Google Pixel 2
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The Google Pixel 2 is an odd phone. It has no headphone jack, large bezels and an uninspiring design. It doesn’t ignite excitement in the same way the hardware of the larger Pixel 2 XL does, with its curved, tall 18:9 display.
Samsung, LG and even Apple have phones with tiny bezels and bleeding edge design. The smaller 5in Pixel 2 has neither of these things.
But the little Pixel is still a winner for two reasons: its software and its camera. It’s the first phone I’ve
used for a long time where the hardware melts away and you’re just left with the best possible software experience a phone can give you right now.
That’s what happens with the best PCs and with the iPad, but in a competitive phone market, manufacturers have to excite consumers with flashy hardware. This sometimes leaves the software with something to be desired, particularly in Android’s fragmented world. Not so with the Pixel.
Taste is subjective of course, but the Pixel 2 is not as pretty as the larger Pixel 2 XL. The latter has an edge to edge curved display with a higher resolution. The smaller Pixel 2 reviewed here has a 5in 1080p display with two big, black bezels at the top and bottom.
It’s pretty ugly from the front, and not a phone I’d pick on aesthetic merit. When LG has done well with the sleek XL version, it’s hard not to be disappointed by HTC’s effort on this smaller one.
Thankfully, Google has put stereo front facing speakers in the bezels, vastly improving the audio output from 2016’s first generation. It’s easy to hold in one hand but your thumb may still struggle to reach the top of the screen.
Google made three colours of the smaller Pixel, with Just Black, Clearly White and Kinda Blue for the Miles Davis fans out there. My review device is in black which is quite a pedestrian design, but all three versions have black fronts (as do all Pixel 2 XL models).
The white and blue designs are only different on the back and sides, though the blue has a cool
turquoise power button that helps it stand out. The Google logo on the back is barely visible on the black model.
The rear metal and glass design of the first Pixel has been carried over but altered slightly. The glass section is now shallower, housing a camera with the smallest of bumps, a dual LED flash and light sensors hidden by the black designs, but visible on the blue and white. The fingerprint sensor is not the fastest I’ve ever used, but is exactly where it should be on the rear of a phone: in the middle.
I think the white version of the Pixel 2 is the best looking, but not as lovely as the black and white 2 XL that has a bright orange power button. Swoon.
The aluminium body is slightly more textured than the original Pixel and so feels more grippy and premium in the hand. HTC made both of these phones for Google, but they are surprisingly different from one another.
The Pixel 2 is not wedge shaped like its predecessor so cannot hide its camera bump, and the volume rocker and power button on the right edge are similar, except the power button is no longer textured.
The design is boxy but it hides its aerial lines well in the thin body. The design is oddly reminiscent of the Microsoft Lumia 950 and personally I don’t think it’s overly exciting despite its premium build. From the front it’s a bit ugly and cheap-looking.
It’s not going to stand out on a shelf next to the Galaxy S8 or iPhone X, and if it weren’t for all the redeeming features of the software experience, I’d pass on the Pixel 2. In case you’re choosing between
Samsung and Google, we’ve compared the Galaxy S8 and Pixel 2 in detail.
The phone feels lighter than I expected it to be, but at 143g is pretty normal. It measures 145.7x69.7x7.8mm, 0.7mm thinner than the first Pixel. It is far more utilitarian, but thankfully screams along with the Snapdragon 835 (4x 2.35GHz and 4x 1.9GHz) chipset and 4GB RAM. You have a choice between 64 and 128GB of non-expandable storage, but you’ll pay £100 extra for the latter.
This is where the Pixel lifts its unexciting design above Android phones from OEMs like Samsung, LG and Sony. When Google can handle the hardware and give it stock Android, the performance is unparalleled. In 2017 only the OnePlus 5 is as fluid in overall software experience as the Pixel 2.
Despite making a huge joke about having one last year when the iPhone didn’t, the Pixel 2 does not have
a 3.5mm headphone jack. It’s a shame to see it go but it won’t be long before all audio on smartphones is run through USB-C, the same port you charge the phone with. The phone ships with an adaptor (£9 to buy separately) but no headphones in the box.
Don’t get me wrong, not having a headphone jack is still, in 2017, very annoying and user hostile. But it’s the norm now.
The Pixel 2 is IP67 water resistant (splash not dunk), but it doesn’t have wireless charging. Personally, I always prefer a speedy wired charge to a slow wireless one, but when even the iPhone has it now, Google is a tad behind.
The screen is a 5in OLED with a resolution of 1920x1080 and 441ppi. Blacks are brilliantly dark and viewing angles are superb in all conditions including bright sunlight. It’s a portal to one of the most responsive Android experiences around.
If you want the best of the best then you’ll have to opt for the higher resolution Pixel 2 XL, but the difference is only noticeable when comparing side by side. Compared to a phone like the Galaxy S8, the smaller Pixel 2 has a slightly dull tint, but Samsung’s panels are best in class.
And then, the camera. Oh my. The Pixel had an amazing camera and the Pixel 2 has improved it. Brilliantly, you get the same sensor and set up on the smaller 2 and the larger 2 XL so if you like smaller
phones then you don’t lose out like you do with Apple (iPhone 8 and 8 Plus) and Huawei (P10 and P10 Plus).
There is a single 12.2Mp sensor with f/1.8 and optical image stabilisation. It can record UHD 4K video at 30fps, not quite as good as the iPhone 8’s ridiculous
UHD 4K at 60fps. The front-facing camera is 8Mp with f/2.4 and capable of recording HD 1080p video.
Eschewing the dual lens trend, Google has leant on its post-processing prowess to bring a superlative photography experience to the Pixel 2. Taking a photo actually takes several images that the software quickly processes into one combined end product. This method increases the high dynamic range (HDR) and leaves phenomenal results, notably so in low light.
HDR+, Google’s algorithmic wizardry in the camera app, is on by default. You can turn it off if you want, but you shouldn’t. This is surely the best all round point-and-shoot phone camera going for pure ease of
use and quality of photos. Low light shots show detail excellently, and the software pays attention to the composition of the whole scene to great effect.
Despite there only being one lens, the Pixel 2 has a Portrait Mode like the iPhone 7 Plus and 8 Plus. This is achieved by Google using a dual-pixel sensor in both cameras, meaning each pixel takes in the image and focus data rather than only being able to handle one. This means the processing can easier identify the intended subject of a portrait mode shot.
Results are slightly less natural than the dual camera results of an iPhone 8 Plus or Galaxy Note 8, but for a single lens to be able to do this is absolutely ridiculous. You will love it, as will selfie-addicts. More than any phone, the photos from the Pixel 2 will not need much tinkering before uploading to social media.
Unlike Apple’s portrait forays, the Pixel one arrives at launch not in beta and fully formed. One thing you will have to wait for though is AR sticker integration for photo-fun. But with the mountain of photo data Google is sitting on, I expect the experience will be decent.
Finally, take a photo of something and chances are Google knows what it is. The Pixel 2 is the first phone to get Google Lens integration in Google Photos. Go to your camera roll and tap the Lens icon and you’ll more often than not get a good result. It can identify buildings and landmarks, or extract URLs, email addresses and phone numbers to then immediately action.
It’s very good but not something everyone is pining for. It could quietly be the future though, particularly
with possible AR integration to view the world live Google Glass style through the phone’s display, rather than by reviewing taken images.
Motion photo capture is a lot like Apple’s live photos where photos spring to live with a couple of seconds of video. But rather than pressing to view a snippet of film like on iPhone, you toggle motion on or off in Photos, and the software loops the video as it sees best. It’s a neat touch, but can only be viewed between Pixel devices; at the time of writing the original Pixel can view but not take them. Pixel
Video recording is also top notch, combining OIS and EIS to bring good stability. It is an all-around excellent photography experience, from viewfinder to post processing to viewing.
Google pushed an update to the Pixel 2 in December 2017 that brings AR stickers into the camera app. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s free. It allows you to drop 3D moving images and characters into the frame of your camera lens. There are StarWars and StrangerThings sticker packs, with more to come. There’s also text, little food characters and other stuff besides. It’s a lot of fun, and the intelligence of the AR placing is way better than you might be used than on Pokémon Go. The above Porg agrees.
Lens is all part of the Google Assistant. Assistant on the Pixel 2 activated either by the familiar long press
of the home button from any screen, or by Active Edge, a feature carried over by HTC from its U11 (though it can also be found on the LG-made Pixel 2 XL). The pressure sensitive sides of the phone have no physical give in them but can detect levels of pressure. Setting the squeeze to your preference lets you open Assistant from anywhere in the phone or even when it’s locked. Unlike the U11 though, that’s all it can do – it’s either on or off and you can’t assign it to do different things like open the camera (it can be used to silence calls though, it’s only other optional use).
Assistant baked into Google Pixel hardware is still the best way to experience it, despite it being present on other Android devices. Connection to Google Home devices worked for me brilliantly, and it all simply felt right at home on the Pixel 2, whereas I have felt Assistant is tacked-on to other phones, especially when they offer it alongside Bixby (Samsung) or Alexa (HTC).
Google also sent me a Daydream View, its improved VR headset, to try out. It is very comfortable even over my glasses and it’s easy to navigate the UI with the included controller. Apps are a tad scarce but the available games are entertaining enough, while YouTube VR will surely be a gateway to the VR living room of the future once everyone has a smartphone capable of it. But if you’re after an HD VR experience, this isn’t it. Having the Pixel 2 that close to your face shows up, well, pixels. Text and video becomes blurry and I’d rather just watch a TV.
The Pixel 2 has an adequate 2,700mAh non-removable battery, which is about as much juice as Google could squeeze into such a slim device. It charges via the supplied USB-C fast charger, and I saw excellent charging speeds particularly from empty to about 60 percent in around half an hour.
Google claims you can get seven hours of use out of a 15-minute charge which I am dubious about. I’ll update this review with more observations the more I use the device, but at the moment the phone is usually getting me through a whole day starting at 100 percent at 8am and ending up with about 15 percent by 10pm, which is great.
On another day though, I used the phone for just shy of nine hours before it hit 20 percent, recording under three hours of screen on time which isn’t amazing. Hopefully, long-term use will prove less erratic, but if battery life is your concern you’ll want the 3,250mAh Pixel 2 XL. Battery saver mode can be toggled on and off in the notification shade and if you go into the battery section in settings it’ll even tell you which apps are caning your battery and, excellently, let you action it straight away rather than just close it.
When Lens works, it works very well. But it can’t identify everything yet
The Pixel 2 handles low light incredibly, showing excellent detail in bright and dark areas
Detail and lighting in dusk shots excel on the Pixel 2, but note the sunspot to the lower left of the image