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Review: Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL

By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla

Google has stepped up its hardware game in 2017. Aside from a S, M and L version of the Google Home smart speaker, it is also fielding an all new premium Pixelbook 2-in-1, an intriguing smart assistant-powered Pixel Buds headset (with real-time translation), and a new Clips A.I. powered camera.

The showstoppers, however, are the updated Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones which epitomize Google's renewed focus on A.I., machine learning and premium smartphone experiences. Let's dive in.

Tale of two Pixels

Like last year, we have two sizes of Google Pixel devices in 2017. The 5-inch Pixel 2 is made by HTC and features a rather undistinguished and plain design with large bezels and a blocky square shape. This device fits right in the hand and has an LCD display which is similar to the screen technology of last year's model.

The larger Pixel 2 XL is made by LG and is a future-facing device with rounded screen edges, no perceptible bezels (and no notch!). A thinner, sleeker form factor and a large, albeit a reportedly problematic, 6-inch POLED display.

Both Pixel 2 devices share the same specs, same camera technology and are available in either 64 GB or 128 GB storage. Google has also updated the cases it offers for these devices. New for this year are neat fabric cases that are similar to the look and feel of the new Google Home Mini.

What's new for this year? 

Instead of using plain stainless steel and aluminium, Google's opted to soft-touch paint the Pixel 2 devices to seem like they are plastic. This adds better grip, as well as a way to offer various colours. The Pixel 2 is available in black, white and blue while the larger Pixel 2 XL will come in black and a rare black and white variant which isn't in stock (or won't be until December). 

I like the Black & White version's look and feel. It looks unlike anything I've seen and has a slick Stormtrooper aesthetic to it.

The Pixel 2 XL is the standout device of the two. Whereas the Pixel 2 might easily be confused with a two or three year old smartphone, the Pixel 2 XL looks and feels very current.

LG has done a good job creating the Pixel 2 XL up to Google's specs. It would have been great if the Pixel 2 was a smaller version with the same screen shape and design. This year, it seems that size isn't the only reason to debate choice.

Here's the thing, though. It looks and feels like the Pixel 2 is the better handset to get. At least in terms of screen quality. While the LCD panel on the Pixel 2 may seem less exciting or ultravivid compared to its larger counterpart, it exhibits none of the alleged problems that seem to be plaguing early reviewer Pixel 2 XL units.

The problems include a burn-in issue where the bottom Android controls seem to be permanently greying out pixels (inexcusable on a device that's been out for three weeks). There's also complaints of muddy quality, lack of clarity and a weird blue hue when you tilt the display.

This is simply not acceptable on a premium smartphone with the Pixel 2 XL's $1029.00 price tag. Google is reportedly looking into the issues and has yet to address them.

Now, some of the issues might be fixable via software, as is expected from a new product that's fresh on the market. Screen burn-in issues, however, is another matter as this is a permanent condition. Not sure how Google can adjust production to fix this.

Screen issues aside, I like the feel and shape of the Pixel 2 XL and find it is one of the better looking devices in this size although nowhere near as premium in fit and finish as the iPhone 8 Plus or the Galaxy Note 8, both of which feel more cohesive overall. 

Using the Pixel 2 XL as a daily driver, I found it to be an exceptional smartphone for my needs. It is one of the lightest large-display devices I've used, and I really like the rear fingerprint sensor as well as the size of the display.

Android on Pixel

Google has made some interesting changes to Android for these Pixel 2 devices. Running the latest version of Android OS, the homescreen and wallpaper seems designed to take advantage of the display. The Google Search bar is now moved to the bottom, closer to your fingers.

If that's not good enough, there's like a dozen other ways to invoke Google Assistant, which is no surprise since this is a key feature of the Pixel experience. 

Performance and multitasking is smooth and fast, as expected from a premium smartphone designed from the ground up to run at full speed with the hardware. You won't find an Android flagship that is as performant as the Pixel 2 phones today.

An always-on screen displays the time as well as any notifications by way of app icons. It's very handy to be able to get at-a-glance notifications this way.

Another neat trick is a Now Playing feature that can recognize music that's playing in the background and shows the song name and artist on the display. This is apparently done without the device needing to jump on the Internet. It is these kinds of subtleties that we can expect from a tightly integrated Google Phone.


Last year's original Pixel surprised the industry by becoming one of the best smartphone cameras. Not just for shooting photos, but for outstanding OIS for video recording.

The new Pixel 2 cameras are even better and have the added advantage of even more A.I. to improve the quality of photos and videos.

The computational chops of the Pixel 2 cameras are so impressive that they can replicate 'Portrait Mode' photography (where background is blurred to enhance the subject) using only one camera. Everyone else in the industry requires physical dual cameras and computational photography to get this done, but the Pixel 2 does it just as well.

This is really a testament to the power of machine learning, specially considering other phone makers have had nearly 10 years of R&D under their belt and multiple generations of devices sold. A big bonus is the news that the Pixel 2 has Google's very first system on a chip (SOC) which is a multi-core processor that's dedicated to the camera sensor. The processor is currently locked and should be usable when firmware to activate it is pushed out.

In terms of video performance, the Pixel 2 is a heavy hitter. It already had amazing image stabilization last year and now can shoot slo motion video in 240 frames per second. Simply stunning.

The Pixel 2 phones have also jumped on the current trend of removing the headphone jack in favour of bluetooth for audio. They do include a dongle for attaching a wired headset, but it is inelegant and cumbersome. Google seems to have cheaped out but not including USB-capable headphones.

Google Assistant 

Google Assistant is quite pervasive thanks to the Active Edge feature which triggers the assistant when you squeeze the sides of the phone. You can still just say 'Ok, Google,' or tap on the search bar, so having this function (which you can't remap to be used for anything else).

Thankfully, Google Assistant is truly useful and being able to reach into your back pocket, unlock the Pixel with your fingerprint and have Google Assistant at the ready in a matter of seconds will prove invaluable to users.

We also get Google Lens, which takes photos of images, artwork and contact information and uses AI to get more information from the web or Google search. It can, for example, identify some artworks as well as point you to the artist and other supplementary information. 


Google isn't just competing with Apple and Samsung in terms of premium features, design and functionality. It is competing in terms of price, 

Google Pixel 2 starts at $900, Pixel 2 XL starts at $1,159 off contract which puts them in the stratosphere pricing-wise. They are arguably the best Android devices out there right now in terms even though they may not look, nor feel, like ultra-premium devices like the iPhone X or the Galaxy Note 8.

Google Pixel 2 and Pixel XL are the best phones Google has ever made. They're surprisingly intuitive and fun to use handsets with stellar performance and class leading cameras that should thrill users.  Display and availability issues, notwithstanding, the Pixel 2 devices should make an impact in the higher-end of the market and at least give the big boys some worthy competition.



  • Well-designed and solidly built handsets sporting the best Android has to offer
  • Now water and dust resistant
  • Camera is even better and can replicate 'bokeh' using just one lens and computational photography
  • Pixel 2 is a solid all-around smartphone sized just right for most users
  • Pixel 2 XL is ideal for reading, watching videos and more intrepid messaging.
  • Fornt facing stereo speakers are loud and well situated




  • Pricing is high
  • Pixel 2 XL display issues are a concern. We say 'wait and see' on this one
  • Headphone jack has been removed




      4 out of 5

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