Whether it was through the beloved Nexus line-up or last year’s Pixel and Pixel XL, Google branded smartphones have always been looked forward to. The Pixel duo from 2016 changed a lot for Google’s flagship smartphone range, making it more Google and less manufacturer-influenced. The phones were also touted as being among the best camera hones you could buy, and took the challenge to Apple head on. Although the Google Pixel isn’t quite as successful as the iPhone, it’s a sign of things to come.
As expected, the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL have been launched, with sales and availability slated to kick off this month. The only differences between the two devices are in the size, dimensions and screen. The smaller Pixel 2 comes with a 5-inch 16:9 aspect ratio full-HD AMOLED screen, while the larger Pixel 2 XL features a 6-inch 18:9 aspect ratio QHD+ P-OLED screen. The rest of the key specifications are identical on the two devices, and are suitably ‘flagship’ as you would expect from a top-tier Google phone.
Today, we’re reviewing the Google Pixel 2 XL, which is the larger and more expensive of the two new Pixel devices. Priced from Rs 73,000 for the 64GB variant, the phone not only takes the fight to Apple on capability, but also on the sheer premium price tag. All of that money buys you a lot, including a highly-touted camera and stock Android Oreo out-of-the-box. We’ve put the Google Pixel 2 XL to the test, and here’s our review.
Design and build quality are hot topics
In a world where metal and glass are becoming the norms for flagship devices, the Google Pixel 2 XL feels like plastic. Let’s be clear – the device has an aluminum unibody, but the finishing and texture will have you believe otherwise. The use of aluminum also ensures the phone’s incredibly light – further propagating the untrue belief that your Rs 73,000 Google Pixel 2 XL is made of plastic.
Keeping a typically metallic texture has its pros and cons. Depending on the finish, it could attract fingerprints or be a bit too slippery, and Google’s choice of finish will definitely help you keep grip of the large phone. The signature glass visor also makes its return, but is a bit smaller this time around. What’s also worth mentioning is that the phone has a dust and water resistance rating of IP67, which means that it can survive up to 30 minutes of being submerged in up to 1m of fresh water. It can certainly survive accidental drops into a bathtub or toilet bowl, or exposure to rain. Feel free to wash it under a sink as well.
What is perhaps the biggest point of discussion is the controversial dropping of the 3.5mm jack. After plenty of jokes at Apple’s expense last year, Google has rather hypocritically done exactly what it said it wouldn’t do last year, and it’s hard to believe that a lot has changed in the one year that passed, to justify it. Some brands continue to fight for the ubiquitous audio jack, while many users have simply accepted that the future has no place for it.
This is what makes Google’s dropping of it confusing, but in the company’s defense, a USB Type-C to 3.5mm adapter is included in the box. And if you can afford a Pixel 2 XL, you can probably also afford a good pair of wireless headphones or a decent DAC that you’d use with your phone anyway. Therefore, I’ll keep the whining at a minimum: I’d have liked a 3.5mm jack, but I’m willing to embrace the future with this. ALSO READ: Apple iPhone 8 Plus Review
The front of the Google Pixel 2 XL has its fair share of complaints as well, but most of these are too subjective to truly call flaws. The rounded corners of the screen and the curved sides may not agree with a lot of users, although I didn’t really have an issue with the way the phone looks. However, to call the Google Pixel 2 XL ‘bezel-less’ would be inaccurate. You do get the 18:9 screen, but there are thick borders on the sides and a fair amount of bulk at the top and bottom as well. The screen-to-body ratio is certainly less than what you get on the Google Pixel 2, but doesn’t quite have the same effect as the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 or the Xiaomi Mi MIX 2. ALSO READ: Xiaomi Mi MIX 2 Review
Android as it should be
With Google in charge of delivering software updates, the Nexus and Pixel line-up have always been among the first to receive the latest software. Although the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL aren’t the first phones to be sold with Android Oreo out of the box, (surprisingly, the Sony Xperia XZ1 was the first), they’ve still beaten the majority of manufacturers to the landmark, and proudly fly the Oreo flag. And as icing on the cake, Google will be supporting the Pixel 2 XL for three years, which means you’re assured fresh Android servings through to 2020.
Things are cleaner, the fonts are a bit classier, the settings are better sorted and navigating around the interface is less complicated on Android Oreo. There’s also a firm sense of reliability on the whole; the Google Pixel 2 XL’s software won’t give you any unpleasant surprises. The light build, lack of bloatware and generally clean interface makes for a phone that’s zippy, quick and straightforward. Things work as they’re supposed to, and that’s an incredibly refreshing approach that you won’t get from more than a handful of Android device manufacturers.
Over the years, we’ve also seen Google slowly and carefully build up its capabilities in artificial intelligence. Google Assistant first showed its capabilities last year on the Google Pixel and Pixel XL, but hints of Google’s ability to serve you without you needing to tell it what to do have been aplenty for a while now. The Google Pixel 2 XL demonstrates this capably and with a kind of confidence you couldn’t expect from any other company. Google Assistant is built into the device and you’re encouraged to use it as much as possibly through voice commands. But even if you don’t fancy talking to your phone, it’s working in the background.
From giving you flight reminders and airport maps, to tracking traffic on your usual commute, to keeping an eye on weather conditions, the Pixel 2 XL is constantly working in the background to ensure you’re seeing what you want to see without you needing to ask for it. While this might sound creepy on many levels, I’ve long gotten used to the idea of having the big companies crunch my data into meaningful material that helps me. I quite enjoy the thrill of having my phone work for me without my needing to tell it what to do, and the Google Pixel 2 XL is quite possibly the best phone on Android that will do that.
There are plenty of other subtle touches in the software that I found incredibly useful. One of these is the ability to unlock the phone with a simple ‘OK Google’ command that recognizes your voice specifically, and won’t unlock the phone if it’s anyone else’s voice. And just like the squeezable functionality on the HTC U11, the Google Pixel 2 XL also brings up Google Assistant with a quick squeeze, a feature it calls the ‘Active Edge’. Additionally, if you turn on the ‘Now Playing’ feature, the phone can identify songs playing in the background and show them right on your lock screen. The function works offline on a small set of pre-programmed tracks, so it won’t always work. ALSO READ: HTC U11 Review
Other minor changes in the interface are visible as soon as you unlock the phone, including the search bar moving to the bottom, and the rather stunning live wallpapers that come as default on the phone. My personal favorite is the waves slowly hitting a beach in Portugal. Some thoughtful touches include using a dark theme if you have a dark wallpaper, and the always-on display that shows you notifications and basic information intelligently. A particular feature that I really like is Google Lens, the Bixby-like image scanner. The phone’s software scans the contents of any image on Google Photos, giving you Google search results based on the matter in the image. While I didn’t use it much, the possibilities and scope of the tool are interesting, and can potentially ease the way we search for information.
Performance that’s flagship
In order to achieve flagship-level performance, you need flagship-grade components. The Google Pixel XL comes with those flagship-grade components, including the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC, a dedicated custom chip for better image processing, and more. But one of the key contributors to good performance is the quality of the software. iOS is considered the reason why iPhones can achieve the same level of performance with lesser hardware; similarly, Google’s pure and unadulterated version of Android promises the same.
One of my biggest grouses with the Pixel 2 XL is its RAM. Let’s be clear: 4GB of RAM is more than enough to capably run a smartphone today, and will likely be enough for the next year or so. This, combined with Google’s light and easy approach to the system means a Pixel 2 XL can do with 4GB of RAM what many smartphones struggle to do with the same amount. It’s also something we’re used to seeing on devices that are priced at under Rs 15,000, so for a Rs 73,000 smartphone to have 4GB of RAM can be a bit disappointing.
While I can’t quite complain about it right now, I feel like 4GB of RAM may be troublesome in the long-run. It’s here that devices like the OnePlus 5 are more promising; 8GB of RAM may seem like overkill right now, but with the way Android is developing, it may be the norm for entry-level devices in 2020. At that point, your two-year-old OnePlus 5 may not be quite as sluggish as a Pixel 2 XL that’s about as old. ALSO READ: OnePlus 5 Long Term Review
For the time being though, the Google Pixel 2 XL is a powerhouse. It’s quick, effective and comparable to any other Android smartphone available today. From multi-tasking to the speed of the camera shutter, you know you’re working with something that’s as fast as it can be. A lot of this can be credited to the pure Android Oreo under the hood, which gives you that level of performance. Audio is decent in some ways and not so great in others. With dialogue and voice (what you’d be listening to if you watch Netflix on the Pixel 2 XL), the phone is fairly good, using its two-speaker setup to give you a good viewing experience. With music, the sound comes across as a bit tinny and far too warm.
There’s been a lot of talk about disappointing aspects of the display on the Google Pixel 2 XL. Uncharacteristically, quick screen burn-in, an annoying blue tint, muted colors and a lack of vibrant output have all been issues complained of by early users and reviewers the world over, and naturally I did my bit to investigate the issues.
It may yet be too soon to comment, but our Google Pixel 2 XL hasn’t seen screen burn-in issues thus far. Perhaps a bit of an explainer on what screen burn-in is will help here. OLED screens, over time, tend to have artefacts formed on parts of the screen that tend to be regular. For example, the three Android on-screen keys are usually on the screen all the time, and over time you’ll see hints of those shapes and colors ‘burned’ into the screen. This is something that usually takes a few months to show its effects, which is why it’s surprising to see the issue on Google Pixel 2 XL devices that are just days old.
Another issue is something that is typical to the P-OLED screens that LG has developed and used on the Pixel 2 XL. The polarization of the screen means that tilting it about 30 degrees in any direction or looking at the screen at an angle will cause a blue tint to appear on the screen. This can be a bit bothersome as it affects the way content on the screen looks. However, you’re unlikely to use your phone a lot from those angles, and when you look directly at the screen you won’t see the tint appear. Essentially, there’s no denying that the issue exists, but how you’re affected by it depends on you entirely. ALSO READ: Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review
Yet another issue is with the way the screen has been configured, and has to do with the color temperature and output. Colors are a bit too muted; the phone doesn’t quite strike the ideal balance between color accuracy and the vibrant, exciting output that you can expect on an AMOLED screen. There is an option that slightly boosts color vibrancy, but the effect is barely noticeable as such. UPDATE: The latest OTA update that was pushed on 7th November has added a few fixes, including the tweaks needed to prevent rapid screen burn-in, as well as a new color mode. This lets you opt for natural, boosted or saturated colors. The last option gives the screen a somewhat unnatural but much more exciting look, and does suit many users. My personal favorite is the ‘boosted’ option, which strikes a good balance between natural and vivid colors.
It does get brighter than what we’re used to seeing on most AMOLED screens, but the lack of punch in the colors somewhat takes the edge off the brightness. While I did get used to the screen over time, I couldn’t help but feel I was getting a better experience from competing smartphones. Google’s color tuning is, simply put, off the mark.
Battery and Charging
As is the case with design, the Google Pixel 2 XL is both a hit and a miss when it comes to battery and charging. That is to say, while some things go particularly well in this department, others are disappointing to say the least. The phone has a 3,520mAh battery, and comes supplied with a charger that can output power at up to 18W. Although the phone is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 and is compatible with Qualcomm’s proprietary Quick Charge technology, Google has opted for its own variant of fast charging.
In terms of specifications, the charger is fairly similar to what you’d get with a Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 charger, but rapid charging on the Pixel 2 XL is only possible if you use the stock charger. I tried, and Quick Charge 3.0 and OnePlus Dash chargers didn’t offer fast charging on the Pixel 2 XL. The cable is a non-standard USB Type-C to USB Type-C cable, so you’ll need an aftermarket option to connect the phone to a PC via USB Type-A.
Battery life itself is largely benefited by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC, which is known for its incredibly power-to-efficiency ratio thanks to the 10nm fabrication process of the chipset. Even with heavy usage, I only had to charge the phone once a day, and got screen-on time of over six hours. This is particularly good, considering that the phone has a 6-inch QHD+ screen that takes a lot to power. Credit should also go to stock Android 8.0, which keeps the phone running efficiently and smoothly. ALSO READ: OnePlus 5 Battery Review
Charging the phone, however, is a bit of a mixed experience. Google advertises the phone as being a fast charging device that offers a quick boost when the battery is low, and that is true based on my usage of the phone. The battery went from 1% to 82% in one hour when using the stock Pixel 2 XL charger, and indeed added over 40% in the first 20 minutes itself. However, charging significantly slows down at around the 65-70% mark, and going to 100% could take about 120-150 minutes. This is in line with reports that the Pixel has its charging software-limited, despite the higher capacity of the charger.
Essentially, charging when your battery is low will get you a quick burst of power that should get you through a typical work day, but if you’re expecting a long day and want to get your battery to 100 percent or whereabouts, you’ll have to leave the phone plugged in for a while. This was particularly bothersome for me, since I’ve been spoiled by the faster and more consistent charging speeds offered by devices such as the OnePlus 5 and Xiaomi Mi MIX 2.
I’ve saved the best part of this review for last, and the camera is likely to be the key reason why a lot of buyers opt for the Google Pixel 2 XL. The phone features a 12.2-megapixel single-sensor rear camera, and an 8-megapixel front camera. The rear camera can record video at up to 4K resolution, uses a combination of laser and phase-detection autofocus, and can also record slow-motion video at up to 240fps. The front camera records video at up to full-HD resolution.
Some of the earliest talk around the camera of the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL was largely negative, as the use of the single-camera setup was perceived to be old-fashioned and backward when compared to options from Samsung, OnePlus, Apple and others. Critics were largely silenced when Google explained that its software, algorithms and dedicated photography chipset meant it could do with one camera what most other manufacturers needed a dual-camera setup for.
(Camera samples shot on the Google Pixel 2 XL)
After a fair amount of testing, we’re happy to report that this is true. Dual-camera setups typically offer benefits such as depth-sensing for portrait shots, lossless zoom, or better low-light results by the use of a dedicated monochrome sensor. The Google Pixel 2 XL gives you all of the above, in some form or the other.
Portrait mode is possible, with the single-camera setup capturing all of the information it needs and letting the software do the work after the picture has been taken. Indeed, results are excellent, and the use of software means it works equally well when you’re using the front camera as well. Although the algorithms are designed primarily for pictures of people and work best in those cases, the phone does take decent portrait shots of objects or animals as well. The bokeh effect is clean, defined and on-par with what you’d expect from an Apple iPhone 8 Plus, Samsung Galaxy Note 8 or OnePlus 5.
(Camera samples shot on the Google Pixel 2 XL)
While there’s no lossless zoom on the Google Pixel 2 XL, pinching to zoom does work and pictures remain detailed and sharp. And the advantage that you’d receive from a dedicated monochrome sensor is simply unnecessarily in this case, thanks to the quality of the phone’s sensor and its superior low-light shooting capability.
(Camera samples shot on the Google Pixel 2 XL)
Pictures are clean, composed and among the best we’ve seen on an Android smartphone. In good light, you can expect oodles of detail, plenty of realism in the colors and focusing that is quick and pin-point accurate. Macro photography is excellent as well, and even without activating the portrait mode, you can expect to see good DSLR-like bokeh purely from the quality of the sensor and lens.
Low-light photography is top-notch as well in most scenarios. This comes from the Pixel 2 XL’s ability to work well with even artificial lighting, and pictures are sharp, detailed and clean even under street lights and spot lights. With very low lighting, pictures tend to lose detail and color, but results are still better than what you could expect from similarly positioned camera-centric smartphones. On the whole, the Google Pixel 2 XL proves to be a capable shooter that will only get better as Google continues to tweak its software and algorithms.
(Camera samples shot on the Google Pixel 2 XL)
The Google Pixel 2 XL is a quality smartphone in many ways, and one I’ve enjoyed using despite the setbacks. It certainly isn’t the perfect smartphone; from a screen that’s disappointing to a charging mechanism that leaves a lot to be desired, the Google Pixel 2 XL doesn’t feel as good as it should. However, some of these fixes are software-based, and perhaps Google will act on user feedback to fix these problems over the next few weeks. Additionally, design is something you’ll either love or hate; I personally didn’t have any complaints in this regard, and rather like the way the Google Pixel 2 XL feels.
When it comes to the software, camera and performance, the Google Pixel 2 XL delivers in heaps. You will not get a better Android experience on any other smartphone, as the stock Android Oreo experience offered by the Google Pixel 2 XL is superior in every way. Purists in particular will enjoy the efficiency and artificial-intelligence friendly approach. For fans of virtual assistants and AI-based usage, you’ll find the Pixel 2 XL to be absolutely fantastic. Additionally, the camera is among the best you can find on an Android smartphone, and indeed does with one sensor what most manufacturers struggle to offer with two.
However, the Google Pixel 2 XL’s benefits don’t come cheap. At Rs 73,000 for the 64GB variant and Rs 82,000 for the 128GB option, it’s an expensive proposition, and is aimed squarely at taking on the iPhone on pricing. It’s touted as the ultimate Android experience, and Google’s branding gives it that level of credibility. If you can afford it and are an Android fan at heart, you’ll be well served by the Google Pixel 2 XL.