Google Pixel 2: The Gizmodo Review

When Google released the Pixel last year, it was taking a stand. No longer would Google hardware be tainted with the brands and logos of other companies, even if behind the scenes, Google still needed help from those same companies to actually build its phones. And despite designs that were almost offensively ugly, a lack of standard flagship features such as water-resistance and expandable storage, and massive supply chain problems that made it hard to actually buy one months after its initial release, there were bright spots like the Pixel's excellent HDR photo mode and an untainted Android experience.

All images: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

But now, 12 months down the road and with $US1 ($1) billion of newly acquired tech and personnel, its imperative for Google to take the next steps in maturing as a device maker if it wants to makes those bets on homegrown hardware actually pay off.

And at first glance, it seems like Google is delivering. Both the 13cm Pixel 2 and 15cm Pixel 2 XL come with IP67 water-resistance, colourful OLED screens, Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processors and 4GB of RAM, which is pretty much identical to what you get from every other high-end Android phone. Around back, both phones also sport a new, matte finish, with care taken to ensure that even the little circle on the fingerprint reader gets a matching texture, while still retaining what has, for better or worse, become Google's signature rear glass window. It's a more fined take on the original Pixels ham-fisted design that's kind of attractive in its simplicity. But after that, things start to fall apart.

Little details like the reversed camera locations on the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL and the varying treatments on the Google logo chip away at the pair's cohesive family resemblance. And then you flip the two around, it becomes a story of two very different phones. The bezels on the standard 13cm Pixel 2 are massive, and easily the biggest on any flagship phone released in 2017 aside from the iPhone 8. On top of that, the Pixel 2 lacks the curvier glass edges of its larger sibling, which when combined with its 16:9 aspect ratio (versus the 18:9 screen on the Pixel 2 XL), gives the standard Pixel 2 a clunkier, chunkier appearance that looks dated from day one.

What's even worse is that the standard Pixel 2's 2,750 mAh battery delivers significantly less battery life than the 3,520 mAh battery on the larger Pixel 2 XL. On our battery rundown test, the Pixel 2 lasted just 8 hours and 59 minutes, almost 15 minutes short of the Galaxy S8's time of 9:12 and more than two hours short of the Pixel 2 XL's mark of 11:17. This is real shame, because based on size alone, the standard Pixel 2 is easily a better fit for my hands and other people who prefer smaller phones. However, the disparities between it and the Pixel XL 2 makes the larger phone the much better buy even when you consider the latter's $US200 ($255) higher price tag.

When compared to phones like the S8 and S8 Plus, the standard Pixel 2 (center) sticks out badly.

By comparison, the Pixel 2 XL looks like its been hitting the gym. It's slimmer bezels and higher screen-to-body-ratio makes it looks leaner. However, even the 2 XL isn't without its problems. When viewed off-axis, the Pixel 2 XL's POLED screen has a noticeable blue tint, which is something you don't see on the standard Pixel 2.

When put side-by-side, the Pixel 2 XL's off-axis colour shift is immediately apparent.

I'm annoyed by Google's decision to eliminate the headphone jack from the Pixel 2's list of features. Even with the wireless connectivity and the inclusion of a 3.5mm dongle in the box, I think it's still too soon for phone makers to be axing the headphone jack. On the flipside, the return of front-facing stereo speakers is welcome addition, and I'm glad that at least one company is keeping the legacy of HTC alive (especially since HTC can't seem to get it together).

Google's two-toned style is starting to grow on me, even if the black-on-black colour scheme is the least interesting of the bunch.

So if their design isn't anything special, what do the Pixel 2s have to offer? The software. Without any skins, bloat or other alterations to Android getting in the way, the Pixel 2 puts the full force of Google's smart programming in your hand. Whether its Google Photos silently editing and creating custom albums based on the photos you shoot, or at-a-glance notifications providing helpful updates on the weather, your commute, or other timely info, the pure Android Oreo 8.0 that you only get on Pixel devices is the closest thing we've seen to a smart OS.

The standard Pixel 2's huge bezels are a big bummer.

New for this year is a revamped home screen layout which puts a Google search bar at the bottom of the screen (and critically closer to your fingers). And if you're too lazy to type, now you can simply squeeze the side of the phone to summon the Google Assistant and voice your queries instead. Google calls this feature Active Edge and while it's a bit of gimmick, it's also a nice alternative to having to call out vocally to Google every time.

That said, I have to knock Google for restricting the Active Edge to Google Assistant. It's pretty much the same tactic that got people riled up when Samsung added a dedicated Bixby button to the side of the Galaxy S8. So let me be clear: Google did a great thing when it added a new way for people to interact with their phones, and then it did a bad thing by locking it down instead of making it into a customisable feature.

Google Lens can be surprisingly precise.

It's not the first phone you squeeze to control (that's the HTC U11), but the Pixel 2 is the first phone with Google Lens, which can analyse pictures you've taken and tell you whether the flower you just shot is a peony or a garden cosmos. And while it doesn't work every time, or might not always be precise as you'd like (e.g. when it identifies a Ferrari 458 as just a "supercar"), when it gets things right, it' downright impressive.

Notice how the Pixel 2's pic looks richer while retaining better depth and sharpness? (Click to see full-size images.)

Speaking of photos, the Pixel 2's 12-megapixel rear camera still does wonders considering it's f/1.8 aperture and single camera setup isn't exactly the fanciest system. In both bright light and normal low-light conditions, the Pixel 2 is every bit of a match for the Galaxy S8 and iPhone 8, and sometimes, thanks to its superb HDR+ mode, the Pixel 2 is better. Take for example the above shots of some lovely autumn pumpkins. While the S8's photo is good, and hardly worth complaining about, the Pixel 2 did even better, capturing richer oranges and more details on their gnarled stems.

This one is closer, but I have to give a slight edge to the Pixel because even though colours in the iPhone's pics look a tiny bit richer, the Pixel 2 managed to avoid blowing out objects in the background. (Click to to see full-size images.)

Or check out this shot of some delicious Cantonese chicken. While the iPhone 8's pic might look more well exposed at first, things like the teapot and rice bowl in background are blown out, something the Pixel 2 manages to avoid.

When it gets really dark, even the Pixel 2's HDR+ can't bail it out. (Click to enlarge.)

The one area where the Pixel 2 starts to lag is in extreme low-light environments, such as scenes lit only by candlelight. It's here where the Pixel 2's hardware hits it limit, which results in softer, less detailed, and often noisier photos than what you'd get from its competitors.

With the Pixel 2, Google has joined Apple when it comes to getting rid of the headphone jack.

This camera lacks in low light, but usually its good enough you don't have to think about the photos you're taking, and, in a way, that's really emblematic of what seems to be Google's overall approach to its homegrown hardware. Like a microwave or a washing machine, the idea that a device's specs and hardware get out of the way and take a back seat to whatever you're actually trying to get done. Then Google's software can step in quietly to give you a helping hand when it can, which is surprisingly often).

Hell, the most interesting new feature on the Pixel 2, the Active Edge pressure sensor, is something you can't even see, you just have to squeeze and know that the phone will respond. I just wish Google hadn't punted on the standard Pixel 2's design and battery life so hard. The second-gen Pixel XL is kind of handsome in a simple, stoic way, especially on that black and white model with the orange power button. Meanwhile, the regular Pixel 2 feels like it got neglected. Either way, you're not buying this phone for its build or its style, you're getting it because you think Google's software has the answers. And more often than any of its competitors, it does.

README

  • The Pixel 2 XL is easily the better looking of the two, and its battery life is noticeably longer too.

  • New Pixel homescreen layout puts a Google search bar beneath the traditional quick launch icons.

  • Google still has the best HDR photo processing, but both phones still struggle in very low light scenarios.

  • The Active Edge pressure sensor can only be used to summon the Google Assistant.

  • Neither model feature a microSD slot or headphone jack.

SPEC DUMP

Pixel 2

13cm 16:9 1920 x 1080 AMOLED display • 2,700 mAh battery • 5.7 x 2.7 x 0.3 inches • 142.03g • available in black, white and blue

Pixel 2 XL

15cm extra widescreen 18:9 2880 x 1440 POLED display • 3,520 mAh battery • 6.2 x 3 x 0.3-inches • 175.77g • available in black, and black/white.

Both models

Android 8.0 Oreo • Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processors • 4GB of RAM, 64GB or 128GB of storage • front-facing stereo speakers • 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac wi-fi • Bluetooth 5.0 • eSIM • Active Edge pressure sensor • IP67 water-resistance • USB Type-C port • included 3.5mm to USB-C adaptor


Comments

    From what I've heard, the major complaint about the S8's Bixby button was not that it "can't be customised" per se - it's that it summons Bixby, a virtual assistant that nobody wants to use. Most people just wanted to re-map it to Google Assistant, which is far superior offering.

    I agree it's a shame that the smaller Pixel 2 didn't get much love in the re-design - while I much prefer a larger phone, it's sad that those who prefer a smaller phone don't get a really modern, small-bezel option.

      Samsung desperately want to be Sony.

      Here, let us force you to use a worse version of what you actually want.

        In truth, they want to have features that differentiate their products from the other Android offerings, and that they have more control over. And they want their customers to get comfortable with the look and feel of Samsung's own software - it helps to retain customers....and it would probably work if it were actually good.

        Sadly, Samsung suck pretty bad at software. Their customised versions of Mail, Calendar and all the other Android stock apps had extra features, but they were universally ugly, annoying and unreliable. Plus the inclusion of these extra software "features" were a major component of what slowed down the rollout of updates to the OS. Bixby is just more of the same - a different assistant that's worse than Google's stock one, that's given preference and touted as an amazing feature - but it's less reliable, less capable, ugly and annoying.

        Samsung, for the love of all that's holy - please just stop this nonsense and concentrate on making awesome hardware. If it weren't for your crappy software, we wouldn't need Nexus and Pixel devices.

          That's the same bullshit excuse Apple uses. It doesn't hold water for them, thus it shouldn't for Samsung. I moved to Android to get away from that mentality.

          Samsung's software sucks because it's bolted onto Android. They need to get their TizenOS into a flagship device (and probably a good android compat layer). Tizen has a lot of potential and samsung has a lot of hardware clout - they could break the smartphone duopoly

            You can't blame Android for Samsung's poor software. Even their PC software is horrible, ugly and clunky.

            TizenOS is utterly unviable as a genuine alternative to Android and iOS. It will never get a foothold in the market, because there's no appetite to develop apps for yet another platform. Palm, Blackberry and Microsoft failed, each with far more clout than Samsung will ever have.

            Let's imagine that Samsung managed to pull that off, and they announced today that a TizenOS Galaxy S8 was going on sale. It has identical hardware, has their own app store but can run Android apps in an emulator layer, and it's $200 cheaper. Would you buy that? Without an ecosystem of commonly-used native apps and services behind it, and a history of making poor hardware support and rubbish software, I'd run a mile.

            Nobody would use it when you've got Android with Google's services. It's too late for a third entry - even Microsoft couldn't manage it, and that was coming from a position of relative dominance with smartphones with Windows Mobile (at least pre-iPhone).

              Your metric for starting out is wrong - you assume a 3rd party has to have dominance and dominance quickly. Microsoft did a lot of stupid things in their over-eagerness to catch up and wasted a lot of money. If they had focused on making their phone platform the best way to consume their product and had a small but loyal fanbase they could have kept their 4% market share they had a few years ago.

              4% of a billion smartphones is still a huge market. There is no reason a third player can not enter the market, but the return on investment will be orders of magnitude slower than what google has had. The metric should be for satisfied users not massive profit if you are to succeed now against the giants. A boutique experience if you will.

                Palm and Blackberry tried (well, more tried to remain relevant I guess) and failed. Microsoft tried very hard and also failed. I can't see anyone else succeeding.

                It's not just about apps, it's the services tired into each platform. Google and Apple services are so deeply baked into their respective OS that they're a major draw card for people already in that ecosystem. It's hard to get people to swap between Android or iOS at this point - it'd be night impossible to get them to swap to a platform that in all probably would be inferior.

            Oh good grief no.I was stupid enough to buy the original iteration of the Galaxy Note 10.1 .That experience with that device was enough to put me off ever touching any of their devices again. The embedded software performed and look like it was lifted from the Amiga 500.Then there was the decision to never offer an upgrade to the operating software bearing in mind that was at the time their premium offering in that particular segment.Samsung are rubbish

            Last edited 19/10/17 2:42 pm

              Tizen is not just Samsung tho, it has multiple people developing it as an open project. Yes it is headed by them, but not solely run by them

        You mean the way Apple does it. Apple maps springs to mind.

          Apple maps works fine.

          If you think google maps is without fault, there are many websites that will prove you wrong.

          The moral? Creating maps is hard.

            Oh definitely. Unfortunately because Jobs is no more, things aren't as perfect as they used to be with Apple. They do get ironed out in time as with Apple maps but they're no way in hell Steve would of allowed their maps to be released until it was perfect. Same with the ios updates. They used to be no problem but now they're bricking phones and slowing down the older models. I don't like Apple but i do miss Steve. He ran a tight ship, was an arsehole but ran a tight ship.

      Samsung, Apple, Google all plan for phones to be replaced every year by most, and even design then that way, knowing every year that have to make improvements, so there going to be things you don't like every year, else they wouldn't sell many upgrades esp with ram, and cpu being more than MOST need. They even make it so that once you replace batteries, providing you can find someone to do it near perfect, the phones still lose their factory made, high end grade waterproof abilities, if they have any left at all after all the disassembly that must be done to replace the batteries. Not that battery life degrades by at least the rate of 30% per year. It's why so many either MUST upgrade, are still holding onto phones that truly replaceable (and allows double extended battery life), or use phones that barely hold a charge now. Again if they do even get professional replaced batteries by Samsung, the factory warranty on the waterproofing is negated. Once the seal is broken it's broken.

      Again all this is about designed, obsolescence and planned rollout of future features that they already know that they could put in current phones but scheduled for years ahead. So essentially with iPhone 8/next model and Samsung 8 (S, +, note), you're paying $1000 for a phone that you absolutely know will degrade by 30 to 35% a year but the battery, that the next year product will fix features that you didn't like this year, but it will introduce other features or bugs that you will absolutely detest. Take the camera for example on any of these phones, they know how to make them so that they do what they want or I could get them adjusted to do what they want, it's not bleeding edge technology, they do the comparisons against all the other cameras and they know the limitations of what their photos will look like, but they will put out the camera as is anyway even though much more capable cameras/lenses/flashes are available. You're also paying $1000 a phone that's wrapped in glass. A product which almost everyone will drop at least once, and with the drop tests they are destroyed unless you put on protective cases and other features. These are now sending you back instead of $10 a case and another 10 for the screen protector, $100. Samsung has gone so far as to even make third-party chargers for the wireless incompatible with their 8 series. It will start charging and then say the charger is paused until eventually it won't charge as there is an inconsistency with the charging. The pad is perfectly fine, but you must use a Samsung OEM USB adapter. Please note that there are many counterfeits on the market from Amazon and eBay and other vendors and the only way you'll be sure you get a true product is by buying directly again from Samsung. There are even videos that show you how to differentiate the products that looked exactly like the Samsung product except for minor differences and their illegal counterfeit counterparts sold by such major corporations as Amazon, Wal-Mart, and eBay.

      Much of this was acceptable when the phone companies subsidized the major portion of the phones, but now that the phones have gone from $200 to $600 to $800 to now a $1000, you're approaching the ability to have to lease a phone. in fact that's what these major telecom companies are doing when they sell your plan such as Next or Jump or Galaxy forever. they are betting on you realizing that phones are going to die every year and you're willing to pay so many dollars to self subsidize your own phones purchase the following year.

      One mention was of software being bad by Samsung, and better by Google, but that's because Google hires the top talent in the industry, or did, as Apple does or did, what the top diners and engineers move from company to company now for the highest dollar. Loyalty now is a thing of the past unless it's paid. It's also known that the USA is most creative and talented when it comes to everything software. Other countries may be able to do it cheaper, but not with the polished quality or creative talents within the USA. It's why Samsung's products software wise will always be substandard to anything made in the United States by major competitors.

      Knowing all this most will still buy the phones because we have no choice. It's almost the equivalent of health insurance. The prices are skyrocketing and they can give you so much more, but they don't. Profit is the motivation not your satisfaction. All they have to do is beat the competitors product for the next year to get an edge rather than innovate and move light years ahead as Apple originally did but now cannot with Steve Jobs gone, and many talented people at Apple have left.

      Unfortunately with hardware the United States cannot build it as cheaply or with high quality as it can be done overseas in certain countries known their ability to produce product designs consistently, and driving basically slave labor to the point that some commit suicide, and the plant has suicide prevention nets around the stairs e.g. Apple.

      The smartphone industry is truly a cutthroat business but all they have to do is satisfy you enough the current year so that you buy that year's product, rather than truly moving years ahead. E.g. Samsung has had the ability to create bendable phones and screens and phones are turning to tablets for years, but basically on the same design as 5-8 years ago with the exception of curved glass edges that most people don't use/render glad screen protectors useless (devastating the phones screen sensitivity) , more fragile phones that shatter when dropped, irreplaceable batteries (holding to same phone quality) -even so costing much more due to labor/risk, and of course small incremental upgrades to cpu/ram/screen res/etc. Yet what really makes the phone coherent and better is the software upgrades each year, mostly due to changes in the OS either via iOS or Android. Adding a button or ability to squeeze the phone, or using the screen to replace physical buttons? That could have been done 8 years ago. Great speakers/better cameras? They had great cameras available years ago, maybe not at 4K res, but neither was affordable screen.

      This all is why I haven't upgraded to a new phone until this year since Galaxy s4, and a free S5. It's also why I have a great protective case/screen protector, and insurance on the phone, knowing if it gets demolished, I get a "new" /usually refurbished phone like new for 1/3 the price, including a fresh battery, and likely even with the case etc my phone will get toasted in the next year being all glassnow with the curved edges.

      We're paying 5x what it cost 5 years ago for much more fragile phones that are designed to have a one to two year life span, with only minor incremental improvements every year, yet having every reviewer claiming it's the best phone ever, unless it catches fire, until the next phone with minor improvements, selling out their objectivity for advertising dollars and eyeballs, as few will read a very real honest review as consumers have a need to be validated in their spending $1000 on a 6" piece of circuitry wrapped in glass, every year (with prices never coming down though the inner tech becomes less expensive to make yearly on the whole/though profit margins skyrocket for shareholders.)

      FV

    when combined with its 16:9 aspect ratio (versus the 18:9 screen on the Pixel 2 XL), gives the standard Pixel 2 a clunkier, chunkier appearance that looks dated from day one.

    Am I the only one that prefers 16:9? This newer "modern" 18:9 ratio makes things look really weird when you're trying to watch a video cause you get black bars on the sides of the screen.

      No, i agree with you totally. It's a stupid ratio. I'm looking at buying a new phone so i checked out the S8 plus and the first thing i noticed is that my galaxy note 5 was giving me a larger picture than the 8 plus, but the screen was larger. Aha, but skinnier and when you watch basically anything it puts up bars on the side or crops the picture. Bugger that, so now I'm looking at the Huawei mate 10 but not the pro which has that stupid ratio. The only reason i can see with companies changing to this weird arse ratio is because a small percentage of customers want to use their phones single handedly. Why own a phablet if you only want to use one hand.

        I thought the same, but after a while, you don't notice. The S8+ is a brilliant phone.

          Definitely a bloody good phone but I'm not going to touch it. I don't like tall thin screens. Give me 16:9 any day.

      With an OLED screen where the black bars are pure black, is it that different than a phone with a larger bezel at the top and bottom?

    Ermm, wireless charging still missing in action....

      Google gave up on that years ago. Why wirelessly charge for hours when you can quick charge via USB-C in a fraction of the time and still use the phone while doing so.

        Yeah I really don't understand the appeal of wireless charging and I'm glad Google aren't focusing on it.

        Wireless charging is slow. Instead of plugging a cable into your phone, you're siting your phone on top of a special mat that *still* needs to be plugged into a source of power. You can't pick up and use the phone or it'll stop charging. Charge mats are not as portable as a simple little USB cable. The only real advantage I see in it is that you can potentially charge multiple devices at once using one charge mat, which should hardly be a selling point.

        Now, removing the headphone jack, on the other hand - THAT's a definite dealbreaker for me more than anything else about these devices. I was looking to upgrade my original Nexus 5 soon and was looking at the Pixel 2s but not anymore. I want my headphone jack, thank you very much.

        They gave up on wireless charging when they switched to a metal back on the phone, which interferes with the power delivery. There's a reason why phones with wireless charging have glass or plastic backs (e.g. Apple's new iPhones).

          Qualcomm's WiPower tech has been able to wirelessly charge through metal backed phones for years. It just costs more and doesn't charge much quicker than Qi charging, so there's no incentive to implement it. Especially now that you can charge phones at 27 watts via USB-C.

          Last edited 20/10/17 8:44 am

    I was going to wait for this, but I ended up getting a S8+ before it came out. I don't understand why they're so insistent on killing the headphone jack, it's still such a common thing that I don't think we're ready to move on yet.

    Really outside of the camera, all of the exciting things are in software, because it runs pure Android.

      Yeah it's just another phone but at least it runs software the way it's designed to be run. Other than that it's far from the most exciting option out there (IMO).

    I didn't realise impressions could be so exacting with regards to these smartphones.. TBH, they all look like rectangular slabs to me. I couldn't even identify them if I tried.

    Nowadays, I just want a smartphone that'll do everything I expect it to. Which is the same stuff I've been doing ever since I had a smartphone. Make calls, messaging, PDA and web browsing. They're really just a commodity now.

    The author needs to learn how to proofread / use apostrophes. "Its" has been used incorrectly without the apostrophe at least four times by my count.

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