Google Pixel 2 XL

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Ex­pec­ta­tions were high for the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Pixel phones, and Google hasn’t dis­ap­pointed. This year’s flag­ship is bet­ter in ev­ery con­ceiv­able way, but it does come at a higher price. We’ve spent some time with the new phone – set to go on sale on 15 Novem­ber – and here are our ini­tial im­pres­sions. We’ll up­date this with our fi­nal con­clu­sions once we’ve had time to prop­erly test out ev­ery area of the phone, specif­i­cally its camera per­for­mance and bat­tery life.

De­sign

With its 6in screen, this isn’t a small phone. But thanks to min­i­mal screen bezels it isn’t as big as you might imag­ine. It feels ex­cep­tion­ally well made, and although it’s tall, it’s not to wide to com­fort­ably hold in one hand and not top heavy.

At 175g, it’s the same weight as the new iPhone X which has a marginally smaller screen at 5.8in. It’s roughly the same thick­ness, but taller be­cause of big­ger top and bot­tom bezels.

Of course, there’s no notch and as a bonus, there are front-fac­ing stereo speak­ers. We couldn’t test these in the noisy demo room, though.

Get­ting back to those screen bezels, they’re much slim­mer than on the 2016 Pixel XL and it looks all the bet­ter for it. The screen is slightly curved at the edges where it meets the alu­minium frame.

It’s an OLED dis­play that can dis­play a wider colour gamut than be­fore. It has an 18:9 as­pect ra­tio and a QHD+ res­o­lu­tion which equates to a den­sity of 538ppi. It’s al­ways on, which means you can see the time and no­ti­fi­ca­tion icons with­out hav­ing to press a but­ton, tap the screen or any­thing else: you can sim­ply look at it. There are other uses too, On-de­vice ma­chine learn­ing iden­ti­fies thou­sands of tracks with­out call­ing home to Google, and it will dis­play the name of a song that’s play­ing on the screen.

There are ob­vi­ous de­sign cues taken from the orig­i­nal Pixel, no­tably the split back. Here, though, the top 20 per­cent is black on both mod­els – Go­rilla glass is used to al­low the ra­dio sig­nals to pass through rather than ugly an­ten­nas lines.

The fin­ger­print scan­ner re­mains on the back in the mid­dle but be­low the glass panel rather than within it as with last year’s Pixel XL.

Un­usu­ally – there’s still just one camera and an LED flash next to it, so there’s no op­tion for a tele­photo or wide-an­gle shot as with most of the Pixel’s ri­vals. But it still has a few tricks up its sleeve, which we’ll ex­plain be­low. Gone is the 3.5mm head­phone jack, but you get a pair of head­phones in the box which at­tach to the USB-C port.

There are no but­tons on the front: An­droid’s nav­i­ga­tion keys are on screen as is nor­mal for Google phones. As it’s built by HTC there’s a fea­ture you won’t find on the smaller Pixel 2: squeez­able sides.

In this case, squeez­ing the phone brings up the Google As­sis­tant and – like the HTC U11 – you can cus­tom­ize how much pres­sure is re­quired. That’s handy as you can in­crease the sen­si­tiv­ity when the phone is in a case.

Hard­ware

Ru­moured to use the bleed­ing edge Snap­dragon 836 pro­ces­sor, the Pixel 2 XL ac­tu­ally has the 835. This is the cur­rent flag­ship from Qual­comm and it goes with­out say­ing that it means this phone will be a bel­ter when it comes to bench­mark re­sults.

Google de­cided to go with 4GB of RAM, but this is un­likely to be a prob­lem even if it’s less than the 6GB found in some ri­vals. The Pixel 2 XL also has 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Blue­tooth 5.0 (with AptX), GPS and NFC. It isn’t sur­pris­ing that the bat­tery isn’t re­mov­able – find us a flag­ship that does let you swap out the bat­tery these days – and it has a ca­pac­ity of 3,520mAh.

Be­ing the first Google hard­ware to launch since Oreo was an­nounced, ob­vi­ously this is the soft­ware that it ships with, but you’ll be able to up­date to An­droid P when it’s out in 2018.

Camera

Dual-camera set­ups are in fash­ion at the mo­ment, but Google es­chews a pair in favour of just one camera both front and rear.

At the rear is a 12.2Mp snap­per, though this time it has the sup­port of op­ti­cal sta­bil­i­sa­tion. It has an f/1.8 lens and the sen­sor has 1.4μm pix­els – larger than your av­er­age phone camera’s.

This means the Pixel 2 XL can take bet­ter HDR pho­tos by com­bin­ing more frames.

There’s also Por­trait mode with­out need­ing a sec­ond camera, or for you to move the phone around in strange ways. For the unini­ti­ated, it means you get a blurred back­ground be­hind a nice sharp sub­ject.

This is done us­ing dual pix­els rather than a sec­ond lens, and it uses Google’s ‘com­pu­ta­tional pho­tog­ra­phy’ to work out what’s in the fore­ground and the back­ground so you can use the mode on both the front and rear cam­eras.

Video is shot us­ing both OIS and EIS - Google calls this Fused Video Sta­bil­i­sa­tion – for smoother video with less blur.

One ben­e­fit of the Pixel 2 XL, as with last year’s model, is that you get un­lim­ited Google Pho­tos stor­age for videos and pho­tos at orig­i­nal qual­ity – un­til 2021. Google reck­ons this is around 23GB per year.

It’s hard to gauge just how good are the cam­eras from our lim­ited time in a dimly lit room, but DxOMark has given the camera a rat­ing of 98, the high­est of any smart­phone. And the demo pho­tos and videos cer­tainly looked im­pres­sive.

Soft­ware

Google’s tag line for the new Pix­els is “Rad­i­cally help­ful”. This isn’t just re­fer­ring to the As­sis­tant – Google is play­ing to its strengths and adding fea­tures such as Lens to make your phone more help­ful in real-life sit­u­a­tions.

Lens is in beta (and cur­rently ex­clu­sive to the new Pixel 2 phones). It’s a tool which that can iden­tify email ad­dresses and phone num­bers from pho­tos so you don’t have to re­type them. You can also point the camera at a book or a film poster and ask how good it is to get a list of rat­ings and re­views. You can even point the camera at land­marks or plants to get in­for­ma­tion about them.

Even smaller de­tails such as the ‘liv­ing wall­pa­pers’ are im­prove­ments. There’s a sub­tly an­i­mated shore­line whose lap­ping waves are mes­meris­ing.

Ac­tive edge – where you squeeze phone’s sides to call up the Google As­sis­tant – also ben­e­fits from soft­ware. Again, ma­chine learn­ing is able to de­tect be­tween an in­ten­tional and ac­ci­den­tal squeeze.

Rou­tines, al­ready avail­able on Google Home, are also on the Pixel 2. You can say some­thing like “Okay Google, let’s go home” and you’ll get di­rec­tions home along with any text mes­sages you’ve been sent. If you were lis­ten­ing to a pod­cast, it will re­sume af­ter the As­sis­tant stops speak­ing and can even ad­just the vol­ume so you can hear it while you’re driv­ing.

Ver­dict

It’s too early to come to any de­fin­i­tive con­clu­sions about the Pixel 2 XL. We still need to run our full set

of tests to find out how it per­forms, par­tic­u­larly for bat­tery life and its cam­eras.

Ini­tial im­pres­sions are good though, and if the camera is as good as Google says, it will cer­tainly be a phone to add to your short­list. Jim Martin

Spec­i­fi­ca­tions

• 6in (2880x1440, 441ppi) Full HD dis­play

• An­droid 8.0 Oreo

• Qual­comm MSM8998 Snap­dragon 835

• Adreno 540 GPU

• 4GB RAM

• 64/128GB stor­age

• 12.2Mp, f/1.8, OIS, phase de­tec­tion and laser

aut­o­fo­cus, dual-LED flash

• 8Mp, f/2.4, 1/3.2in sen­sor size, 1080p

• A-GPS/GLONASS

• Wi-Fi 802.11ac

• Blue­tooth 5.0

• NFC

• USB 3.1 Type-C

• 3,520mAh non-re­mov­able lithium-poly­mer bat­tery

• 157.9x76.7x7.9mm

• 175g

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