It’s been a while since I’ve had a new phone, so it was rather interesting going through and comparing all the options. There have been many technological advances since the production of my previous phone (OnePlus X) and as with everything I buy I like to carefully consider and scrutinise all the features I’m looking for in the product. Ultimately, I decided to go with the Google Pixel 2 XL and here I shall tell you why.
Now, I’m not much of a fan of phones, they aren’t particularly useful for my line of work but for things like Twitter and taking photos, they are amazing. I rarely make phone calls and only slightly more often do I text. Phone calls always seem to arrive at the wrong time (when you’re in the loo or shower, for instance) and can easily become rather awkward - especially when it comes to saying “bye” which is generally said around 15 times at the end of each call in Britain.
Pixel 2: Clearly White
Pixel 2 Specs
Processor and RAM
The Pixel 2 sports the standard processor used in most current gen phones, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor and a standard 4GB of RAM. Some phones such as the ones made by OnePlus carry up to 8GB of RAM though 4GB should be perfectly adequate. I don’t give the performance of modern flagship phones much thought as they’re going to perform at least well enough or it’d be on the front page of every news site.
This is perhaps the most important consideration for me. The Pixel 2 carries a 12.2 MP rear camera and an 8MP front camera, very little difference to the couple year old OnePlus X (in terms of pixel count). The Pixel does have both OIS and EIS (Optical and Electronic image stabilisation). Google also provides free unlimited photo and video storage on Google Drive for photos and videos uploaded from the Pixel through its automatic back up and sync feature. The offer expires on 16/01/2021 but we’ll all probably have a new phone by then.
Back to specs, in terms of video, the rear camera is capable of the following:
- 1080p @ 30fps, 60fps, 120fps
- 720p @ 30fps, 60fps, 240fps
- 4K @ 30fps
…and the Front:
- 1080p @ 30fps
- 720p @ 30fps
- 480p @ 30fps
The actual quality of the camera is rather impressive, I’m no expert photographer but with this camera and the features Android gives me, I can take some professional looking photos and videos. Here’s one that I took accidentally when I was reviewing some photos I’d just taken.
Here’s a photo of me that I took to see how well it picked up detail on dark objects, I took this in “Portrait” mode which does some post processing to sharpen the subject and blur the background. My hand is intentionally slightly blurry for reasons I might delve into in a later article.
My usage has been far from extensive but for the things I’ve photographed so far it has performed very well. Feel free to follow me on Instagram to see some of the photos I’ve taken with this phone. Video performance is much the same and there are many much more interesting videos than I have the scenery to make, available online. I am very happy with the things I’ve tested it on however.
The optical and electronic image stabilisation is something worth noting, it’s not something I’ve had the pleasure of using before and it makes such a difference. It’s much more noticeable when zoomed in or recording a video. It takes a minute to get used to the movement of the camera being a lot smoother on the screen than how you’ve moving it physically.
There’s also AR Stickers - a tab in the camera app which allows you to place VR objects into whatever you’re looking at. It’s a rather weird and fun feature. Google Lens is something else worth noting, you can point your camera at objects and it’ll tell you things about it, it’s intended for things like landmarks, books, films, albums etc.
The screen is one of the two differences (besides looks) between the Pixel 2 and the Pixel 2 XL.
Pixel 2: The Pixel 2 has a 5” 1080p (FHD) AMOLED display (441ppi) with a 16:9 screen ratio. All fairly standard stuff, the resolution isn’t amazingly high but is perfectly sufficient and the AMOLED screen should be rather impressive for anyone who hasn’t had an OLED display before. The covering glass is 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass 5 which should prove to be rather tough (the 3D variety is used on 2 XL and hopefully won’t be the first phone screen I break). The screen has 95% DCI-P3 coverage and if you’re curious as to what that means then I’ll refer you to this Wikipedia article.
Pixel 2 XL: The Pixel 2 XL has a 20% larger display at 6 inches, it also gets a nice resolution increase up to 1440p (QHD+) and a pixel density of 538ppi. I’m interested in the taller display than the Pixel 2 and the 18:9 ratio which will allow for more content to be visible in apps and webpages. Though there is a problem when it comes to content. Most videos (and a lot of pictures) are taken in 16:9 aspect ratio which means you’re left with a strip of unused display at either end. Netflix for instance, “solves” this by enlarging the video to fill the gaps but sacrifices a thin strip at the top and bottom of the content. I wouldn’t call this a problem as it’s a “that’s obviously going to happen” type of thing.
As I haven’t used a Pixel 2 I can only comment on the Pixel 2 XL (which is a very different screen panel to the 2). There’s what was originally a very noticeable blue shift when viewing the screen at even reasonably shallow angles. When I updated the phone to Android 8.1 the problem became much less noticeable - to the point when I no longer think about it. The vast majority of the time I’m looking at the screen perpendicularly anyway.
Google have gone for a natural looking screen which originally seemed washed out but now that I’ve gotten used to it anything else looks awful and oversaturated. There is a setting which allows for a “Boosted” or “Saturated” look though I don’t use either. I do appreciate the natural look for another reason as well, on my previous phones, photos would look a lot different on the phone than they would on any other device. With this one, they look the same.
The last thing, and the only thing I have against the screen is the contrast between blacks. OLED displays don’t use a backlight as it emits visible light itself. This allows for much deeper blacks and as there is no backlight there’s no possibility of backlight bleed (which is when light bleeds through the display especially around the corners resulting in bright spots and uneven lighting). This is a great thing but unfortunately on this particular OLED display when watching Netflix, I’ve noticed that on dark objects like suits, the entire thing can look one colour (I.E. totally black) as it lacks the brightness difference needed to see the contrast. This is a bit of a weird and annoying effect, it’s not noticeable at higher screen brightness’s but that’s not ideal when you’re in a low light environment.
The battery is the other main difference between the 2 and the 2 XL. The 2 carries a 2700 mAh batter and the 2 XL carries a 3520 mAh battery. Neither of the phones batteries are user removable/replaceable.
Thanks to fast charging technology, both phones can run for up to 7 hours with just 15 minutes of charge according to Google’s spec sheet. Obviously, this is highly dependent on how heavily the device is used and I have no idea how accurate it is but I wouldn’t be too surprised from what I’ve seen. The phone charges fully in around an hour to an hour and a half and lasts plenty long enough for my usage. I’ve estimated it would last around 6 hours on Netflix at 70%~ brightness. Music (through Plex) uses so little battery that I’m unable to put up with music long enough to get a good estimate - though that’s a good thing.
WiFi: The Pixel 2 supports both 2.5Ghz and 5Ghz WiFi (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 2x2 MIMO) allowing for really fast WiFi speeds (when used with a 5Ghz wireless access point).
Bluetooth: It also has support for Bluetooth 5.0 (+ LE) which is useful if, like me, you have a smartwatch though there are an ever increasing number of devices that connect via Bluetooth.
GPS: If you’re a fan of knowing where you are without taking your eyes off your phone then you’ll be glad to know it supports GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou and Galileo.
NFC: This is something I’ve been wanting to play around with for a while, it’s the technology that allows you to use your phone to pay for things (Android Pay, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, etc.) It’s basically a very short-range radio signal, a radio signal that can even provide power to devices such as the Yubikey NEO (a 2FA key) or NFC tags in stickers or cards, to allow them to communicate with it.
Mobile Network: The phone can work worldwide, across all major carrier networks according to the spec sheet. If, for some (probably rather uninteresting) reason you want specific specs (or you wish to find yourself incredibly bored) please visit Google’s spec sheet. The phone supports a single nano sim card and no micro SD.
The Pixel runs Android 8 aka Oreo. Not sure what I think of the Android naming scheme but at least it’s more imaginative than say, “iOS 11”. The phone has a very uncommon (in a very good way) 3 years of security and OS updates (with no guaranteed updates after October 2020).
The fact that there is 3 years of updates (for the OS as well) is such a selling point for me. I’ve had my current laptop for nearly 6 years and it’s still performing amazingly and gets the latest features. It’s so incredibly annoying how phones are abandoned by manufactures so quickly and people just accept it. 3 years is hopefully the first step in the right direction - I think perhaps 4 would be a reasonable compromise but most people are happy with the way things are and always want the latest device - despite the cost and waste.
Google have integrated a lot into this phone, it was something I kept noticing when configuring it to my liking. Yes, it was a lot of allowing people to use this data and that sensor but that’s something that’s hard to avoid in this day and age - and a debate for another day.
Google Assistant is Google’s equivalent of Siri, Alexa, Cortana and however many other virtual assistants there are out there. It’s surprising useful and I’ve found myself actually using it unlike the many opportunities I’ve had to use the others but didn’t. The phone has pressure sensors on the lower sides which you can squeeze to summon the assistant - this is probably the main reason I find myself using it - it’s so convenient. Plus, I don’t think I’d ever use something that required me saying “Ok Google” in front of other people - though that goes for all these assistants. It’s also very well integrated into Google’s services which gives it more potential than others.
One of my favorite features which is only available on the Pixel is “Now Playing” which is offline music recognition. If it detects a song playing that matches it’s internal (rather large) database then it will display the song on the lock screen and at the bottom of the notification screen. If you use the Always on display feature (which shows the data and time on a black screen along with some other details) then it will display at the bottom of that as well.
There’s a lot of cool stuff to see in the OS and I’ve just listed a couple of the ones I find more interesting. If I were to list everything then I think I could turn this post into a book.
There’s a pair of front-firing speakers which are actually pretty good. If, like me, you use the 3.5mm headphone jack then I’m afraid you’re going to have to carry an adapter around with you. Not the end of the world as I’m carrying around earphones in a little box already, but I REALLY wish I didn’t have to add to it. On the upside the quality when using headphones is perfectly acceptable and I haven’t yet noticed any buzzing or unwanted sounds as I did with my previous phone.
The Pixel 2 and XL both feature a curved, full front glass cover which really makes the phone feel modern and comfortable to hold. The back has a glass section at the top covering the camera and light and the rest is a very nice textured finish coloured according to the model you buy.
The Pixel 2 can be obtained in three different colour schemes, Just Black, Clearly White, and Kinda Blue. The 2 XL on the other hand is available in just two, Just Black and Black and White (I have the Black and White which I prefer to call “Panda”).
On the front there are two thin, long slits, one at the top and the other at the bottom. They are the stereo speakers. You can see the front facing camera at the top left, but all the other sensors are hidden away.
There’s a fingerprint sensor just over two thirds of the way up the back which is conveniently placed and can be used to unlock the phone (and certain apps). There’s also a setting which allows you to swipe up and down on the sensor to open or close the notification screen.
On the right of the phone there is a volume control as well as a lock and unlock button. You can double tap the lock button from anywhere and it’ll open the camera app. The volume button will dynamically select the alarm, ring or media volume to adjust depending on what you are doing. You can tap an arrow to show the three sliders if you wish to adjust something else though.
There’s only one port on the phone, a USB type C port which with the aid of adapters can be used for various things including to transfer data between phones, connect USB drives, connect the headphone adapter, charge other devices and obviously, to charge itself. As there’s no 3.5mm headphone jack they’ve been able to waterproof the phone to an IP67 rating (which doesn’t mean it’s waterproof, it’s just likely to be water resistant - no guarantees).
The base model of the Pixel 2 is £629 from Google, the 2 XL is £799 and both can be upgraded from 64GB of storage to 128 GB for an extra £100. Yes, it’s a lot of money but this is how much high end smart phones are going for nowadays. Of course, the phone is available on contracts from phone companies which is likely to be the only way most of us could afford such a phone.
Well, this has been a long post. There’s a lot more I could talk about, but I’ve got to end it somewhere. The Pixel 2 is a very good phone with a great feature set for an acceptable price. There’s nothing that I was particularly surprised by and there was nothing I was particularly disappointed by. It’s a great phone that I will be using a lot more than my previous one as it’s a lot more useful. The 2 XL is a big phone, but I don’t feel that it’s too big. It’s just the right size to enable me to do the things I want to be able to do on a phone.
Overall, I rate the phone 9/10.
Short link: on-te.ch/2xl