The Google Pixel 2 XL is a stunning fruit to bear from the company’s still-young focus on melding its software and hardware efforts. It’s refined, confidently serving as a showcase of how far Google’s design (and the stock Android experience powering it) have come in the past few years. Plus, it’s a launching point for a few interesting debuts, like the intelligent Google Lens feature and the slick, new Pixel Launcher.
Before we start, I want to make sure I give a huge shout out to the folks over at Verizon Wireless for sending this device over. I’ve been working with them for a while now and they always take care of me with the latest mobile devices such as the Moto Z2 Play, Moto Z2 Force, and the LG V30. Without them these reviews wouldn’t be possible here at TechDissected.
First Things First
In many ways, this is Google’s best phone yet. Its impressive look and stellar, plus-sized screen go toe-to-toe with the fierce competition. The real kicker here are its cameras, which manage to outperform most, if not all, phones that have come before it or even at the same time such as the iPhone X.
As many of you know there was a ton of talk around the internet with the Pixel 2 XL having some serious screen issues such as the screen having a pretty noticeable blue tint to it when at certain angles. To me I’m going to set this straight, I think that was just a bunch of hype to get a lot of views and clicks. Does the screen have a slight tint when you turn it certain ways? Sure, it does, but I’d say a good 90% or higher of all phones made today have it. It’s just how things are made and done today and there’s no real way around it. The original Pixel XL had the same issue.
Maybe some people out there felt theirs was a bit more blue than other devices and that’s all good but in my personal experience with the Google Pixel 2 XL from Verizon, it was something that wasn’t very easily noticed and didn’t stop me from using the device or irritate me in any way.
I would suggest that you don’t let this persuade you into not buying the device because if you do you’re going to miss out on the device of the year. Google has also released an update that fixes this and gives the users some options of how to re-color their displays to keep this blue tint from occurring and from what everyone is saying that had the issue, this fix definitely appears to fix it for them.
Pixel 2 XL starts at US$849 (£799, AU$1,399) for the base 64GB model, while the 128GB version is priced at US$949 (£899, AU$1,549). This is more expensive than last year’s pricing scheme, which saw the original Pixel XL sitting at $120 above the smaller option. The result? It now costs $200 (£170, AU$329) more to make the jump between the Google Pixel 2 and the larger version. In each region where the Pixel 2 XL is available, you can snag it unlocked for the prices listed above, though local carriers, like Verizon in the US, EE in the UK and Telstra in Australia will offer the phone for a monthly rate.
Design And Active Edge
Depending on who you ask, last year’s Google Pixel phones either looked like a good start for the line, a little too iPhone-esque or just a peculiar shade of futurism that didn’t sit quite right. And while the Google Pixel 2 and the Pixel 2 XL have mostly held onto the divisive two-toned pairing of glass and aluminum, the company has worked to better meet expectations in the middle with a bevy of improvements, including IP67 waterproofing.
Aluminum now makes up a larger majority of the back, and the grippy texture Google has worked into the material makes carrying the Pixel 2 XL sans case feels less like an accident waiting to happen. The top glass section looks and feels like an accent rather than a functional part of the design, with only the large rear-facing camera, flash and accompanying sensors sitting within it.
Pats on the back for whoever at Google had the good idea to put a metal ring around the rear camera, as it will go a really long way in preventing a repeat of the profound horror endured when the original Pixel’s rear glass cracked.
Speaking of a few other improvements, Google’s new phone employs Gorilla Glass 5 and with that, a three-dimensional curve around its edges that makes it easier to hold and of course, gives it a stunning look. If you’re trying to figure out the differences between the Pixel 2 XL and its predecessor, setting them side by side helps to clear things up. The new device is 3mm taller at 157.9mm, about 1mm wider at 76.7mm, and all-around a thinner device at a consistent 7.9mm, while the original fluctuated between 7.3 and 8.5mm.
The changes seem negligible on paper, but they effectively impart a shift in design that’s made even more apparent by this 2017 smartphone’s trimmed bezels and taller 18:9 display aspect ratio on the front. And while this is where the phone falls in line with other popular flagships from the year, there are a few unique traits tossed into the mix.
Within the bezels are dual front-facing speakers, which alone justify them being a bit thicker than we’ve seen on the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Essential Phone. It’s a small, but welcome, quality-of-life feature to not have to cup the bottom of the phone while watching a YouTube video to funnel the sound toward our ears. Google has also tossed in an excellent front-facing camera and a subtle notification LED into the top bezel.
Neither the Pixel 2 or the Pixel 2 XL feature a 3.5mm headphone jack. These aren’t the first Android phones to omit the legacy port, but given that it made a pointed jab at Apple for doing so last year, there’s a bit of egg on Google’s face right about now. However, it’s less than you might think given that Android Oreo supports plenty of high-quality wireless audio codecs. We’ll touch more on this further into the review.
Moving right along, the sides along the Pixel 2 XL are smoothed over, offering a single texture in place of the multi-layered mix of chamfered edges and glossy metal used together in 2016’s model. As usual, the right side of the smartphone plays host to the volume rocker and power button (no longer textured), with each delivering an optimal amount of tactility when pressed. But it also features an unusual hardware button that can’t be seen, Active Edge, which lets you squeeze the phone’s lower half to call up Google Assistant.
Display And Sound
Meanwhile, the Pixel 2 XL’s screen was more of a mixed bag than I expected. It’s bigger and more pixel-dense, but colors aren’t quite as punchy as on its smaller sibling. Google attributes this to the XL screen’s tuning — the official line is that the company was aiming for more “natural” colors, with the potential for the display’s wide color gamut to offer up punchier visuals when necessary. (There’s an option for “vivid colors” that’s enabled by default in both phones’ display settings, but it didn’t seem to change much of anything on the 2 XL.) The result is that the 2 XL’s screen often produces colors that seem flatter than those on other phones on the market, but I wouldn’t necessarily call that a deal-breaker.
Since the update and having the used the device both prior to the update and since the update, I can tell you that there is a good bit of difference. The display wasn’t horrible to begin with, but you could definitely tell it was different, especially if you were a Pixel XL user like myself and then coming to this device. The update has put things back to the way they need to be. Are they the best that they could be, certainly not, but improvements have been made.
I also think this is something Google will learn from and next year when we get the Pixel 3 XL we won’t see these problems and will probably have one of the best screens around.
Front-facing speakers are definitely something that most every device should have in my opinion. It just makes everything considerably louder, though louder isn’t always better so it depends on the quality of speakers that are used. Google did a decent job with their front-facing speakers on the Pixel 2 XL. They aren’t the best but trust me, I’ve certainly heard a lot worse.
The sounds are definitely loud and are relatively clear and crisp. While listening to music or watching a movie and if you turn the volume all the way up, then things get a little distorted and such, but that happens with majority of things in mobile devices when you have the sound turned all the way up. Google has opted to leave behind the headphone jack, though it has included a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter that remedies the issue.
However, if you’re ready to go wireless, this device features Android Oreo’s high-quality wireless audio codecs and Bluetooth 5.0 to make it a surprisingly good and painless experience. Pairing with “Made for Google” wireless headphones, in our experience, is lightning fast – a far cry from previous Bluetooth experiences on Android. aptX HD, one of the supported codes, in addition to Sony’s LDAC, sounds fantastic and better yet, the strength of the connection is rock solid – even when roaming about in the signal-dense Manhattan streets.
Of course, you can just listen to tunes through the dual front speakers, which will yield a better experience than you’ll get with most phones. However, as good as they are, you’ll still be better served with a pair of headphones.
Moving onto visual entertainment, Google has worked to account for its taller display by working in a gesture that spreads content to fill the 18:9 aspect ratio. On both YouTube and Netflix, we found settings to make sure no pixel went without a job.
On the other hand, HBO Now only looks to support 16:9 aspect ratios on this phone for now. We’ll be sure to check back in with these and other popular video apps to see if things have changed following the launch. When it comes to games, it’s pretty much the same story. We’ve found that many recent hits, including Super Mario Run and Fire Emblem Heroes partially support the 18:9 aspect ratio, but the bottom bezel is sliced off. However, Rayman Adventures plays blissfully on the entire display.
But regardless of the title’s support(or lack thereof) for the display size, each and every one plays perfectly thanks to the Pixel 2 XL’s pOLED display running at 2,880 x 1,440 and the guts running inside.
The Pixel 2 XL has a 12.2-megapixel camera, and it’s already been hyped like crazy — in DxOMark’s rankings. the Pixel 2 XL seemed to blow rivals like the iPhone 8 Plus and Galaxy Note 8 away. I don’t think things are quite that simple. Over a week of testing, the Pixel 2 XL proved itself to be highly a impressive performer, to the point that the Pixel 2 XL has become my go-to smartphone camera. It’s that good, but this race is closer than you might think. I really hate that I’m going to have to send this device back here in a couple of days.
The 12.2MP camera lens on the back sports an f/1.8 aperture, improving over last year’s model to help bring a little more light into a dark scene. Flipped over to the front, we have what looks to be the same 8MP selfie cam that is set to f/2.4.
In my time of reviewing the Pixel 2 XL, the pictures have turned out even better than before, thanks to the Pixel 2 XL’s widened aperture, faster auto focus and the new Portrait mode, the latter of which works wonders on both the rear and front cameras. Photos taken with the camera quick-draw style are more likely to come out exactly the way you had hoped on the first attempt. The colors are accurate, not deeply saturated. Lighting and focus are right on the mark.
Moving onto the main event, or part of it, when you want to focus in on a moment to bring out a dramatic look and feel, Portrait Mode lets you do that with both the front and rear cameras. Frankly, there’s no reason that these photos should look as good as they do.
To really show off the effect, each Portrait photo snaps a regular still and one rich with bokeh that clearly expresses the differences. We found that the bokeh filter is a little hit and miss in selecting what to pronounce and what to delegate a blur to, but on the whole, it’s accurate in a variety of light settings. Here’s a gallery of photos shot with Portrait Mode.
Capturing video on the Pixel 2 XL is just fine and dandy, too, but if sheer quality is what you’re after, the iPhone X will likely be the best choice with its 4K recording at a smooth 60 frames per second. Recording at up to 4K at 30 frames per second, the results here are still worth checking out. As we experienced when taking photos, videos are also super quick to focus, balanced in their color and lighting expression.
Meanwhile, Google basically nailed its battery life proclamations. The Pixel 2 XL’s 3,520mAh battery is clearly the one worth yearning for, though. It routinely lasted at least through a day and a half of nearly constant use. And I could easily have dragged that out to two full days had I not spent so much time sucked into a freemium Digimon game all week.
On the weekend, we typically don’t use the phone a whole lot and were able to squeeze close to a day and a half out of its battery before needing to recharge for a trip outdoors where we needed to utilize Google Maps. That said, leaving it through the night with the always-on display(AOD) activated, it only drained about 7%.
Even if you’re someone who really puts their tech to task, you’ll definitely still achieve a full day of use. Android Oreo has some new smarts built-in to help manage the background use of apps with the goal being to achieve more efficiency and less data use.
This resulted in some better-than-expected drains on the power pack, but at the same time it’s such a ‘background’ feature that it’s hard to tell how much of an effect it’s having on battery life. There’s no overt system updates telling you that certain apps have been put to sleep – like one might get with Samsung’s Note 8, for instance – but that’s possibly not necessary here. One of the battery-draining features we did notice is that the ability to double-tap the screen to wake the Pixel 2 XL would activate in the pocket.
This led to some faster discharging than we would like to have seen, so you might want to think about disabling that feature if you go for this phone and want to save battery life. One thing we would have liked to see here is wireless charging – the top players are now really getting behind the QI standard, and given that Google’s Nexus phones were among the first to bring the tech to the market, it’s weird it’s not present now. Sure, the shell doesn’t really allow it, but many expected Google to find a way around that problem given its close partnership with Qualcomm.
Being an original Pixel XL user from day one basically, I have to say that the Pixel 2 XL really is a big improvement over last years model. The number one thing on this device that blows me away is the camera. There’s nothing that the camera can’t do and Portrait Mode is my favorite part of the camera.
While the price is definitely a bit more than last years model, it’s not surprising and in a lot of ways you are getting your money’s worth in upgrades from last years Pixel XL. As stated early on, you have to go into the screen issue thing with an open mind and don’t be so brainwashed by these larger sites that make it sound like your screen is going to be as blue as Papa Smurf, because it’s not going to be. They are saying all of that just to get their quota of views and clicks and it’s truly sad. As I said above, DON’T BELIEVE THEIR HYPE!
Tony Simons over at AndroidUnfiltered.com just published his Pixel 2 XL review a couple of days and I’m willing to bet he has pretty similar feelings as I do about the screen stuff. If you feel I’m saying these things just to bash the big guys and get attention, then go read his review and see what he has to say.
For everything the Pixel 2 XL offers for the price, I firmly believe it’s totally worth it. I’d go out and buy one today if I needed to and wouldn’t think twice about the $900 that I’d be paying because I know I’d be getting what I feel is the device of 2017 for that price.