Google has been flirting with hardware devices since long. From partnering with HTC for the first-ever smartphone in the Nexus series to acquiring the iconic phonemaker, Motorola – Google has long chased the dream of making a name for itself in the world of consumer gadgets. While it offloaded Motorola to Lenovo in 2014, the company launched the Pixel smartphones last year after discontinuing the Nexus series. And, if there were any doubts about Google’s commitment, they were all quashed on October 4th this year, when the search titan held a launch extravaganza and introduced a spate of gadgets, with Artificial Intelligence as the underlying theme. Of course, the highlight of the event was the Pixel 2 smartphone, which just like last year, comes in two sizes. Considering India is an important market, the brand has already brought these devices to the subcontinent. I’ve been using the Google Pixel 2 XL (first impressions) for more than a week, and now it’s time to see whether the second coming of the Google-branded phone will be able to ruffle the competition’s feathers.
Specs at a glance
|Resolution||1440 x 2880 pixels|
|CPU||Quad core, 2.45 GHz + Quad core, 1.9 GHz, Snapdragon 835|
|Internal memory||64 GB|
|Capacity||3520 mAH, Li-ion, Non removable|
|Primary camera||12.2 MP|
|Secondary camera||8 MP|
|Network support||Single SIM 4G|
|Other options||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS|
|Operating system||Android 8.0 Oreo|
I’ve been using the original Google Pixel for almost an year, and while it’s not perfect, I love it for the snappy performance, the latest and purest iteration of Android and of course, the cameras. In fact, as a reviewer, I don’t have a permanent daily driver, but the Pixel has come closest to that (if not as a primary phone, then as a secondary one). So naturally, I was excited to test out its successor and see whether it takes forward the brand’s ideology, and if it irons out the kinks in the first-gen Pixel. For the most part, the answer is a resounding yes. Interestingly, even without entirely following the latest trends in the smartphone industry, it manages to offer a smooth performance, impressive cameras, and a long-lasting battery life, topped with the goodness of Android Oreo. So is the Google Pixel 2 XL the best Android smartphone out there, especially considering its starting price of Rs 73,000? Well, it’s not as clear as black and white, so read on to find out why we think so.
Related read: Google Pixel 2 vs Google Pixel 2 XL: what’s different?
Display: feeling blue
Size: 6.0 Inch
Resolution: 1440 x 2880 pixels
Display Type: P-OLED
Pixel Density: 537 ppi
Well, I can’t proceed with the review before addressing the elephant in the room. The Pixel 2 XL has been mired in controversies ever since its launch, but the biggest issue is its pOLED panel which is manufactured by LG. Following the trend of tall displays, the screen measures 6-inches diagonally and bears a resolution of 2,880 x 1,440 pixels, resulting in a crisp text and images. However, Google has opted for a wider P3 colour gamut, instead of the prevalent sRGB profile, and along with 8.0 Oreo’s colour space, it aims to deliver accurate colours. Sadly, in my experience, this has resulted in a dull display with muted colours. Thankfully, the company is taking user feedback, and it has now rolled out a software update which introduces boosted and saturated modes, along with the normal one. In my experience, I couldn’t find much difference between natural and boosted modes (it’s similar to the vivid mode in the factory-installed build), but the saturated mode works well – it certainly results in pleasing vivid colours, even though that might not be entirely accurate. It’s still not comparable to the competition like the Galaxy Note8 or iPhone X – both of which use OLED screens – but still it’s better than before, and shows Google’s willingness to listen to frequent complaints and fix them immediately.
Another noticeable issue with the display on the Google Pixel 2 XL is the colour shift, wherein the screen turns slightly blue when viewed from certain angles. However, the brand claims that all OLED screens suffer from the colour shift, and it has opted for a cooler white point at 6700K. This results in a blue hue when you tilt the display, and in the company’s own words “users generally perceive the screen more “fresh” this way, probably because in the real world a yellow hue often indicates something has aged”.
The third issue with the display is even more serious. I’m referring to the burn-in or ghosting issue, which means that an outline of the previous content is visible even while if the screen is displaying new or different content. Many users have reported that the navigation bar’s impression can still be seen even when they’re using an app in full screen. It’s also called differential ageing, and the brand claims that all OLED panels suffer from this issue. To mitigate this problem however, the internet giant’s November software update fades out the software navigation buttons if they aren’t being used for some time. It also introduces a feature with which the navigation bar will have the same colour scheme as the app you’re currently using. Moreover, it’ll also reduce the brightness levels by 50 nits to reduce the load on the screen.
Overall, I have mixed feelings about the display of the Google Pixel 2 XL. While it’s not the best, I’m glad that Google has quickly tried to solve the issues. And the brand has promised that it’ll try to improve it further to give user’s the best experience, which makes me hopeful of the display getting even better.
Design: maximum screen, minimum bezels
Dimensions: 157.9 x 76.7 x 7.9 mm
Weight: 175 grams
Last year, Google Pixel duo’s design seems to be inspired by the Apple iPhone 6, but this year the brand has ensured that its devices stand out from the crowd. It continues with the glass portion at the top of the rear panel of the Pixel 2 XL, which thankfully is now smaller in size than earlier. While it makes the design slightly fragile, it does lend a distinct identity to the smartphone.
Since Google has joined the ranks of smartphones with the newer aspect ratio, the Pixel 2 XL’s fascia is dominated by the display panel. However, the phone hasn’t followed the bezel-less trend, for it has bezels at the top and bottom. Not that we’re complaining as the search behemoth has included stereo speakers, which deliver a loud sound output. Thanks to the use of 3D Corning Gorilla Glass 5, the screen curves gracefully towards all the edges along with being resistant to scratches and accidental drops.
Talking about edges, you won’t find anything surprising when it comes to the placement of buttons. You’ll however, find just one port in the Google Pixel 2 XL – a USB Type-C socket at the bottom. Yes, there’s no 3.5mm audio interface, and even though the device ships with a Type-C to 3.5mm adapter, I don’t think that the wireless audio is the future, yet. Take this situation for instance… I had paired the smartphone with Bluetooth earphones, but during the middle of a call, the latter’s battery died, and I had no other option but to hold the phone in my hands for the remaining duration. Of course, this problem will be there even with smartphones that have a 3.5mm port, but at least, one has an option to plug in a good ol’ pair of wired earphones directly in such cases.
Flip to the back, and things get more interesting. Instead of following the footsteps of other flagships which have a metallic or glass feel, Google has offered a hybrid coating at the back. The matte texture offers good grip, along with ensuring that it doesn’t catch any fingerprints or the phone doesn’t slip. The best part is that the coating is on top of an aluminium frame, which means that the device is robust as well.
While the phone continues with a single rear snapper at the back, the camera module protrudes from the body a little… and while it doesn’t make the phone wobbly, it does make me worried about the lens getting scratched. The fingerprint sensor is placed at the rear at its usual position, and is easy to access. And, it’s possibly the fastest I’ve come across. Just like last year, you can also use it to access the notification panel by swiping to the bottom.
While the first-gen Pixels weren’t dust-or waterproof, Google has made the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL IP67-compatible. This means that the phones can withstand immersion in up to 1m in water for a maximum of 30 minutes. While Google has recently acquired HTC’s engineers, it’s already borrowing features introduced by the Taiwanese brand. One of them is the capability of squeezing the edges to initiate various actions. Dubbed Active Edge in case of the Pixel 2 siblings, it activates Google Assistant instantly and you can also tweak the pressure intensity as per your preferences. While I’d have liked the ability to tweak it the way I want (for launching apps for instance), I’ve to say that this is the best way to access Google’s artificially-intelligent assistant – even faster than using the voice command.
With a 6-inch display, the Pixel 2 XL is surely a large smartphone, but the use of a taller aspect ratio ensures that its footprint isn’t unwieldy. I was comfortably able to access the corners single-handedly, thanks to my large hands. The good thing is that the phone’s not bulky as it tips the scales at 175g. And while its looks might not turn heads, it certainly doesn’t get lost in the sea of similar-looking phones and offers great ergonomic comfort. In fact, I didn’t feel the need of using a protective case with it.
Camera: point, shoot and dazzle the world
Primary camera: 12.2 MP
Flash: Dual LED Flash
Secondary camera: 8 MP
There’s a popular saying “tools don’t make the artist”, and if we take the same parallel in the world of smartphone photography, then the Google Pixel 2 XL takes this philosophy to heart. On the spec side of things, the smartphone flaunts a single rear-facing 12-megapixel unit with f/1.8 aperture. Not a big deal in the age of dual rear camera-toting phones or devices with wider f/1.6 lenses, you’d think, right? But looking past the specs, the Pixel 2 XL blows the competition out of the water. We’ve been strong believers in the fact that software makes the world go round, and the camera capabilities of the Pixel 2 twins are the prime examples of that. With the help of Google’s computational photography, the phone is able to deliver impressive images across all conditions. The photographs clicked with the Pixel 2 XL show an ample of amount of detail with impressive colour reproduction. Not just landscape or close up shots in good lighting conditions, the smartphone delivers great pictures in dim settings too.
The camera interface on the Pixel 2 XL is simple, yet loaded with options. In the horizontal position, you’ll find a circular shutter button, along with a video toggle, the ability to switch to the front camera and preview previously-clicked images towards the bottom. Up top, there’s a toggle for flash, the ability to change the white balance, enable the grid and the self-timer. Like the Live Photos feature on Apple iPhones, Google’s latest can now record Motion Photos, and you can turn on the automatic mode as well which intuitively decides to take the photos in this mode as per the situation. The HDR+ mode is already highly appreciated on Pixel smartphones, but this time, the company has also introduced the HDR+ Enhanced mode, which promises even more vivid results. However, in my experience, the quality doesn’t differ much, and also takes a bit of time to process the photo. Hitting the button on the leftmost side will let you enable slow motion video, Panorama, Photo Sphere (360-degree panorama), and portrait mode. The last one being an impressive addition considering most other smartphones offer this feature with dual cameras. However, Google has managed to offer it with a single camera as it uses the dual-pixel autofocus technology to create a depth map (here are the entire technical details by Google as to how the portrait mode works). It works as advertised, and you’d be hard-pressed to tell if the output is because of the software capabilities and not hardware. Of course, at times, the edges of people’s faces photographed in this mode show softness, but then, even the devices that use dual cameras for this effect don’t work 100 percent of the time. It must be noted that just like phones with dual cameras, Google zooms in 1.5x in the portrait mode to ensure a narrower field of view.
What’s even more mind-boggling is that the Google Pixel 2 XL offers a portrait mode (with 1.2x crop) with the front-facing 8MP snapper too. Yes, that’s the power of algorithms and software – the results in this case also manage to impress. In normal mode too, the selfie camera delivers sharp and vibrant pictures. We’ve said a lot about the cameras, but the proof is in the pudding, so take a dekko at the camera samples of the Google Pixel 2 XL.
Click here to check the images in full resolution
The software prowess continues in the video department as well, as Google has utilised both hardware-based OIS and Electronic image stabilisation to offer a smoother output. The results are impressive as even footage shot from a moving vehicle doesn’t look riddled with jitter. Sadly though, the videos don’t have as good audio recording as I’d have liked. Some Pixel 2 XL owners are also experiencing weird clicking noises while capturing videos, and thankfully, that’s also been fixed via a software update (my unit wasn’t affected with this issue).
With the camera, the brand is also offering version 2.0 of Google Goggles, labelled Google Lens. Its aim is to let you point your camera at any object or even a historical monument, and provide you all the details about it. You can think of it as the Google Search for the real world. Currently, this feature is only available via Google Photos for images that are already in your gallery, but before the end of the year, a dedicated app will be launched for the Pixel 2 devices.
In the end, I’d say that I would have loved to see a professional mode on the Google Pixel 2 XL and possibly, even an option to capture images in RAW format. But it seems that the brand aims to offer a phone that ‘just works’ as far as the cameras are concerned. No matter the situation, the Pixel 2 XL’s shooter won’t disappoint. All you need to do is to simply point towards the subject and click the shutter button, and the rest will be handled automatically. And that’s not it, Google has used its homegrown Pixel Visual Core inside the smartphone, which is a chipset dedicated to enhancing imaging capabilities. While it’s not being used at the moment, I can’t wait to see how the company aims to harness its potential to take smartphone photography to the next level.
Software: fresh Android, served cold
Operating System: Android
OS Version: 8.0, Oreo
For years, Nexus-branded devices were responsible for delivering the latest iteration of Android. However, with the Pixel smartphones, Google has changed that equation. Last year, LG’s V20 offered Android Nougat before the original Pixel, and this year, it was the Sony Xperia XZ1 (review) that brought us Android Oreo first. That said, Android 8.0 Oreo brings quite a few small-yet-useful changes to Android along with bringing several behind-the-scenes improvements. Additionally, the Pixel 2 siblings do bring some features which are exclusive to them at the moment.
The first thing you’ll notice on the Pixel 2 duo is that the Google search bar on the home screen has now moved to the bottom, and is replaced by a widget referred to as ‘At a Glance’. Along with showing the date, time and weather info, it can also show your next appointment in the calendar and display traffic information. The app dock now sits above the search bar, and whether you like this placement or not, you’ll need to become habitual to the change. You can’t delete or move any of them. Personally, I liked the At a Glance widget, but it would have been nice to get the ability to move the search bar around, since you can anyway access Google Assistant for any queries by squeezing the sides of the phone.
Coming to the Google Assistant itself, it has also received a much-needed improvement. Unlike earlier, where it only answered the present queries and didn’t have any memory of earlier conversations, it now keeps a history. Moreover, along with using your voice, you can also type the query, which is more useful in some cases.
Android Oreo also comes with a PIP mode, but I could only use it with Google Maps. It’s really helpful when you’re navigating, but also doing some work as you can enable this mode by simply jumping to the homescreen while using Maps.
The Now Playing feature might be a little creepy, but it works like a charm. The device automatically detects the song playing near you, and recognises it. And the best part is that the feature works offline too. And if you wondering whether it works with Bollywood songs, the answer is yes. The Shazam-like capability doesn’t work every time though, and every once a while, it identifies the wrong track. I’d have also liked the ability to see the history of songs it has recognised. You can however, download a third-party app which helps you do this – Now Playing History.
Another new feature in Android O is Notification Dots, and you shouldn’t dismiss that as just an indicator for waiting notifications. That’s because the feature is coupled with Quick Shortcuts functionality which was introduced with Android 7.1 Nougat, letting you long press on the particular app icon and read the part of contents of the app without even opening it.
Google’s latest OS for phones is also filled with small joys, such as the ability to get a dark mode automatically if the homescreen’s wallpaper is dark. I also liked the fact that the Pixel 2 XL shows the album art with any music streaming app, be it Google Play Music or Wynk. I also liked the Autofill with Google functionality, which makes it signing into different apps and services a breeze.
Sadly, even with so many useful features, the OS isn’t completely refined. We often ran into app crashes or even occasional freezes. But Google is regularly shipping software updates, which suggest that these minor niggles will be solved sooner than later. Moreover, the brand is taking a page from Apple’s book, as it’s promising regular updates for the Pixel 2 devices for the next three years.
Performance: faster than the fastest
CPU: Quad core, 2.45 GHz + Quad core, 1.9 GHz, Snapdragon 835
GPU: Adreno 540
RAM: 4 GB
Memory: 64 GB
SIM Slots: Single SIM , GSM
The Google Pixel 2 XL continues to follow, yet defy trends in its own way. While the smartphone features the top-of-the-line Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC, it’s mated with standard 4 gigs of RAM, and not 6GB or 8GB as is the case with many other flagships. But you’ll hardly be able to notice the difference in real-life performance. From basic navigation to jumping between screens, and from switching between apps to running heavy apps or games, the device performs like a champ. There was nary an instance of lag, except for the aforesaid app freezes, the blame for which goes to the software. At any point of time, I had anywhere between 15 to 20 apps open, and not only the device jumped between them instantly, it also retained the position where I was in the particular app.
With the Adreno 540 graphics engine, gaming is a joyous affair. Be it killing zombies in Unkilled 2 or playing against superheroes and supervillains in Marvel Contest of Champions, I lost track of time often. Add to it the fact that the Google Pixel 2 XL’s is thermally efficient, so you won’t find the device heating up. At times though, it gets slightly warm at the top.
I’ve been using the original Google Pixel for a long time, and one of my biggest grouses was its 32GB non-expandable storage. Thankfully, its successor takes care of that as it ships with double the amount of storage by default, and you can also opt for a 128GB variant. The 64GB storage offers slightly more than 54GB space to the end user.
Connectivity-wise, the Pixel 2 duo continue with a single SIM slot, which supports the latest 4G VoLTE technology, Other connectivity options include Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-FI, GPS and NFC. While I didn’t face any issues in terms of the call quality, I did face a peculiar problem with the unit I was using. While using Airtel, the phone kept dropping the network often and not just while I was in the metro (where it’s plausible). Having said that, this issue doesn’t seem to be there on other Pixel 2 XL devices being used by colleagues and peers, so it might be specific to my unit only.
Battery: stay unplugged for longer
Capacity: 3520 mAH, Li-ion, Non removable
As much as I love my Google Pixel, its battery life is its weak link as it runs out before the end of the day. That wasn’t the case with its bigger brother, the Pixel XL, and nor with its next iteration, the Pixel 2 XL. The latter’s 3,520mAh battery has been well optimised and ensures that you get a day’s worth of battery life and then some more. Even with heavy usage of 4G / Wi-Fi, gaming, 30 minutes of calls, GPS navigation for around two hours and streaming music or podcasts for the same amount of time, the device manages to go on till the next day comfortably. I constantly got a screen-on time of around four hours, and on one instance, it reached a record five hours and 30 minutes. I have rarely come across a device with such an impressive runtime. The experience reflected in the 91mobiles battery test as well, wherein we ran an HD video on loop with both the brightness and volume levels set at 50 percent and all connectivity options turned off except for cellular, and the devices lasted for more than 15 hours before the battery died.
The Google Pixel 2 XL ships with an 18W rapid charger, with support for Quick Charge 3.0. Despite that, charging the smartphone fully takes a considerable amount of time. In multiple tests, it took more than two hours to charge to 100 percent with the bundled adapter. The fact that the charging speed on the Pixel 2 XL is capped at 10.5W is the reason why.
It’s hard to believe that the world of smartphones is just a decade old. In such a short span of time, the way people communicate has changed, and for a large chunk of people, smartphones are their only way of accessing the world wide web. While Apple claims that its latest, the iPhone X (first impressions) – represents the future of smartphones, I believe Google has managed to play catch up fairly quickly. In just its second generation, the Pixel 2 XL solves many of the issues we had with the first-gen offerings. The best part is that the search juggernaut is following Apple’s playbook – combining both hardware and software to deliver a seamless experience.
However, with prices starting at Rs 73,000, there’s no denying the fact that the Google Pixel 2 XL is an expensive proposition. What’s more difficult is that apart from its cameras, there’s no defining characteristic in the smartphone that’s not available with the competition, since its software features would be rolled out to other Android devices sooner than later (Google Assistant has already started recognising songs playing near you, although you need to activate it with your voice). The Samsung Galaxy Note8 (review) isn’t just cheaper by almost Rs 7,000, but also offers S Pen and dual cameras. Apple’s iPhone X is also a tough rival, boasting similar features such as a bezel-less display and stereo speakers, and while it’s expensive, the fact that it’s already out of stock at most places suggest that it would set cash registers ringing for the brand. In a way, Google’s latest offering also faces competition from devices such as the OnePlus 5 (review), which provides similar hardware at almost half the price, and would soon get an iterative upgrade in the form of the 5T, which will be joining the bezel-less bandwagon. On top of that, the Pixel 2 XL is riddled with quality control issues (apart from the things mentioned above, several consumers reported that their units shipped without any OS).
So where does all that leaves us? While it might be difficult to recommend the Google Pixel 2 XL wholeheartedly, it’s a perfect example of a smartphone that stands out on its own without needing to follow the competition blindly. The phone is worth considering if you’re looking for a premium offering which doesn’t compromise on many aspects. Add to it the fact that the phone comes with a two-year warranty…. which certainly trumps the competition offering the standard one year warranty.
Editor’s rating: 4 / 5
- Ergonomic waterproof build
- Versatile cameras with portrait mode
- Smooth performance
- Solid battery life
- AI capabilities
- Promised Android updates for three years
- Display isn’t the best in class
- Quality control issues
- Priced on the expensive side
Photos by Raj Rout