I immediately knew when the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL were announced what my next personal phone would be. Without hesitation, I threw my money at the smaller version of Google’s 2017 flagship. Not because I didn’t want the bigger phone, but because it’s not in my budget right now.

Luckily, our partners in crime at Verizon have my back and they sent out the Pixel 2 XL for me to review right alongside its little brother. As always, huge thanks to Big Red for the opportunity to check out the latest and greatest devices they have to offer. Especially in this case, as I really wanted some hands-on time with this one.

I know you guys and gals have been waiting for a while for this review. I’ve had my Pixel 2 since the very first wave of devices began shipping, and now it’s time to give you my thoughts. So, grab yourself a beverage, pull up a chair, and let’s get down to business.

Color options

The Pixel 2 is available in Kinda Blue, Just Black, and Clearly White. The Pixel 2 XL only has two color schemes – Just Black, Black & White. (Panda FTW!) I own the black Pixel 2 variant, and that’s the same color of the Pixel 2 XL Verizon sent out.

Specs and design

 

Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL (Front)Both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are nearly identical, in terms of inner-specs. Either device runs an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor with 4GB of RAM and is available with 64 GB or 128 GB of storage. It’s not until we get into the two devices’ designs where differences start to become apparent.

The Pixel 2 has dimensions of 145.7 x 69.7 x 7.8 mm and weighs 143 grams. The Pixel 2 XL has dimensions of 157.9 x 76.7 x 7.9 mm and weighs 175 grams. Both devices have a Nano-SIM card slot, as well as an eSIM, which only works with Project Fi, as far as I am aware.

Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL (Back)

In terms of protection, both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are dust and water resistant, thanks to IP67 certification. This means they can be fully submerged in water as deep as one meter for up to 30 minutes. Not quite the IP68 I was hoping for, but I’ll take it just the same. Remember, the OG Pixel phones didn’t feature any water resistance, so this is a nice addition to the lineup.

In the sensor department, we’re looking at a properly-placed rear-mounted fingerprint reader. Not only is it in the perfect position – right in the middle of the phone – it’s an absolute delight to use. It’s quick and accurate, and you can also use gestures for swiping to show/hide notifications. And with the help of 3rd-party apps, like this one I wrote about, you can do even more.

There’s also the standard roundup of additional sensors, including an accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, and barometer.

Sayonara headphone jack

Pixel 2 Headphone Dongle

I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about this. There’s no headphone jack. We knew this was happening, and it comes as no surprise. This may be a deal-breaker for you, but it isn’t for me.

Google did throw in a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter dongle. It looks floppy and ridiculous, but it’s an option, should you be dead-set on using wired headphones.

Display

The Pixel 2 features a 5-inch 1080 x 1920 (~441 ppi density) AMOLED display with the traditional 16:9 screen ratio. The display here is completely flush with the device, sans any rounded corners or curves like you’ll see on the Galaxy Note 8 and even the Pixel 2 XL.

There’s plenty of bezel on both the top and bottom of the display, but they don’t make the phone unattractive in my opinion. I know some folks hate ’em, others couldn’t care less – and I’m in the latter group. In fact, if the bezels were needed to include the dual front-facing speakers, then by all means – because they sound amazing!

The Pixel 2 XL features a 6-inch 1440 x 2880 (~538 ppi density) P-OLED display with a taller 18:9 screen ratio like we’re starting to see in other modern devices. There are the same glorious front-facing speakers, although there isn’t nearly as much bezel here. The display is also slightly curved on all four sides.

Is the Pixel 2 XL display that bad?

Now before we proceed, let’s address the ginormous elephant in the room. If you’re reading this review, I can only assume Android Unfiltered isn’t your exclusive source for Android content on the Internet.

And if you’ve read any of the bigger (*cough, cough* corporate-sponsored) sites out there, you may have seen the news about the Pixel 2 XL display being somewhat scoff-worthy.

In case you missed it, folks are griping about colors not being vivid enough. There are complaints of blue color shifting, screen burn-in and image retention. Some folks are having issues with the touch screen not registering touches on the edges of the screen.

And while I’m in no position to discredit any of these reports, I can truthfully say I’ve had none of these issues, aside from the blue tint. And let’s be clear here – this very slight blue tint only appears when you hold the phone at weird viewing angles.

Don’t get me wrong – I respect the argument that some folks lay their phone down and like to look at it from non-straightforward positions. And you can absolutely do that with the Pixel 2 XL. But if the slight blue tint is a deal-breaker for you, well… Don’t buy the Pixel 2 XL, I guess. To me, it’s a non-issue.

Put down the pitchforks, folks.

Need more saturation?

There’s a solution to this problem, should you want your colors to be more saturated. Google enabled a third color profile named exactly that. There are now three options in the Advanced Display Settings menu: Boosted, Natural, and Saturated.

Natural is the “dull” setting that most folks are complaining about. I actually prefer this setting over the others, as I agree that it does look more natural, and thus more visually appealing – but that’s all a matter of opinion.

Boosted doesn’t do a whole lot – the changes are pretty hard to miss, in fact. Saturated, however, makes a noticeable change that brings the display colors a bit closer to the likes of the Galaxy Note 8.

Performance

The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL may not have 6 GB of RAM like some other newer phones, but don’t let that fool you. These devices are fully-capable and great for handling memory-intensive apps and games. I’ve not had any slow-downs or app crashes on either device, and I’ve been using both to the fullest since getting them.

If you’ve read any of my previous phone reviews, you already know my stance on benchmarks. If not, here you go – I don’t care for them. In fact, I only do benchmarks on devices I’m reviewing, and only for the sake of those reading my reviews who do care for them. For that very reason, here are a few scores from a few different benchmarking apps.

Not that they mean anything at all, but whatever.

Pixel 2 benchmarks
(Android 8.1 Developer Preview #1)

Pixel 2 XL benchmarks
(Android 8.0)

Battery life

The Pixel 2 has a 2700mAh battery, and I can generally get a full day of use with close to four hours of screen-on time. This is with moderate usage of the camera, social media apps, playing music and watching videos. The Pixel 2 XL has a considerably larger battery, at 3520mAh, and gets closer to six hours of screen-on time over the course of a full day.

And speaking of batteries, both devices charge nice and quick via a USB-C charging port and 18W USB-C charging adapter. Google quotes a 15-minute charge time is equivalent to seven hours of juice. I’ve found that the device charges slightly quicker with Always On Display turned off, which comes as no surprise since there are fewer resources in use.

Features

One thing about the Pixel lineup that I’ve always appreciated is the lack of a ton of extra features like you see on Samsung and other non-Pure Google devices. That’s not to say the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL don’t have a few bells and whistles, but they’re not jam-packed with crap I’ll never use. The features you get here are actually somewhat useful.

Active Edge (Squeeze for Google Assistant)

Pixel 2 XL Active Edge

This is a subtle feature, but it’s one of my favorites. Squeezing the sides of the device brings up Google Assistant, sans the need for saying “Ok (or Hey), Google”. You can change the squeeze sensitivity from within the device settings menu, toggle the ability to allow this feature when the screen is off, and also use it to silence incoming calls.

And if that’s not enough, you can completely re-map Active Edge to do just about anything you want. I stick with Assistant, but for those looking for other options, this is a nifty little trick that doesn’t require root or any other device modifications.

One of the only things I don’t like about Active Edge is the button placement on the Pixel 2 made it a bit difficult to squeeze, at first. I’ve adapted, and now I’m used to it, but it didn’t feel natural for quite some time. This isn’t an issue on the Pixel 2 XL, as it’s a bit taller, so there’s more room to squeeze.

Always-On Display

Pixel 2 Always On Display
Always On Display

AOD is certainly nothing new, but I do believe it’s new to the Pixel lineup with these second-generation devices. Always-On Display is exactly what it sounds like. Your screen stays on when the phone isn’t actively in use, and it displays information like the time, date, and notifications.

Now Playing

Pixel 2 Now Playing
Now Playing

This one is another really dope, yet really minor feature. Now Playing uses machine learning to identify songs playing nearby. It also does so without the need for an Internet connection, and without any user interaction. You have to enable it – here’s a guide I wrote on how to do that – but once it’s on, you’re good to go.

When a song is recognized, the title displays on your lock screen and can be tapped to find out more information about the song, listen to it on your preferred streaming service,

This feature isn’t 100% accurate. There are a few instances where Now Playing doesn’t seem to not know what a song is, but these instances are few and far between. Anything even remotely popular usually shows up without a hitch.

At a Glance

Pixel 2 At A Glance
At a Glance

And yet another useful feature, At a Glance shows you helpful information on your homescreen, like upcoming calendar events, traffic alerts, and weather information. At a Glance sits at the top of the homescreen now, where the Search bar used to reside. The Search bar is now down at the bottom of the homescreen.

Google Lens

Google Lens

Lens launched exclusively on the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, but it’s now making its way to older devices. It was only available in the Google Photos app at first, but it’s since expanded to Assistant.

I wrote an in-depth review of Google Lens, so I won’t take up much of your time rambling about it here. It’s cool, but it needs some work. I said that in my review, and I still say it now, although the recent roll-out to Assistant is a step in the right direction.

Software

Android Oreo Easter Egg
Android Oreo Easter Egg

Android 8.0 FTW! The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL run Android Oreo out of the box, and Google promises both phones will receive OS updates for the next three years, through 2020. In the early days of Android, Nexus devices only got 18 months of support, so to see this length double is awesome.

Additionally, the first Developer Preview for Android 8.1 is available, which is what I’m running on my phone. The final Android 8.1 release should be out by the end of 2017.

There’s no bloatware on the unlocked Pixel 2, and there’s just the ‘My Verizon’ app on the Pixel 2 XL review unit from Big Red. Otherwise, it’s the standard round of Google apps, and the rest of your device storage is yours to do with as you please.

Cameras

Pixel 2 XL Low-Light
Court Avenue @ night, Des Moines, Iowa

I saved the best for last with this review. Above and beyond everything else the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL offer, the cameras are the bread and butter here. There’s a single 12.2-megapixel lens around back with a wide f/1.8 aperture. The large aperture allows a ton of light to hit the camera’s 1/2.6″ sensor, allowing for great photos in low-light settings.

Portrait Mode

Many of 2017’s flagship phones come with dual camera setups to produce a bokeh (blurry background) effect, but Google went with just one camera here. This singular camera relies on machine learning and advanced algorithms to produce that same blurry effect, and it does a stellar job, in most cases, using what Google calls Portrait mode.

That’s not to say Portrait Mode is 100% accurate. There are instances where the camera can’t properly distinguish the foreground from the background, but even then, the results are pretty impressive. I’ve taken a ton of photos with both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, and I had dig to find a couple of good examples to point out here.

Notice in the Portrait Mode shot above how the camera fails to identify the swing’s chain links in some areas, as well as a very small portion on the left side of the swing itself?

Selfie camera

The front-facing camera here is 8-megapixels and houses a f/2.4 aperture lens. Portrait Mode works here as well, and I’m very pleased with the results. Prior to owning the Pixel 2, I wasn’t a huge selfie-taker, but a month later, the novelty has yet to wear off. My social media circles are probably sick of seeing my mug, now that I think about it.

The selfie cam is also guilty of those minor imperfections I mentioned with the rear camera. Check out one of the few fails I came across below – what happened to my sunglasses?

Pixel 2 Portrait Mode Fail 2
Notice how the sunglasses just seem to fade away on the right side?

Motion Photos

When not shooting in Portrait Mode, the camera continuously records a short video before and after each photo you take. This can be disabled via settings if you want, but there’s no harm in leaving it enabled. You still get the original photo you take, along with an option in Google Photos to turn the Motion Photos feature on and off.

Video

The rear camera can record video in 4k at 30fps and in 1080p at 120fps (slow-motion) 60fps and 30fps. And thanks to both optical images stabilization (OIS) and electronic image stabilization (EIS), videos taken are smooth and relatively free of shake.

Another thing I always like to test in the video department whenever possible is concert footage. This time around, I only went to one show during my testing phase: Highly Suspect, at Wooly’s in Des Moines.

It wasn’t my favorite concert of all-time, but the quick clip I shot for testing purposes shows the Pixel 2 is certainly up to the task of recording stellar footage in low-light and great audio in loud scenarios. Check that clip out below.

Free Google Photo storage

Another thing worth pointing out here is that you get free photo storage – at original quality sizes – for every photo and video you shoot with the Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL until 1/16/21. I’ve heard this promo would end in 2020, but the date on my account isn’t until 2021. I’m not complaining.

Wrap-up and final rating

The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are amazing phones. They don’t have industry-leading displays or specs, but the cameras make up for that fact and then some, in my book. Are they perfect? Absolutely not, but good luck finding any phone that’s perfect in every aspect.

For me, it all boils down to the camera and the immediate access to the latest operating system updates. Sure, the Galaxy Note 8 is a spectacular device, but have fun waiting in line for that Oreo update. I’m sure it’s coming, but historically speaking, it might take a while.

The Pixel 2 is available from the Google Play Store (from $649 or $27.04/month for 24 months with Google Store Financing) and Verizon. The Pixel 2 XL is on the same page in the Play Store ($849.00 or $35.38/month for 24 months) and Verizon has it, too.

As for whether or not you should buy either device, that’s purely up to you. I highly recommend them both, but you should always take into account your own needs when buying a smartphone and not rely solely on the reviews you read on the Internet.

Although I greatly appreciate you taking the time to read my reviews, if you’re still on the fence about the Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL, I suggest heading into your local Verizon store and spending some time with the display units.

I’d be willing to bet you won’t be disappointed.

(Thanks again to the folks at Verizon for providing the Pixel 2 XL review unit!)