TECHNOLOGY

Google Pixel 2 XL Review: Android Unleashed

A powerhouse that provides the best version of Android yet along with one of the best cameras ever attached to a smartphone

Share on
BY Rahil Bhagat - 03 Nov 2017

Google’s first generation Pixel phones were way better than any first gen phone should have been, with both the Pixel and Pixel XL showing off what a true melding of Google’s software smarts with industry leading hardware could look like.

Google’s Pixel 2 XL had a lot to live up to, not only in the face of increased competition from upstart Chinese manufacturers, but also from old rival, Apple, whose iPhone X was already making waves ahead of its early November release.

Fortunately, Google stuck to its guns and with the Pixel 2 XL. It created a fantastic device that shows off Android at its best. It’s not a perfect phone, but with Google’s recent acquisition of HTC’s smartphone unit, I am truly excited to see what the folks over in Mountain View have lined up for future Pixel devices.

 

The Good

The Pixel 2 XL really puts Android front and center.

Running the lastest version of the OS 8.0, this is Android as it should be experienced, with no fancy skins, themes and bloatware (*cough*Samsung*cough) that the savvy user deletes and the regular user tolerates.

Google’s core launcher gives you a great slew of customization options and a neat app drawer--thanks to some new Android 8.0 additions, such as notification dots and a more streamlined settings menu.

All of Google’s first party software, such as Gmail, Google Docs and the new Photos app, work like a treat. But the real star of the show is the updated Google Assistant, which you activate by squeezing the sides of the phone like in the HTC U11.

Google Assistant (would really love a better name for it, I nicknamed mine Janice, after the character in Friends) is fully integrated into the Pixel XL. It offers contextual options for things like search, taking notes and the like. It was scary how Janice became so integral to many of the mundane tasks of the day like setting alarms, adding events to calendar, and general navigation.

All this excellent software would be pointless if the hardware wasn’t up to snuff. Fortunately, the phone is positively beastly inside with a Snapdragon 835 and 4 gigabytes of RAM powering the Pixel XL. All this results in great performance no matter what you throw at it. This is truly a flagship spec device and one that easily goes toe-to-toe with the best Android phones out there.

The screen, a gorgeous 6-inch OLED display is fantastic, and unlike its little brother, the Pixel 2, the Pixel 2 XL’s screen is a Galaxy S8-esque curved, bezel-free affair. Blacks are rich and deep and colors pop out. It has good viewing angles, too.

There have been some reports of this particular phone experiencing screen burn-in issues, though my particular set did not seem to have that problem. In any case, Google has said that they are releasing a software update to help with this, as well as extending phone warranty to 2-years.

The feature that most people are raving about is the camera. Shunning the dual lens solution favored by everyone from Apple to Huawei, the Pixel 2 XL uses dual sensors inside that single lens to calculate the depth of field information required to take well-composed shots.

This is truly a camera for everyone. The 12 mp shooter takes great photos, even in low light, requiring little in the way of adjusting. For the smartphone camera pro, the Pixel 2 XL has all the sliders and knobs to help you create good quality images. The integration with Google Photos is pretty awesome as well.

The Meh

The Google Pixel 2 XL’s design is somewhat akin to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The front is a gorgeous, all screen, bezel-free affair that looks spectacular. Then you flip the phone and it is just so meh. Some people call the design “iconic” but what you basically get is a drab slab that is coated in this anti-slip material.

Yes, function over form is nice, but from the people who created sleek Nexus devices in the past, I expected better.

Then there is, once again, the lack of a headphone jack. Yes you do get an adapter in the box but until the day phone makers start bundling bluetooth headphones in the box, this will always be a point of contention.

It is absurd to think that now, phone makers like Samsung and LG are touting the headphone jack as an actual highlight feature as they did on the Note 8 and V30, respectively.

The upcoming Pixel Buds do show a lot of promise when I tested them. However, that will cost consumer a few hundred dollars when it releases sometime in November 2017.

The phone is already going to cost you up to a thousand dollars here in Singapore. And Google could have also had the “courage”, as Apple so unabashedly claimed, to include a solid pair of bluetooth headphones or at least one that already had a USB-C plug so we could enjoy the enhanced audio experience that this phone reportedly delivers.

To add, the phone does not even ship with regular headphones.

This is a shame, really, because there is such an excellent audio experience to be had here. The speakers are superb and deliver crisp audio with great bass. Also, when I tested the phone with a USB-C ended pair of buds that supported digital audio, the sounds really were good.

The Bad

My biggest gripe with the phone is not so much an issue with the phone itself as it is with the delivery mechanism. Right now, here in Singapore, the phone is only available through Singtel, the nation’s largest telco. This means that if you wanted to buy one from another telco or direct from Google, tough luck.

The logic here it would seem is to make use of the resources and scale of a large telco like Singtel as Singapore is a relatively small market in terms of population.

The phone isn't cheap either, with the 64GB edition retailing for a princely $1098 with a basic 2-year contract. It gets cheaper as your monthly premiums increase, but it's kind of a left pocket, right pocket kind of thing.

Should you buy it?

For all its foibles, the Pixel 2 XL is a stunning phone with peerless software and top of the line hardware. Performance wise, it is pretty much the pinnacle of what you can expect till the Snapdragon 836 comes and should be good for the next two years at least. The price and the telco-locking is annoying, but if you want the cleanest, most complete experience of Android and have good wireless buds of your own, the Google Pixel 2 XL is an easy phone to recommend.