Google Pixel 2 XL Review: Good things do come at a heavy price

Google Pixel 2 XL has an excellent camera, good battery life and all other elements of a true flagship smartphone. But is it still worth Rs. 73,000? Let’s find out

It is a well-known fact that the smartphone market is largely divided into two segments- Android and iOS. The former offers a plethora of handsets from several mobile phone manufacturers that runs on Google's most cherished product- Android mobile OS. iOS on the other hand is exclusively associated with Apple products, or in a nutshell- iPhones. And while iPhones are appreciated for their timely updates, secure ecosystem and uniformity, the open-source Android is always criticized for its fragmented nature due to individual manufacturers' take on skinning Google's mobile OS with their own customized layers.

Google stepped into the arena to change this perception about Android in 2016. The search engine giant announced Pixel devices; smartphones build entirely under Google's supervision to challenge the likes of Apple iPhones.

Fast forward to 2017, Google refreshed the line-up with second generation Pixel handsets- Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. The new Pixels bring forward improved specs, durable design and offer better integration of software and hardware.

The smaller of the two, Pixel 2 is highly criticized for its dated design which does not go in sync with today's handsets; but the bigger Pixel 2 XL is the one that grabs all the eyeballs. But technically, both the handsets only differ in display, overall size and in price point.

It is the Google Pixel 2 XL which we are going to discuss in detail today in the following review. We will keep camera and user experience in focus as hardware is pretty much the same we have tested in some recent flagship handsets and delivers excellent computing and multitasking performance. Without any further ado, let's find out what Pixel 2 XL has to offer as an everyday smartphone.

Design that keeps practicality in center

In one word, Google Pixel 2 XL looks impressive. It might not come as the most visually appealing handset of modern times, but it is certainly more comfortable to use and feels much more practical in everyday life. The taller 6-inch screen with 18:9 aspect ratio gives Google Pixel 2 a bigger footprint.

Thankfully the subtly designed rounded corners, curved back panel and correctly placed hardware buttons ease up the handling process to a good extent. If you are not fond of big screen handsets, go for the smaller Pixel 2.

Not entirely edge-to-edge but thicker bezels add some noted features

The substantial amount of bezels on all four sides make Pixel 2 XL a bit boring as per today's bezel-less standards, but also makes it more functional. They serve two very important and useful purposes that make Pixel 2 XL more multimedia oriented and technically smarter. The top and bottom bars houses stereo speakers and the side bezels have smart sensors that with a squeeze activate the Google Assistant.

Google calls them Active Edge and they work like a charm. However make sure you customize the squeeze force as per your requirement otherwise you will either activate Google Assistant more often or might just keep squeezing the edges to get the job done. You have to find the sweet spot as per your grip. Thankfully I managed to find it and Google Assistant came to help even when the device was locked.

Google’s signature two-tone design

Google Pixel 2 XL comes with Google's signature two-tone design where one-third of the rear panel is covered with a glass strip and the bottom three fourth is made out of aluminum. The glass strip houses the big circular mono camera module and flashlight. The fingerprint scanner is positioned just below the glass strap on the aluminum plate, which has been given a soft matte finish and unlike the upper glass does not attracts much smudges.

IP67 certified for dust-water resistance but overall durability is questionable

The glass-aluminum made Pixel 2 XL seems and feels quite sturdy but perhaps it's not as tough as it seems and should be. You can spot a small dent just below the fingerprint scanner in some pictures which left me wondering what would happen to this pricey device if it simply hits the hard surface. A protective case would do some help. The smartphone is also IP67 certified for dust and water resistance.

pOLED screen is a talk of town, but for all the bad reasons

Color shifts, Screen burn-ins, muted colors and what not, Pixel 2 XL has seen it all. The internet is full of complaints related to Google Pixel 2 XL's pOLED screen making it the most controversial display in town. The 6-inch Quad HD+ panel (2,880 x 1,440 pixels) is manufactured by LG, a well acclaimed and technically a leader in display manufacturing.

The company's very own LG G series handsets have some of the best screens in their price-segment. But it's entirely a different case with Pixel 2 XL's screen. The display on Pixel2 XL is crisp and very responsive. But there's no doubt that there are better screens in the market at substantially lower price-point. It is not the liveliest display and might come as a disappointment to some users who want best-in-class multimedia playback and gaming experience.

Pixel’s pOLED vs Samsung’s AMOLED

I found it really dull during my first week of usage, especially when I kept it side-by-side with a Samsung Galaxy handset. The gameplay and video playback on Pixel 2 XL's pOLED screen just couldn't match the vibrant colours pushed by Samsung's AMOLED displays. But if you haven't used a Samsung handset or some other AMOLED display smartphones in past, you will gradually make peace with Pixel 2 XL's pOLED screen.

Moreover, Google's recent software rollout has boosted colors to a good extent and has given some required life to Pixel's pOLED display. Personally I liked the pOLED screen on Pixel 2 XL after a week's usage. Colors accuracy is appreciable and whatever you watch appears closer to reality.

There are some other notable issues with pOLED screen of Pixel 2 XL. The color shifts at extreme angles are something you cannot overcome and is something you have to live up with if you planning to buy the new Pixel devices. Some users have also experienced screen burn in issues, however I haven't came across any such problems with my Pixel 2 XL unit.

Overall, Pixel 2 XL's screen will not meet everyone's demands. However, it is undoubtedly one-of-its kind and will please a certain set of audience who prefer realistic colours.

Google’s one camera setup offers better results than most of the dual-camera smartphones

Pixel 2 XL's mono camera shows what software algorithms can do that even dedicated hardware cannot achieve. I say this specifically in the case of bokeh shots captured from Google Pixel 2 XL. The results are comparable and even better in some cases when compared to most of the two-lens camera setups I have tested in past one year.

This is due to the fact that Google banked on its software ability and did not include any secondary camera, which in standard dual-lens mobile camera setups is commonly a lens with smaller aperture value. The particular lens is provided to sense depth information and usually fails to isolate the subject in focus from the background in the absence of ample light. This is not the case with Pixel 2 XL.

Appealing Bokeh shots

The smartphone has a 12.2MP single lens camera working on an f/1.8 aperture that brings more light to darker scenes to offer stunning bokeh and standard shots. In everyday use, the wide aperture and faster autofocus delivers crisp and impressively detailed shots.

The colours might not look as vivid as they look on Samsung Galaxy devices, but they are more realistic and close to reality as your eyes see them in real world. The camera sensor also supports optical and electronic image stabilization to make video recording smoother.

HDR+ Enhanced mode for better low-light photography

One of the best features of Pixel 2 XL camera is HDR+ enhanced mode. The mode makes a noticeable difference when you are taking pictures in uneven and low-light. Truth to be told, Pixel 2 XL is the best smartphone for low-light photography. The images come out to be well lit and show more detailing than images shot with any other smartphones of same price-point.

8MP Selfie camera also captures good Bokeh effect

The front facing 8MP camera on Pixel 2 XL is not as good as the shooters on dedicated selfie smartphones, but it still is one of the best front facing camera in the market. The 8MP front camera works on an aperture value of f/2.4 and is capable of capturing bokeh shots. The selfies look good and have accurate skin tone formation.

Video quality is equally impressive and will please content creators. Overall, Google's intelligent software and reliable camera hardware has got most of the things right and the second generation Pixel devices are excellent camera smartphones that beats the competition hand down.

Experience Augmented Reality right within the Pixel camera

Pixel 2 XL's excellent camera has recently got one intuitive software feature in the form of AR Stickers. You can experience Augmented Reality by adding virtual characters and playful emojis directly into photos and videos from within the camera interface.

It's very easy to use and you can drop the interactive AR stickers into the scene, can move, resize and rotate them as per your scene requirement. There's very limited number of AR stickers at present but Google will release more AR Sticker packs in the future.

How’s Pixel 2 XL as an everyday smartphone?

In one word, ‘Excellent'; however Google's flagship smartphone is not perfect. The stock Android experience is best-in-class and effortless but it is marred by frequent app crashes. It is not just the third party apps but the applications developed by Google itself that crashes quite often.

The list includes Google Keep, Play Store, Gmail, Google maps, etc. Third party apps that crashed quite often are Instagram, Snapchat, Amazon Prime, QuickPic, etc. There were instances when I had to restart the phone to get the things done smoothly, which I really don't appreciate from Google's most advanced and premium smartphone.

And while I was hoping that the things will get back on track with the most recent update- Android Oreo 8.1.0, I have started facing a new bug. My Pixel 2 XL's screen stopped turning on while receiving an incoming call with phone connected to Bluetooth headphones.

I found that other Pixel 2 XL users were also facing the similar issues after upgrading their Google handsets to the latest update rolled out by Google. I uninstalled the Phone app's updates and screen started to behave normally. A fix might be in process to resolve the issue.

Smooth multitasking and gameplay

For multitasking you have 4GB RAM that fails to match the 8GB and 6GB RAM standards of some affordable phones; however there were no performance issues noticed in our review duration. Multiple apps run smoothly at a time without any glitches.

The games ran smoothly and there were no major heating incidents noted. The top-of-the line Snapdragon 835 and Adreno GPU made sure everything works without any performance slowdown.

You can also watch a movie or play game with good audio even if you don't have a headphone handy. The stereo speakers placed on broad top and bottom chins deliver loud and clear sound. You must know that this year's Pixel smartphones ditch the standard 3.5 mm headphone jack but ships with a 3.5mm to USB Type-C adaptor to compensate the loss.

The fingerprint scanner is quick and the smartphone also have pressure sensitive edges that can activate the Google Assistant in a jiffy.

The setting app is clutter free and you will not face any difficulty in searching for any particular feature.

 

Stock Android 8.1.0 is snappy, effortless and intelligent

If I ignore the app crashes and occasional bugs, Pixel 2 XL is the best Android smartphone I have used till date. It is blazing fast and the stock Android never felt this feature rich. There are certain software elements brought from other major players that enhance the everyday mobile user experience.

The new Pixel smartphones come with Always-on display feature that allows you to check time and notification on locked screen with minimal battery consumption. The edges are no pressure sensitive that activates the Google Assistant in a jiffy.

The slightly tweaked home screen launcher is visually appealing and is effortless to use. You will get so accustomed to it that if you start using any other Android smartphone, the first thing you will look for in Google Play Store is the new Pixel launcher. The latest update has added some noticeable features. I found SmartSelect quite useful.

Backed by Google Machine learning, it can recognize text when long pressed, highlights the relevant words and let you use them in other apps, per se Google Maps to locate a destination. The feature can recognize addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, etc. Next in the list is ‘Wi-Fi speed labels' that shows how fast nearby networks are.

Google Lens and Now Playing makes life easy

Google lens and Now Playing are also useful and intelligent additions to Google's app ecosystem. ‘Google Lens' can be used in real-time to extract useful information in the world around you. It was just fun to use Lens feature within Google Assistant to get relevant information about surroundings (sign boards, book labels, etc.) in real time.

Google Lens is also integrated in Google Photos and comes really useful in scanning and extracting important information like a Wi-Fi password, gift card code, or a recipe straight from an image. The app matches the results within the Google's database to offer results.


‘Now Playing' works as an always active Shazam app that works in background to give you music updates such as track playing and artist name even when the phone is locked.

Store unlimited pictures with Google’s photos on new Pixel handsets

Google Pixel 2 XL comes with unlimited storage space for camera usage, which is a delight for photography lovers. But this feature has a catch. As per recent reports, the ‘Free, unlimited original-quality storage for photos and videos captured with Pixel device is valid till 2020. Post that Google will compress the original image quality to high-quality which is standardized as 16MP photos and Full HD videos without any storage limitation.

Good battery life

I am not totally content and also not entirely disappointed with Google Pixel 2 XL's battery performance. The 3,520 mAh battery cell powering the handset can last for over a day with light to medium usage. If you spend too much time on Netflix or in playing games, then you would require refueling the battery twice in a day.

The battery consumption can be minimized by activating power saving modes that you can find in Battery settings. The battery settings also give you a complete description of power consumed by individual applications so that you can keep a check on app's activity.

Should you buy?

Yes, if you seek unparalleled camera performance and bloatware free pure Google user experience. The smartphone ranks top in software department even though it needs some level of refinements and fixing. Google's latest Pixels are also future proof. The search engine giant is constantly working to enhance usability by adding new experiences to Pixel phones.

The look and feel of Google Pixel 2 XL might fail to entice you at first, but the design is more focused on basics and offers better in-hand feel as compared to other edge-to-edge handsets. The phone is also durable; comes with IP67 certification for dust-water protection and has Gorilla Glass 5 protection.

I would not recommend Pixel 2 XL to users who are looking for pixel-popping display for immersive visual experience. Samsung's Galaxy S8 and Note 8 will offer better value for money in screen department.

You cannot use standard pair of headphones that come with 3.5mm jack, and cannot expand the internal storage. Moreover, you will also not get to use Wireless charging despite paying a huge sum for Pixel 2 XL. The battery backup will is good and audio performance is also appreciable.

Rest assured for camera performance as you will simply fall in love with the images that Pixel 2 XL is capable of pulling.

Overall, Pixel 2 XL is one of the best Android smartphone you can buy today in the Indian market. Yes, it costs a fortune but the user experience makes it all worth for.

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