It may be the gadget that readers and viewers are the most excited about this year, based on how many hits I’ve been getting on this content. Google Pixel 2 has launched, and it’s got Android users and, yes, even Apple die-hards buzzing.
Google Pixel 2 is Google’s revised and refreshed smartphone. It runs the Android operating system, and is available in two sizes, (Regular and XL), and 4 colours (Clearly White,
Kinda Blue and Just Black and a 6” in Black & White and Just Black. ). I’m not going to delve too deep into how Android operates and how it might be different from, say an Apple device. If you do want to read that kind of background, click here to read, Switching from Apple to Android/Samsung – What you need to know. This review will focus on the specific features of the Pixel 2 device.
Still considering original Pixel? Read the review here.
I received the Pixel 2 XL in Black/White, also known as ‘Panda’ to test and review. The phone is slightly thinner than the original Pixel, it’s got a fluorescent orange power button, and overall it looks sleeker and prettier than the original. The screen also fills more of the face, though the overall size of the phone isn’t that different. The glass-aluminum construction remains, though the edges are rounded on the Pixel 2. There is no headphone jack in this iteration of the phone.
The screen is sharp thanks to the pOLED (Passive-Matrix OLED, read what that is/does here). I did notice something odd with my display… but we’ll get to that in a minute.
The Pixel 2 holds onto some features from the original, but has made some upgrades too.
The fingerprint scanner is really fast. Not that fingerprint unlocking takes a lot of time, but it’s seriously fast.
A new feature on the Pixel 2 is the squeeze option to launch the Google Assistant fast. Just grip and release the bottom half of your phone quickly and the assistant will launch. You do need to be logged in/pin/fingerprint to access this feature.
Audio quality – wireless & wired
Since there’s no headphone jack, you need to use the included dongle to connect wired headphones, or just go fully wireless with Bluetooth headphones. Connecting wireless earphones was easy. I didn’t have a pair of PixelBuds for this test so I used Jabra Elite Sport.
I watched some music videos to get warmed up: Go by the Chemical Brothers with its ‘handmaid parade’ kicked things off and the moves seemed to match the beats pretty well. Eminem’s Without Me seemed slightly out of sync but that may have just been the editing because The Pretender by the Foo Fighters was bang on. Jamiroquai’s Seven Days in Sunny June was accurate, but Macklemore’s Downtown has tiny spots that seemed slightly out of sync.
When it came to TV and videos, I watched few tech reviews that were perfectly in sync and sounded great. Ditto for one of my all time favourite Ted Talks, What happens when you reply to a spam email from James Veitch.
Overall I’d say the wireless audio connection was great; it sounds good, stays in sync and does everything you need it to. I’d be very comfortable watching a TV show, movie or just about anything else on the Pixel 2.
On the hardwired connection, which you can use via the included dongle I had to crank up the volume quite a bit over the wireless level. The sound again was very good. I’d say either way you choose to inject your audio, you’ll be happy.
Built-in speaker quality
The Pixel 2 has a dual front-facing stereo speaker for better sound if you want to be the kind of annoying human who listens to private audio in public. Honestly, the speaker is ok and probably ranks with most other smartphone speakers but it does sound like what it is: a tiny one dimensional smartphone speaker. It’ll play stuff for you but I wouldn’t listen to much on it.
Always On display
Another new-to-Pixel 2 feature is the Always On display. You’ve likely seen this on Samsung’s newest phones already, so it’s not new technology, but it is handy, and a welcome addition to the Pixel 2. It displays at-a-glance info like time, date, and recent notifications on the dark screen so you can preserve battery life by not needing to constantly turn the phone on all the way.
Once you’ve passed though security, the phone’s main screen displays what’s called an At-a-glance area which details the date and time, local weather, calendar appointments and traffic info if you want. As with many Android tools, it’s customizable.
Now Playing feature
A very cool feature is Now Playing. This takes the technology that Shazam and Soundhound use and leaves it running for you — though you do need to enable it first.
Now Playing listens for music around you, then ID’s the song and displays it on the bottom of your screen. It doesn’t share the info with Google, it’s done on the device, privately if that stuff worries you. During my tests I was unable to get this feature to work for me, so I’m not sure if it’s still in Beta, or you need a SIM card in the phone for it to work.
How to enable the Now Playing feature:
Now Playing is an option you can customize. To turn it on, go to Settings > Security & location > Lock screen preferences > Now Playing. Tap on the switch to turn the feature On. YOu can also turn on “also show notifications so you can see the music in the notification shade.
When you see a song on your screen and want to know more, double tap on it to open a Google Assistant card with links to YouTube or Play Music.
Google Lens is a still-in-the-works feature where you can snap photos of buildings, books, movies, etc and the Lens will help you identify it. If you’ve heard of Samsung’s Bixby, it’s basically the same idea. Eventually you should be able to ID just about anything, but for now, functionality is limited.
I tried it on common objects (Pencil, book cover) but it wasn’t able to ID them. There’s also supposed to be a feature that lets you snap things like phone numbers and addresses, but when I tried this with a business card, it didn’t work either.
Search bar relocation
Users familiar with the Google search bar that used to reside upper left of the Pixel screen will now find it along the bottom of the screen, a little easier to reach and a little more transparent and less in your face.
Pixel 2 XL Camera & Photos
There are many things to talk about when it comes to the camera. Google’s press kit says the camera is, “the highest-rated smartphone camera by DxOMark Mobile, with a score of 98.1”.
One of the most noticeable and easy to use features is the Portrait mode. This technology is out there, yes, but it’s again a welcome addition to the Pixel 2. Portrait mode allows you to blur out the background or foreground of your photos for a Bokeh effect. It makes for lovely portraits or product/object shots.
To access Portrait or Bokeh, click the hamburger menu in the top left of the camera screen and select ‘Portrait’. You can also use fun effects like Photo Sphere and panoramas too.
The Pixel 2 has smart unlimited storage through Google Photos. The camera saves photos to the cloud so your device should never fill up.
I just the phone sporadically for a couple of weeks, only on Wi-fi. The battery lasted about a week at a time. I have little doubt that the battery will indeed last Google’s stated 7 “all day”. Plus you can get an extra 7 hours of battery from 15 minutes of charge.
After I posted my unboxing article and video I had some viewers on the YouTube channel ask about the screen being blue. I was a bit mystified, since I didn’t notice anything, but when I was doing some side by side comparisons later between my iPhone 6+ and the Pixel 2 it was actually kind of startling. From some lower angles (not as noticeable to me from directly overhead) the Pixel screen definitely has a bluish cast to it.
A few days later the company posted this explanation on their website, saying the screen colour, “corresponds to the color of the average midday light in Northern Europe, so the Pixel display errs ever so slightly on the blue side (users generally perceive the screen more “fresh” this way, probably because in the real world a yellow hue often indicates something has aged).”
In a nutshell (and through my very non-engineering background interpretation) Google admits that yes it is blue, but they kinda meant it that way. Even so they’re working on a fix.
Is my Pixel 2 screen Blue? How can I fix it?
“Through a software update to Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, we will soon be adding a new “saturated” color mode. The saturated mode puts the display into an unmanaged configuration, similar to how the Pixel 1 operates. The colors will be more saturated and vibrant, but less accurate (similar to most other smartphones which display more vibrant colors): we give consumers the option to choose the color saturation.”
Read the full explanation here, and by all means if you have a simplified version of this, please post it in comments below.
Overall thoughts on Google Pixel 2 XL
I love this phone. It’s fast, responsive, loaded with features, and the camera is a dream. I carry it with me most times for just the photography alone. I’ve written before about struggling with fully adopting Android and I’m still not there yet, but if I was going to switch, this is one of maybe two total phones that I’d get to live in that world.
Google’s Pixel 2 starts at $899 (CAD) and Pixel 2 XL starts at $1159.