A day later, I’m still quite happy with the Google Pixel 2 XL. While I still wish that Google had pushed a bit harder on the design, this handset is absolutely a viable flagship contender.
As you might expect, I spent a ton of time configuring and using the Pixel 2 XL last night, and if the weather cooperates, I’ll try to get outside today and shoot some side-by-side photos against the original Pixel XL, the iPhone 7 Plus, and the Galaxy S8+. In the meantime, here are some additional observations from my first 24 hours with the device.
Given my years of experience with far too many smartphones to count—and, let’s be honest, a general level of clumsiness that is both embarrassing and alarming—I know to cover up these expensive devices with a protective case of some kind. I don’t ever use a flip-type case with a screen protector, but I do go back and forth between thicker, more protective cases and thinner, less obvious cases.
I’d preordered two cases for the Pixel 2 XL, but only one of them—the “cement” version of Google’s blandly-named Pixel 2 Case—arrived already. So I put that on the handset pretty quickly.
In doing so, I figured out why the Pixel 2 XL has those “channels” on the left and right side of the display: They form a natural edge for a case and allow that case to protect the display’s curved edges.
The case is also compatible with one of the Pixel 2 XL’s goofier new features: You can squeeze the sides of the device in your hand, below the volume buttons, and Google Assistant will spring to life. “Hi, how can I help?” the female voice rings out as a Google Assistant panel covers the bottom half of the screen. Why this is better than just saying “Hey, Google” is unclear, but you can, of course, proceed with either voice or by typing. Whatever.
With the original Pixel XL from 2016, I observed that the display seemed smaller than the stated 5.5-inches. And over the past year, that observation remained true: Even today, the device’s display just seems smaller than it’s supposed to be. Must be the bezels.
The Pixel 2 XL, with its taller display, does not suffer from this issue. But when I look at it next to the more elegant Samsung Galaxy S8+, I see differences, some minor, some major. The big one, of course, is that the Galaxy utilizes the curved part of the display: What you see on-screen extends past the curve. On the Pixel 2 XL, that is not the case.
Less obviously, the Galaxy is thinner from left-to-right (in portrait mode) and this gives the device a more elegant, perhaps even more feminine, look. The Galaxy display is also a tad taller, and launching apps on that device, I see that it auto-hides the software-based navigation bar at the bottom of the screen, providing even more space for content. (My wife tells me this behavior was part of a recent software update.) The Pixel 2 XL does not do this. It seems like there should be a way to enable this functionality, but I haven’t found it yet.
Both devices feature an always-on display that provides information over the lock screen while the device is sleeping. Samsung’s is more informative, with bigger and more readable text and icons. But at least the Pixel 2 XL supports this feature, and it also supports tap-to-wake, which is wonderful.
Apps and content
One of the nicest things about the Pixel 2 XL I purchased—not that this is specific to this device type—is that it has enough storage, in this case 128 GB, for me to just install all the apps and content I want with abandon. This was decidedly not the case with my original Pixel, which was hamstrung with just 32 GB of storage.
These things always go the same way: You install the apps you really need right up front and have tons of free space. And then you keep adding apps—and content—as you go, filling up that space. But what I’ve found with the iPhone 7 Plus I was using previously, and also with 128 GB of storage, is that I never really did fill it up. So I’m hoping that the same happens here. But it was nice to just download a ton of music to the thing and not worry about it. Very freeing.
Welcome (back) to dongle-world
My first real Pixel 2 XL comeuppance came right after I had downloaded a bunch of music, podcasts, and audiobooks: I always listen to something while I shave and shower, and as I ran the water in preparation for this, I went to plug the Pixel 2 XL into the speaker we keep in our bathroom. And found myself staring dumbly at the two incompatible ends of this equation: The headphone-style audio cable from the speaker and the USB-C port on the phone. The Pixel 2 XL doesn’t have a headphone jack.
Ah boy. When I had opened up the Pixel 2 XL packaging, I made a note of all the cables and adapters in the box—which, by the way, are far less voluminous than what Google included with the original Pixel XL—but I left them right there. Because maybe I’d be returning this thing.
But now I went back to that box to see what kind of dongle was included. And there it was, sitting between the coiled USB-C cable. My little embarrassment. So I snagged it out of the box, ran back upstairs, plugged it all in and listened to The Man From the Train (which is excellent, by the way) and silently cursed this stupidity.
I’m perhaps overly-sensitive to possible display issues with this device—albeit for obvious and understandable reasons—so I’ve found myself just looking at the display at weird angles from time-to-time, trying to figure out if anything is up.
I mentioned the only “thing” I’ve found in the first impressions article: A slight blue-ish tinge to the display. That is, it’s on the cold end of the color spectrum, not the warm end.
But I think I’m getting over this. Unlike most people, I have a lot of digital devices with which to compare displays. And among those devices is a new to 2017 iPad Pro. This device features what Apple calls a True Tone display. And that means the device can adjust white balance automatically to match the lighting in the room. So whites will always look white to you.
I was reading the newspaper on this iPad this morning when it occurred to me to load the same article on the Pixel 2 XL and see what the (color) difference was. And sure enough, it’s easily visible: The Pixel 2 XL display is bluer—and colder—than that of the iPad Pro. It’s obvious. You can even see it clearly in photographs.
That initially rankled me a bit. But then I tested it the same way, using the same article, with my iPhone 7 Plus (which lacks a True Tone display; that came with iPhone 8) and the original Pixel XL. And both of those phones have a far bluer and colder display than the iPad Pro. The Pixel 2 XL might even arguably be more “accurate.”
The point, though, is that most people aren’t going to be comparing two displays side-by-side all day long. Most people buy a phone, in this case, use it for some amount of time, and then later upgrade to something else. Over the course of its usable lifetime, that phone is just your phone. And you get used to it. You just use it and stop thinking about.
I’ll see if I can get to that point. But the truth is, the display looks great. And in the course of writing this very paragraph, I fired it up, and it happened to be on a Settings screen. Which looks perfectly white to me. Not cold, not warm. Just … white. It’s going to be OK.
Camera and Google Lens
I haven’t yet taken many photos with this device, and I certainly haven’t done any side-by-side tests. I will. But the handful of low-light shots I took in the house last night all came out great, and I’m looking forward to a bit of sun today so I can capture some “autumn in Pennsylvania” sots outside that should make comparisons easy.
But in examining the Pixel 2 XL’s camera app, I’ve seen a few interesting differences with the original’s. HDR+ is always on, as before, the toolbar button to toggle that is gone, which is fine with me: I want HDR+ on all the time, period. (You can disable this in the app’s settings if you want.) In its place is a new Motion option, which works like the Live Photos on iPhone.
When you view previously-taken photos, there are a few more changes. You can now access a whole menu of new options, and there’s a new link right to Google Photos so you can see all of your photos more easily. That’s great.
But there’s also a new Google Lens feature, in beta, you can test. I’ve not used it on anything useful yet—I just discovered it—but I find its classification of my cat (above) to be cute.
Last year, I was similarly impressed with the original Pixel XL after one day, but my opinion lessened as the relationship continued. So we’ll see how it goes.
But the difference between now and then is easily understood: With the original Pixel XL, I had high expectations that were dashed by the reality of the device’s bland design and ongoing performance issues (that continue to this day, by the way). Aside from the camera, which is amazing, the overall experience was disappointing.
With the Pixel 2 XL, things are very different. Thanks to what seems like a never-ending litany of complaints from early users, I’m going into this with vastly reduced expectations. But, so far at least, it has certainly exceeded them. Will that continue? I’m going to find out. But so far so good.