What is the Google Pixel 2?
The Pixel 2 is Google’s second attempt at creating an Android version of the iPhone 8 and a proper competitor to the Samsung Galaxy S8.
Instead of focusing solely on top-end specs and including every feature imaginable, it aims to aims to offer users the cleanest Android experience possible.
For the most part this means you’re getting the best of Google in a phone; however, there remain a few areas where improvement is still needed.
Pixel 2 – Design
The smaller of the two Pixel devices is rumoured to have been made by HTC – to a Google design, of course – but there’s very little of the Taiwanese firm’s DNA in this phone. Actually, the Google Pixel 2 feels very different to any other Android phone I’ve used this year.
Even though it’s constructed from aluminium, the back has a stoney-like finish. It’s harsh and textured; strange at first but, ultimately, super-nice. It’s far grippier in the hand than shiny aluminium and isn’t as slippery when sat on a table the same way a glass back is. Neither does it appear to pick up fingerprints. It does give the impression that it might scratch off over time, but we’ll have to wait and see if that becomes an issue.
Like the previous Pixel, there’s a glass ‘shade’ just above the metal covering the camera sensor and flash. Aside from adding contrast to the metal, this is where all the cellular and Wi-Fi antennas live. Giving them plenty of space should help connectivity, but it also means there are no antenna bands elsewhere. Hopefully this glass panel will be less prone to scratching – which was a real issue with the first device.
Probably the single biggest feature lacking from the panels on both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL is support for high dynamic range, or HDR. The ability to playback HDR10 and Dolby Vision content from the likes of Amazon and Netflix is available on the Galaxy Note 8, LG V30 and upcoming iPhone X – but it isn’t available on the Pixel 2. This is by no means a deal-breaker, but it’s an odd feature to leave out when Google Play Movies and YouTube offer HDR support.
Google Pixel 2 – Performance
High-end Android phones have always been quick, but the original Pixel felt super-fast. The move to the Snapdragon 821 CPU and Google’s ability to control every aspect of the phone made other Android phones feel plodding in comparison.
The Pixel 2 doesn’t quite have the huge performance shift of its predecessor, probably because it uses the same Snapdragon 835 platform and 4GB of RAM as the majority of other 2017 flagships. Nevertheless, it remains speedy in almost every single area.
Yes – the OnePlus 5 has double the RAM featured here, but RAM management in the Pixel 2 is excellent. As a result, you won’t notice apps force-quitting or constantly reloading.
The true test of a phone’s performance can’t be measured after only a few days however; it’s how it functions over time. The Samsung Galaxy S8, for example, has already started to slow and feel bogged down after only a few months’ use. However, last year’s Pixel feels as quick as it did when it was released. If the Pixel 2 can achieve a similar feat then it’s the true winner.
The basic model includes 64GB of storage, and there’s a 128GB version available too. Note that there’s no microSD expansion, so make your choice wisely at the start. 64GB should be fine for the majority of users, helped by the fact that Google provides unlimited full-res uploads of your photos and 4K videos until 2020.
The original Pixel was hindered by terrible speakers. A single, pokey grille on the bottom was easily blocked when watching videos. In the Pixel 2, Google has switched to dual front-facing speakers that produce stereo sound that’s pushed directly at you. They sound far better than those in the original Pixel, but they’re not quite as detailed and bassy as those in the iPhone 8.
Wi-Fi performance is good, although it isn’t as fast at switching and connecting to networks as Huawei phones. Call quality is excellent, too.
Google Pixel 2 – Software
The Pixel 2 isn’t the most spec-heavy phone out there, nor does it have all the bells and whistles you’ll find on similarly priced phones from Samsung, LG or Huawei. However, none of this will matter when you start using the device.
The Android 8.0 software experience is so much cleaner, so much smoother and so much easier to use than any other Android skin that’s come before. I can forgive the lack of an HDR display, or microSD slot, simply because it’s such a pleasure to use an Android phone that isn’t brimming with bloatware and superfluous extras.
Google has been tinkering with the homescreen for years now, and I think the launcher on the Pixel 2 is the best it’s ever been. The Google search box has moved to sit below the icons, meaning you don’t need to reach up to interact with it, and a new dynamic weather and calendar widget changes depending on your upcoming appointments. There’s also a selection of incredibly cool wallpaper that subtly changes throughout the day.
Google Assistant was the big software addition last year, taking on Apple’s Siri with ease and quickly extending to others devices such as the Google Home. This year, we have a few new tricks, the coolest of which is Google Lens. Announced at the developer-focused I/O conference, Lens scans your photos and brings up relevant search results for information it finds.
Google Pixel 2 – Camera
The single biggest reason to choose the Pixel 2 over any other handset is the camera. On paper, the 12-megapixel f/1.8 unit sounds fairly pedestrian. In use, however, it captures some wonderfully detailed images that are often much better than those produced by the competition.
A great camera shouldn’t be a surprise; the original Pixel is still one of the best around, after all. However, the range of improvements Google has added take it to another level. These include optically stabilising the camera for less shaky shots, widening the aperture to let more light into the sensor, and improving the processing that goes on after you’ve pressed the shutter button.
Pictures from the Pixel 2 aren’t like those from a Samsung Galaxy S8 or iPhone 8; they’re less saturated with deep colours and look more lifelike. I do love the rich hues of images captured on a Samsung device, but they’re unmistakably from a phone camera. Shots taken with the Pixel 2 transcend this and look all the better for it. Colours are vibrant, but greens don’t have that fluorescent glow and it doesn’t make flowers look artificial.
Where the Pixel 2 really shines is in the level of detail crammed into the picture. Everything from pollen inside a flower to writing on a sign in the distance makes the frame, and you can even crop in on a picture without it turning into a blurry mess.
Clearly, many of these tricks are a result of Google’s excellent software and optimisations. Auto-HDR+ mode is on by default; you’ll need to bury down into the settings to actually turn on an option to disable it. Google is confident its processing tricks are the way forward, and on seeing the results, it’s hard to argue. Shots taken with Auto-HDR+ enabled display some of the best dynamic range I’ve ever seen in an image taken on a phone – meaning you’ll have a lovely contrast between the lightest and darkest parts of the photo. This is particularly noticeable in landscape shots, where you really want that feeling of depth and scale. Auto-HDR+ also levels out exposure, ensuring a bright sky doesn’t blow-out the picture.
Google Pixel 2 – Battery life
Smartphone design has taken a big step in the right direction in 2017, but battery life hasn’t seen similar advances. I managed to get just about day of use from the Pixel off a single charge, and the same is true of the Pixel 2
Using the phone to browse the web for a couple of hours, take a series of photos and streaming some Spotify and YouTube left me looking for a charger by about 9pm. For much of the time, I was averaging just less than four hours of screen-on time. This isn’t bad, especially for a phone of this size, but it’s hardly likely to entice you to buy.
Where the phone does impress is with regards to standby times. Leave it unplugged overnight and you’ll lose only a few percent. The same is true if the device is unused in your pocket.
It does at least charge ridiculously quickly. Expect to go from 0% to full in 1hr 10mins with the supplied USB-C charger and USB-C to USB-C cable. A 15-minute charge will see you regain about 30% of the battery.
Why buy the Google Pixel 2?
The Pixel 2 is compact, runs the best version of Android and has a stunning, class-leading camera. If only it looked slightly more modern then it would be the perfect small phone.
Once you get over the boring looks you’ll have a fantastic device, and importantly one that’ll last. Google said it will get the three next big Android updates, which can’t be said for many other phones.
If you don’t fancy switching to the iPhone 8, then the Pixel 2 is the best similarly sized alternative. But if you’re not fussed about size, then I would suggest going for the Pixel 2 XL.