I just reviewed the LG V30 and called it my favorite phone of the year. Why you may ask? In a nutshell, it’s because of its fast performance, great set of cameras, superb bezel-less screen, glass design, IP68 rating, wireless charging capabilities, excellent battery life, and great software. It’s a perfectly well-rounded Android phone that costs just $800. And to me, it’s the phone that deserves your attention and should be the only thing to consider if you want a new flagship Android device.
“But hey, there’s other options, too!” says some of you, surely. “Samsung did great this year, and so did Google with the Pixel 2!” I already know Samsung did great with the Galaxy S8 and Note 8, but they nevertheless fell behind the dominance of the V30 to me because they simply didn’t offer enough. But the latter device mentioned I had never used for a majority of my time with the V30. So when I finally got a unit of the Pixel 2 XL to review from Verizon, I was skeptical since I honestly didn’t think it would top the V30 for me.
And then I started using the thing. And I’ve determined that while it doesn’t necessarily beat the V30 to a pulp, I like it just as much and, in some cases, even more.
Let me just start by saying the Pixel 2 XL is very much a Google phone. Its aluminum design covered with a plastic-texted coating makes it feel nothing short of something like a classic Nexus device, while the flat sides and not-so-extreme curved corners add a bit of grip and comfortability. The entire thing is also IP67 water and dust resistant, although you don’t wanna go swimming with it.
Pixel 2 XL sticks out when compared to the glass and metal pool that is the smartphone market
On the front sits a 6-inch 18:9 Quad HD+ AMOLED display, flanked by stereo speakers. These sound okay at best, but at least they’re stereo and face you. The back features a glass panel that’s become a Pixel brand staple as it’s featured on both last year’s Pixel and the new Pixelbook. All in all, you’ll immediately know this is a Google phone when staring at it in a carrier store, and that’s a good thing since it sticks out in the pile of metal and glass that’s erected in recent memory.
Of course, I nearly skipped over possibly the biggest controversy surrounding Google’s products, and that’s the display on the Pixel 2 XL. Whereas the Pixel 2 is receiving no criticism, the 2 XL has been subject to some harsh words from reviewers. This is due to the 6-inch panel having very dull colors (Google says this way it represents more natural and realistic colors, but I don’t see it), serious color shifting when viewed off-axis, and showing some pretty bad burn-in after just weeks of use. Google has released a software update since the first initial wave of reviews came to hopefully resolve the first and third issues noted, but there’s not much they can do about that second problem.
The Pixel 2 XL’s screen is fine
Here are my thoughts on the subject: in two words, it’s fine. In more words, Google’s software update has increased the Pixel 2 XL’s color saturation to a level that’s actually standable and has reduced the change you’ll suffer from screen burn-in which, by the way, is inevitable with all OLED panels. When looking at the screen off-axis, you will see some blue tinting, but it shouldn’t be a problem if you look at the screen straight-on.
When looking at the screen with the Saturated color mode turned on, you won’t be able to decipher between the Pixel 2 XL and the LG V30’s screens whatsoever. And you shouldn’t be able to anyway; LG built them both. They should look exactly the same. But until this software update came, the Pixel 2 XL’s look a lot worse. So basically, thank God Google took action quickly. Otherwise, I’d have to say the 2 XL’s screen was a dealbreaker.
Besides the actual quality of the screen, it’s worth pointing out the Pixel 2 XL’s display is actually surrounded by some pretty sizeable bezels. Whereas the LG V30, Samsung S8, and even the iPhone X keep things slim, thanks to the stereo speakers, the 2 XL has bezels that may come off as rather dated and ugly when compared to competitors’ options. It’s a forgivable design misstep since you get better audio quality in exchange, but hopefully next year, Google figures out how to make them even smaller while still retaining the same listening experience.
As for the rest of the phone, you have a single camera mounted in the glass shade on the back with an LED flash, a fingerprint sensor that sits right in the middle in the most convenient of spots, a SIM tray on the left, volume and power buttons on the right, and a USB-C port on the bottom. Sadly, the Pixel 2 and 2 XL don’t include headphone jacks after Google made fun of Apple last year for omitting it on the iPhone 7. It’s really ironic and easy to joke about, but having to deal with a dongle just to listen to music on the go without Bluetooth is no laughing matter. In fact, it’s really annoying, and I seriously hope the whole “wireless headphones” thing gets better. And fast.
Pixel 2 XL is the fastest Android phone I’ve ever used
Inside, Google packs some serious heat. You’re getting the Snapdragon 835 processor with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage standard, and the entire thing is powered by Android 8.1 Oreo. If I’m not the first person you’ve read a Google Pixel review by, you already know just how fast and fluid Google’s devices are. But if I am, let me tell you this: the Pixel 2 XL is the fastest Android phone I’ve ever used. Ever. Multitasking is quick, stupid intense games are a breeze, scrolling is like butter, animations are like silk – should I go on?
All of this power is not only coming from the Snapdragon 835 and 4GB of RAM, but it’s also thanks to Google’s software. Rather just loading stock Android Oreo on the Pixel 2 XL, the company chooses to optimize the OS for the given hardware to make the most out of it. And boy have they done well. In fact, they’ve done so well that when I use another Android phone (Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and LG V30 included), it feels old and decrepit to me. This I find hilarious since every phone I compare the 2 XL to uses the same processor, have the same amount of RAM, and even have better benchmarks. It just goes to show you how effective Google’s software efforts really are.
Google Lens is good, but it needs work
Of course, since this is a Pixel phone, you’re getting the very best from Google. New for 2017 is a feature called Google Lens that lets you identify certain objects, places, and text by simply holding your phone’s camera up to it. I tried this on a number of name-brand products and found it be while accurate, a little hard to get right on the first try. While using Lens on a Lenovo Yoga 920 laptop, it successfully identified the PC the second time, but the first time it just thought it was a laptop and showed me pictures of other models. Therefore, it’s clear Lens is in its early stages and it should improve with more optimization and future updates.
Another exclusive feature of the second-generation Pixels is an always-on display which is really useful and for one reason: something called Now Playing. When enabled, if your phone detects there’s a song playing in the background, it can tell you what that song is and who it’s by right on the always-on interface. It’s one of those features you need to use every day to witness just how useful it is and convenient it becomes to just whip your phone out to see what’s playing. Mind you, it isn’t perfect and can sometimes present you with incorrect information, but during my testing, the feature was 90% accurate.
You can also squeeze this phone
I should also mention while on the topic of software that the way to activate the Google Assistant now is by squeezing your phone. I know, it sounds like a hard-core gimmick, but I promise you as soon as you get accustomed to it, you’ll be doing it a lot more than pressing the home button or saying “Okay Google.”
Finally, the biggest addition to the Pixel 2 and 2 XL’s software you’ll notice is the new home screen. It moves the search bar to the bottom of the home screen and places a calendar and weather widget directly at the top. I’ve found these changes really handy since it’s so much easier for your thumb to reach search this way and having my next appointment at a glace (literally the name of the feature, “At a Glance”) is convenient. And while this year’s Pixel Launcher isn’t as aesthetically appealing as last year’s, Google has once again chosen function over form which seems to be the name of this game.
Pixel 2 XL has my favorite camera of the year
This same logic applies to the camera. On the back of the Pixel 2 XL sits a 12.2MP shooter with an f/1.8 aperture, OIS paired with some electronic stabilization, Dual Pixel technology (I’ll explain in a bit), phase detection, laser autofocus, and a dual LED flash. If you’ve read any review of the Pixel from last year, you know Google’s phones are famed for having some of the best picture quality available on a smartphone. This year, the Pixel 2 has taken this to a new level and is, officially, my favorite camera of the year.
Photos taken day to day always come out wonderfully and are never over-blown, always colorful, vibrant, contrasty, and just a pleasure to look at. Of course, the sensor plays a huge role in why it’s so good, but the software is what really puts the bow on things as whatever sorcery Google has cooked up in its labs in the HDR department is pure magic. Always having HDR on (it’s on by default), you’ll basically never take a bad photo. And thanks to the Pixel Visual Core with Android 8.1 Oreo, photos are taken even faster than they did when the phone first went on sale and are, arguably, roughly 30% better.
Low-light photography is also great and the Pixel 2 XL performs better than any other phone I’ve tested this year. Photos are always clear and usually don’t get too much noise, although there are some situations where lens flare and over processing play a role in a picture’s destruction. But for the most part, the 2 XL at night has never really let me down.
Portrait mode on the Pixel 2 = superb
A neat camera trick a lot of flagship phones are doing nowadays is portrait mode. Google does this too with the Pixel 2 and 2 XL, but you may wonder how so since there’s no secondary lens on the back for sensing depth. This is where that Dual Pixel technology comes into play. I won’t go too deep into it, but basically, for every pixel the camera captures, it gets split in two which gives the phone enough information to decipher where the subject is in the shot. After taking the photo, Google’s magic software processes things and brings your subject(s) to the foreground while blurring out the background.
I will say things definitely look like artificial bokeh when taking these photos, but they still add a level of drama to your pictures which I’ve loved. The feature is also really good. Whereas most portrait modes will cut our hairlines or have a weird halo effect on a subject, the Pixel 2 XL manages to identify where your hair and other edges of your body are and keep it all in the foreground. I’ve tested plenty of portrait modes this year, and I have to say, the 2 XL has my favorite.
Also, the Pixel 2 XL gets brownie points since you can also take the best portrait selfies around. In fact, they’re just as good as the rear camera’s. Bravo, Google.
I’ve also had no problem with video. 4K 30 frames per second looks great coming out of the 2 XL, and stabilization is like butter thanks to the combination of software and mechanical.
Motions Photos are Google’s version of Live Photos
Speaking of video, you can now take short clips while capturing photos similar to Live Photos on the iPhone. Called Motion Photos, the feature records a 3-second clip alongside photographs you take to bring your images to life. I like to use this feature when taking pictures of the bay where I live since I can both capture and record the water hitting the surrounding rocks. Unfortunately, you don’t have the same editing tools you do on the iPhone to select which point of a Motion Photo to set as your main image or add a long exposure effect, but hopefully, Google adds this in a future update.
Also, unlimited cloud storage at full resolution for all Pixel 2 pictures and videos is a God sent. Just thought I’d add that in.
All in all, you’ll feel nothing but confidence when using the Pixel 2 XL to take photographs and videos. Sure, you don’t have a super wide-angle lens like on an LG phone or the ability to zoom into subjects without losing detail (and boy, do I wish there was some type of professional mode in the camera app), but none of that really matters since the cameras are just that good. you’ll forget about even wanting these additions once you begin using the phone day to day. I know I did.
Battery life is fine
Now look, I’m not sure if I’m doing something different compared to other reviewers or if I have a faulty unit, but during my usage, I never really experienced the excellent battery life of the Pixel 2 XL. Don’t get me wrong, I can get through a full day with its 3520mAh cell, but whereas some folks can stretch things into the next day, I always have to top up at night. Regardless, I tend to get 3 to 4 hours of screen-on time which, while good, isn’t as impressive as I was hoping.
I dunno, maybe my expectations were a bit high or something. All I know is my LG V30 lasts longer and the Galaxy Note 8 I reviewed dies quicker. The Pixel 2 XL sits somewhere in the middle.
Great speeds on Verizon
We’d also like to mention we tested the Pixel 2 XL on Verizon’s network and had pretty terrific results. We’re not sponsored or anything, by the way. Download and upload speeds were usually pretty fast, and we never experienced any dropped calls. Of course, these results should be expected since Big Red is the exclusive carrier of the Pixel 2 and 2 XL. Also, our unit came with some pre-installed Verizon bloatware, but it can all be uninstalled at a moment’s notice.
Google has done superbly well with the Pixel 2 XL. Screen aside, everything about the phone is fantastic. I will say, having no wireless charging in a 2017 phone is a risky move since so many people will be growing accustomed to placing their phone on wireless charging pads at places like Starbucks across the country, but this shouldn’t really bother you. What will bother you more is the lack of a headphone jack. These two caveats are found on the LG V30 which has been my main reason for sticking with this device. But when you use the software, the camera, and the speakers day to day, you’ll realize you can forgive the phone’s shortcomings and take it as it is.
Therefore, the Pixel 2 XL is one of my favorite phones of the year. It literally sits directly next to my V30 and competes for a place in my pocket. If you’re debating between phones right now, you really shouldn’t look further than the Pixel 2 XL. But if you want a headphone jack and wireless charging, go get a V30. Otherwise, you won’t regret your buying decision.