With the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, Google is continuing to develop its ambitions as a hardware manufacturer. The successors of the first generation of Pixel smartphones, which were presented in 2016, are produced by not one, but two different companies: the small model by HTC, the larger by LG. Like those of the previous year, these smartphones both fall within the premium price bracket, starting from $ 272. Accordingly, we set high expectations for the devices. This review will explore just how good these two Google smartphones are.
The two Pixel 2 models are recognizable as Google phones: in both cases, the back bears the unmistakable Google “G”. A direct comparison with the previous year’s equipment shows that the glass element has been downsized, but pulled over the edge of the body. The fingerprint sensor is now a few millimeters below. The metal back with a kind of powder coating looks classy, distinctive and inconspicuous at the same time. Thanks to the coating, it feels comfortable and is more non-slip than a glass or pure metal backing.
The two newcomers are not identical twins, however: Differences are not only noted in terms of size, but also in terms of feel and on the sides of the bodies. Also, Pixel 2 in its entirety seems a little behind the times, similar to Apple’s iPhone SE. This is mainly due to the front: The Pixel 2 has a display measuring about five inches diagonally with at least as much edge as Apple’s device – which seems old fashioned in an era of almost frameless designs. It has front stereo speakers, which will at least partially justify this design.
With far less edge comes the big Pixel 2 XL – and that despite the stereo speakers. The six-inch device has a small frame on all sides – but it is not only because of the 18:9 aspect ratio (the smallest is 16:9) that it is still pleasantly slim. Since the display is rounded off on all sides, it fuses optically and haptically with the rest of the device. In terms of design, the larger model, therefore, looks fresher and more modern than the old fashioned looking Pixel 2. But the five-inch has dimensions of 145.7 x 69.7 x 7.8 mm (5.74 x 2.74 x 0.31 in) which makes it easier to handle, even if the display-to-body ratio is out of date. The space utilization is noticeably better-managed with the Pixel 2 XL, with its dimensions of 157.9 x 76.7 x 7.9 mm (6.22 x 3.02 x 0.31 in).
Let’s stay with the front and the most important part of it: the display. The Pixel 2 has an AMOLED display with Full HD, which means 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. There is nothing wrong with the color reproduction, even at sharp angles. Due to the meanwhile relatively small screen size of five inches, the Full HD resolution is also completely in order, although in the meantime many manufacturers – at least for devices with a diagonally larger screen – have announced they will start using WQHD resolution. There is nothing to complain about in terms of the color brilliance and fidelity, though it might be a bit too dark.
While with the Pixel 2 has a solid Full HD panel installed, the Pixel 2 XL contains a POLED panel manufactured by LG with a screen measuring six inches diagonally and a high resolution of 2,880 x 1,440 pixels. The POLED screen differs markedly from that of the Pixel 2. As is the case with OLED displays, black is displayed in black – other colors may seem a bit dull in some cases.
However, according to Google, this is intentional because the displays of the Pixel 2 XL were calibrated to display the sRGB color space, which displays more natural and less gaudy color than the DCI-P3 color space. Other manufacturers often rely on the DCI-P3 color space, where colors are rendered more brightly and crisp. Google plans to deliver an option for fans of bright colors with an update in the future.
Another point of criticism weighs heavier: the display is unlike that of the Pixel 2 and other premium smartphones with its unstable viewing angles. Even with slight changes in the viewing angle, a clear discoloration into blue is noticeable.
The fact is that LG, the manufacturer of the POLED display, apparently still has its problems with the quality and durability of its panels, as burn-ins can occur. While this aspect hardly matters in everyday use, it is unacceptable that such an expensive smartphone suffers from such troubles. It’s hoped that Google will quickly address the issue and build better quality display panels. For the smaller model, Google has already solved it.
In short: The display of the small Pixel 2, as well as the XL model, are unfortunately not good enough for the devices‘ price range. In relative terms, it should be noted that the display quality could improve with later batches. Besides, Google promises to address some criticisms with software updates.
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With the two new Pixel models, Google uses premium hardware equipment: Snapdragon 835, four gigabytes of RAM and 64 or 128 gigabytes of internal memory, which is not expandable, as with any Google phone. The standard equipment is accompanied by a special processor developed by Google and Intel, which in the future will provide better HDR and camera performance, as well as other services. The so-called “Pixel Visual Core” will only be released with Android 8.1.
The current performance of both Pixel 2 devices is beyond reproach. The system runs as smooth as on any other Android smartphone. This is not only due to the solid equipment but also to the extremely well-adapted software. Even with computational-intensive applications such as games, the Pixel 2 devices will not “run out of steam”.
Other premium features include: Fast LTE modem and WLAN with AC standard. The phones run Bluetooth in its current version (5) – connection to Bluetooth headphones and other components runs smoothly. The smartphones support the satellite navigation systems Glonass, Beidou, and Galileo.
|model||Google Pixel 2||Google Pixel 2 XL|
|Operating system||Android 8.0 Oreo||Android 8.0 Oreo|
|Display||5-inch OLED display (Full HD 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, 16: 9)||6-inch P-OLED display (2,880 x 1,440 pixels, 538 ppi, 18: 9)|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 @ 2.35 GHz||Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 @ 2.35 GHz|
|RAM||4 GB||4 GB|
|Internal memory||64 and 128 GB (not expandable)||64 and 128 GB (not expandable)|
|Main camera||12 MP sensor (1.4 microns) with f / 1.8 and autofocus with laser and dual-pixel phase detection, optical and electronic image stabilization||12 MP sensor (1.4 microns) with f / 1.8 and autofocus with laser and dual-pixel phase detection, optical and electronic image stabilization|
|Front camera||8 MP fixed focus (1.4 microns), f / 2.4||8 MP fixed focus (1.4 microns), f / 2.4|
|Battery capacity||2,700 mAh (permanently installed)||3,520 mAh (permanently installed)|
|Connectivity||WLAN 802.11 a / b / g / n / ac, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, LTE, NFC||WLAN 802.11 a / b / g / n / ac, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, LTE, NFC|
|Dimensions|| 145.7 x 69.7 x 7.8 mm|
(5.74 x 2.74 x 0.31 in)
|157.9 x 76.7 x 7.9 mm|
(6.22 x 3.02 x 0.31 in)
|Weight||143 g||175 g|
|Colors||Kinda Blue, Just Black and Clearly White||Just Black, Black & White|
|Miscellaneous||Fingerprint sensor, USB Type C (USB 3.1), stereo front speaker, Active Edge, IP67, no audio jack||Fingerprint sensor, USB Type C (USB 3.1), stereo front speaker, Active Edge, IP67, no audio jack|
|Price||from $ 272||from $ 318|
As mentioned earlier, the Pixel models have front stereo speakers, whose sound far surpasses those of most current smartphones with mono speakers on the bottom of the case. Although they are not very loud, they are better than other smartphones. Also, they are not easily covered with your hands, even if the device is held landscape.
A pre-leaked feature is the so-called “Active Edge”: The case is pressure-sensitive on the sides and thus serves as another button. However, functionality is limited: If you squeeze the case in your hand, you can activate the Google Assistant – that’s it. The function is not completely new: The HTC U11 also has a pressure-sensitive frame, and with this smartphone, you can start any apps and actions by squeezing the frame. The Pixel 2 could benefit from such functionality.
In terms of battery performance, both phones are miles ahead of their competition: With the Pixel 2’s rated output of 2,700 milliamp hours and the larger version‘s 3,520 milliamp-hour battery, you can always get through the day. With moderate use, the battery is even enough for one and a half days. The standby power is very good, and both can be charged quickly via the USB-C port, which supports USB-3.1, while with the first Pixel models, the slower USB 2.0 was used.
Following the recent trend, Google has, like Apple with the iPhone 7 and many Android manufacturers, abandoned the audio jack. You can still use your headphones using a USB-C-to-phone connection. If the 3.5-millimeter jack is very important for you, you must either make do with the adapter or look for another smartphone.
A small dive in fresh water can handle the Pixel 2 model. (Photo: Google)
One feature is deleted, another is added: We are not talking about the Active Edge, but the dust and water resistance of the two smartphones. This allows you to take the devices for a dive of up to one meter for 30 minutes. They have the same density level as the iPhone 8 (Plus). Only Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and Note 8 are even better protected against water with IP68.
With the first generation of Pixel phones, Google had already raised the bar in terms of camera performance. With the second generation, the company pushes its Pixel 2 models once again to the forefront in the fight for the camera crown.
Contrary to expectations, the company has not followed the trend of dual cameras with its smartphones and sticks to the one-sensor setup. The sensor of the main camera with a pixel size of 1.4 μm – the sensor size of the first Pixel was still at 1.55 μm – has, like the first Pixel generation, 12.2 megapixels and an aperture of f / 1.8 (although slightly brighter in comparison to its predecessor, which was exclusively based on an electronic image stabilizer). The device also uses optical image stabilization, which is why the lens protrudes slightly out of the case – the hardware takes up more space. Google has also given the Pixel 2 cameras autofocus with laser and dual-pixel phase detection, which allows the camera to focus faster.
The camera has taken the crown from DXOMark’s camera and overtaken both the iPhone 8 Plus and the Galaxy Note 8. Although the testers are not in total agreement, it can be stated that Google’s Pixel 2 cameras once again do an excellent job.
The image quality is convincing in daylight as well in low light conditions. Colors and details are captured convincingly. The brighter aperture, as well as the OIS, have a positive effect in low light – in most cases, there is hardly any noise at higher ISO settings, and blurring is rather rare. It is quite remarkable how many details the camera can capture, even in low light.
With portrait shots, the Pixel 2 is strong despite the missing dual camera. Instead of a second lens, the camera uses machine-learning algorithms that quite reliably separates the background from the image. Unlike devices from other manufacturers, the blur cannot be edited out later. But we think this is a small detail. Due to the software-based portrait function, you can also take snapshots with the mode with the eight-megapixel front camera.
Typical of Google, the camera app is minimalistic. There is no Pro mode and only the most important settings such as white balance, timer, manual flash, and the so-called motion function are available. With the latter, you can record a short video sequence, similar to the iPhone. The short, maximum three-second clip can be played in Google Photos – even on your desktop.
Another smart feature in both devices is Google Lens. This feature allows you to analyze and, ideally, recognize content from a photo through Google services and an AI algorithm. The function is currently available only in the photo gallery, not in the camera app via a separate button. It will be possible to use Google Lens in the camera app in future.
The Google Lens algorithm can already detect certain things, working best with sights and well-known buildings. Concrete products, plants or trees cannot yet be identified by Google Lens. For products with a company logo you get general information about the company. In most cases, you get a selection of similar images as search results, but no further details. Google Lens has been able to recognize a chrysanthemum as such. Nevertheless, Google Lens still needs to be a little smarter.
All in all, Google has once again knocked it out of the park with the camera, which is a good selling point for the Pixel 2 devices.
As with Google’s Nexus and the first Pixel series, the Pixel 2 models use the current Android version – now Android 8.0 Oreo, though developer previews for Android 8.1 Oreo are currently ready for testing. According to Google, the new OS version will be finalized in December. With this update, a custom chip – the Pixel Visual Core – will be activated, which should accelerate the HDR + function of the camera by a factor of five.
The user interface of the devices is a natural Android, whose elements have been enhanced by Google. First and foremost is the Google search widget, which can now be found right at the bottom of the home screen and is easier to reach. A tap on it opens a search window in no time, and trendy topics are displayed along with recently used apps. At the top of the home screen is a calendar and weather widget, pinned by default, displaying upcoming dates and the local weather. Tapping each function will open either the calendar or the weather app.
Also new is the power off and restart menu that appears when you press the power button. Instead of a centrally-positioned window, the options are now displayed sideways and are easier to reach, placed next to the on/off button.
The future of searching is in the form of the language assistant Google Assistant, a fact which plays a central role in the interface of the new Pixel models. The function can be activated in a number of ways. Other than by voice command (saying “OK Google”) and a long press on the home button, you can also start the wizard via the Active Edge frame. The range of functions does not differ from the Assistant on other smartphones of Android 6.0 or above, though the software has been further developed.
A long-overdue innovation is an extended update warranty: Google promises that the smartphones will receive the latest version of Android and fresh security patches for three years. Firstly, the transparency regarding the updates is exemplary. Secondly, the length of this promise for updates is unrivalled. Other smartphone manufacturers should most definitely take notes, especially in times of increasingly expensive smartphones and recurrent vulnerabilities in security that are always found in devices without security updates.
Another positive feature for Pixel 2 owners is the ability to save photos and videos taken with the devices in original size and quality in Google’s “Google Photos” storage service. The offer is valid until January 14, 2021.
Both phones are in many respects very good smartphones, distinguished by their premium features, such as hardware and the great camera, with a sleek and smooth running Android interface in its current version. Despite the simple sensor, the portrait mode works reliably and cleanly even with the front camera thanks to machine-learning algorithms. Even in the dark, you can shoot vibrant and detailed shots.
We were not completely convinced by the displays of the two devices. While the AMOLED screen generally works fine (though it could be brighter), the old-fashioned frame around the display is annoying. The smartphone’s display could have been a bit more compact in its diagonal measurements.
With Pixel 2 XL, Google is making much better use of space. However, LG was not particularly well-advised in choosing the POLED display: it is a bit too dark, and the blue cast that appears at any slightly oblique angles is unacceptable.
Nonetheless, apart from these points of criticism, Google offers two very good smartphones that are unparalleled in many aspects. If you are not disturbed by the weaknesses in the displays, which might be less pronounced in the next batch, you can be happy with a smartphone that is always kept up-to-date in terms of software and is thus protected against security breaches.
If you are looking for a top smartphone with a better display, you will find good alternatives among the competitors: Huawei has recently presented an interesting model with premium features with the Mate 10 Pro. But even Samsung’s Galaxy S8 (Plus), which has recently fallen in price, is worth a glance, if you can overlook the unfavorably-positioned fingerprint reader. There are also interesting devices available from other manufacturers such as LG, HTC or Oneplus.
The Pixel 2 is available in blue (“Kinda Blue”), white (“Clearly White”) and black (“Just Black”). The Pixel 2 XL is available in black, and black-and-white (“Black & White”) in “Pandastyle”. Pricing is currently at $ 272 with the smaller Pixel 2 with 64-gigabyte memory. The Pixel-2 XL version with 64 gigabytes is available starting at $ 318.
Not so good:
The two Pixel smartphones could be the last models developed in cooperation with other manufacturers, as Google continues to expand its hardware plans, thanks to the billion-dollar investment in HTC and the acquisition of nearly 2,000 employees at the end of September. Also, Google is already working on its processors to connect Apple hardware more closely with the software. The first in-house smartphone chip is already being used in Pixel 2 – but at the moment it is still dormant.