Google Pixel 2 XL

FOR De­sign, flag­ship spec; speed; nat­u­ral images; cam­era AGAINST Av­er­age au­dio; video lacks a lit­tle de­tail

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Contents -

The bat­tle be­tween Ap­ple and Google has, for a good while, been a bat­tle of soft­ware ver­sus hard­ware. Google’s An­droid op­er­at­ing sys­tem – found in a mul­ti­tude of other com­pa­nies’ smart­phones – touted per­son­al­i­sa­tion, free-rein ac­cess to the depths of the OS, and the prom­ise of cut­ting-edge soft­ware up­grades.

The search for syn­ergy

Ap­ple, how­ever, boasts a syn­ergy be­tween hard­ware and soft­ware that can only come by hav­ing di­rect con­trol over al­most ev­ery as­pect of the smart­phone’s man­u­fac­ture.

Nat­u­rally, Google made the move into hard­ware, even if its first de­vices were built by other com­pa­nies. The first Google Pixel phone ar­rived in 2016 and now we have the lat­est range, the Pixel 2 and the Pixel 2 XL, the lat­ter on test here.

While the Pixel 2 is pretty sim­i­lar to the orig­i­nal Pixel, the Pixel 2 XL is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent to its pre­de­ces­sor. There’s a larger, 6-inch screen (the orig­i­nal XL had a 5.5in screen) and the ac­tual phone is a few mil­lime­tres taller and wider, de­spite be­ing a sliver thin­ner and keep­ing the same weight.

On the top and bot­tom are the dual front-fir­ing speak­ers. This is a good use of bezels that went to waste on the old Pixel.

The back of the phone now has a matt coat­ing on the bot­tom four-fifths of the metal body which makes it much eas­ier to hold and less susceptible to smudges and prints. It also makes it uglier, to our eyes, which is a shame. Should you drop your phone in the bath, the Pixel 2 XL is IP67 cer­ti­fied for wa­ter-re­sis­tance, mean­ing it should sur­vive a dunk­ing in 1m depth for up to 30 min­utes.

As is be­com­ing de rigueur on high-end phones, the hand­set is low on but­tons and con­nec­tions. Sleek is the word (just a shame about that matt over­lay). The lock and vol­ume but­tons re­main, on the right, and there’s the finger­print scan­ner on the back, as is in­creas­ingly stan­dard. A USBŽC port on the bot­tom is your only con­nec­tion, so there’s no 3.5mm head­phone jack. A 3.5mm-to-usb adapter is sup­plied.

Our only crit­i­cism is the cam­era lens, which sticks out from the body of the Pixel 2 XL. While the ac­tual pro­tru­sion is small, it does mean the phone doesn’t sit flat. We’d rather com­pro­mise with a slightly deeper phone with a sleeker back.

“The Pixel Vis­ual Core chip, which helps make the cam­era so im­pres­sive, is now en­abled for third-party apps”

Pretty pic­tures

The cam­era it­self is su­perb though – cer­tainly one of the best we’ve seen on a smart­phone. There’s a f/1.8 12.2MP lens on the back and a 8MP selfie cam­era. This might seem par-for-the-course, but the pro­cess­ing built-into the Pixel 2 XL means that it packs in the de­tail and lev­els out the dif­fer­ences in ex­po­sure, thanks to its Auto HDR+ set­ting. That re­sults in nat­u­ral, in­sight­ful pic­tures with au­then­tic colours and crisp edges. Both bright and dark con­di­tions are han­dled with aplomb.

More­over, the Pixel Vis­ual Core chip, which helps make the cam­era so im­pres­sive, is now en­abled for third-party apps too. In­sta­gram, Snapchat and What­sapp can now all use this to en­hance snaps taken within the apps. Ac­cord­ing to Google, you’ll use less of your bat­tery while tak­ing pho­tos too.

Pow­er­ing the Pixel 2 XL is An­droid 8.0 Oreo, the most re­cent ver­sion of the op­er­at­ing sys­tem, and with it comes a menagerie of lit­tle tweaks that make this smart­phone more use­ful than the orig­i­nal Pixel: pic­ture in pic­ture for watch­ing videos; adap­tive icons to bet­ter cus­tomise the home screen; snooz­ing no­ti­fi­ca­tions and no­ti­fi­ca­tion dots.

Unique to Google’s brand of smart­phones, there’s no pre-in­stalled bloat­ware from the hard­ware man­u­fac­turer, like with other An­droid phones. That’s not to say it’s en­tirely cus­tomis­able, how­ever; the home screen gives over real es­tate to a fixed Google search bar, at the bot­tom, and a time and date wid­get at the top. Nei­ther of which can be re­moved. Sim­i­larly, the back and open apps but­tons can’t be flipped, un­like on other An­droid phones.

In­side, a Qual­comm Snap­dragon 835 pro­ces­sor keeps the phone speedy and re­spon­sive. And it’s cer­tainly rapid in use com­pared with most flag­ship phones, with only the Sam­sung Galaxy S9+ giv­ing it a run for its money. The Pixel 2 XL also has 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of stor­age (or 128GB, if you pay around £100 more). There’s no ex­pand­able mem­ory, though, so no room for a mi­crosd card.

Pow­er­ful bat­tery

Bat­tery power clocks in at 3520mah, which Google claims will de­liver seven hours of use from just 15 min­utes of charg­ing. We find the 2 XL has plenty of juice to get us through the day, even with heavy use.

Want more fea­tures? Try giv­ing it a quick squeeze. The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL (and the re­cent HTC U11) have come up with a novel

fea­ture; you can squeeze the lower half of the phone to fire-up Google As­sis­tant. As­sum­ing the phone is un­locked, it’s a quick way to get Google an­swers.

If you still use your phone to ac­tu­ally make calls, you can also en­joy the fact the Pixel 2 XL au­to­mat­i­cally screens spam calls. The screen turns red and car­ries the mes­sage ‘sus­pected spam caller’, which is a neat way to avoid them.

In be­tween those barely there bezels is the all-im­por­tant screen. Not just any screen, a POLED screen (or plas­tic OLED), with a plas­tic sub­strate in­side the screen rather than the typ­i­cal glass.

It’s a 6in dis­play with a 18:9 as­pect ra­tio and a 2880 x 1440 res­o­lu­tion for a 538 ppi (pix­els per inch) den­sity. As you might ex­pect, there are some things this screen does re­ally well, in­clud­ing deep blacks and skin tones. Watch­ing a down­load of

Home on BBC iplayer, faces look more hu­man on this phone than al­most any we’ve seen, and the real­ism and sub­tlety af­forded by the OLED screen makes it easy to watch.

Switch to a Sam­sung Galaxy S9 or an iphone 8 Plus and you get a punchier, more colour­ful de­liv­ery, with both dig­ging out more de­tail in dark and bright cor­ners of the screen. There are ad­just­ments you can make on the Pixel, with the op­tion of Nat­u­ral, Boosted or Sat­u­rated colours, but while this will add some oc­ca­sion­ally wel­come rud­di­ness to cheeks, the pic­ture re­mains on the sub­dued side. The smooth sub­tle­ness of OLED still holds ap­peal, though, and it’s en­joy­able in its own right.

The Google Pixel 2 XL has done away with the 3.5mm head­phone jack and opted for USBŽC for au­dio and power, as is be­com­ing the in­creas­ingly com­mon choice on An­droid. An adapter is sup­plied but no ear­phones. The phone sup­ports Wire­less HD au­dio with LDAC and Aptx HD, should you pre­fer to ditch the wires.

Into the or­di­nary

The Pixel 2 XL can play hi-res au­dio but, even with the best source ma­te­rial, mu­sic doesn’t quite come to life. The orig­i­nal Pixel proved un­der­whelm­ing on the au­dio side and this model fol­lows in its foot­steps. Lis­ten­ing to a 24-bit FLAC file of Four Tet’s

Two Thou­sand And Seven­teen, it lacks the ex­tra layer of sub­tlety to re­ally draw you into the mu­sic.

In iso­la­tion we’re well past the stage of be­ing ag­grieved by harsh tre­ble or boomy bass, but in­stead we find our­selves flick­ing idly through tracks af­ter barely a minute, which tends to sig­nal a sound that lacks life.

This is a flag­ship An­droid ex­pe­ri­ence and we have no qualms with the phone in use or, in­deed, how long you can use it for – as we’d ex­pect for £800. Should you want to take lots of pho­tos you’re in for a treat, too. If you don’t re­quire much else, and like a big screen, then look no fur­ther.

Of course, we rather value video and au­dio qual­ity, and while the Pixel 2 XL is good enough for video, the au­dio is merely so-so. And that’s some­thing that you don’t have to sac­ri­fice with ri­vals.

There are clear pros and cons here, and ul­ti­mately your buy­ing de­ci­sion will de­pend on your par­tic­u­lar spec pref­er­ences. All told, the Pixel 2 XL is good – but not quite the great mar­riage of hard­ware and soft­ware we Come were hop­ing for.

A matt coat­ing on the back helps with grip – but not with aes­thet­ics

The screen is a plas­tic OLED af­fair rather than the usual glass

It‘s taller, wider and slim­mer than the orig­i­nal XL, but the same weight

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