The Pixel review embargo has just lifted! What does that mean practically? It means a bunch of people just published their reviews of a new Google smartphone. You’re probably thinking “Hey that new phone looks pretty cool, but can I trust any of these reviews?” The answer is probably, mostly “yes.” But just in case you’re not sure, here’s my extremely brief review of the Pixel 2 XL, which I was given by Google, but which I also won’t lie to you about.
The Pixel 2 XL is a cool phone (I was also sent a Pixel but I didn’t test it, so this is just a review of the XL). I like it. It’s not perfect, but it’s very, very good. It looks really nice and it runs Android 8 (also known as Oreo, which I think is a stupid name for an operating system). It does not suck. You will not feel embarrassed around your iPhone friends. If anything they will look at you using your phone and go “wow that seems really fast.” And it does! Even though the iPhones keep getting faster and faster chips, the new Pixel still seems to be faster at doing lots of things. It has an excellent camera. Really excellent.
The hardware on the phone is extremely nice. I’ve been petting it a lot, like Blofeld pets his cat in the James Bond film Thunderball. But this is not a cat. It’s a phone. The metal on the back feels smooth, but has a texture that makes it easier to hold than most new glass phones (I’m looking at you, Galaxy S8). It’s built solidly, and feels appropriately expensive (it is expensive by the way). The front glass on the phone is slightly curved, and even though I love the display on my S8+, I actually found the Pixel 2 XL more enjoyable to use and hold, and I found I had fewer instances of accidentally tapping on things. Maybe curved edges aren’t that great after all.
This is not a cat. It’s a phone.
As I mentioned, the camera is very good. It features a portrait mode that relies on software processing rather than dual lenses (as on the iPhone 8 Plus or the Galaxy Note 8). The results are mostly wonderful. I spent the weekend shooting pictures of my daughter, her friend, and her cousin. Kids move around a lot — but the Pixel captured lovely photos of them, both in portrait mode and in standard shooting modes. Sometimes the software has slight issues distinguishing between foreground and background, but these problems are present on dual-lens cameras as well, and the imperfections seemed very slight to me. It’s really impressive — and according to Google, this feature will only get better when it activates a chip in the phones which was specifically designed to handle photo processing. That’s cool! Also, weird. A co-worker described the deactivated chip as a sleeper cell, which is not wholly inaccurate.
Reasons you might want the Pixel 2 XL:
- It looks nice and it’s sturdily built
- It’s fast
- The OS is very smooth and extremely capable. It’s also really good at doing the things you need a phone to do, like reminding you to get shit done, telling you there’s traffic on your commute, or pointing you towards news you’d like to read. Mostly this is thanks to the Google Assistant and its interconnected services.
- It has a great camera
- The battery seems to be very good in my short testing period
- It runs pure Android, which is really very good, and has no software bloat to ruin your day
- It’s unlocked and will work on any carrier
Reasons you might not want the Pixel 2 XL:
- You love iMessage and everyone you know is on it
- You want to make sure you get a crack at the newest apps as soon as possible (Android tends to lag behind iOS at getting the hot apps)
- You want a phone with wireless charging (this is a bummer, but not a dealbreaker)
- The colors on the Pixel 2 display are more washed out than Samsung phones (though Samsung phones tend to be more blown out, color-wise)
- You want a phone with a headphone jack (the Pixel 2 does not have one)
- You’re worried people will mock you for not owning an iPhone
So in closing: I really like this phone. I was using a Galaxy S8+ which I loved, but I don't miss it. Except for the wireless charging. This is easily the best phone Google has ever made, and also might be my favorite Android phone ever.