Google Pixel 2 XL review: Best Android phone but with one flaw : Reviews, News


For a long time, Google was on the fence. Should it be a phone maker too, apart from being the company that owns Android operating system? That was the question. And for a long time, Google answered this question with no. Then it dipped its toes in the hardware market by taking a more assertive role in the Nexus programme. Last year, it decided that it would not deliberate anymore. There would be no half-hearted attempts. Pixel and the Pixel XL were launched. This year Google follows them up with the Pixel 2 XL and the Pixel 2.

In a way these are the official Android phones. They come directly from Google, even if it is the HTC that has made the Pixel 2 and LG that has manufactured the Pixel 2 XL. But these are Google phones. The bouquets for them go to Google. And so do the brickbats. They are also Google’s answer to the iPhone, more categorically the iPhone 8 and the iPhone 8 Plus. Even with the ambitions that Google has right now, so far in my opinion it doesn’t have a phone that can compete with the iPhone X.

So the iPhone 8 and the iPhone 8 Plus are what the Pixel 2 and the Pixel 2 XL target. Sadly they miss the mark, just by a bit. The Pixel 2 XL, subject of today’s review, is a fantastic phone. I can use it day after day, despite some of its flaws. But it still falls short of the greatness, which an ideal Pixel phone is capable of. It has rough edges. It is still a phone that I recommend to the Android faithfuls, or to anyone who wants a good smartphone experience in a phone that can also double up as your capable camera for all conditions and weathers. But it is lacks that something extra that makes phones like the iPhone 8 Plus — or the iPhone X — click with consumers.

Premium design, quality finish

This becomes apparent as soon as you take out the Pixel 2 XL out of its box and hold it in your hands. Compared to last year’s Pixel XL a lot has changed this time. The material used to make the Pixel 2 XL is different and so are its dimensions. Although, the phone still uses the dual-tone metal and glass design. Just like several other high-end phones this year, the Pixel 2 XL uses a tall-boy design. In other words, it comes equipped with a 6-inch 18:9 screen, which makes it taller than the earlier Pixel XL phone but also narrower.

This narrow design means it fits in hands well and you can actually use it with single hand, if you are careful. On the usability aspect, the design is better than what the phones like the iPhone 8 Plus give you, but is more or less same compared to phones like the Galaxy Note 8 or the Galaxy S8. The build quality is fantastic. Google has used metal alloy that has soft matte finish to it. To some users it may feel like plastic, but I found this finish exotic. It’s different. it’s unique. It is nice to touch and has a bit of grain that feels pleasantly different compared to what you see in most other metal-body phones. The fingerprint sensor is on the rear, and that too helps in usability.

Of course, the most striking part of the Pixel 2 XL is the 3D glass layer on top of its screen, which makes it looks extremely slick.

Overall, I like the Pixel 2 XL design. It’s as good as any phone out there in terms of design, except the iPhone X that is in a class of its own. It’s also waterproof compared to the design of the Original Pixel phones. But I do have some niggles. You have heard that the Pixel 2 XL has a screen with very thin bezels. Not true. It’s only on the top and bottom of the phone that you get the thinner (relatively) bezels. On the sides, bezels are still chunky, even if the curved glass takes the focus away from them. At the same time, I don’t like the fact the way curved glass meets the metal frame in the Pixel 2 XL. It doesn’t meld into the metal like the way it does in the Galaxy S8. There is no smooth transition. You can run the finger on the line where the glass meets and metal frame and can feel it prominently.

Talking of design, it’s important I highlight here that the Pixel 2 XL lacks the 3.5mm headphone jack. Instead, it uses the USB-C port for the audio. But Google bundles an adapter in case you want to use your existing wired headphones with it. Not a big deal for me, but could be for some people.

That blue(ish) screen

The screen of the Pixel 2 XL  is its weakest part. Already a lot has been said about the Pixel 2 XL screen. So I will be short. Also, different people perceive screens differently so I will just leave you with my impressions.

The Pixel 2 XL uses an OLED panel. There have been reports of the Pixel 2 XL screen having blue tinge. That is true. It is indeed cooler, and significantly so compared to what you see on the iPhone 8 Plus or the iPhone X. There have been also reports of screen-burn in issues. So far, in 10 days of use, I haven’t found it in the Pixel 2 XL.

I don’t like the screen of the Pixel 2 XL. No, it is not a bad screen. It is bright enough, can show punchy colours and its size does allow it to show more content, particularly in portrait mode. But I don’t like the colours on the Pixel 2 screen. They are too cold. And at times they are mushy. Then there are viewing angles, marred by blue tinge. It’s true that in the area of screen I have been spoiled by the extremely colour-accurate and brilliantly warm iPhone 8 Plus and the iPhone X  screens. But even compared to the screens in the Galaxy S8 or the HTC U11, I don’t like the Pixel 2 XL screen.

On the usability aspect, the Pixel 2 XL design is better than what the phones like the iPhone 8 Plus give you, but is more or less same compared to phones like the Galaxy Note 8 or the Galaxy S8.

Now, Google has promised the screen fix in the coming days and it is possible that it will be improved with better colour profile through software. But if you are someone very particular about screens, who not only knows terms like SRGB and DCI-P3 and can immediately notice the difference between the colours in these two profiles, you should wait for Google’s fix before you decide to get the Pixel 2 XL. The Pixel 2, I have heard and not used, doesn’t have the screen issues.

Another area where I feel Google can improve the Pixel 2 XL screen is its adaptive brightness feature. It is too aggressive and especially in low light dims the screen to a point where it becomes necessary to pull down quick settings and increase the brightness manually.

None can beat Pixel 2 XL camera

If the screen is the fatal flaw in the Google Pixel 2 XL, the camera is the main reason why you should buy it. It’s brilliant. In the Pixel 2 XL, Google is using new camera hardware compared to what is there in the original Pixels. This hardware, in a way is one step back, but two steps forward. Overall, I like it.

The Pixel 2 XL, unlike many other phones such as the iPhone 8 Plus, comes with single camera and not with dual or two lenses. But that doesn’t matter. The Pixel 2 XL is still the best phone you can buy if you like to click photos with your phone.

The Pixel 2 Xl comes with a new image sensor that clicks 12-megapixel images. The sensor has 1.4um large pixel, which is a step back compared to the 1.55um pixels that the sensor inside the original Pixel phones has. But to compensate for smaller pixels, Google has given the Pixel 2 XL a brighter F1.8 lens along with optical image stabilisation. The idea is that despite smaller pixel,  the 2 XL will click similar low-light photos that the excellent camera in the original Pixels can manage.

I find it more or less true. Why more or less? Because in low light, the images clicked with the Pixel 2 XL do have marginally more noise and less detail in shadows. But it is marginal and worth the other benefits that the new image sensor brings.

These benefits are two: video and portrait mode. Because the camera in Pixel 2 XL uses a dual-pixel image sensor, Google can offer portrait mode without requiring two lenses. And this portrait mode works absolutely great. See the image samples or read our separate piece on the Pixel 2 XL portrait mode. Also, I have found that the Pixel 2 XL is fantastic at recording videos, all thanks to the optical and electronic image stabilisation. It is actually better than what I managed with the iPhone 8 Plus.

Overall, I love the Pixel 2 XL camera. It captures great photos in good light and is one of the best in low light. Google’s HDR+ mode remains the best image processing method in the industry. Compared to the camera in the original Pixel phones, the camera in the Pixel 2 XL is faster: faster in focusing and faster in clicking photo. And that portrait mode, even with the 8-megapixel selfie camera that too clicks fantastic images, is superb.

One important bit to note here is that the Pixel 2 XL gives unlimited photo storage to its users in Google servers if the images are saved with slightly reduced — but still great — resolution.

Fast and sweet Oreo

Just like the original Pixel phones, the Pixel 2 XL is also a very fast phone. It is definitely one of the fastest Android phones. The only one that I believe is in same room when it comes to performance is the OnePlus 5. And this speed has much to with the clean Android Oreo and the good hardware inside the Pixel 2 XL.

When you are paying Rs 73,000 for a phone, you don’t just want good. You want great. You want a flawless phone. You want a phone that not only works great but also gladdens your heart, make you feel good, every time you look at it or use it. That something extra is missing from the Pixel 2 XL

India Today Tech has written about the Android Oreo earlier, so I won’t go into details. But I firmly believe that Oreo is the best mobile operating system. It’s functional. It’s flexible. It is clean and modern. Services like Google Assistant are more useful and smarter than the likes of Siri, especially in India. And yes, you can summon the assistant by squeezing the 2 XL. Not a particularly useful feature this squeezable thing, but some will find it handy. With the Pixel 2 XL, you get all the goodness of Android Oreo, untainted by any custom theme or bloatware.

The Snapdragon 835 and 4GB RAM makes the Pixel 2 XL fast phones. This is good hardware. It’s theoretically not as fast as A11 Bionic processor that Apple is putting in its phones, but I don’t notice lack of speed in the Pixel 2 XL compared to any other phone out there.

Also Read: Google Pixel 2 XL Portrait Mode is an engineering and AI marvel, we have photos to prove it

Although I did notice some random app crashes. But the phone doesn’t freeze or restarts. It’s just that the app crashes and then restarts. But I believe the issue is more with Android Oreo than the Pixel 2 XL because I see the same apps crash on original Pixel too.

Other than the camera, the one thing that I liked most about the Pixel 2 XL is its battery life. It’s fantastic, especially the way the phone holds the charge. Most of time, when I used the device with a SIM card and as a primary phone, I easily got 17 to 18 hours of battery life with the Pixel 2 XL.

Another bit I want to note is the performance of speakers. The Pixel 2 XL comes with stereo speakers, positioned on the bottom and top of the screen. They are okay. Not bad. They can fill a small room with sound, if you are playing a YouTube video on the phone. But I have heard better.

Good but waiting for the great

The Pixel 2 XL is an expensive phone. It sells for Rs 73,000 for the 64GB variant for Rs 82,000 for the 128GB variant. This is lot of money. But everything that the Pixel 2 XL offers, it is worth the high price tag. It’s a good phone: very functional, great camera and with all the goodness of Android Oreo. It’s definitely the best Android phone you can buy right now.

But it is not a great phone. And when you are paying Rs 73,000 for a phone, you don’t just want good. You want great. You want a flawless phone. You want a phone that not only works great but also gladdens your heart, make you feel good, every time you look at it or use it. That something extra is missing from the Pixel 2 XL. The only time it gladdens your heart, delights you, is when you click a photo, particularly a portrait photo with it.

I like what Google is doing with the Pixel phones. But these devices are still work in progress. May be next year, Android fans will get the truly great Google phone. This time Google comes close, but that screen holds the Pixel 2 XL back. If you want to buy the Pixel 2 XL, get it for its great and smart software and camera. But don’t mind it if it fails to make you go wow.

Pixel 2 XL review8/10

  • Good stuff
  • Great camera
  • Functional software
  • 2-year-warranty
  • Bad stuff
  • Screen too cold
  • No 3.5mm jack
  • Average speakers

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