Google’s Nexus devices gave Android fans the experience of a stock UI, in a time when producers and carriers have been forcing hefty custom skins and bloatware onto the devices they sold. The Nexus phones saw their share of fans by striking a good balance between price and performance.
With a loyal user base already in place, Google decided to try out playing in the big leagues with an Pixel series last year. This direction continues with the Pixel 2 and Pixel two XL, though Google is taking slightly different design approaches this time around, which makes for some interesting differences between the two.
The Pixel two XL is that which we have for review today, and it is the larger and prettier of the two. Of course, it also competes with other flagships including Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 (Review) and LG’s V30 (which is yet to launch in India).
It’s also hard to ignore all the bad press this phone has received ever since it went on sale. We’re going to keep an open mind despite multiple reports of all serious issues, and see how they actually affect our day-to-day usage. We have a whole lot to get through, and prospective buyers have a lot to think about prior to making any final decision. Let us begin.
Google Pixel two XL design and build quality
The Pixel 2 XL looks great in the Just Black trim, but you can also put it in Black and White, which is a lot more attention-grabbing. Google has used a aluminium unibody chassis for the phone but there’s no means of telling if you hold it thanks to the coating applied. This has its pros and cons. The matte finish on the Only Black version doesn’t attract fingerprints and offers a fantastic grip. Plus, it helps hides the antenna bands. On the flip side, we personally miss the premium feeling of vulnerable glass and metal. The coating appeared fairly resilient to scratches in the brief time that we used the phone, so it will be interesting to see how it holds up after a few months of use.
The positioning of the volume rocker is ergonomic since it lines up nicely against your thumb (if you are right-handed), however, the volume buttons are a bit of a stretch. The SIM tray is placed on the left side, and only takes a single Nano-SIM. There is no provision for a microSD card either, exactly like with earlier Pixel and Nexus devices. The USB Type-C (USB 3.1, Gen1) port is placed in the bottom, and is the sole physical interface.
Google provides a Type-C to 3.5millimeter dongle in the box but no earphones of any kind – we would have liked a native Type-C headset, given that the phone’s premium price tag. You can find stereo speakers in the front – that the earpiece doubles up as one speaker, and there’s another below the monitor. We even have a notification LED in the top right corner.
We finally get to the component which has everyone up in arms — the display. Google has utilized LG’s pOLED technologies, and in reality that the Pixel two XL is entirely made by LG. LG has utilized Gorilla Glass 5 with subtle curved borders on all sides. However, if you look carefully, the display itself does not really bend – there are sizeable black borders all around it to accomodate the curved glass. The 6-inch panel adheres to the 18:9 aspect ratio and boasts of a dense 1440×2880 pixel resolution.
Coming to the issues that many users are facing, yes, we immediately noticed a blue tint when viewing anything on screen from an angle (more on this later), and also the colours did appear dull (the reds and greens mostly). We haven’t encountered the highly publicised burn-in issue however, so hopefully our review unit isn’t affected by that.
On paper, this screen promises 100 percent of the DCI-P3 colour area. The dual appearance of colours is caused due to the fact that the Pixel 2 XL’s display is calibrated to the sRGB colour gamut, which was done for “aesthetic” reasons. Honestly, aside from being jarring at times, this is something we could see ourselves finally growing accustomed to. After a couple of days, we barely noticed the difference. Videos looked fine as long we were not doing a side-by-side comparison with a different phone, especially one like the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and the original Pixel which both have great screens.
The upcoming fix will enable users to select a different colour profile, which should result in livelier colours. The burn-in issue is also being addressed as well, and while there is absolutely no fix for the physical nature of the screen, Google’s UI will auto-fade the navigation bar outside when not in use so that it isn’t likely to burn in, colour match the pub to each programs’s colour scheme, and drop the screen’s brightness down by 50nits. Meanwhile, there is a temporary fix out there till Google gets its act together.
However, there does not appear to be some solution to the blue tint issue, as according to Google, that is “inherent in the display hardware”. Although Google claims the blue tint is only visible at sharp angles, but this simply is not the case. More than the dull colours, this is constantly annoying, especially if you have Night Light switched on. We do not think Google deserves a free pass here, even with all of the lengthy explanations it has come up with. No matter which way you look at it, the display on the Pixel two XL simply isn’t like people on other flagships.
Round the back, the glass patch is shorter so it doesn’t cover the fingerprint detector like on the older model. The circular fingerprint detector is smaller this time as well, but is equally as fast in authentication. You can even use it to pull down the notification color with a swipe down. Google calls this ActiveEdge, and it’s similar to the characteristic that HTC introduced with all the HTC U11 (Review). As of now, it can simply be used to phone up Assistant and silence incoming calls. You can vary the intensity of of the pressure that is needed so that you do not accidentally trigger it when holding the phone or taking it out of you pocket.
The quality of the accessories is very great, plus they sense long-lasting.
Google Pixel two XL specifications and features
Google has gone with Qualcomm’s best present SoC, which is that the Snapdragon 835. Along with it, you also get 4GB of RAM and 64GB or 128GB of storage. Other specifications include 4G with VoLTE, dual-band WI-Fi ac, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, and connectivity to four satellite systems (GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou and Galileo) for location data. Sensors include a barometer, hall sensor, gyroscope, compass, and the usual accelerometer and ambient light sensor.
The Pixel two XL is IP67 certified for dust and water resistance, therefore it can survive being dunked underwater. Sadly, the phone misses out on several flagship-level features like wireless charging along with an HDR display.
The Pixel two XL (along with the Pixel 2) introduction Google’s first in-house chip (with assistance from Intel) known as Visual Core, which is a dedicated image processor. The main purpose of Visual Core is to enable third-party apps to take advantage of HDR+ image capturing and processing, which is now only available in the Pixel camera app.
Google’s power has always been in software and the Pixel 2 XL is the company’s brand new vessel to flaunt this. It runs vanilla Android 8.0 out-of-the-box but there are a number of new additions to the homescreen, lockscreen, and launcher. Thanks to the pOLED panel, the Pixel 2 XL has an always-on display feature, which shows you the time, date and unread notifications. But you can not interact with notifications on the lock screen like you can on Samsung’s current phones.
There is also a Now Playing feature, which automatically recognises a tune playing in the background and will show you its title and the artist in the bottom of the screen. This doesn’t require an active Internet connection as the Pixel 2 XL includes a database of tune footprints stored locally, which varies by region and is updated on a weekly basis. We tried it with hot English and Hindi paths and it worked nicely for the most part, though it could not recognise some newer Bollywood tracks and failed where there was too much background chatter. In general, it seems like a nice feature to have but is no replacement for dedicated programs like Shazam or SoundHound especially when dealing with not-so-popular tracks.
There is also a new ‘At-a-Glance’ area at the top of the home screen, which gives you the time, weather and other details such as upcoming appointments from the calendar. This can’t be taken out of the homescreen. Thus far, only information from your Google Calendar app and traffic updates are being shown, but Google will soon be linking this to more apps in the coming months. The quick search bar has been moved to the bottom, where it’s nearer to your thumbs. It stays put as you swipe across homescreens, and can’t be removed either. We covered the main features of Oreo when it launched, and you can read all about them here.
Google Assistant works as expected, and swiping right takes you to the Google Now display with relevant news revealed to you in the kind of cards. Bundled apps include Google’s standard suite, plus Allo and Duo. The interface is slick and speedy but it can feel a bit bit too barebones sometimes. For instance, something as basic as being able to annotate a screenshot as soon as you take it, isn’t supported. The Settings program has changed quite a bit, and now, similar functions are grouped together. Some options are also hidden from view, so as to give the app a simpler look. Gestures that are encouraged include a double-press of this power button to launch the camera program, and a double-flick of the wrist from within the camera program to switch between the front and back cameras. There are also fresh live wallpapers known as Living Universe, which seem really cool.
The Pixel 2 XL is privy to an early beta of Google Lens, a new feature which uses machine learning to recognise items, street address, phone number, etc, from the photos you’ve taken and gives you more information concerning these. Presently, this feature can be seen in the Photos app in the Pixel two and Pixel 2 XL but it will be added to the camera program and to Assistant in the coming months. For a beta product, it works decently well. When you are browsing through your photos, you will notice the Lens icon just before the delete icon. Tapping it will bring up a little window in which Lens will show its best guesses of what’s in the picture.
In our experience, it works nicely with addresses and phone numbers (provided that they’re in focus). Lens properly identifies the details and offers you options to navigate to the location or phone the number directly, which is very convenient. It even managed to recognise the species of several blossoms we taken, a kind of cat, and the model of a car based solely on its profile. There were times when it failed to recognise items or simply gave generic descriptions of these. Its true potential will be realised once Lens comes to the camera, in which you’ll be able to see additional information regarding items in front of you, in realtime.
Google Pixel two XL performance, camera, and battery life
Like the previous Pixel smartphones, performance is blazing fast. There’s pretty much zero lag when multitasking or running hefty programs. We tested Asphalt 8: Airborne and GTA: Vice City, which ran perfectly. The display’s touch reply is also superb and although it attracts smudges, they are off easily. The screen does not get very bright, but we didn’t have difficulty using it outdoors under bright sunlight.
Call quality is very nice and the earpiece is loud enough even in noisy environments. The Pixel 2 XL functions nicely as a speakerphone too. We didn’t seem to have any audio issues with our unit, as many others have reported. The dialler app now has Google Duo integration, and you’re going to view a video icon next to every person’s name. Tapping which will directly place a video call to them via Google Duo. Soon, you’ll also have the ability to switch from a voice call to a video telephone, mid-way.
The stereo speakers do a good job her at separating noise but the volume amount varies from program to app. For instance, we actually needed to max out the volume when watching Netflix shows even in a relatively quiet area, but music streamed during Apple Music was quite loud. We didn’t hear any distortion in high volumes and even though there is no serious bass, the sound is warm without resorting the tinny signature that most smartphone speakers have a tendency to have. 4K videos perform easily, and now you can utilize picture-in-picture mode with YouTube videos.
We advocated the first Pixels to lots of people, purely based on camera quality, and the Pixel 2 XL is not any different. The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL have exactly the same camera configuration, which is a single 12.2-megapixel sensor at the back and an 8-megapixel, fixed-focus detector in the front. The rear camera has an updated f/1.8 aperture and optical stabilisation (along with electronic stabilisation), which can be big improvements over the past year’s phones. The back camera also has laser and laser dual-pixel autofocus. Focusing is very quick under good lighting, and we almost never had to tap to focus. There’s also hardly any shutter lag, and photos are stored almost instantaneously, even with HDR+ empowered.
Speaking of HDR+, it’s enabled by default. You can go into the settings to either switch it off or activate an “HDR+ improved” mode instead, which adds a bit of lag to photo processing. Honestly, we could not find any major difference between the two modes. Perhaps with the Pixel two XL’s Visual Core empowered, we might see even better (and faster) results in the future.
Tap to see full-sized Google Pixel 2 XL camera samples
The quality of photos taken during the day is pretty excellent. More than the upgraded hardware in contrast to the first Pixel, it’s Google’s software magic that actually helps in achieving stunning pictures. Details are extremely good and color accuracy is spot on the majority of the time. Pictures possess a neutral color tone this time around, compared to the first Pixel which veered towards the cooler side. Low-light performance is quite good too and although focusing speeds dip a little, it’s still quick. Noise is handled nicely, even though there is visible noise in landscapes taken in very low light. On the other hand, you receive great dynamic range.
The big new addition to the Pixel 2 XL’s camera app is a Portrait mode. It functions exactly like it would on any dual-camera smartphone, only here, it employs the double pixels in precisely the exact same detector to evaluate the thickness behind a topic. Regrettably, you can’t see a preview of the blur effect on screen when you’re taking the shot, and you can not correct the intensity afterwards either. It takes about a second or 2 to get the effect to be applied, therefore there is a bit of lag when you attempt to inspect photos you have just taken.
In regard to the quality of the effect, Google’s software and machine learning characteristics really shine here. The Pixel 2 XL makes it right pretty much every single time, even in low light where many double camera setups struggle or refuse to do the job. There are minor flaws in the blurring process at times, but that holds true for pretty much all smartphones with dedicated depth cameras as well. Since this is all software-based, Portrait mode works even with the front 8-megapixel camera. Details are very great in low light, and skin tones are represented nicely.
Due to the combination of optical and electronic stabilisation, the ‘shimmering’ impact in video when you’re moving is eliminated. Stabilisation works very nicely in low light, but video may get a bit noisy. In reality, we’d say the microphones are a bit too sensitive, so if you are planning on vlogging that you might want to keep a fantastic distance between you and the camera so that your voice isn’t too sharp. Recording modes include 1080p at 120fps/60fps/30fps; 720p at up to 240fps; and 4K in 30fps. Video quality is quite good in daylight, with powerful details and colours. Slow-motion video is also good. We wish the Pixel 2 supported 4K in 60fps, since this appears to be the upcoming big video attribute and is already supported by the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X.
This brings us to the camera app. It’s possibly once of the easiest programs to utilize, which is great for novices, but a bit too constrained for power users. There’s no manual or professional manner here, which we have seen in most flagship Android phones for many years now. The only degree of manual control you get is the ability to lock the focus and exposure, and adjust the exposure and white balance. There’s no option for recording RAW files or adjusting the shutter speed, ISO, etc.. You can get Motion Photos, which means that the camera captures a few moments of video together with a still. Other shooting modes include Panorama, Photosphere, Portrait, Slow Motion, and Burst modes.
One advantage of having a massive phone is that you get a big battery. The 3520mAh battery continued us well over a complete day on a single charge, which is very excellent. Heavy use of this camera will not make a sizeable dent in the battery life. Our HD video loop test didn’t have a very impressive runtime as we were able to get just 12 hours and 43 minutes. However, we believe that this might be down to the pOLED panel along with the QHD+ resolution.
Quick charging functions wonderfully about the Pixel two XL. We listed a 66 percent charge in half an hour, and 90 percent in about one hour, from an empty tank. The bundled adapter has similar output specifications as Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0-certified power adapters, however, rapid charging didn’t appear to work the we tried a third-party charger.
Google Pixel 2 XL in pictures
With all the learnings from its first two Pixel generations, perhaps the Pixel 3 might be the perfect Android device everyone hopes for (you know, third time’s the charm). But that’s in the long run, and today we are dealing with a phone that costs Rs. 73,000 and has seen more issues within a few weeks of its release than many phones see in their entire lifecycles. Granted, many of these issues could be fixed with software patches, and we’re sure Google is working on them around the clock, but the experience has to be in a certain level right from the beginning.
The display is definitely sub-standard – there is no 2 ways about that. The dull colours should be fixed soon, however, the blue tint might annoy you constantly – it sure did with us. If you find that you can’t live without punchy colours, then we recommend choosing the iPhone X, iPhone, 8 Plus or Samsung Galaxy Note 8 instead.
On to the Fantastic stuff. As far as large-screen phones go, the Pixel two XL is one of the better ones we’ve lived with, largely due to its ergonomic design. It isn’t as eye-catching as any other flagships, but the understated look will have its own share of takers. The no-frills Android experience might be a bit too dull for some, but you’re ensured timely software updates and security patches, which Android OEMs do not always prioritise. Then there’s the camera, which is capable of some fairly incredible feats even with its single lens.
The Pixel two XL feels overpriced in India when you consider that it retails for $849 in the US (roughly Rs. 55,200). In the aftermath of all these issues that have cropped up, Google is now offering a two-year warranty for both its Pixel 2 devices, which is applicable here. However, this isn’t an international warranty, as Google confirmed with us, and is still limited to the country in which the phone is bought.
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If you don’t need to take an opportunity with the Pixel two XL (and we do not blame you), the Pixel 2 could be a much better choice. It has had fewer problem reports than its bigger brother and you get rid of the 18:9 display, but it’s also less expensive while still offering the same great cameras, hardware and software as the XL. Stay tuned for our review of this Pixel 2.