Late last year we got a chance to try out the Google Pixel 2 XL and what came out was a detailed and in depth review, like we usually like to do. This LG made phone was the subject of many a controversy, but our unit performed just fine, even the screen. This is the Google flagship phone of 2017, a 6 inch device with an OLED screen, launched in October last year and priced at around $850.
It stands out through the fact that it’s made of glass and metal, has a facade similar to the LG V30 and the fact you can squeeze its edges for input. It’s also a champion, being the best graded phone on DxOMark. LG and HTC each made Pixel 2 phones last year and this is surely the sexier of the pair. This Oreo flagship is surely more refined than the Pixel XL, thanks to the glass with curved sides and corners, plus the metal frame.
The back and sides feel like graphite, that’s the vibe I got when using the phone. It looks nice, has great grip, so overall a pleasant experience. The smartphone measures 7.9 mm in thickness and weighs 175 grams, slimmer than the 8.5 mm Pixel XL, but also heavier than its 168 grams. However, that was a 5.5 incher and this is a 6 inch device. It could have been more compact, just look at the LG V30, its 7.3 mm waistline and 158 grams of weight.
This is quite a narrow phone, but not crazy narrow like the Galaxy Note 8, plus not as easy to wield with a single hand as that model is. This handset is IP67 water and dust resilient, it’s got a glass window for the camera and no visible antenna lines, which is always a plus. I like that it doesn’t attract smudges of prints easily, while on the downside, the Power button is not comfily placed.
Overall a refined and grippy design compared to last year, but I’m not a fan of the texture. Moving on to the screen, we get a 6 inch P-OLED, which may as well be borrowed from the LG V30. It’s got a Quad HD+ resolution, which is 2880 x 1440 pixels and offers 100% DCI-P3 coverage. This is an 18:9 538 ppi panel, with a 100.000:1 contrast ratio and True Black colors.
It has a 3D glass panel with Gorilla Glass 5 protection and 24 bit colors, so there’s a lot going on here. Yes, I know, burn in can and may happen, if you keep the same elements displayed too long. I didn’t encounter it, though. I did experience some gray-ish hues when holding the phone tilted towards the back. The viewing experience was a bit warmer compared to a classic OLED, iPhone X warm I’d say.
It’s a bright and crisp screen, with well calibrated colors and good contrast. View angles are wide, but the colors don’t quite pop like on the Galaxy Note 8. Pixels have a Pentile Matrix Dots arrangement, as shown by our microscope. We also did a brightness test, achieving 494 LUX units, which is OK, but surely it’s no record, being placed on the 42nd spot in our hierarchy.
It beats the Moto Z and ASUS ZenFone 4, but scores below the Xiaomi Mi 6 and Sony Xperia XZ by 100 LUX. Settings include brightness, Night Light, Adaptive Brightness and Colors (Boosted, Natural or Saturated). There’s also Font Size and Display Size, plus Ambient Display and the option to reduce VR blur. I’d say it’s a good panel, but a bit warm on the color side and grey when tilted. At least it’s bright.
We move on to the hardware, where we meet with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, an octa core chipset with an Adreno 540 GPU and 4 GB of RAM. There’s also 64 or 128 GB of storage and no microSD card slot. The performance is stellar, as the device really feels a notch faster than the Nougat models and even the Pixel before it. It’s really snappy and it has to be seen to be believed.
Riptide GP Renegade also looks great, as do all the other games we’ve played on it. We also did a bunch of benchmarks and achieved good results all around, with the Quadrant score beating the LG G6 and HT CU Ultra, but scoring below the ZenFone 3 and Huawei Nova. In AnTuTu 6 we beat the LG G6 and OnePlus 3, but scored below the iPhone 7 and HTC U11.
In 3DMark Slingshot Xtreme we placed second all time, with an excellent result, that’s superior to the Galaxy S8 and HTC U11, so gamers rejoice. Just the Xiaomi Mi 6 is better. Performance is for sure top 5 material. We also did temperature tests and achieved 38.9 degrees Celsius in the GFXBench test and 37.6 degrees when running games like Riptide GP Renegade, so there’s no overheating here.
Time to talk about the battery, a 3520 mAh unit, a slight bump up in capacity from the Pixel XL’s 3450 mAh. The iPhone X by comparison has a 2716 mAh unit. We are promised up to 7 hours of cusage with 15 minutes of charging. We did a video playback test and achieved 12 hours and 55 minutes of continuous playback, which is quite solid and superior to the Pixel XL by 5 minutes. It also beats the iPhone 8 Plus, but scores below the Galaxy Note 8 and Huawei Mate 9 even.
PCMark was a bit more modest, having us at 8 hours and 29 minutes, which is the 44th spot and not very impressive. At least we beat the Xperia XZ1 and Mate 9 Pro, but the ZenFone 4 and Galaxy S8 were better. As far as charging goes, we got to a full 100% in 2 hours and 30 minutes, which is OK and superior to the iPhone 7 and Xperia XA1. We always like to do step by step charging and we achieved a 2% charge after 5 minutes and 36% was achieved after 15 minutes.
After 30 minutes we were at 73%, which is fantastic and after one hour at 93%. Settings are stock, including battery optimization, battery saver and adaptive brightness. There’s also Background Activity (Yes/No) and I’d say that the battery is good, maybe excellent for PCMark, where I expected more somehow.
On the audio front, Google Pixel 2 XL offered us dual front stereo speakers and nope, there’s no audio jack here. At least we have an adapter to replace it. High Def Audio is also here, plus wireles HD Audio, with LDAC, aptX and aptX HD. The stock music player is Google Play Music, with a stock equalizer, genre settings, 5 custom channels, Bass Boost and Surround Sound.
The listening experience was satisfying, loud enough to cover a conversation, with a nice bass (deep), solid voice rendering and nice highs. Surround was actually superb and possibly the best I’ve heard in 2017. We also did a decibelmeter test and achieved 83.9 dBA at the top and 83.5 dBA at the bottom, using the typical audio sample. We also got to 79.6 dBA when the device is facing down.
These results put us above the Pixel XL’s 83.4 dBA and OnePlus 3, but below the LG G4 and Xperia XA. In Riptide GP Renegade we performed better, reaching 95.3 dBA, which is great and superior to the Huawei Mate 9 Pro and HTC U11, but inferior to the Sony Xperia XA1 and LG Q6. In real life it all sounds much better and you can consider me happy with those speakers.
Time to see if the camera is worth the DxOMark distinction of “best ever”. At the back of the Pixel 2 XL (and Pixel 2 for that matter) we find a 12 megapixel shooter with a Dual Pixel autofocus, F/1.8 aperture, 1.4 micron pixels, laser focus, PDAF, OIS, EIS and dual LED flash. Upfront there’s an 8 megapixel shooter upfront with 1.4 micron pixels and F/2.4 aperture.
The camera UI feels pretty familiar, rather typical for a stock Android machine. The camera itself starts up fast, has crazy fast focus, so much so that even Samsung would be jealous (but still it remains superior). Picture taking is very fast instant basically and zoom is fluid. Options include white balance, grid, Motion Photo, HDR+, HDR+ Enhanced (pics appear more vivid and processing is longer).
Slow Motion is here, Panorama and Photo Sphere too, plus Portrait (Back and Front camera), Face Beauty and sadly there are no manual tweaks, like shutter, ISO, metering or focus.
Time to check out the gallery of day time pictures. First of all I want to praise the fantastic focus, the very close closeups, perfect texture of objects and perfect Portrait Selfies. I know it’s all software, but it’s amazing! The blur is surreal, the face texture is perfect and I’m having a hard time conjuring a better selfie phone than this one. Look at the eyes, the skin pores, the tonality, the color, the shades, the contrast. It’s all thanks to Google’s algorithms, that worked wonders.
Back to the main cam, its zoom was fine, with not bad details, even if you compared to a Galaxy Note 8 and iPhone X. We’re on par with them basically. For a cloudy day, the shots we achieved were actually bright and brilliantly colored. Not much dynamic range variation happened sadly, since everything was “mute” on that cloudy day. HDR was perfect, with great contrasts and the hue of blue and red were great. The green feels a bit too bright in that shot of a moss.
There’s no blur or lack of clarity and if there would be any drawback, that’s probably the quality of the shots when zooming in. I also feel the need to highlight the fact that the shots were taken on a rainy December day, so there’s that. The Panorama has a resolution of 16.384 x 2068 pixels, which is quite generous and there’s no big curvature of the image.
I can clearly see why DxOMark thinks this is a champ, because in some areas it actually is. It does catch less details than the Xperia XZ1, especially during zoom and the hues of green were dubious at times. Otherwise, on par with Galaxy Note 8 and all the iPhones. I’m also mind blown by the quality of Portrait shots, both with the front and back camera.
Pixel 2 XL easily takes the best selfies I’ve ever seen with a mobile. They’re DSLR level and what Google has done with its software is truly amazing and awe inspiring. Mechanical parts and lenses have found a rival in purely smart, AI-driven software. I feel that this is the best we’re going to get from a 12 MP sensors for a while now.
As far as low light capture goes, we had the luck of working with perfect lighting and achieved a perfect level of yellow, not too much but also not too ghostly white. The scenes were bright and the halos were a bit on the long side, to be frank.
I loved the flash, although I did catch some minor blue hues every now and then. Details were excellent, even the zoom performed and I’m strictly talking about low light here, since the day time details were just OK. Things were generally very bright for a low light situation, something we’re gotten accustomed to on Pixel and Nexus models of the past years.
I would say that the Pixel 2 XL is one of the best phones when it comes to the yellow hues that appear naturally in street lighting at night. It catches the most natural light, colors and great clarity, plus day like brightness. It beats the iPhone 8 Plus, also the Galaxy S8 a bit and LG G6. It’s on par with the biggies: Note 8, HTC U11, iPhone X.
Let’s check out the video capture now. Sadly, even though the phone is powerful, it doesn’t have 4K 60 FPS video capture. We did MP4 filming, Full HD at 30 FPS and at 22 Mbps. We experienced a fast and snappy exposure change, but once again the details weren’t exactly record breaking when zooming in. The green hue is also not calibrated to my liking, like we saw in the pics.
The stabilization is great, Note 8 level, but still not on part with the fantastically stabilized Sony Xperia XZ1. It beats the iPhone X for sure and there’s no flicker to worry about when walking around. 4K video capture is perfect, with great focus (precise, accurate, fast), excellent lighting and perfect colors. Too bad it was a cloudy day and some vids were dark.
The slow motion captures were pretty mint, close to the iPhone ones so not bad. The camera also handles moving objects/subjects fine, when panning, with solid object tracking. I also tested the selfie camera video capture, which is good enough for the average vlogger, but once again not on part with the excellent Xperia XZ1. We also shot 60 FPS Full HD videos, at 33 Mbps in bitrate, with some underwhelming grass details.
The microphone was pretty solid, in both capturing ambiance and people’s voices. Don’t get me wrong, video capture is excellent here, but this is no champ in this department. I feel that the Xperia XZ1 and iPhone X do better at times. At least the Pixel 2 XL beats all the Huaweis and LGs for sure. Basically we have just two objections: details and the green hue not well calibrated.
That was all day time filming, so let’s talk about low light video capture. At night we experienced some flicker, blue artifacts and an underwhelming zoom. The videos were very bright and we had great panning and object tracking. Colors were fine, for low light conditions. Stabilization is solid, clarity is perfect and the second video we shot was much better than the first, even in the zoom detail department.
One of these night time videos is so good, that it can easily compare with any flagship from 2017. It’s clearly superior to the LG G6 and ASUS ZenFone 4, or Huawei P10. It’s also way above the Pixel XL and there’s no more grain and fog.
Moving on from the camera, we tested the web browser, which is obviously Chrome. Finally, we achieved some good scores in Sunspider, Vellamo and the rest of the gang. We also tested the keyboard, with Swype in the mix and stock key placement. Time to chat about connectivity! Things are obviously on the up and up, with WiFi a/b/g/n/ac with MIMO 2X2, GPS, Glonass, Galileo, Beidou and Bluetooth 5.0 + LE.
There’s NFC, eSIM support even (for Google’s own network), 4G LTE Category 15 (4X4 MIMO) and USB Type-C 3.1. There’s no audio jack and we played around with a nano SIM card slot. Calls were perfect, loud, clear, crisp, voices warm, all that. Noise cancelling was excellent, too. We also did a SpeedTest and achieved amazing results in WiFi: 437 Mbps in download and 26 Mbps in upload.
In 4G we achieved 159 Mbps in download and 47 Mbps in upload. Time to talk about the software. We ran on Android 8.0 Oreo, obviously in stock form. There’s the low placed Google bar, the tidy Settings area, with a single nested list and multitasking is still all about the carousel and split screen. Widgets are stock, typical and we’ve got notification dots for apps, which lets you access apps’ features without opening them, like compose an email straight from the shortcut for example, or take a picture from the camera menu.
There’s Snooze for notifications now, notification categories, small notification icons for those that don’t fit on the dropdown area and a new Music Control window in the same place. The app drawer is clean and of course, the most important thing: Pixel 2 XL has squeezable sides, that will trigger the Google Assistant, which by the way is smarter than ever.
There’s also G Lens, that identifies objects, brands, places for you and back to the squeezable edges, I find it to be a pity that you can’t customize their features. We also tested the security, with the fingerprint scanner at the back and it’s very, very fast and accurate, plus it has a fast setup. We end with the Always On Screen feature and we have 23 preinstalled apps.
This is very few, so there’s no bloatware. The leftmost Google feed includes News, Weather and other such things, like upcoming matches, weather and recipes maybe. My only gripe with Oreo is the small Settings shortcut. Now with all of that done, it’s time for the verdict.
These are the Pros:
- comfy to hold and use
- bright screen
- good battery (video playback)
- excellent speakers, especially surround
- great performance
- perfect selfies, perfect Portrait
- great photos and video capture
- quality OIS and EIS
- fluid and fast Oreo, no bloat
- Google Assistant is more embedded and becomes second nature
- the screen gets gray at a certain angle
- burn in also happens
- Power button placement is uninspired
- not that impressive details in video capture
- green hue of the camera doesn’t impressive
- no other uses for the squeezable edges aside from Google Assistant
Google Pixel 2 XL is a must have phone for Android purists, who want the clean, fast, pure unaltered Google mobile OS, with an extra scoop of Google Assistant. It’s more refined than the Pixel XL, less clunky and massive, looks better, feels better, sounds better and has an improved camera. It’s also more widely available than the predecessor and priced better, discounted faster.
The front camera redefined the concept of selfie for me and also the concept of Portrait, to be honest. The only drawbacks are the gray hue of the screen, maybe some of the camera quirks, like details and green hue. Aside from that, there’s no other phone you need if you want pure Android.
You can find the device here.