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.

De­sign

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.

Dis­play

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.

Cam­era

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.

AR stick­ers

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.

As­sis­tant

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).

Day­dream View

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.

Bat­tery life

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

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