Google Pixel 2 XL

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Android Advisor - - Contents -

Ex­pec­ta­tions were high for the se­cond-gen­er­a­tion Pixel phones, and Google hasn’t dis­ap­pointed. This year’s flag­ship – the 2 XL – is bet­ter in al­most ev­ery way, but it does come at a higher price.

Price

Prices of top-end phones have risen dra­mat­i­cally in the last year, and the Pixel 2 XL is more ex­pen­sive

than its pre­de­ces­sor. The base model – with 64GB of stor­age – costs £799, but you’ll pay £899 for the 128GB ver­sion.

As with the orig­i­nal, there’s no mi­croSD slot for ex­pand­ing the stor­age of either model. You’ve got one other choice: colour. The Pixel 2 XL comes in Just Black or Black and White. If you want to get the phone on con­tract, EE has the ex­clu­sive in the UK. There’s a £9.99 up-front cost, then it’s £57.99 per month for the 4GEE Max plan, which of­fers 8GB of data, plus un­lim­ited calls and texts.

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 too wide to com­fort­ably hold in one hand and not top heavy. The alu­minium has a rough tex­ture and feels good to the touch. It also means it doesn’t get cov­ered in fin­ger­prints.

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. Th­ese sound great and are ideal for watch­ing YouTube videos or play­ing games. They don’t have much bass, but they’re loud.

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 glass is slightly curved at the edges where it meets the alu­minium frame.

The screen un­der­neath is 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 has rounded cor­ners which match the cor­ners of the phone’s body.

Colours look nat­u­ral, even in the ‘vivid colours’ mode. That’s great if you dis­like the vi­brant tones you get from Sam­sung AMOLED screens, but it does mean that it doesn’t ‘pop’ quite as much.

It’s al­ways on, which means you can see the time and no­ti­fi­ca­tions with­out hav­ing to press a but­ton, tap the screen or any­thing else: you can sim­ply look at it.

There are other uses for the al­ways-on screen. Around ten thousand songs can be iden­ti­fied and dis­played when your phone is locked with­out call­ing home to Google.

One of the Pixel 2 XL’s main ri­vals is the sim­i­larly priced Gal­axy S8 Plus. This has an even big­ger screen in the same size body: the screen ex­tends right to the edges and is vis­i­ble through the curved edges.

On the Google phone there’s a cou­ple of mil­lime­tres of bezel at the edges – it’s just not quite as im­pres­sive as Sam­sung’s hand­set.

There’s also a prob­lem with the Pixel 2 XL: view­ing an­gles. If you tilt the phone or look at it at an an­gle, whites turn blue. This isn’t no­tice­able most of the time, but in menus and on web pages it can get an­noy­ing. And nei­ther the Gal­axy S8 nor the HTC-made Pixel 2 suf­fer from this prob­lem.

There are ob­vi­ous de­sign cues taken from the orig­i­nal Pixel, notably the split back. Here, though, the top sec­tion is black on both mod­els – Go­rilla glass is used to al­low the ra­dio sig­nals to pass through rather than ugly an­tenna lines. This, un­like the alu­minium body, does im­me­di­ately get cov­ered in fin­ger­prints.

The fin­ger­print scan­ner is still on the back but be­low the glass panel rather than within it as with last year’s Pixel XL. And un­like the S8’s crazy lo­ca­tion next to the cam­era, the Pixel 2 XL’s scan­ner is in just the right place to fall un­der your fin­ger.

There’s still just one cam­era and an LED flash next to it, so no op­tion for a tele­photo or wide-an­gle photo as with most of the Pixel’s ri­vals. But it still has a few tricks up its sleeve which we’ll ex­plain be­low.

The ma­jor news is that both Pix­els are now wa­ter re­sis­tant, but like other phones, ditch the head­phone socket in favour of dig­i­tal au­dio via the USB-C port. The Gal­axy S8, though, keeps the old mini­jack, which could be a deal­maker for some.

There are no but­tons on the front of the Pixel: An­droid’s nav­i­ga­tion keys are on screen as is nor­mal for Google phones.

Al­though built by LG, the 2 XL has Ac­tive Edge like the HTC-built Pixel 2. This means you can squeeze the sides to bring up the Google As­sist. As with HTC’s 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 is a bel­ter when it comes to re­spon­sive­ness.

Google de­cided to go with 4GB of RAM, less than the 6GB found in some ri­vals.

How­ever, it cer­tainly doesn’t suf­fer for this: it’s one of the fastest phones around. Ac­tual bench­mark re­sults are un­sur­pris­ing: we’ve al­ready tested sev­eral phones with the Snap­dragon 835.

What’s im­pres­sive is just how fast it feels in gen­eral use. Per­for­mance is flaw­less, and An­droid Oreo is slick.

The pro­cess­ing power en­ables un­nec­es­sary but won­der­ful fea­tures such as the liv­ing wall­pa­pers. Th­ese have sub­tle move­ment, such as waves lap­ping at a shore, and they move slightly as you move the phone. Not enough to cause mo­tion sick­ness: it’s a nice touch. If you’re won­der­ing why the XL’s game scores are lower than the small Pixel 2 it’s be­cause of the higher screen res­o­lu­tion: there are more than twice the num­ber of pix­els on the larger screen.

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. It sup­ports fast charg­ing

with the in­cluded charger. It’ll charge to over 70 per­cent in just 30 min­utes in our tests, and bat­tery life ap­pears to be de­cent: we’ve not yet had enough time to fully test this with both light and heavy use.

Above is a handy side-by-side com­par­i­son of the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL.

Cam­eras

Dual-cam­era set­ups are in fash­ion at the mo­ment, but Google es­chews this 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 sen­sor pix­els (on a phone, that is).

This means the Pixel 2 XL can take bet­ter HDR pho­tos by com­bin­ing more frames. And this hap­pens in the back­ground with­out you notic­ing: HDR+ mode is en­abled by de­fault.

There’s also Por­trait mode with­out the need for 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 the sen­sor’s dual pix­els rather than a se­cond lens, but Google’s ‘com­pu­ta­tional pho­tog­ra­phy’ is also used to work out what’s in the fore­ground and the back­ground. It also means you can use Por­trait mode for self­ies, too.

Video is shot us­ing both OIS and EIS – Google calls this Fused Video Sta­bil­i­sa­tion – for smoother video with less blur. Video tops out at 1080p for the front cam­era and 4K on the rear, at 30fps. You can eas­ily se­lect 60fps when the main cam­era is set to 1080p.

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. How­ever, this time Google has put a time limit on this free stor­age, with a fixed end date of Jan­uary 2021. Google reck­ons the av­er­age Pixel owner will use around 23GB per year.

Even if this is a tiny bit dis­ap­point­ing, the photo and video qual­ity is any­thing but. It’s a big claim to say

it’s the best cam­era on a smart­phone, but Google has good rea­son to be con­fi­dent.

In just about any light, the Pixel 2 XL takes fab­u­lous pho­tos. It also takes them un­be­liev­ably quickly and where you might end up with a blurry shot on another flag­ship, the Pixel cap­tures the mo­ment in bit­ing sharp­ness al­most ev­ery time.

Only in re­ally low light is there a chance of a fuzzy shot, but if your sub­ject will stay still for a se­cond, the op­ti­cal sta­bil­i­sa­tion does a great job of can­celling out your shaky hands.

Night-time pho­tos are up there with the best. Sure, there’s ev­i­dence of noise re­duc­tion but a sur­pris­ing level of de­tail is re­tained even when it’s re­ally dark and

ex­po­sure is well man­aged: note that the street lights don’t have huge flar­ing in this shot.

The por­trait mode is ex­cel­lent, skil­fully blur­ring the back­ground af­ter you take the photo. It doesn’t al­ways do a per­fect job, but the ef­fect is con­vinc­ing enough.

Pho­tos aren’t over-pro­cessed: they look nice and sharp with nat­u­ral colours.

Video is a lit­tle soft at 1080p, but sta­bil­i­sa­tion is ex­cel­lent just as it was on the orig­i­nal Pixel. You’ll get the most de­tail and sharpest pic­ture at 4K, but you lose the abil­ity to record at 60fps.

Au­dio is a mixed bag. Voices are clearly recorded, but Google seems to ap­ply noise re­duc­tion which muf­fles back­ground sounds. It’s fairly ef­fec­tive for avoid­ing wind noise, though. It isn’t stereo record­ing, which is a shame.

For slo-mo you have the same op­tions as be­fore: 120fps at 1080p and 240fps at 720p.

Soft­ware

Out of the box, the Pixel 2 XL runs An­droid 8.0 Oreo. It’s one of the rea­sons to buy Google’s phone: you get the soft­ware as Google in­tended it to look and work. And you’ll be among the first to get An­droid P when that’s re­leased in 2018. Se­cu­rity up­dates are guar­an­teed for three years – it seems that you’re ex­pected to keep the phone un­til the end of 2020 at which point it’s time to up­grade.

Google’s tag line for the new Pix­els is “Rad­i­cally help­ful”. This isn’t just re­fer­ring to the As­sis­tant though. Google plays to its strengths and has added fea­tures such as Lens (in beta and ex­clu­sive to the

Pixel 2) to make your phone more help­ful in real-life sit­u­a­tions. It’s fine if you just want to iden­tify email ad­dresses and phone num­bers from pho­tos: Lens con­verts them to ed­itable text 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. It’s when point­ing the cam­era at land­marks or plants that it starts falls down. It didn’t rec­og­nize the fa­mous St. Pan­cras Re­nais­sance Ho­tel or sev­eral other Lon­don land­marks, and wasn’t great as a plant finder.

Rou­tines, al­ready avail­able on Google Home, is another handy fea­ture. You can say some­thing like “OK 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.

Day­dream 2

It’s lit­tle dif­fer­ent from the first gen­er­a­tion, but us­ing the VR head­set with the Pixel 2 is a de­cent ex­pe­ri­ence. There’s no lag at all, so less chance of feel­ing nau­seous when play­ing VR games or watch­ing videos in VR.

The main is­sue is still res­o­lu­tion. De­spite the XL’s 2880x1440 screen, it’s still pretty easy to see the pix­els. This is more of an is­sue when watch­ing Net­flix or YouTube VR videos. It’s great to have a huge screen in front of you, but it’s like hav­ing an 80in stan­dard-def­i­ni­tion TV, which is a shame.

The lim­ited pro­cess­ing power means mo­bile VR games lack the vis­ual qual­ity of PC-based ti­tles, too.

Ver­dict

The Pixel 2 XL is a fan­tas­tic phone. It’s well de­signed, well built and looks great. The screen is­sues could put you off, and don’t for­get there’s no head­phone socket

or mi­croSD slot. This is where the Gal­axy S8 Plus comes in: it’s cheaper and has both of those fea­tures and matches the Pixel in just about ev­ery area.

The Pixel does win out on cam­era qual­ity – just – but has the ad­van­tage of quick up­dates to fu­ture An­droid re­leases and un­lim­ited photo and video stor­age for three years. And it’ll be an even bet­ter propo­si­tion once the price starts to come down. Jim Martin

Spec­i­fi­ca­tions

• 6in (2880x1440, 538ppi) dis­play with Corn­ing Go­rilla Glass 5 • An­droid 8.0 Oreo • Qual­comm MSM8998 Snap­dragon 835 pro­ces­sor • Octa-core (4x 2.35GHz Kryo, 4x 1.9GHz Kryo) CPU • 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, 1.4μm pixel size,

1080p • 3.5mm head­phone jack • 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

Night-time shot

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