MEGATech Reviews: Google Pixel 2 XL
If you liked the first generation Google Pixel, you'll absolutely adore this second iteration. The camera is the real star of the show here.
  • Incredible camera
  • Clever software enhancements
  • Super speedy performance
  • Screen issues
  • No headphone jack
  • Top-tier pricing
9Overall Score

For the longest time, we really only knew Google for its search engine. Then, we got to know all about its range of cloud-based apps and services, like YouTube, Gmail and Google Docs. That’s all software. In more recent years, though, we’ve seen Google aggressively expand into the hardware game with devices like the Chromecast and Google Home Mini. We’ve had the Nexus phones before, but the Pixel range is something else. And this sophomore effort, with the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, really demonstrates that they know what they’re doing.

Top-Tier Specs on a Top-Tier Phone

For the most part, the smaller Pixel 2 and the larger Pixel 2 XL (as tested) share much of the same hardware. The biggest difference, of course, is the screen. The Pixel 2 XL has a larger 6.0″ 1440 x 2880 pixel display with 18:9 (or 2:1) aspect ratio, whereas the Pixel 2 goes with a 5.0″ 1080 x 1920 pixel (16:9, FHD) display. And then there’s the issue of the massive (by today’s standards) bezels on the Pixel 2.

And while the “chin” and “forehead” on the Pixel 2 XL are dramatically smaller than on the Pixel 2, the side bezels aren’t nearly as slimmed down as they could be. Maybe we’ve just been spoiled with the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note8. You’ll also notice that there is but a single 12MP camera on the back; this feels out of place in an environment where all the top-tiers are doing the dual camera thing, but we’ll get into the nitty-gritty on that subject a little later on.

The rest of the spec sheets reads exactly as you would expect from an Android flagship phone in late 2017. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 runs the show with Adreno 540 graphics and 4GB of RAM, along with 64GB or 128GB of storage. The P-OLED screen comes with always-on display capabilities and is covered in Corning Gorilla Glass 5. Along with the 12MP rear camera, there’s an 8MP selfie cam, plus IP67 certification for dust and water resistance of up to one meter for 30 minutes.

There are also a few quick things worth mentioning about what’s included in the box. Since the Pixel 2 XL lacks a 3.5mm headphone jack and relies solely on USB-C, Google has decided to embrace that dongle life by including a USB-C to headphone adapter, plus a USB-C to regular USB adapter, USB-C cable, and fast charging wall adapter. There is no headset included in the box.

Some X-Factor Goodness

In a mobile world where everyone seems to have fundamentally the same thin slab of a device with a big display on the front, it’s hard to stand out from the crowd. It’s not like in the earlier days of feature phones where companies were bolder and more creative in their designs. And while there are some distinctive cues to the Pixel 2 XL, like the now signature glass panel on the top part of the back, it’s what you don’t see that’s becoming much more important.

While you won’t see any HTC branding on this device, it clearly borrows some of that DNA. You know that squeezable frame on the HTC U11? That’s here, albeit in a slightly crippled form. By default, the only thing that “squeezing” the phone can do is quick launch the Google Assistant. It’s pretty cool and you can adjust how hard you need to squeeze the phone to activate it… but that’s about it.

Yes, it’s the fastest way to get at Assistant. Yes, it’s pretty much a gimmick at this point, but it delivers a bit of an X-factor to differentiate this device from all the LG V30s and Galaxy Note 8s of the world. There are some third party workarounds to remap it to do something else (I imagine using it to launch the camera or to take a screenshot would be more useful, at least for me), but the official settings leave you limited to this one function.

This Is One Smart Smartphone

And while the whole squeezable frame thing is hardware-dependent, another signature feature of the Pixel 2 XL can just as easily be ported over to almost any other Android phone via software: Now Playing. When enabled, Now Playing will identify (almost) any song playing where you are. Continuously. All the time.

The “always listening” microphone, that is always anxiously awaiting you to wake Assistant with “OK Google,” can now always be listening for music too. The good news is that the identification happens completely offline, as there’s a database that’s stored locally on your phone, and the identified song shows up on that “always on” display. It’s a neat trick and I didn’t find it has much of a detrimental effect on battery life.

There are some other little niceties, like the effective revival of live wallpapers with very subtle animations. The Google search bar has also been moved to the bottom, just below the app dock, and this feels like it’s really no better or worse than before. Just different. The rest of the software is as beautiful, clean and efficient as you’ve always come to expect from vanilla, stock Android. The settings app is well managed, as is the notification shade that actually shows two sizes of notifications based on relative importance.

The Blue Tinge of Death

You’ve probably heard the reports circulating around the web about how the Google Pixel 2 XL suffers from various screen issues. Some people say that it suffers from “burn in,” but I didn’t experience any of that during my almost two weeks of testing. That didn’t seem to be a problem for me, so your mileage may vary.

Another big thing that popped up is this apparent blue tint, which definitely did happen to me. If you hold the phone such that you are looking perfectly straight on, there’s no issue. Get a little off axis either vertically or horizontally, however, and everything turns decidedly bluer. It’s noticeable when you look for it, but it didn’t personally bother me all that much.

The other screen issue is that the colors on the screen doesn’t seem to “pop” as much as on some other phones with OLED displays. And yes, compared to the super punchy and saturated colors we get on most Samsung phones, for instance, the Pixel 2 XL display does look much more muted. Without getting technical, this appears to be a software thing. Google might allow for the wider color gamut at some point (or some third party apps/hacks may unlock it), but it’s really just a matter of personal preference.

The Best Camera on a Smartphone Today

Forget about “official” testing standards like DxOMark for a moment, because we know that they can be “gamed” by the manufacturers. From a purely subjective standpoint, I am thoroughly impressed with what Google has managed to achieve with the camera on the Pixel 2 XL. This is thanks both to hardware and software, as Google relies heavily on algorithms and processing to produce such excellent imagery.

Unlike other modern flagships with dual cameras, the Pixel 2 XL has just the one camera on the back. The difference is that this one camera features “dual pixels,” meaning that each pixel in that 12MP sensor is actually split in half. Mere microns apart, these dual pixels effectively serve the same role as the separate between dual camera modules to achieve the simulated “portrait mode” effect for artificial bokeh. It’s not perfect, but it is very impressive.

Even that aside, the pictures taken on the Pixel 2 XL are really great. It was especially impressive under low light. Normally when you try to take food pictures in a dimly-lit restaurant with your smartphone, the results leave something to be desired. They’re blurry and noisy with color inaccuracies. The Pixel 2 XL suffered from none of that, resulting in punchy, sharp photos without fail.

Google Pixel 2 XL Sample Photos

I’ve got several more sample photos up on Flickr if you want to browse on through.

Performance Benchmarks

Unsurprisingly, a flagship phone of this caliber rolls with the best of them when you put it through the standard benchmark paces. The scores of 3,668 and 38,181 in the Slight Shot Extreme and Ice Storm Unlimited benchmarks, respectively, in 3DMark align closely with the Galaxy S8+ (3,500 and 37,233 in our testing).

The story continues with a score of 165,768 in AnTutu (S8+ got 164,716) and a score of 7,205 in the PCMark Work 2.0 benchmark.

And it should come as no surprise that it’s much the same in Geekbench. The single-core and multi-core scores of 1,888 and 6,372 are comparable to the S8+ and its scores of 1,854 and 6,291. Performance is not a concern at all here and with the lighter-weight stock Android, you really have nothing to worry about for some time.

MEGATechie Pixel Perfect or MEGATechie XL-ent Compromise?

This is truly a tremendous phone in almost every way. If you’re the kind of person who highly values the quality of the camera on their phone, you’ll love the Pixel 2 XL. If you prefer the stock Android experience with the fastest updates around, you’ll love this phone too. If you prioritize performance, you’re covered here as well.

Of course, it’s definitely not without its drawbacks. The bezels are still decidedly bigger than some other newer flagships (especially when you look at the smaller Pixel 2), the lack of wireless charging may bother some people (as will the lack of a headphone jack), and the “muted” screen with a blue tinge could get irritating over time. I also found the phone somewhat bulky, especially with a Live Case. But that camera really is something else.

And then there’s the price. The 64GB Pixel 2 XL retails for $1,159 in Canada, bumping up to $1,289 for the 128GB model. You could go on contract to cut some costs, but that just means you’re paying for the phone over the course of 24 months. It’s expensive, to be sure, but it’s also right in the same range as a Galaxy Note8 or an iPhone X. If you want the best, you need to be prepared to pay for it. And, with the possible exception of the Note8, this is arguably the best Android phone money can buy right now.

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