Google Pixel 2 XL First Impressions

Posted on November 7, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Hardware, Mobile with 59 Comments

Well, it’s finally arrived. And while I’m going into my Pixel 2 XL experiences open-eyed, I will say this right up-front: I don’t (yet?) understand what all the complaining was about.

Obviously, I’ll be on the lookout for any display wonkiness. But to fairly and more thoroughly evaluate the Pixel 2 XL, not just for my own personal needs, but in general, I’ll be looking at two broad areas.

First, it needs to meet or exceeds the things I care about so much with the original Pixel XL, key among them its clean Android image, its incredible camera, and Project Fi compatibility. In other words, it needs to be a great upgrade to its predecessor.

Second, the Pixel 2 XL has to at least be in the running compared to comparable flagships with modern designs, like the Samsung Galaxy S8/S8+ and Note8. It can’t just be great for Paul; it needs to be great across the board.

On that note, I will be able to make both comparisons pretty ably. I’ve owned the original Pixel XL for a year and have used it extensively. And while I did briefly own a Galaxy S8+, my wife owns one now, so I can put it head-to-head with the Pixel 2 XL too.

Lots of stuff in the box

We’ll get to that. For now, I’ll offer what the article title implies: Some first impressions. And to prepare myself for this day, I went back and looked at what I had written on day one, respectively, about the original Pixel XL and the Galaxy S8+.

For the Pixel XL, I noted that Google’s handset was too derivative of the original iPhone from a design perspective.

The Pixel 2 XL takes a step away from that complaint, though one might argue that it does so by copying the Galaxy S8/S8+ design a bit. Like those Samsung handsets, it offers a taller display than the original Pixel XL, though the body itself isn’t much taller. I like the look, but the display doesn’t curve into the edges, as do the Samsung displays. So it seems like a half-step toward those designs.

The 2016 Pixel XL on the left and the Pixel 2 XL on the right

The exception to that copying was the weird design Google used on the back: The top third of the original Pixel XL’s rear is covered in glass “for some unfathomable reason,” presenting an unnecessarily smudgy area that looks and feels different than the rest of the device. Since then, I’ve come to understand that the glass area is for antenna reception. And while I’ve been covering it with a case of some kind the whole time, I’ve also gotten used to the design. Which is convenient, since Google has turned it into the Pixel’s signature look.

For the Pixel 2 XL, the signature glass panel remains, but it takes up a lot less space, and the fingerprint reader is no longer in that area. Again, I’ll be covering it with a case anyway. But I may actually be starting to like the look.

I didn’t write this in my first impressions article, but the next day, I noted another interesting, well, impression that has persisted to this day: Despite having a 5.5-inch display like the iPhone 7 Plus I was also using, that display just seemed smaller. I couldn’t explain it then, and I can’t explain it now. But I still feel that this thing is smaller, somehow, than its listed display size. It’s weird.

This definitely isn’t the case with the Pixel 2 XL. Thanks to its taller aspect ratio and physical size, the screen seems bigger because it is bigger. It seems just right to me, and there is about 3/4 of an inch more of useable on-screen real estate than when compared to its predecessor.

It wasn’t just the looks, but the original Pixel XL never really wowed me beyond its incredible camera. Of course, that was never an issue with the Samsung Galaxy S8+, which I immediately and accurately described as “stunning.”

Its innovative design, built around a curved-edge display with a tall aspect ratio, would make all previous smartphone designs—most of which still feature fairly prominent “forehead” and “chin” bezels at the top and bottom—seem instantly obsolete and old-fashioned. And it has. As I noted just last week in Your Next Smartphone (Premium), this is where smartphones are heading. Virtually all of them.

With the Pixel 2 XL, Google has jumped right on this modern design train. But, as noted, it doesn’t feature a curved display at all. Which is fine, I guess. But there is also a weird channel—I’m not sure what else to call it—on the left and right display edges. You can run your finger down it and feel a very sharp edge between the curve of the front glass and the sides. I’m not sure how I feel about that one yet.

I also want to address the display issues others have reported. As I noted at the start of this, my initial display-on impressions were not negative. The very first time I turned it on, there was a set of white Google Setup screens that seemed to have a blue—or at least cold—tinge to them. But in running the device since, you get used to that.

But it is … different … than the original Pixel XL. The two handsets display colors differently, for sure. Looking at the Google Play Store app, for example, the green accent color is a kind of matte kelly green color, whereas on the old phone, the green is brighter, like green plastic. The whites on the Pixel 2 XL are bluer/colder than those on the original Pixel XL, where they just seem white and warmer.

So, is it worse? Is the new display duller or less vivid than the original Pixel XL? Well, yes. But I see what Google means when they described this new display as being more accurate. Because it is. Looking at the same photos side-by-side on the Pixel 2 XL and the original Pixel XL, I can see that the vegetables from the local farmer’s market “pop” more, color-wise, on the old device. But … they look more realistic on the new one.

I do actually kind of prefer the HDR-like quality of the old display. But Google just this week “fixed” the issues that many had with the Pixel 2 XL display by including a new Settings interface in this month’s monthly software update. (Pixel devices get Android software updates every month, folks. I know this is confusing to some, for some reason.) I will look at this when I can and experiment with the available display modes, one of which is supposed to mimic the original Pixel XL.

Finally, I’d like to briefly address the price. As I’ve complained in the past, the Pixel 2 XL is indeed too expensive: This 128 GB model set me back over $1000 with taxes figured in. And this fact contributes to my impressions of the device for sure.

Of course, the Pixel 2 XL isn’t alone in this regard. The Note8 and Apple’s iPhone X both play in this pricing territory, and while one could argue that Google has no business doing so, as I have, well, here we are.

I can’t really afford $1000 for a phone. But thanks to a $400 trade-in on my original Pixel XL and some book-related money in my PayPal account, I’ll just be able to swing the cost. But I put it on Google Financing for now, since it’s interest-free if you pay it off in the first year, and I want to make sure I’m going to keep it before I pay it off (and send in my old phone).

So that’s what I’ll do. I’ll get this thing fully configured tonight, load it up with my apps and content, and report back again soon.


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