Google Pixel 2 XL
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
• 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
• Wi-Fi 802.11ac
• Bluetooth 5.0
• USB 3.1 Type-C
• 3,520mAh non-removable lithium-polymer battery