It’s been 13 days since I was onsite in San Francisco for Google’s October 4th event. I have been eagerly awaiting playing around with the latest and greatest, they did not disappoint. Today, I have my full thoughts on the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 Xl for you, the second generation of the Phone Made by Google.
This year we have an updated design, a bump in specifications, and a truly jaw-dropping camera. While I encountered a few hiccups along the way with the setup process, after getting past them I can say that this has been a very enjoyable experience. So let’s dive into my full thoughts on the second generation of the Phone by Google, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL.
As eager as I was even software can slow down a reviewer, with both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, I had some core issues from the get-go with the data transfer from an iPhone. This is a core feature of the device and likely one that will help to encourage iOS users to make the jump to Android. They make it seem very easy, by including the USB-C to USB-A dongle allowing you to plug in your phone’s cable. From there it will check over the device, in this case, for me, it looks at what is stored on my iPhone 8 Plus and lets me choose what I want to get copied over.
The hiccups arrive here, as once you hit “start copy” the setup generally crashes. Or it will continue and stop in the middle, or it will say it copied everything over and ultimately result with little to no data carryover. I reached out to Google about this and they are looking into it, but as of right now there are no other cases of this. It appears that the issue might be software, and I tried the process several times, around 20 to be exact. Given while this is not ideal, with the last one I was able to get my contacts and applications moved over, which was nice but losing my messages was not ideal. You can see a comment from Google below on this issue.
Google has said that they are looking into the case.
The biggest changes in design live with the Pixel 2 XL which has a super gorgeous OLED display that is nearly bezel-less on the sides. You still get some bezel on the top and bottom of the new front facing speakers, but the sides are pretty slim. The smaller Pixel 2 has much larger bezels, similar to what we saw on the original Pixel and Pixel XL, on the top and bottom, but the side bezels did shrink. You also get front-facing speakers on the top and bottom. And that is the one really nice thing about this pair of devices, you don’t sacrifice on specifications or hardware pieces between the two of them. The core difference here is the screen and battery size.
Both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL feature a mostly aluminum design with a small inlet of glass along the top. It looks really stunning and I have been using the Just Black variants, Google is quite blunt with the color names. It is matte finish on the back which means you get some grip but it also feels really nice in the hand. It also makes it easier to locate the home button, given the extra texture. Google has gone minimalistic on branding and regulatory info, as the back of the device, is where the only logo is found–A small “G” in a slightly lighter black is found on the bottom back of the device.
One small difference between the devices is the placement of the camera and led flash–On the Pixel, it goes from LED flash to camera, while the Pixel 2 XL goes from Camera to LED flash. Either way, you get a very small camera bump, but it won’t make that much of a difference in terms of device thickness. The left-hand side of the device features the SIM card slot and there is no micro-SD card slot.
The bottom of the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL features the only port which is a USB-C port, the headphone jack is nowhere to be found. But you do get a USB-C to headphone jack dongle in the box along with a wall port, USB-C cable, USB-C to USB-A plug, sim ejector, and some getting started paperwork. The volume rocker and power/sleep button is found on the right-hand side of the device.
I should also note that the Pixel 2 has silver edging going around the front lip of the device, while the Pixel 2 XL has a black trim going around the front. The Pixel 2 XL also has a slightly curved display, which is gorgeous in person, so this might be a reasoning as you wouldn’t want to distract from it.
Both devices feel very natural and comfortable to hold in the hand. Even though the Pixel 2 XL has a larger display it still feels controllable and quite easy to hold with one hand. While the Pixel 2 will surely be easy to hold and feels more substantial in the hand. The design definitely compliments the over Made by Google ethos and is quite refreshing, even with only a few small updates, this year.
The Google Assistant
It still amazes how much better The Google Assistant is than Siri, it really is remarkable. But given that Google has the search backend and history, it makes it artificial intelligence products super helpful. And even better for upcoming Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL owner’s, AI has gotten big improvement this year. “OK Google” seems to be worked much faster and can handle even more nuances.
Plus you get Active Edge, which lets you squeeze the bottom of either the Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL to invoke The Google Assistant. At first, I thought this might be more of a gimmicky kind of feature, but it turns out to be a really natural way to interact with the assistant. You can also customize the sensitivity of Active Edge to your liking.
The Google Assistant still does all of your favorite tricks and it can interact with settings, the camera application, third-party apps, general knowledge questions, and more. And as Pixel owners, you get the first look at Google Lens. While it is not yet active in the Camera application just yet, it does work in Google Photos. It will help to identify things in your photos whether it be a vinyl record, photo, a President, or even a favorite video game. It works remarkably well and will no doubt get better over time.
This year you get a 12.2-megapixel lens with laser autofocus and dual pixel phase detection. Google also threw in an optical image stabilization and electronic image stabilization, which makes for a pretty solid smartphone camera. They are also allowing for Portrait Mode to occur with just one lens, yes that is right there is no need for a dual lens and the results speak for themselves. They were proud of a DXO mark of 98, the highest ever for a smartphone, and to put it bluntly, they were not bluffing.
Photographs come out with a ton of detail and the camera does it really job of measuring out the proper amount of color, contrast, and lighting. It is the software and the hardware that Google has chosen to deliver such a good performing lens. And ironically enough while there pro controls that let you adjust focus speed and the amount of exposure, the default settings generally end up delivering the best looking photos.
While the iPhone’s Portrait Mode only works with the back lens, on the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL you get Portrait Mode with both lenses. And to my surprise, one lens can do an epic job with the right mixture of software and hardware, check out the gallery below to see what i mean.
In terms of video, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL can handle 4K at 30 frames per second and 1080pHD at up to 60 frames per second. With both electronic and optical image stabilization on board, shaky videos might just be a thing of a past. You can see our camera test at 4K at 30 frames per second below.
The largest difference between the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL would be size, and that, of course, means different displays, but both of them are OLEDs. On the Pixel 2, you get a 5.0-inch FHD 1920 X 1080 AMOLED 16:9 display with 441 pixels per inch. Because of the OLED technology you get awesome looking blacks, a high contrast ratio, and the advantage of an Always-On display. Now given that this is an AMOLED display, it doesn’t have the color vibrancy of a full AMOLED display like we see the on Pixel 2 XL. However, this still represents a solid bump from last years original Pixel display.
The Pixel 2 XL steals the show here with a stunning 6.0-inch 2880 X 1440 QHD+ OLED display with 538 pixels per inch. It also has a longer display with an 18:9 aspect ratio and it has a protective layer of 3D Corning Gorilla Glass 5. This display is super nice and I personally think it beats out the one found on the Galaxy Note 8, with super vibrant colors, deep black, and crispness throughout.
Inside both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL is a 2.35GHz and 1.9GHz 64-Bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor with 4GB of RAM. It also has a separate imaging processing unit, Adreno 540 for graphics, and a security module. Overall, all of these processing units working together delivers a very fast, reliable, and buttery smooth experience with Android 8.0 Oreo.
In terms of hardware scoring the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL did admirably getting 1914 for single core and a 6344 multi-core score. Numbers aside in terms of real-life usage the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL outperform the competition, like the Note 8 and iPhone 8, in terms of boot times and everyday tasks.
As expected the software experience on the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL is smooth, sleek, and clean. Out of the box, it is running Android 8.0 Oreo with an absolutely clean user interface. The Pixel’s will also be the first to get updates and you can expect them pretty regularly. But Google has also refined Android 8.0 Oreo into one of the nicest setups I have seen.
It starts with an Always-on display that has a very clean look and an awesome font choice. You are not only presented with the usual time and notification icons, but the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL can be listening for music and can identify the songs that are playing around you. And truthfully it is small features like this one, Now Playing, that really show off the potential for AI.
You also have a new launcher called At A Glance that lives on the top of the home screen, it will show you the most important information like weather, events for today, traffic, and more. The bottom of the screen features a core row of applications, plus a quick search bar. And this will search both items on the device itself, but it also gives you an easy way to access and harness the power of Google. Similar to Apple’s 3D Touch on iOS, you can long press certain icons to get shortcuts and to see notifications.
And given the powerful processing units and the large batteries, you can enjoy the software experience for quite some time before you get a low battery warning. Google really perfected the software experience on the Phone by Google this year.
It is not a lie that I really like the Pixel and Pixel XL last year, from a clean hardware design paired with a solid software experience, it was an all around good device. And I am happy to say this year that the second iteration of the Phone by Google is even better. I would have to recommend the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL as the best all-around smartphone at this time. Like they said at the event, we are seeing the merge of software, hardware, and artificial intelligence–And when this happens you get an experience that is hard to match and even harder to beat.
Hardware wise you get a fast processor, a strong and sleek build, loudspeakers, and a great looking display. Software wise you get a very sleek, usable, and powerful experience that only Google can bring you. They don’t add an extra user interface like Samsung’s TouchWiz that truthfully doesn’t bring anything to the table, but rather takes away from Android. And with a big focus on Artificial Intelligence, you will find more things to do with your phone than ever before.
And even with the data transfer issue I had, I was still able to switch and enjoy the Pixel experience. There is not a better time to join the Phone by Google family, and the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL will be devices that will not disappoint for quite some time.