Last year's inaugural Pixel was such a slam dunk, I expected this year's Google Pixel 2 -- and larger Pixel 2 XL -- to carry Google's phone even further.
In the most important ways, it has. The Pixel 2 has the best camera quality of any Android phone, and updates like water resistance and a best-in-class processor make it a top pick. The Android Oreo software will get regular updates, and Google's Lens feature taps into Google's vast search database so you can immediately learn more about the world around you.
In other ways, the Pixel 2 bucks big trends, foregoing the dual cameras seen in most of its competitors. Bokeh-effect pictures don't look quite as elegant as those on the Apple iPhone 8 Plus ($649.00 at Amazon.com) and the Pixel 2's battery is so-so compared to its top-tier rivals. The Pixel also doesn't flaunt super-thin bezels, so it looks less sexy than the Samsung Galaxy S8 ($594.95 at Amazon.com) and Note 8. And lastly, I really do miss that headphone jack.
But the Pixel 2 is a fantastic phone for Android purists and casual fans alike. Putting aside Portrait Mode, it still has an impressive camera that can handle all sorts of tricky environments like low light, shadows and brightly lit backgrounds. In the end, the Pixel 2 mostly holds its own against the iPhone 8 Plus and Galaxy Note 8 ($929.99 at Amazon.com), with a few omissions (like Portrait Mode and battery life, respectively). And while the Pixel 2 isn't exciting or particularly beautiful, its whole outweighs the sum of its parts.
If you prefer a bigger display and have the budget, however, you may be interested in the 6-inch Pixel 2 XL. But be aware that there have been reported issues with its display in early review models, which I detail later.
See a full specs comparison at the end of this review.
Pixel 2 pricing and sale date
The phone is available through Verizon, the Google Store, Project Fi and Best Buy. The Pixel 2 comes in three colors: Kinda Blue, Just Black and Clearly White, and costs $649 (64GB) and $749 (128GB).
Google Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL pricing
Pixel 2 vs. Pixel 2 XL: What's the difference?
The differences between the two phones come down to price (obviously), size, bezel width and screen technology. The Pixel 2 XL has a bigger 6-inch display and a higher resolution than the 5-inch Pixel 2. It also uses a plastic-OLED (POLED) display, while the Pixel 2 has a more traditional AMOLED screen. Other than this, the phones are the same including their hardware and software features.
There have been reported issues about the display on the Pixel 2 XL though. One is screen burn-in, wherein remnants of images remain on the screen despite not being actively displayed. Screen burn-in does happen on different types of displays, but usually after some time. The fact that it's happening on such a premium and expensive phone so soon is a red flag. Google issued a statement saying that the Pixel 2 XL's burn-in issue was "in line with that of other premium smartphones and should not affect the normal, day-to-day user experience" (despite the fact that we didn't see evidence of burn-in on the Pixel 2, LG V30 or Galaxy S8). The company promises ongoing software updates starting in the next few weeks that will optimize the phone against burn-in and extended both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL's warranty to two years.
Right now, we don't know how serious or how widespread the burn-in issue is (are these anecdotal issues with an early batch of screens, or are they symptomatic of an endemic problem with the product?), or how well Google's upcoming software updates will help ameliorate the problem. In the meantime, we're keeping an eye on our other Pixel 2 XLs to see how they fare over time with normal use.
Another, more minor issue is that the Pixel 2 XL's display looks more muted and washed-out compared to others like the Galaxy S8 and LG V30 ($800.00 at T-Mobile USA), the latter of which has the same POLED screen with the same resolution. There's also a bluish hue that's visible when tilting the phone at different angles (this is known as blue shift). Google stated that based on user feedback about this issue, it will add a new mode for saturated colors through a software update in the coming weeks. While the Pixel 2 XL's screen isn't indeed as vibrant as its competitors, I don't view the first problem as a deal breaker. As for the blue shift, this is a hardware issue you'll find on most phones if you tilt the screen far enough. How wide you want this tilting window to be depends on your tolerance.
Google Pixel 2 vs. Pixel 2 XL
|Google Pixel 2||Google Pixel 2 XL|
|5-inch AMOLED; 1,920x1080 pixels||6-inch POLED; 2,880x1x440 pixels|
|441 ppi||538 ppi|
|5.7x2.7x0.3 in||6.2x3.0x0.3 in|
|145.7x69.7x7.8 mm||157.9x76.7x7.9 mm|
|5.04 oz; 143g||6.17 oz; 175g|
|Just Black, Cleary White, Kinda Blue||Just Black, Black and White|
Squeezable sides and water resistance, but no headphone jack
Compared to the super-slim bezels of the Galaxy Note 8, LG V30 and iPhone X ($1,188.00 at Amazon.com), the Pixel 2 looks thick and frankly, a little boring. The design does allow for front-facing speakers, which create an even, robust sound, and the glass shade on the back looks tidier and cleaner. Still, the Pixel 2's thicker bezels make it look dated compared to other top phones.
There's also the disappointing matter of the headset jack, which goes the way of the iPhone and Motorola Moto phones. Even if the design change made the Pixel 2 thinner and leaves space for a bigger battery, the omission is kind of a drag for people who have a pair of great wired headphones or earbuds they'd rather keep using without an adaptor dongle (which comes included in the box).
But it's not all bad -- the Pixel 2 is water-resistant. I submerged both the Pixel 2 and 2 XL twice in a bucket filled with a foot of water (that's well under their IP67 standard rating, which dictates a maximum depth of 1 meter, or about 3 feet) for a little over 28 minutes. They both worked fine immediately after each dunk.
Lastly, Google borrowed the HTC U11's pressure-sensitive sides. Squeeze the phone to open Google Assistant and tell it what to do. (This is in addition to launching Assistant by saying "OK, Google" or long-pressing the home button.) You can also squeeze the Pixel 2's sides to silence your ringing phone, but that's it. In general, I didn't use the squeeze feature all that much, and it would be better if you could program the squeeze to launch an app of your choice. Out of habit, I mostly launched Assistant through the Home button.
New lock and home screen features
Aside from physical changes, Google refreshed the lock and home screen too. The phone has an Always On lock screen now, showing missed notifications and messages when the screen is off. The lock screen also displays Music Detection, which is a Pixel-exclusive feature that runs continuously in the background. Whenever the phone picks up a song (for example, in a store or a car), it'll look up the artist and song and list it on your lock screen. This feature works offline and on Airplane Mode, and if you're uncomfortable with your phone "always listening" you can disable it.