Google Pixel 2 XL: Overblown Controversy?

 

After just about a year to the day, Google announced its second generation of “Made by Google” phones with the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. There is a lot to like here and, as I speculated last year, Google addressed most of the first gen’s problems.

The Good – Fantastic Camera, Fast Updates for 3 Years Straight from Google, and More

  • Improved camera with the highest combined DXO Mark score of 98 for a mobile camera (note: scores are NOT out of 100 and some phone cameras may out perform the Pixel 2 in a particular area)
  • Portrait mode with a single camera through machine learning (it can even do it on the front-facing camera) along with OIS (optical image stabilization through hardware instead of the original’s software-only stabilization) although it’s a shame Google didn’t throw in a second camera lens. Perhaps next year – would love to see Google work their magic with a wide-angle lens too.
  • IP67 water resistance
  • Front facing speakers
  • More modern design with less bezels and rounded screen corners (at least on the 2XL)
  • 3 years of OS updates and, as always, quick updates directly from Google, who makes Android
  • Custom silicon in the form of Pixel Visual Core, which, when enabled, will enhance the already amazing camera capabilities of the phone and process HDR quicker

The Bad – Screen Controversy and Lack of “Nice-to-Haves”

Despite the huge list of advances made in this second generation, Google ended up missing the ball in a few key areas that can be a deal breaker for some would-be purchasers:

  • The Pixel 2 design is still stuck in the past with huge top and bottom bezels, similar to last year’s Pixel (although thankfully we can at least justify it with front facing speakers… a little), so look to the larger sibling, the 2 XL, although it comes with its own challenges.
  • Speaking of those challenges with the 2XL, even though its design is more modern and akin to the near bezel-less phones of Samsung Galaxy S8 (Plus), Galaxy Note 8, LG V30, Essential P1, and Apple iPhone X, it is mired in screen controversy – likely too much for me to link here:
    • The LG manufacturer POLED panel has more “accurate” colors that look dull when compared to the more “vibrant” Samsung manufactured displays.
      • I personally compared the color of the Chrome icon against various laptops and PCs I have around the house and at work and do find the colors shown on the Pixel 2XL to match. I also believe that this can be addressed through color calibration via software (sRGB off) and as app developers code their apps for Oreo’s (Android 8.0) implementation of color. If you’re interested in learning more about this, read this Reddit thread. This effect is MORE noticeable when you compare it to other phones side-by-side and almost disappears over time as you get used to a new “norm.”
    • The POLED panel will have a blue tint as you tilt the screen away from you.
      • Yup, I can verify this is true. If you keep an eye out for it or are sensitive to shifts in color, you’ll see it. Honestly, the forums were abuzz about this issue and I never really noticed it until one day I was looking at my phone from one angle vs. another (both natural placements for me) and noticed the white was a little cooler while held a bit lower. Again, you won’t notice this unless you’re actively looking for it.
    • Grainy screen in low brightness
      • Have not seen this with my unit. I turned off adaptive brightness, which seemed to help a lot with colors, as well, and turned down the brightness. My panel looked fine! It could be an issue with some phones out there though, so definitely something to be on the lookout for if you do purchase this phone.
    • Screen burn in
      • Welcome to every Android phone I have ever known! The stationary navigation bar (back, home, recent) buttons make Android susceptible to this. I remember the development community preferring to hide the navigation bar and using alternative controls like Pie Controls to avoid burn in. Is it a bit alarming that phones with less than 2 weeks of use have it? Perhaps. Google is looking into it.
  • R.I.P. 3.5mm Headphone Jack
    • The headphone jack is dead. Apple killed it last year and people still bought iPhones. Google, you’re not Apple. You certainly don’t have that kind of brand name in the mobile world yet. I suppose the future without headphone jacks is inevitable. Do your ears a favor and buy a DAC like this. You may as well get better audio quality if you’re going to have something dangling from the bottom of your phone.
  • No Wireless Charging
    • This is just an unfortunate timing issue. Google dropped wireless charging two years ago when it adopted USB C, the universal plug that will be our master plug to rule them all. Why? Well, USB C is reversible, so it’s easy to plug in, and delivers power quickly to the phone. Wireless charging tends to be slow although we now have fast charging protocols that are still slower than plugging in. Having said all of that, it’s a shame because wireless charging is going to be taking off due to Apple’s inclusion of it in the iPhone 8 (Plus) and iPhone X. It sure would be convenient to take advantage of the multitude of wireless charging stands that will fill up coffee shops and airports around the world instead of having to pull out your charging cable. Deal breaker? No. Definitely will be nice to have in next year’s model, Google.
  • No SD Card slot (obligatory)
    • If you were hoping Google would put an SD card slot in after YEARS of neglecting it, then, surprise, still no SD card slot. No one who seriously considered these phones leading up to their announcement made a decision not to buy it because of this omission. But hey, we have a virtual SIM card that none of the major carriers want to use because they make money off of people losing their SIM (however that happens).

Where Do I Land After All Is Said and Done?

“Wow, it sure looks like a lot of cons!” you may be thinking. “You must hate this phone or regret purchasing it!”

No, not at all.

The Pixel 2 XL is the closest thing I can get to Google’s vision of Android. It runs smooth and will always have the latest version of Android although we have yet to see how many Pixel features will be locked behind the latest model. It addressed nearly everything I had qualms with from the original. The screen SOUNDS like a big deal, but in practice it’s not. I enjoy the phone and am going to use it until Google’s next latest and greatest in a year from now.

Some may call me a Google fanboy and that may not be far from the truth. This isn’t a phone for the masses yet, but Google is making progress every year with getting there. In a few short years, Google may just be able to rival Apple’s iPhone and truly be the “king” of Android. Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL? Looking forward to meeting you in a year.

Update 10/25/2017: Another detailed post on Google+ by François Simond about how Android Oreo (8.0) is handling color display and what might be possible down the road.

Update 10/26/2017: Google responds! Burn in is no different than other high end phones and working on an “over saturated” mode that will make the phones look more akin to what you would see on other phones. Plus an extended warranty to 2 years for US buyers. No word on blue tint. Regardless, I’ve been happy with my Pixel 2 XL.

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