song it’s displayed, double tap the song, unlock and you’ll be presented with the Google Assistant, which gives you option to play the song, download the song, or even present you lyrics and more information at a glance! We have to be honest, it’s pretty great to wonder what song is playing in the background when you’re out and about, then look at your phone before you even unlock it, and it’s already telling you!

What’s also incredible, is that Now Playing doesn’t use your Data, the service works even with Airplane Mode on, though does do brief updates on WiFi, but works really well! The service isn’t perfect, like even Shazam, so if it does somehow get it wrong, you can report it in the Assistant too, to make it more accurate and naturally better!

OK, let’s talk about THAT display!

If there’s one area of the Pixel 2 that’s had controversy, it’s that dang display, most specifically on the Pixel 2 XL, which is interesting as that’s the very model we’re reviewing right here, so we’re going to go over everything reported and give you our take away from our experience!

It’s worth noting that the unit we’ve got was a fresh shipment from the 15th November, which coincides with how long we’ve had the device and heavily used it since, what this could mean is that a lot of issues prevalent with a lot of other peoples Pixel 2 (XL) could be due to early production issues, as, well, spoiler alert, we’ve had little issue with our display! However, despite this, we’re going to go over the collection of reported issues and give our experience and thought;

BURN IN, AFTER NOT A LONG TIME OF USE

Alex Dobie, from Android Central, posted a rather concerning picture of his Pixel 2 XL experiencing burn in after just over a week of use, what a coincidence, that’s exactly how long we’ve had our unit, so let’s compare;

One of the best ways to visually tell if you have Burn in on an OLED panel, is to display a static coloured image full screen, and in low brightness you should be able to visibly see whether Burn in artefacts are beginning to show on your device, as we reported in our previous talk of this a week or so back. It is worth mentioning, we’re on the November update, which includes the slightly dimming of the Navigation Bars, and the colours, but, here’s our device after heavy use (which we’ll talk about when we get to Battery life) in 9 days of constant use, and as you can see from ours, nothing is showing at all on the display to indicate any signs of image retention or burn in.

MUTED COLOURS

We knew from the get go this was software related, but should anyone of needed proof, with the release of the November Security Update, Google added some additional controls to the Colour profiles, and should you try the new Saturated mode, you’ll get those deep Reds and a much more vivid colour spectrum than available before.

For those still a fan of natural colours, perhaps coming from an iPhone, will probably prefer the Boosted option. Google have stated they will be improving the colours even more going forward.

GHOSTING ON LOW BRIGHTNESS

Something which is almost impossible to demo in a post can be difficult to explain or talk about, but here we go. Many users were reporting that when used in low brightness, below the 20% level, content was presenting a ghosting effect, this was affecting the refresh rate of the display in low light situations, most typically with black. Well, we aren’t experiencing this issue, and there’s a number of recent purchased Pixel 2 XL users claiming the same thing. So, we’d say should you be experiencing this on your Pixel 2 XL, to take it to be exchanged and newer units don’t replicate these issues.

BLUE SHIFT
Our Google Pixel 2 XL, displaying fairly normal display colours when shown at an angle. Currently showing a pure white image

With the Google Pixel 2 XL coming out later than the original, we had plenty of time going in to Stores and checking out demo units of the Pixel 2 XL, and we’ll be honest, the blue shifting was incredibly noticeable, at a shocking level, noticeable instantly upon initial boot up, with the pure white screen and G logo in the middle, however, as we closed in to the release in the UK, some Retail Stores previously without demo units, began receiving them and it was striking how different the blue shift was on newer units. To touch on that a bit further, it’s worth just looking at the image we’ve shown above, this is showing a pure White image zoomed to fill the screen, and we’ve took a picture off-axis, and, well, don’t know about us, but that looks pretty fine to us. One thing we would say, though, if you’re unit is displaying an insane level of blue shift, return and exchange it for a new one, as it’s clear the issues much better now, than before.

It had been reported the issue of blue shift was being caused by a badly fitted polymer coating on the display, hence pOLED display, no that P does not stand for Plastic. But, it’s more than clear, based on the issues already discussed that there’s been a change in manufacturing of the Pixel 2 XL, and all signs so far are to the positive.

However, it’s worth noting that the Blue Shifting “issue”, is rather normal on OLED displays. Most typically, AMOLED panels such as Samsungs create more of a red/orange hue when at an angle, and, as shown on an iPhone X below, blue shifting the same way, just like those reports, though it is great that Google have improved the manufacturing process on recent Pixel 2 XL.

Blue shifting on an iPhone X
OLEOPHOBIC COATING WEARING OFF IN DAYS

OK, this was reported by an incredibly small number of people, but we still feel it worth while to review. Some users were reporting, with Photos, that their oleophobic coating on the display, which allows you to clear fingerprints easily, was wearing off in certain areas earlier producing permanent marks. Well, once again, we and let’s be fair most users then, have been reporting this as a non issue.

BUT, it ain’t just the Pixel 2 XL, who experienced this problem, and the Blue Shift for that matter, the iPhone X also experienced this issue with oleophobic coating wearing off early. Apple recommended those users, as we do to any device, to get a replacement unit.

To Summarise on Pixel 2 XL Display Woes! Is everything alright now?

We’ve seen the issues first hand on early units, we know what a Pixel 2 XL looks like with poor level of Blue Shift, we’ve seen an OLED panel with burn in, we know what to look for, and what we’re going to confidently say right now is, yes, we think everything is fine now!

Don’t go out of your way to continuously look for any issues though, if you do have any, remember, Google extended base warranty to 2 years worldwide. It’s also worth noting that issues such as Burn In, remain completely normal as an ageing factor of OLED panels starting around 8 months, depending on use case, though none are too serious, and have probably happened on past devices without your notice!

Battery

Battery Rating 5

If there’s one area of a Smartphone, even recently, that never seems to live up to expectation it’s battery life, especially in the first couple of days during that honeymoon period, but even after that, the Google Pixel 2 XL has being absolutely incredible in terms of battery resilience, even on our serious battery drain day, as you can see below, the Smartphone just kept on keeping on to the last minute!

To go further in to what tasks were completed, we were playing Games constantly for hours, including the most draining battery App you can get, Pokémon GO, Music playback to a pair of wired Earphones, general use outside of that with multiple push Email accounts syncing notifications … so, a pretty fair battery drain day. In fact, it’s worth noting that we only did a battery drain day as we were ending the day with, sometimes, over 50%, so we had to do something about that.

Pixel 2 XL after a long battery stress day … yes, that’s 4am on the Clock

This is the end of the day Screenshot of battery usage on that battery drain day, and look at that Screen on time, near 7 hours and still estimating a good few hours left, colour us very satisfied, this phone will get you easily through a day of use, and likely two days easily as well as Standby has being very impressive as well. It’s pretty incredible that there’s times we go to bed and put the Pixel 2 XL on a Charger, and actually wondering whether we even need to for the day after, which should tell you enough!

However, even if, for what ever reason, you need that extra top up at the end of the day, remember, the Google Pixel 2 and 2 XL, like their predecessors, have Quick Charge, which Google claim you can get 7 hours of use in just 15 minutes, that’s quite a big claim, though based on the fact we get around 12-18 hours of battery life depending on use case, we believe them! The Pixel 2 XL, the larger of the two, has a larger 3520mAh battery to fill, compared to the, still sizeable, 2700mAh unit on the Pixel 2, but that doesn’t stop the thing from charging quick. Within an hour, the device is pretty much juiced up from dead, so no complaints on both the battery resilience, and top up!

Plus, isn’t it nice to actually get a Fast Charger in the box! Wouldn’t it be awful if you spend flagship money, heck let’s say even more, over £1,000, for a Smartphone, and they gave you an old slow charger, wouldn’t that just be awful.

Summary

The Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, had quite a following to deliver on. Not only was last years Pixel widely regarded as one of the best phones of 2016, since then we’ve seen tough competition from the likes of Samsung, LG and more, so it was always going to be a tough year for the Pixel 2 line. But, the Pixel remains a device with the same cards to play as last year, it remains the most silky smooth experience you can find, the most consistent Camera you can find, these and more, just add up to being an incredible daily driver, and isn’t that all you really want from a Smartphone?!

PROS
  • Software – It’s a Pixel, you know this is getting the latest and greatest, straight from Google. Pure Android as Google intended it, remains the cleanest, smoothest and the best experience you can get on a Smartphone today.
  • Display – Hey, we like it, and after the update and updated production, this is a very decent full P3 Colour Gamut HDR capable display
  • Battery – This battery lasts, and is easily the best battery life we’ve tested on a portable consumer device
  • Dual Front-Firing Speakers – Whilst the Speakers aren’t the best in the industry, they are where they should be, facing you, and we can’t ask for more than that
  • Camera – Some could argue, based on past reviews, this thing is over-hyped, let us tell you right now, it isn’t hyped enough. We were already blown away with last years Pixel Camera, and this year it’s a whole new level.
CONS
  • Choice of Materials – Listen, it’s not awful, but we’re definitely not a fan of the polycarbonate coating added to the aluminium finish. If you’re making a metal phone, make it metal, if you want to add plastic, make it plastic, least then we could have seen Wireless Charging.

Price (SIM Free)

£799 – 64GB

£829 – 128GB

Available in either Just Black or Black and White.

Smaller Pixel 2: £629 for 64GB, £729 for 128GB, and available in Just Black, Clearly White and Kinda Blue.

– The Pixel remains the refined and clean Android experience, you need to experience to believe. The software experience is stellar, the hardware isn’t perfect but it’s close enough to warrant a perfect score. You’ve a decent display, great Speakers, incredible Camera, all in a Battery that will allow you to enjoy all those things for 1-2 days of average use! Like, last year, the Pixel is THE device of 2017 for us.

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