Google Pixel 2 review: Function over form

 

At the beginning of October, Google presented its two new high-end smartphones, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. We’ve had the chance to do an in-depth review of each, and now we present you with our final verdict of the Pixel 2. Is this device as interesting as it seems? Read on to find out.

Good

  • Waterproof
  • Latest version of Android
  • Fast updates
  • Excellent camera
  • Original features (Google Lens, etc)

Bad

  • Dated design
  • Some bugs present at launch

Lowest price: Google Pixel 2

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Google Pixel 2 release date and price

The latest smartphones from Google were made available on October 20, and are being sold exclusively (for now) in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, India and Germany. The Pixel 2 is priced at $ 649 for the 64 GB version and $ 749 for the 128 GB version. In the US, the Pixel 2 can be bought from the Google Store, Best Buy and Verizon. In addition, it is compatible with other major carriers like AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, which is offering a 50 percent off BYOD (bring your own device) rebate.

google pixel 2 front Here is the Google Pixel 2. / © AndroidPIT

Google Pixel 2 design and build quality

The original Pixel smartphones generated some surprise with their unique mix of glass and metal on the rear. The Pixel 2 continues with this design choice, but it gives the impression that you’re holding a cell phone made of plastic since it’s so light. It’s a blast from the past, as it’s been a long while since I’ve held a high-end smartphone that weighs so little.

google pixel 2 side1 The Google Pixel 2 feels good to hold. / © AndroidPIT

The trend of the moment is to offer 18:9 display ratios (or 2:1 as the manufacturers say). The Pixel 2 XL follows this trend, but the smaller Pixel 2 lags behind with a 16:9 ratio and big bezels at the top and bottom of the display like its predecessor. Whatever the reason for this design compromise may be, the result feels a bit disappointing.

On the back of the device, there is still a separation between the body and top area around the camera which is easy to both see and feel. The white model has a grey top section, the black model has a deep black top, and the blue model has a darker top as well.

google pixel 2 camera The ring around the camera glass protrudes slightly. / © AndroidPIT

Following in the footsteps of Apple, Huawei and several others, Google has decided to do away with the standard headphone jack. If you don’t want to buy new headphones or just don’t like wireless ones, you can use the adapter that Google provides in the box.

The volume button position may take a little getting used to, as it’s placed a bit lower than usual toward the middle of the side of the phone.

The materials on back of the device feel pleasant and are resistant to fingerprints. The small Pixel 2 is very nice to hold thanks to its thinness (7.8 mm) and its weight (143 g). However, the light weight can make it seem fragile.

The USB Type-C port and fingerprint scanner remain in the same place as on the original Pixel. The NanoSIM card tray is located on the left, but don’t expect to find a MicroSD or Dual SIM card slot. The Pixel 2 is IP67 certified against water and dust.

Google Pixel 2 display

The display of the Pixel 2 isn’t hugely revolutionary, either. The display is Full HD (1,080 x 1,920), rather than the Quad HD we’d prefer to see in a 16:9 flagship. The screen to body ratio is 67.9%, and considering the fact that the navigation buttons are on-screen, that doesn’t sound particularly enticing.

In practice, though, the display leaves a good impression. It’s a Samsung OLED, unlike the larger Pixel 2 XL which comes from LG, and there’s a notable difference between the two in terms of color representation. On the larger model, colors are more bland. This will definitely be noticeable to the trained eye, but others might not catch the difference at first glance.

As is often the case with OLEDs, the display appears a bit bluish when held at certain angles. On the whole, the Pixel 2’s screen is satisfactory. The jury is still out on the Pixel 2 XL’s display, and my colleague Luca elucidates this aspect in his review of that device.

androidpit features screen pixel 2 The Pixel 2 features an Always On Display feature, which can be turned off if desired. / © AndroidPIT

Google Pixel 2 special features

Active Edge

If you’ve been keeping track of the flagships released this year, you might have heard about HTC’s Edge Sense feature already. Google is offering a similar feature with its new Pixel smartphones called Active Edge. This feature allows you to launch Google Assistant just by squeezing the sides of the phone. You can set a custom pressure level to avoid accidentally triggering it, too.

Make sure Google Assistant is set up, or the feature won’t work. You can do this by long pressing the home button. If that launches Google On Tap rather than Assistant, the Active Edge feature won’t work until configured.

eSIM

Google offers two types of SIM cards: nanoSIM, which should be familiar already, and eSIM.

Is Google heralding the disappearance of normal SIM cards? Perhaps these will go the way of the headphone jack, as eSIM cards aren’t just on the Pixel 2. The iPad Pro and several smartwatches already make use of them. Regardless, it’s still possible to use the Pixel 2 with a standard nanoSIM.

Google Pixel 2 software

Both of the new Pixels ship running Android 8.0 Oreo, the latest version of Android. Anything less would have been a huge surprise since these smartphones are coming from Google itself and, like the Nexus devices which came before, are expected to get updates before any other devices. Nevertheless, we’ve noticed that some other phones (the Sony Xperia X1, Xperia X1 Compact, Samsung Galaxy A5, etc) have gotten the October 2017 security patch before the Pixel 2, which is still on September’s patch at the time of writing.

google pixel 2 hero New Google Pixel 2 home screen / © AndroidPIT

Several new features have been added since the last Pixel. The search bar is now on the bottom of the screen, making it easier to access and allowing for a widget at the top to display the date, temperature and the weather. The Google App on the left, formerly called Google Now, can be disabled easily via the home screen settings. The pretty Live Earth wallpapers already known from the first Pixels also make an appearance here.

As explained above, the famous Google Assistant is also on the new Pixels. It can be launched several ways: by squeezing the Active Edge, saying “Ok Google”, pressing the home button or by tapping the microphone button next to the search bar. Interestingly, Google Assistant can do some tasks, which don’t require internet access, offline. For example, it can launch applications without being connected to the internet.

androidpit home pixel 2 Disable the Google app to the left of the home screen (left). Live Earth wallpapers (right).  / © AndroidPIT

The new Pixel devices are also able to detect music played in the background while offline, and they are constantly listening. The list of detectable songs currently numbers 17,000, but there will be more in the future. I’ve yet to use the feature, and it wasn’t automatically triggered by ambient music in the time I was using it.

Google Pixel 2 performance

Like most of the high-end flagships of the moment, the Pixel 2 has a Snapdragon 835 processor with an Adreno 540 GPU. The octacore Qualcomm processor has four Kryo cores clocked at 2.35 GHz, and another four clocked at 1.9 GHz. The software and hardware of the Pixel 2 work excellently together, as evidenced by the performance.

The Pixel 2 has ‘just’ 4 GB of RAM, which is plenty for particularly smooth multitasking. For internal memory, you have the choice between 64 and 128 GB.

Though software updates from Google will likely work out these kinks soon, during my review, there were several instances of apps crashing. Though it wasn’t frequent enough to cause any real issues, it shows that at the time of writing the device isn’t quite there yet.

Though not relevant to evaluating the experience of using the device everyday, we tested the Pixel 2 using various benchmarking apps to help us compare it to the competition. You can check out the results below.

Google Pixel 2 : benchmark results

 
  Samsung Galaxy S8 Google Pixel 2
3DMark SlingShot ES 3.1 3174 3681
3DMark SlingShot ES 3.0 3217 4922
3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited 27330 38271
Geekbench Single Core 1983 1916
Geekbench Multi Core 6402 6372
PCMark Work Performance 6135 7385
PCMark Storage 4644 4535

Google Pixel 2 audio

The Pixel 2 has stereo sound, with speakers located on the front of the device, in the bezels above and below the display. The audio quality is good, even at maximum volume.

The standard headphone jack is nowhere to be found, so you’ll have to make use of an adapter (not included), use a Bluetooth headset or buy USB Type-C headphones. High quality audio codecs like LDAC, AptX HD, etc are present.

As mentioned above, the Pixel 2 is always listening in the background, in order to provide contextual information on any music that might be playing. This feature isn’t active by default, and the songs it can detect are limited for now. If it does recognize music, it displays information about the song on the lock screen.

Call quality is consistently good, and I had no issues hearing or being heard with the Pixel 2.

Google Pixel 2 camera

We’ve been anxiously anticipating the Pixel 2’s camera, and we’re happy to say that our expectations have been met. My colleague Stefan, our resident photography expert, says that the test photos we took with the Pixel 2 looks like they were taken a small camera rather than a smartphone.

Configuration and results

The hardware specs of the camera aren’t extraordinary on paper. The same IMX362 sensor from the HTC U11 is used here. With 12.2 MP, a pixel size of 1.4 microns and a sensor size of 1/2.55 inches, this is standard hardware for a high-end device. That being said, here we have optical image stabilization, unlike with the original Pixel.

So, if the specs aren’t extraordinary, how does the Pixel 2 achieve such great results? The explanation is in the software. When you press the shutter button, the camera shoots more than one photo and combines them into a final image. Out of these, 10 are underexposed and one is normal. This allows for a wider dynamic range with the small sensor, making details visible in dark and bright areas when the patterns are high contrast.

androidpit google pixel 2 photo sample The Pixel 2’s camera works well even in low light. / © ANDROIDPIT

Aside from the dynamic range, the camera has a lot to offer. Despite a few exceptions, the white balance is accurate in most cases and the colors are very true to life. When the brightness is accurate, the result is even better than the first Pixel which washes out the blacks a bit.

In the coming weeks, once Android Oreo arrives, Google will activate the Visual Core chip. With the Preview version of Android 8.1 this isn’t yet possible, but afterward, the camera performance should improve even further.

Even more interesting is the low light potential of the device. The Pixel 2 captures excellent shots in less than ideal lighting scenarios. The accurate brightness, rich details and lack of noise result from several factors: the combination of multiple photos, short opening times, low ISO sensitivity, and software magic. Even photos taken at night look excellent, with true to life colors, unlike the competition. Of course, in a future article, we will do a direct comparison of the Pixel 2 with other flagships of the moment.

Portrait mode

Portrait mode with the Pixel 2 is when you take a picture of a person, and artificial intelligence then blurs the background. You can see an example in the photos below, where our model Pierre appears on a normal and a blurred background. Portrait mode is also available with the front camera. The technology behind this is quite complex.

Using HDR+ technology, the camera snaps a quality photo that is rich in detail. After that, AI steps in: the neural network analyses the image to understand where the background to be blurred is based on its prior learning, which is naturally Machine Learning. Though the tech is complex, this is as simple as turning on Portrait mode for the user. The end result is two photos, like what you see below: the original detailed shot, and the blurred Portrait shot.

androidpit google pixel 2 portrait mode Portrait mode before and after. / © ANDROIDPIT

Motion Photos

A new software feature called Motion Photos has been added. Instead of capturing a single photo, a mini video of up to 4 seconds is captured. This might not be the most useful function, and it can be disabled in any case.

Google Lens

When taking a photo with your Pixel 2, you can use Google Lens to identify what you see. The idea is to be able to ID what you’re photographing with as much detail as possible. For example, if you take a photo of Berlin’s famous TV Tower, Google Lens will tell you the exact name of the building. This isn’t anything Earth shattering, but over time, Machine Learning will advance and it will be more useful and impressive. For example, Google Lens in the future might be able to not just identify a monkey in a photo, but also tell you whether it’s a chimpanzee or a marmoset.

androidpit google pixel 2 google lens Google Lens recognizes what’s in the photo. / © ANDROIDPIT

Google Pixel 2 battery

The Google Pixel 2 has a 2,700 mAh battery, and you might wonder whether that’s enough capacity to keep up with the demands of a powerful processor. It manages to hold its own without difficulties for a full day of heavy use, including WhatsApp, YouTube, Spotify, calls, messages and more. With lighter use, it can last up to a day and a half, which is proof that Google has optimized both the software and hardware. With regard to the charging speed, the Pixel 2 reached 100 percent from 39 percent in just an hour and 15 minutes. You can count on a full charge after around an hour and a half.

On the software side, there were some changes in the menu courtesy of Android Oreo, including the addition of a counter that tells you how much on-screen time has been spent since the last full charge.

Google Pixel 2 technical specifications

Dimensions: 145.7 x 69.7 x 7.8 mm
Weight: 143 g
Battery size: 2700 mAh
Screen size: 5 in
Display technology: AMOLED
Screen: 1920 x 1080 pixels (441 ppi)
Front camera: 8 megapixels
Rear camera: 12.3 megapixels
Flashlight: Dual-LED
Android version: 8.0 – Oreo
User interface: Stock Android
RAM: 4 GB
Internal storage: 64 GB
Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
Number of cores: 8
Max. clock speed: 2.45 GHz
Connectivity: HSPA, LTE, NFC, Bluetooth 5.0

Final verdict

When you first pick up the Pixel 2, you may not feel overwhelmed with excitement, but it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Google has optimized both the software and hardware of its latest flagship. The software interface offers a pleasant experience, in spite of a few temporary bugs, the performance is as good as you’d expect and the camera results are excellent.


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