Google announced two flagship smartphones on October 4 in San Francisco, CA during the company’s second-ever privately held Made By Google 2017 event. Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are the successors to last year’s first-generation Pixel and Pixel XL. Google introduced a number of new hardware components and software features with the two phones that make these devices ultimately worth considering. Here’s what we have, and whether or not you should upgrade.
Consumers should consider a Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL. Why? Because the first-generation models impressed, which is rare for any new product line. Pixel is a lineup formed and developed by Google at the core, who controls just about every aspect of the phones including all brand power. The lineup is said to be more “consumer-friendly,” made for the average consumer, much unlike Nexus phones from the past. Though Pixel comes at a higher price tag, last year’s models were worth every bit of the fat bill, and this year’s handsets are no different.
Now that Google has undergone the process of launching and carrying out a global release once, access to this year’s phones has been somewhat less limited. The biggest issue with last year’s roll out, simply put, was the supply issue. Shortages faced the search giant and many of its distribution partners for months, which was something never experienced with the Nexus lineup. Stock was sold out from the hour pre-orders began. So despite the incredibly successful advertising campaign Google put on, they failed to fill all orders, forcing some customers to consider competition. Google planned for big demand this time around and promised the fiasco from last year wouldn’t repeat itself, which is one reason why you should be motivated to give Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL a chance.
Between Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL there are some differences which you should be aware of. Starting with Pixel 2 XL, Google has gone all out in investing the latest tech and is looking to hit home with its loyal vanilla Android lovers who upgrade once a year. But since Google is relatively new to the high-end smartphone category where most people already own a smartphone, switchers will be essential too. The phone produced by LG, one of Google’s long time manufacturing partners, is competing against best in-class rivals from Samsung, LG and Apple. Pixel 2, made by last year’s Pixel partner HTC, offers more of the same, but at a more affordable price tag. Customers who don’t mind a few compromises here and there might want to save a buck while still having access to fast Android updates and support. For those people, the smaller Pixel 2 is a solid choice.
As you’ll notice quickly, one of the things Google does so well is take and incorporate feedback from its users. By this we mean, if it isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it. Not only do Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL bring new and useful features, the stuff that didn’t excite last year has been removed, and features we have come to love and enjoy have returned. So yes, a lot is not new and was expected, but by keeping the good features around, removing certain old ones, and adding some new ones in their places, we have the best of all worlds. Google has mastered this art of improving. Some aspects are new to Pixel, some are new for Google, and some are new to the industry. We’ve outlined all the major ones in the second half of this post.
Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL promise a fresh start for anyone looking to purchase a new smartphone. And to make things easier, Google is including just about everything you’ll need to get set up, right within the box. Every unit will come with a transfer tool to help you move content over to Pixel 2, a 3.55mm headphone adapter (because the jack is absent), a Quick Charge cable, wall charger, cable organizer, and easy to understand information cards. So yeah, the price tag may be a little high for Pixel 2 XL, but you’re sure to find plenty of things worth its value.
With both of Google’s Pixel 2 smartphones you’re guaranteed at least two years of Android updates and support, great performance, the latest protection and safety, modern hardware, and a cohesive, straightforward software experience. It’s what we like to say is Android, the way it was intended to be. If you’ve ever purchased a phone from Google, we think you’ll be immensely satisfied with Pixel 2. If you’re coming from a phone of another brand, Pixel 2 promises to bring something enticing and surprising.
The original set of Pixels has remained on sale for a lower than before price. There’s no longer a purpose to buy a Nexus, at least if support is of any importance to you, so our recommendation would be, depending on how much you want to spend and what you’re looking for, buy either last year’s Pixel or Pixel XL at a reduced price, or, skip the smaller Pixel 2 and jump on the larger Pixel 2 XL.
Below are the features that distinguish Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL apart from last year’s models and other competing phones. Let us know if you’ve upgraded, or if you’re still considering, down in the comment section below this post.
Google’s Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL come with the same software, but as you know, vary a bit when it comes to hardware. Both come with improvements over their respective counterparts from last year, and some changes have been made to distinguish the new models apart. First, and worth being mentioned first, is an IP67 certification for water and dust resistance. This feature is far from new to the industry, but is really new to Google.
The original Pixel and Pixel XL models came with an IP53 rating, which gave them some protection against rain or a splash of water, and a dusty environment. Most other companies, even last year, incorporated IP68 or IP67 certification in their flagship smartphone, so it was of high demand for Google to jump on board this year. IP68 allows Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL to withstand some of the more dusty environments such as a construction site or the beach during a windy day, and protects the phones from water getting inside. The pair can be submerged beneath one meter of water for up to half an hour, an ability that has been well noted that Google really should have included on last year’s phones.
Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL also include front-firing speakers, as opposed to the lower-mounted grilles present on last year’s models. These are also stereo speakers, which should provide a far superior experience with louder volume supported, crisper audio quality and deeper base for those who enjoy rock. They’re not quite HTC Boomsound, but they deliver a superior experience when compared to most of today’s Android flagships, and you no longer have to worry about covering them up with your palm when watching some video.
Last, but worth mentioning, you may have noticed something interesting about the power buttons on Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. That’s because they stand out on some variants with fluorescent colors. The Black & White Pixel 2 XL has a bright orange power button and two of the Pixel 2 variants have an aqua-like green power button. Google did this so that at glance, you can tell the difference between your power and volume controls, since both are on the same side of the device no matter which you choose.
Google Assistant + A Preview of Lens
The Google Assistant is Google’s AI and machine learning-functioning voice assistant designed to provide information, where and when you need it. The software made its debut last year on Pixel and Pixel XL, and has since expanded to millions of smartphones including select iPhones, third-party appliances, speakers, headphones, TVs, and even Google’s new Chromebook Pixel namely ‘Pixelbook.’ It’s back this year, and it’s better than ever with additional support from the developer community thanks to the Actions on Google program. There’s also more functionality that has been added by Google itself.
The Google Assistant is Google’s main focus on Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. You can call it by saying “Okay, Google,” sliding over to the Google search pane and hitting the Google button, squeezing your device’s sides (Active Edge), or by holding down on the home button. You can then ask just about anything. For example, you can conduct a search, control smart home gear, play a game, hear the news, or set a reminder. And this year, starting with Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, the Google Assistant has gained the ability to recognize objects and more in the external environment through Google Lens, which was announced back at Google I/O 2017 and is now making its way into Google Photos. A preview of the new technology is available now, which allows users to point their phone at things around them and gain information thanks to Google Lens knowing your location, and the current date and time, with addition to its ability to recognize objects with similar accuracy to the human eye. Best of all, the technology is improving, gaining functionality and accuracy with time and use.
While Google has used the same 12.3MP rear-facing camera and 8MP front-facing camera included in last year’s Pixel handsets, they did bring some noteworthy enhancements and features as described below.
Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL come with a refreshed camera app, and one new feature inside is ‘Portrait Mode,’ Google’s own version of Apple and Samsung’s portrait mode. Unlike others, Google’s version works on both the front and rear facing cameras. It benefits from dual OIS, which is present on both lenses, and uses selective focus to find the subject (you) in the image. The background is then blurred, and you are put into focus. You can edit it afterwards, but damn, this feature works well, better than any other phone we’ve tested.
See samples here.
‘Motion Photos’ isn’t new to the industry, but it’s new on stock Android. Basically, if turned on, all photos you take will include three seconds of action, or motion (no sound), with them. You capture photos as you normally would, just with the setting turned on, and photos are captured at the same speed. However, when you hit the shutter, three seconds of video are recorded and will lapse when viewing the photo in your gallery, kind of like an animated GIF would behave. These creations can be backed up to Google Photos automatically, like standard photos and video, and Google, like last year, is giving buyers of either Pixel phone, unlimited original-quality backup with its cloud service.
Augmented reality functionality is built right into this phone, conveniently with the camera. There’s a lot of cool stuff to play around with when taking photos using this device, and third-party apps that take advantage of the hardware can also be installed from the Play Store. Some will allow you to add various stickers to your captures and play with virtual characters in 3D. The amount of content is somewhat limited right now, but it’s a step in the right direction, and Google has indeed opened the section to the developer community, so more will come with time.
Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are being updated server-side with Google Assistant and Google Lens functionality. Using machine learning, the Pixel 2’s camera will adapt your shots to the conditions you take them in, and improve with time and usage thanks to deep learning algorithms. This is why the Pixel 2 camera can’t be easily matched. And to prove it, DxOMark gave Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL a rating of 98, the highest score ever received for a camera on a mobile device, by a good margin. So in short, if the camera is an important feature to you, there’s no better phone to buy than Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL.
Google’s Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL come pre-loaded with Android 8.0 Oreo, the latest version of the operating system. Plus, they’ll be among the first to receive Android 8.1 and future updates and security patches from Google. The search giant went as far to note that both of these devices come with “3 years of updates,” so you’re getting your money’s worth, knowing that the two will be supported for more than the 2-year standard put in place by most manufacturers.
In terms of new features that are exclusive to Google’s new phones, we have some minor things we’d like to touch up on. First off, Pixel 2 XL, not Pixel 2, has rounded corners. Put the two devices next to each other and look at the edges of the screen and you’ll see what I mean.
Improved Ambient Display
Google 2 and Pixel 2 XL also come with an improved ambient display. What used to show only the time, now includes time, date, any unread notifications, and upcoming reminders or alarms. There’s also a new ‘Now Playing’ feature built-in that runs automatically in the background. When your Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL hears music playing, it’ll use internal sensors that require no internet connection, to understand what song is being played, without you even asking. It’ll be displayed on the ambient screen near the bottom with a little music note icon.
The new Pixel models also come with a Road Mode that can be turned on when driving. Your phone uses the Google Assistant, which reads out all you need to know aloud and provides easy access to apps and information you may need while driving, kind of like the Android Auto standalone app for Android devices. The purpose here, is to prevent interaction between you and your smartphone while on the road, and we think this feature does a good job at that.
New Pixel Launcher
Google’s next-gen Pixel phones come with a fresh version of the company’s Pixel Launcher, which debuted on the OG Pixels. ‘Pixel 2 Launcher’ can actually be side-loaded on just about any Android device you wish, but is pre-installed on only two devices: Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. Here’s the new and what’s changed.
First off, the pill-shaped Google search widget with the rainbow ‘G’ is gone. Now present is a Google search widget beneath the home screen app dock in the shape of a frosted bar with White ‘G’ logo. This should, in theory, make conducting a Google search easier, by being more accessible. Instead of having to reach to the top of the phone, users can interact with Google using their thumbs.
Some minor changes include a new bounce animation now present when swiping open or close the app drawer, which boasts smaller app icons and typography. There’s a new “at a glance” widget that displays upcoming calendar events, weather information, the date, and current time near the top as well, that can’t be resized, moved or deleted. However, users can customize it a bit by tapping and holding on it. Google says that more functions are coming to the widget soon.
The new Pixel duo also comes with a new feature Google calls ‘Active Edge,’ which is essentially the same as ‘Edge Sense’ as introduced by HTC on the U 11 smartphone. This allows users to trigger the Google Assistant, or an app/function of their choice shall they use this app, by squeezing the sides of their Pixel 2 handset.
What else may you ask?
With Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, Google has introduced ‘Preferred Care.’ This is essentially a protection program that’s offered through the Google Store. For an additional $129 payment, Pixel 2 buyers can have some peace of mind shall something happen to their device. With the plan, you get up to 2 claims for accidental damage (for 2 years), plus, access to participating walk-in centers for screen repairs. Also included is priority access to specially trained agents a every day, 24/7 (used to free).
Ever heard of eSIM? Probably not, because Google is one of the first to use it. If you’re signing up with Project Fi, you’ll no longer need a physical SIM card to gain wireless service. ‘eSIM’ is essentially a virtual SIM card, which up until this point, has only been used in some smartwatches and devices of that kind. For those of you who switch phones frequently, such as myself, this could be a bummer. But for the remainder of you, I guess this is kind of cool and can be less of a hassle. ‘eSIM’ may just be a new direction for smartphones.
Like other manufacturers do after releasing a new product, Google has a slew of accessories to go along with the new phones. Google is selling additional cases, screen guards, wallets, chargers, and more. Live Cases are back, and so are many other fan favorites. Have a look at them at the Google Store here.
Now, it’s time for the hard part. It’s time to consider upgrading to Pixel 2 / Pixel 2 XL, and/or any of Google’s new accessories including Daydream View, Google Home Max or Mini, Pixelbook, Google Pixel Buds, and Google Clips.
We covered Google’s hardware event in its entirety; hit the link below leading to all of the Droid Turf coverage.