A year on from Google’s maiden entry into hardware, the software titan is proving to be an even more serious player in the smartphone market with its second-gen smartphones, the Pixel 2 ($649) and Pixel 2 XL ($849). Aside from size, both smartphones are near identical, with OLED displays, curved edges, squeezable bezels and fantastic single-lens camera systems that are rated higher by DxOMark than the dual-lens systems of the Samsung Note 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. Both new smartphones are also water and dust resistant. The obvious downsides are that neither supports wireless charging, and the headphone jack of last year’s phones is gone.
The Good: Updated camera, better form factor, water resistance and a snappy OS.
Who They’re For: Android fans who want a bloatware-free, no-compromises flagship smartphone.
Watch Out For: Like Apple, the new Pixel 2 and 2 XL both nix the 3.5mm headphone jack. Embrace the world of the dongle if you have yet to step into the 21st century with a pair of wireless headphones.
Verdict: I spent the last year using Google’s first-gen smartphone, the Pixel XL, and after a week with the updated Pixel 2 XL — well, color me impressed. Virtually every aspect has been updated — hardware and software included — and if there were ever a smartphone to turn the heads of iPhone users, this would be the one. I’m an Android user, always have been; so when Google first announced a flagship smartphone of its very own, promising a bloatware-free, pure Android experience, I was immediately smitten. While the hardware itself felt somewhat rushed — certainly not quite as buttoned up as you’d expect from Google — the software revolutionized the way that I consume news, capture media and store my photos and other info.
The Pixel 2 XL’s body is almost as pristine as its software, although it’s nowhere near as flashy as Samsung’s S8 and S8+. It trades the sharp, beveled rectangular edges of the original for soft, rounded, pleasing curves. You may be rolling your eyes wondering how exactly a smartphone’s edges could be pleasing, and before having held and used the Pixel 2 XL, I would have agreed with you. It needs to be experienced in person to be fully comprehended.
The Pixel 2 XL is thinner and taller than its predecessor. The fingerprint scanner takes up less real estate on the rear panel and the translucent bits that the old Pixel needed for its antennas are now gone. There is no noticeable taper from the top of the phone to the bottom, presumably because Google found a way to fit its high-quality camera in there without it. The glass around the camera is raised slightly, meaning the camera is the first thing that comes in contact with the table when you set the phone down. That puts me on edge a bit, but only long-term testing will reveal whether or not it’s a real issue.
As per the rumors, the new Pixel 2 and 2 XL both feature a “squeezable frame” called Active Edge. In other words, if you squeeze your phone, it will activate Google Assistant. In theory, you could program the Active Edge sensor to activate any number of other apps (though this will likely require rooting your phone).
In the jet black version we tested, the textured back is a bit tackier than the metal of the previous Pixel phones. One Gear Patrol writer remarked that the new version feels less premium than the original, but I disagree. The hand feel is solid, sturdy and comfortable — much more comfortable than the hard edges of the first gen.
The camera was voted as the best smartphone camera by the image quality experts at DxOMark, and after testing it for a week, it really is excellent. It’s superb in low-light conditions. Its in-camera image stabilization provides nearly gimbal-quality video. And its newly added “motion photo” feature — Google’s version of Apple’s Live Photos — allows you to see the milliseconds before and after the photo was taken.
Rather than battling directly with experienced hardware makers from a raw specs POV, the first Pixels cleverly leveraged Google’s advantages in AI and machine learning to best the rest of the mobile photography market last year. The followup phones follow a similar winning formula. Unlike the dual-lens setups found on competing flagships from Samsung, LG and Apple, Google opted for a single rear camera module comprised of 12.2MP sensor paired with a faster f/1.8 aperture lens with optical image stabilization. The rear camera boasts a unique “dual-pixel sensor,” which splits image data at the pixel level to provide additional image information that Google’s algorithms use to create even better photo results.