Google Pixel 2 XL Review

Expectations were high for the second-generation Pixel phones, and Google hasn’t disappointed. This year’s flagship - the 2 XL - is better in almost every way, but it does come at a higher price.

Google Pixel 2 XL: Price

Prices of top-end phones have risen dramatically in the last year, and the Pixel 2 XL is more expensive than its predecessor. The base model – with 64GB of storage – costs £799, but you’ll pay £899 for the 128GB version.

You can pre-order a Pixel 2 XL from Carphone Warehouse - it will arrive from 15 November.

The first-generation Pixels are still on sale and if you hunt around you can buy the 32GB Pixel XL for just £399 from Carphone Warehouse. That's very good value even if it lacks the IP67 rating of the second-gen models.

As with the original, there’s no microSD slot for expanding the storage of either model.

You’ve got one other choice: colour. The Pixel 2 XL comes in Just Black or Black and White.

If you want to get the phone on contract, EE has the exclusive in the UK. There's a £9.99 up-front cost, then it's £57.99 per month for the 4GEE Max plan which offers 8GB of data, plus unlimited calls and texts.

And if you order one between 4 October and 2 November you'll get a free Google Home Mini.

Google Pixel 2 XL: Features and design

Google Pixel 2 XL review

With its 6in screen, this isn’t a small phone. But thanks to minimal screen bezels it isn’t as big as you might imagine.

It feels exceptionally well made, and although it's tall, it's not too wide to comfortably hold in one hand and not top heavy. The aluminium has a rough texture and feels good to the touch. It also means it doesn’t get covered in fingerprints.

At 175g, it’s the same weight as the new iPhone X which has a marginally smaller screen at 5.8in. It’s roughly the same thickness, but taller because of bigger top and bottom bezels.

Of course, there's no notch and as a bonus, there are front-facing stereo speakers. These sound great and are ideal for watching YouTube videos or playing games. They don’t have much bass, but they’re loud.

Getting back to those screen bezels, they're much slimmer than on the 2016 Pixel XL and it looks all the better for it. The glass is slightly curved at the edges where it meets the aluminium frame.

Google Pixel 2 XL review

The screen underneath is an OLED display that can display a wider colour gamut than before. It has an 18:9 aspect ratio and a QHD+ resolution which equates to a density of 538ppi. It has rounded corners which match the corners of the phone’s body.

Colours look natural, even in the ‘vivid colours’ mode. That’s great if you dislike the vibrant tones you get from Samsung AMOLED screens, but it does mean that it doesn’t ‘pop’ quite as much.

It’s always on, which means you can see the time and notifications without having to press a button, tap the screen or anything else: you can simply look at it.

Google Pixel 2 XL review

There are other uses for the always-on screen. Around ten thousand songs can be identified and displayed when your phone is locked without calling home to Google.

One of the Pixel 2 XL’s main rivals is the similarly priced Galaxy S8 Plus. This has an even bigger screen in the same size body: the screen extends right to the edges and is visible through the curved edges.

On the Google phone there’s a couple of millimetres of bezel at the edges – it’s just not quite as impressive as the Samsung.

There's also a problem with the Pixel 2 XL: viewing angles. If you tilt the phone or look at it at an angle, whites turn blue. This isn't noticeable most of the time, but in menus and on web pages it can get annoying. And neither the Galaxy S8 nor the HTC-made Pixel 2 suffer from this problem.

There are obvious design cues taken from the original Pixel, notably the split back. Here, though, the top section is black on both models - Gorilla glass is used to allow the radio signals to pass through rather than ugly antennae lines. This, unlike the aluminium body, does immediately get covered in fingerprints.

The fingerprint scanner is still on the back but below the glass panel rather than within it as with last year's Pixel XL. And unlike the S8’s crazy location next to the camera, the Pixel 2 XL’s scanner is in just the right place to fall under your finger. 

Google Pixel 2 XL review

There’s still just one camera and an LED flash next to it, so no option for a telephoto or wide-angle photo as with most of the Pixel’s rivals. But it still has a few tricks up its sleeve which we'll explain below.

The major news is that both Pixels are now water resistant, but like other phones, ditch the headphone socket in favour of digital audio via the USB-C port. The Galaxy S8, though, keeps the old minijack which could be a dealmaker for some.

There are no buttons on the front of the Pixel: Android’s navigation keys are on screen as is normal for Google phones.

Although built by LG, the 2 XL has Active Edge like the HTC-built Pixel 2. This means you can squeeze the sides to bring up the Google Assist. As with HTC’s U11 you can customise how much pressure is required. That's handy as you can increase the sensitivity when the phone is in a case.

Google Pixel 2 XL review

Google Pixel 2 XL: Specs

Rumoured to use the bleeding edge Snapdragon 836 processor, the Pixel 2 XL actually has the 835. This is the current flagship from Qualcomm and it goes without saying that it means this phone is a belter when it comes to responsiveness.

Google decided to go with 4GB of RAM, less than the 6GB found in some rivals.

However, it certainly doesn’t suffer for this: it’s one of the fastest phones around. Actual benchmark results are unsurprising: we’ve already tested several phones with the Snapdragon 835.

What’s impressive is just how fast it feels in general use. Performance is flawless, and Android Oreo is super slick.

The processing power enables unnecessary but wonderful features such as the living wallpapers. These have subtle movement, such as waves lapping at a shore, and they move slightly as you move the phone. Not enough to cause motion sickness: it’s simply a nice touch.

If you’re wondering why the XL’s game scores are lower than the small Pixel 2 it’s because of the higher screen resolution: there are more than twice the number of pixels on the larger screen.

The Pixel 2 XL also has 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0 (with AptX), GPS and NFC.

It isn’t surprising that the battery isn’t removable – find us a flagship that does let you swap out the battery these days – and it has a capacity of 3520mAh.

It supports fast charging with the included charger. It’ll charge to over 70 percent in just 30 minutes in our tests, and battery life appears to be decent: we’ve not yet had enough time to fully test this with both light and heavy use.

Google Pixel 2 XL review

Here's a handy side-by-side comparison of the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL:

Specification Pixel 2 Pixel XL2 
Price £629 (64GB), £729 (128GB) £799 (64GB), £899 (128GB)
Operating system Android Oreo, Google Assistant Android Oreo, Google Assistant
Display 5in Full-HD (1920x1080), 16:9, always-on display 5.99in Quad-HD (2880x1440), 18:9, always-on display
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
GPU Adreno 540 Adreno 540
RAM 4GB 4GB
Storage 64GB/128GB 64GB/128GB
Primary camera 12.2Mp Single lens, dual-LED flash 12.2Mp Single lens, dual-LED flash
Selfie camera 8Mp 8Mp
Audio USB-C, earphones included USB-C, earphones included
Fingerprint scanner Yes, at the rear Yes, at the rear
Waterproofing IP67 IP67

Cameras

Dual-camera setups are in fashion at the moment, but Google eschews this in favour of just one camera both front and rear.

At the rear is a 12.2Mp snapper, though this time it has the support of optical stabilisation. It has an f/1.8 lens and the sensor has 1.4 μm pixels - larger than your average sensor pixels (on a phone, that is).

Google Pixel 2 XL review

This means the Pixel 2 XL can take better HDR photos by combining more frames. And this happens in the background without you noticing: HDR+ mode is enabled by default.

There's also Portrait mode without the need for a second camera, or for you to move the phone around in strange ways. For the uninitiated, it means you get a blurred background behind a nice sharp subject.

This is done using the sensor’s dual pixels rather than a second lens, but Google's 'computational photography' is also used to work out what's in the foreground and the background. It also means you can use Portrait mode for selfies, too.

Video is shot using both OIS and EIS - Google calls this Fused Video Stabilisation - for smoother video with less blur. Video tops out at 1080p for the front camera and 4K on the rear, at 30fps.

You can easily select 60fps when the main camera is set to 1080p.

One benefit of the Pixel 2 XL, as with last year's model, is that you get unlimited Google Photos storage for videos and photos at original quality. However, this time Google has put a time limit on this free storage, with a fixed end date of January 2021. Google reckons the average Pixel owner will use around 23GB per year.

Even if this is a tiny bit disappointing, the photo and video quality is anything but. It’s a big claim to say it’s the best camera on a smartphone, but Google has good reason to be confident.

In just about any light, the Pixel 2 XL takes fabulous photos. It also takes them unbelievably quickly and where you might end up with a blurry shot on another flagship, the Pixel captures the moment in biting sharpness almost every time.

Google Pixel 2 XL review

Only in really low light is there a chance of a fuzzy shot, but if your subject will stay still for a second, the optical stabilisation does a great job of cancelling out your shaky hands.

This was taken late at night in relatively dim lighting. Yet, it's pretty sharp and the black fur is perfectly exposed. Or should that be purr-fectly?

Google Pixel 2 XL review

Night-time photos are up there with the best. Sure, there’s evidence of noise reduction but a surprising level of detail is retained even when it’s really dark and exposure is well managed: note that the street lights don’t have huge flaring in this shot.

Google Pixel 2 XL review

The portrait mode is excellent, skilfully blurring the background after you take the photo. It doesn't always do a perfect job, but the effect is convincing enough.

Google Pixel 2 XL review

Photos aren’t over-processed: they look nice and sharp with natural colours.

Google Pixel 2 XL review

Google Pixel 2 XL review

Video is a little soft at 1080p, but stabilisation is excellent just as it was on the original Pixel. You’ll get the most detail and sharpest picture at 4K, but you lose the ability to record at 60fps.

Audio is a mixed bag. Voices are clearly recorded, but Google seems to apply noise reduction which muffles background sounds. It’s fairly effective for avoiding wind noise, though. It isn’t stereo recording, which is a shame.

For slo-mo you have the same options as before: 120fps at 1080p and 240fps at 720p.

Software

Out of the box, the Pixel 2 XL runs Android 8.0 Oreo. It’s one of the reasons to buy Google’s phone: you get the software as Google intended it to look and work. And you’ll be among the first to get Android P when that’s released in 2018.

Security updates are guaranteed for three years – it seems that you’re expected to keep the phone until the end of 2020 at which point it’s time to upgrade. And that’s fair enough.

Google Pixel 2 XL review

Google's tagline for the new Pixels is "Radically helpful". This isn't just referring to the Assistant though. Google plays to its strengths and has added features such as Lens (currently in beta and exclusive to the Pixel 2) to make your phone more helpful in real-life situations.

It's fine if you just want to identify email addresses and phone numbers from photos: Lens converts them to editable text so you don't have to retype them.

You can also point the camera at a book or a film poster and ask how good it is to get a list of ratings and reviews. It’s when pointing the camera at landmarks or plants that it starts falls down. It didn’t recognise the famous St Pancras hotel in and several other London landmarks, and wasn’t great as a plant finder.

Routines, already available on Google Home, is another handy feature. You can say something like "Ok Google, let's go home" and you'll get directions home along with any text messages you've been sent. If you were listening to a podcast, it will resume after the Assistant stops speaking and can even adjust the volume so you can hear it while you're driving.

If you want to know more, read our in-depth Android Oreo review.

Daydream 2

It’s little different from the first generation, but using the VR headset with the Pixel 2 is a decent experience. There’s no lag at all, so less chance of feeling nauseous when playing VR games or watching videos in VR.

The main issue is still resolution. Despite the XL’s 2880x1440 screen, it’s still pretty easy to see the pixels. This is more of an issue when watching Netflix or YouTube VR videos. It’s great to have a huge screen in front of you, but it’s like having an 80in standard-def TV, which is a shame.

Google Pixel 2 XL review

The limited processing power means mobile VR games lack the visual quality of PC-based titles, too.

Google Pixel 2 XL: Specs

  • 6in pOLED display (2880 x 1440, 538ppi)
  • Snapdragon 835 CPU
  • Adreno 540 GPU
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64GB or 128GB storage
  • 12.2MP rear camera
  • 8MP front camera
  • 3520mAh battery
  • 4G LTE
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • NFC
  • GPS USB-C (USB 3.1 Gen 1) charging port
  • Fast Charging support
  • Android 8.0 Oreo
  • 6in pOLED display (2880 x 1440, 538ppi)
  • Snapdragon 835 CPU
  • Adreno 540 GPU
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64GB or 128GB storage
  • 12.2MP rear camera
  • 8MP front camera
  • 3520mAh battery
  • 4G LTE
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • NFC
  • GPS USB-C (USB 3.1 Gen 1) charging port
  • Fast Charging support
  • Android 8.0 Oreo

OUR VERDICT

The Pixel 2 XL is a fantastic phone. It’s well designed, well built and looks great. The screen issues could put you off, and don't forget there's no headphone socket or microSD slot.

This is where the Galaxy S8 Plus comes in: it’s cheaper and has both of those features and matches the Pixel in just about every area.

The Pixel does win out on camera quality – just – but has the advantage of quick updates to future Android releases and unlimited photo and video storage for three years. And it'll be an even better proposition once the price starts to come down.

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