Maxim Leonovich

@pacavaca

A month with Pixel 2 XL

At the end of this Summer, I started looking for a new smartphone. I bought an Essential PH-1 right after the release, and that was quite a weird buying experience. I ended up returning it and described my thoughts in this article. I waited for the release of the new generation of Pixel phones from Google and bought a Pixel 2 XL at the beginning of November. I’ve used it for almost a month now, and you will learn my honest user experience if you read the article below.

The design.

Google has never been great at design, and on my personal scale of companies , that are able to deliver something convenient and good looking, it’s closer to losers than leaders. So, when I first saw Pixel 2 XL in Best Buy, my reaction was like: Come on Google, why? How could you take LG V30 and make it so much uglier? These thick bezels on a bezel-less phone (is it what everyone is selling in 2017?) just made me sick. Now, after a month of usage, I’ve got used to them and don’t feel any dissonance anymore, but yeah, they are ugly, especially after almost visually perfect Essential phone.
The body is made of aluminum, but somehow Google have decided to cover it with an extra layer of plastic. So, the back side feels well… plasticky. I put my phones in cases to protect them from scratches and hide the metal plate, used for a magnet phone holder in my car, so the look and feel of the back side doesn’t matter that much to me.
After some “getting used to it” process, I would describe the visual appearance of the phone as OK, but far from perfect.

Stereo speakers.

There is quite a lot of excitement around the speakers that I honestly don’t understand. Yes, they probably sound better than any mono speaker, but they are still a pair of crappy phone tweeters. Compared to headphones or an external speaker, they sound like trash, and I would never consider listening music on them. In fact, the only mobile device I had with an outstanding built-in sound, was my 3d generation Amazon Kindle and I honestly don’t know how did they do that. It was a real stereo with low end, and I think it was way better than many of cheap headphones.
So, I would easily trade stereo speakers on Pixel 2 XL for extra space in my pocket or a headphone jack or anything else worthy.

Headphone jack.

Complaining about the lack of the headphone jack is kind of a thing right now. Everyone is blaming Apple, Google, and others for ditching this important little hole. I have a pair of nice Bluetooth headphones, so it’s not a big deal for me. However, just yesterday I ran into the case where the headphone jack was really missing:

My cheap, ten-bucks selfie-stick is useless now :|

Display.

A lot of noise was made in the press about the inferior Pixel 2 XL display. Two main complains are: blue tint issue when tilting the phone and a screen burn-in issue. For the first one, I would say it is real, and it is very visible, but you have to know what to look for. It doesn’t bother me at all during the normal usage. However, because I know it exists, I sometimes do notice the tint and feel that my phone is not perfect.
As for the burn-in — I think that’s an entirely made up problem for nerds. Yes, xOLED screens do have this issue, and I just ran a white-screen app on my old Nexus 6P and immediately noticed remainings of the navigation bar on the screen. I assume the same will eventually happen to my Pixel but come on, you have to be in the lab settings to notice it. It’s not visible anywhere, outside the white-screen app.

The good parts.

After reading the first half of this article, it may seem like I didn’t like this phone but that’s not true at all. In fact, all the things from above are pretty minor problems. They do not affect main use-cases of a modern smartphone, and for me these are:

  • Browsing web
  • Taking pictures
  • Using social media and messengers
  • Navigating on the roads
  • Making calls
  • Playing games and using other apps

And to serve these, the phone should satisfy four simple requirements:

  • Be fast
  • Last long
  • Have an outstanding camera
  • And a good big display

All these Pixel 2 XL does on A+, and that’s why I think it’s the real phone, that should have been called “The Essential.”

OS and hardware.

Spec wise it’s a solid phone for 2017. Snapdragon 835, 4Gb of RAM and 3520 mAh battery, but all you need to know is that it works fast in all the apps you can imagine.
I had a bad experience with vendor-customized Android (especially from Samsung) before and now pure OS is one of the deciding factors for me. I love how stock Android performs on the Pixel, and honestly, I don’t even have anything to complain about, it’s just perfect. Having the ability to receive updates (I mean to actually receive them, not to wait for a year, until Samsung or HTC finish their testing) is also great. Google works hard on developing the Android and these updates really improve performance or bring new features, especially major releases.

Camera.

Sales of standalone cameras vs smartphones

Smartphones have almost replaced point-and-shoot cameras on the market, and the ability to produce attractive pictures is a hard requirement for any smartphone to be sellable in 2017. I love taking pictures, I love Instagram, and I loved the camera on my Nexus 6P. I wasn’t ready to get a lower-quality camera in 2017, so it was the main reason why I’ve returned my PH-1. Pixel 2 did not disappoint me. It’s nothing but an improvement since Nexus and first-generation Pixel. Pixel 2 camera is fantastic. It is fast, it has deep colors and wide dynamic range, it is very good in low light, and the software-based portrait mode is mind-blowing.

Daylight
Pretty low light
Another low light
Panorama
Portrait mode, selfie camera

Google is a software company, and all the magic is done computationally. Every photo you shoot is post-processed by the Google Camera app and sometimes sent to Google servers for HDR+. Before the post-processing it looks pretty average, and I would assume that hardware-wise, Pixel’s camera shouldn’t be that much different from any other smartphone. Third-party apps also can’t currently benefit from the power of Google Camera. They get the picture but do not get the post-processing. This will be fixed in Android 8.1 (remember that ability to receive updates?), with the enablement of new APIs and a custom-built image processing chip from Google, which was not active in 8.0.

Squeezable edges.

At first, I thought about it as another weird experimental feature that has to be immediately disabled. However, after a month of use, I find myself squeezing my phone at least several times a day, and it’s convenient! I use Google Assistant for a simple search, starting a navigation, unit conversion, weather forecast, etc. Squeezing the phone seems like really the most effortless way to launch it. I was never a fan of the idea of shouting “OK, GOOGLE!” at your phone in public and long pressing a home button is just longer than pressing a search bar directly. Squeezing is just easier than any of these.

IP67.

Pixel 2 is finally water-proof. While I’ve never dropped my phone into the toilet, neither I plan to take pool photos, I’ve definitely killed a few other devices with water before. So, I appreciate the fact that I don’t have to worry about my phone while skiing, shooting in the rain or standing near big water reservoirs.

Built-in Project Fi SIM-card.

I like Google’s Project Fi, and this is a little bonus for Fi customers: Pixel 2 has a built-in e-SIM. So, if you’re on Project Fi, you don’t have to use any SIM card at all. I’m wondering if I can insert a card from my home-country operator and stay connected during the whole trip home. Will check the next time I fly.

Battery life.

My Nexus 6P was dying after less than half a day of usage. I’ve replaced the battery, but it didn’t help much. Pixel survives the whole 24 hours (including the sleep time), even given my recent addiction to a stupid online game. So, I assume in two years it will be the same as Nexus, but so far I’m happy with the battery life.

One thing I would add…

A long time ago I had two Galaxy Note phones. I’ll probably keep complaining about TouchWiz software for the rest of my life, but I loved the stylus on those phones. I’m working on my own project right now, I meet with a lot of new people, and I have to take notes regularly. So, I really, really miss the stylus…

Price.

64Gb version costs $850 + tax in Google Store, which is a typical flagship price these days. I found mine on Craigslist, unopened for $750. I don’t know where these people get them, I hope they don’t steal, but I think it was a pretty sweet deal. You can save a bit more if you take one of operator’s offers with the plan, but I didn’t want to go away from Project Fi.

Conclusion.

Google Pixel 2 XL has its drawbacks, but it is an excellent phone overall. After a month of usage, I can say I love it. LG V30 and Galaxy S/Note 8 have their own selling points, such as better design, more power or a few extra features (the stylus!), but a superb camera, stock Android experience and the ability to use Project Fi outweigh them for me.

I hope my review was helpful, let me know, what do you guys think in the comments.

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