Google announced their 2 flagship smartphones at their fall hardware event on October 4th, 2017. The leaks we’d seen leading up to this grand reveal were pretty accurate. The new Google Pixel 2 and Google Pixel 2 XL are beautiful, cutting-edge, and powered by Google Assistant artificial intelligence.
The main focus of the Mountain View company’s presentation this year was AI. With every product Google announced, they emphasized integrating machine learning into literally everything. From these phones, to new smart speakers, to a camera that takes photos on its own, the future is now.
Here we have two very similar devices that are separated by two big differences: size and bezels. Besides colour choices and displays, they are virtually identical spec-for-spec and feature-for-feature. The Pixel 2 comes in 3 colours at launch: Just Black, Clearly White, and Kinda Blue. The Pixel 2 XL is offered in Just Black or Black and White. The panda-like Black and White is by far my personal favourite. Most choices feature a pop of colour in the form of the power button, while Just Black is totally murdered-out all around. Now that the superficial stuff is out of the way, let’s get into all the juicy details!
The Displays and Design
Right away, the most obvious difference between these two flagships is the size of their displays. The regular Pixel 2 screen comes in at 5 inches. It is an OLED display at full HD resolution (1920×1080). The larger Pixel 2 measures in at 6 inches diagonal. It has a pOLED (the “p” is for plastic) display at QHD+ (2880×1440).The bezels are much slimmer than its smaller sibling’s, though it retains a forehead and chin to accommodate the two front-facing speakers. The Pixel 2’s design is certainly more in line with what we have come to expect in 2017. It even features a tall 18:9 aspect ratio, similar to what we’ve already seen in the Samsung, LG, and Apple flagships. Keep in mind that the Pixel 2 XL is only half an inch taller and a third of an inch wider than the 5-inch version. That’s a perfect example of just how much screen real estate is achievable with an almost bezel-less design.
While the XL display doesn’t go ALL the way to the edges, it is considerably more modern than the traditional design of the small Pixel 2. My main gripe with the first generation Pixels was that their design didn’t age well, and it’s a little unfortunate that the smaller model follows a similar formula this year. Nevertheless, neither phone is especially flashy. I’ve heard comparisons with a Scandinavian design philosophy, which I wholeheartedly agree with. They are minimal, clean, and offer form without sacrificing function.
Around back, both phones sport a smaller glass “window” than their predecessors. This may be a little polarizing, but I don’t think it’s a bad choice for a Pixel trademark. You should instantly recognize that this is a Google phone when you see that slab of glass sitting at the top of the device. The fingerprint sensor is placed in the center, where it belongs (ahem, Samsung!). The lower portion of the back is aluminum on both devices and joins almost seamlessly with the glass. What you get is a very premium-feeling experience, which one should expect at this price point.
Google has done it again in the camera field. Topping last year’s DxOMark score of 90 (which set a record at the time), the Google Pixel 2 and XL come in at 98 in the firm’s image quality test. That score even displaced the short reign of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and Apple iPhone 8 Plus.
Both sizes feature a 12.2 MP rear camera with an f/1.8 aperture. Instead of going the dual-camera route, these new Pixels have dual-pixel technology. Basically, there are two pixels inside every pixel. A dual-camera system will stitch together images from each camera to give you the best possible photo. This dual-pixel system does the same thing with just one sensor. Crazy!
You also get optical and digital image stabilization, HDR+, and a portrait mode similar to Apple’s. The difference – again – is that Google does it with a single camera instead of two. Early tests have shown great success with portrait mode, and because it is powered by software, it could get even better with future updates. It’s notable that the front-facing selfie camera can pull off the same trick.
When it comes to video, the Pixel 2 doesn’t disappoint either. It also reached the highest rating to date in that department, with a DxOMark score of 96. The rear sensor shoots 4K video at 30fps, 1080p at up to 120fps, and 720p at up to 240fps. The selfie camera comes in at 1080p, which means it’s no slouch either!
Time to get your nerd on. Google Pixel 2 and XL are both powered by the latest-and-greatest chip from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 835 that’s already been proven to be successful in other Android flagships this year. 4 GB of RAM keeps all your apps running simultaneously, and you can choose between 64 or 128 GB of storage. This is pretty much par for the course in the Android market today. Though it doesn’t push any limits, it should have no problem staying relevant until next year’s batch of flagship phones.
The batteries are another small difference between the two siblings. Understandably, the larger XL has a 3250 mAh unit, while the smaller phone comes in at 2700 mAh. Due to the aluminum back, wireless charging is absent, while fast charging is a very welcome feature. Google reports 7 hours of use from 15 minutes of charging, which is simply mind-blowing.
Besides cameras, gimmicks are everyone’s favourite thing to talk about! The Google Pixel 2 is the second squeezable phone to come out this year. Google calls it “Active Edge”. By giving the sides of the phone a squeeze with one hand, Google Assistant will pop up to help. That’s a cool way to interact with the virtual assistant and is way better than assigning a dedicated button to Bixby, Samsung. Yes, I’m looking at you again!
The Pixels also feature augmented reality stickers (yay?), and are VR-ready using Google’s Daydream headset. Motion photos record a short video clip when you take a photo, similar to what the iPhone has been doing. Google Lens is arguably the most impressive gimmick. Similar to Samsung Bixby Vision, Google Lens will scan an image you take with the camera and give you pertinent search results. The idea is you can take a photo of a historic building and Lens will tell you about it. You can snap a pic of your shoes and Lens will show you how to buy another pair.
Most importantly – to me and many others – the new generation of Pixels is now water-resistant. At IP67 certification, they may be just short of Samsung Galaxy, yet on-par with iPhone. Don’t go swimming with your Pixel 2, but don’t be afraid to get it a little wet either.
Should You Pre-Order the Google Pixel 2?
I know I’ve saved this bit for last. However, this is really the biggest deal for not just the Pixel, but all of Google hardware in the near future. They aren’t just focusing on the integration of hardware and software. They’re focusing on the integration of hardware and AI. Machine learning is the backbone to all of Google’s innovations rolling into 2018. With the Assistant being the face – err voice – of this move, the tech giant is putting all their research to the test in the real world. It’s machine learning that makes portrait mode so good. It’s what powers Lens and funnels all the data that Google has access to into the 6-inch piece of glass and metal you hold in the palm of your hand. It’s fantastic stuff and is what makes Google’s homegrown smartphones so exciting – at least to this geek.
A lack of a headphone jack and no wireless charging may be deal-breakers to some. However, the rest of the pros will probably outweigh those couple of cons. If all of this sounds good to you, you can grab your spot in line through Verizon, on Google’s own online shop, or at a big retailer like Best Buy. While Verizon is the only carrier that can sell the phones, you can simply grab an unlocked version if you have a different service provider.
The Google Pixel 2 will set you back $649 American at 64GB, with the option to double your storage to 128GB for $100 more. The Google Pixel 2 XL starts at a very-flagship $849, with that same $100 storage upgrade option. The official release is set for October 19. We will see if Google’s inventory will keep up with demand this time around. Spoilers: it won’t.
Will you be grabbing one of these phones for yourself? Do you think Google’s 2017 effort matches up with the competition? Sound off with a comment, even if you are an iPhone fan!