Google Pixel 2 XL: The Morning After

Posted on November 8, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Hardware, Mobile with 48 Comments

Google Pixel 2 XL: The Morning After

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.

Size/form factor

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.

Pixel 2 XL (left) and original Pixel XL (right)

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.

Feeling blue

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.”

Bluer (Pixel 2 XL), blue (iPhone 7 Plus), not blue (iPad Pro)

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.

More soon

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.


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Comments (49)

49 responses to “Google Pixel 2 XL: The Morning After”

  1. JacobTheDev

    > 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.

    I haven't tried this, but supposedly you can enable something similar via this app and a single command with ADB. Doesn't require root, either. Obviously not as easy as it "just working," but hey, it's something.

    EDIT: Just tried it on my original Pixel XL, it's pretty slick. Steps:

    1. Download and open the app
    2. Tap on "Immersive mode"
    3. Turn on "Write secure setting permission"
    4. Connect your phone to a computer which has ADB installed
    5. Ensure "USB debugging" is enabled on your phone under System > Developer options
    6. Enter the command "adb shell pm grant com.rascarlo.quick.settings.tiles android.permission.WRITE_SECURE_SETTINGS" in a command prompt
    7. Back in the Tiles app, under "Immersive mode," tap "Action," and select "Hide system bars."
    8. You may then need to add the "Immersive mode" tile to your Quick Actions menu, and tap on it to activate it. To do so, swipe down twice to get to quick actions, click the "edit" icon, and drag "Immersive mode" to the activate area. Tap on it.
    9. Voila! No more navigation bar or system tray! Just swipe up from the bottom to see them again!

    Kind of a pain to configure, but IMO it's worth it.

  2. David Kapanke

    You'll love the camera. I have a Pixel 2 (same camera as the Pixel 2 XL and one of the first pictures I took was of a late Autumn bumble bee in which the wings glistened and the hair on the bee was clearly there. The AI used in producing the detail was astounding! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

  3. Bsobotta

    Great write up. As a V30 owner, its nice to see how people are experiencing the similar display on the Pixel XL 2. This whole thing was overblown.

    I might install the Pixel Camera app out on my phone and give it a spin. The V30's point and shoot in low light really suffers, but I have read is greatly improved with the pixels camera app.

  4. Briggzcountry

    My major hangup so far is the burn in or image persistence. This is the only thing keeping me from pulling the trigger...

    Paul or anyone with an XL 2, have you noticed either of these issues, and how bad has it?

  5. Chris Blair

    In contrast, Lisa on MobileTech Review, after looking at several Pixel 2 XL devices at a store, found its display to be so bad that she did not buy one to review. How can two of my favorite reviewers have such different opinions?

  6. johnlavey

    So now, Paul, that you have had a bit more time to review the Pixel XL.......can you compare it to the iPhone X? ...or have you already done that while I was napping?

  7. MTrimmer

    I've had PIxel 2 XL since late October. I was initially worried about screen, but have found it to be a non issue for me. I'll never claim this is a great OLED screen in 2017, but I also don't carry two phones around all the time and compare the screens,. I'm not a fan of oversaturated colors, so that probably helped my adjustment.

    What the phone does have is great software and a fantastic camera. Plus it works on Project Fi, which saves me a boatload of money when I travel overseas on business (I'm self employed so I pay those bills myself). And the nice thing is you can put a sim from another carrier in the phone and use the esmi for Project Fi and switch back and forth between carriers on the fly. That's really handy if you live in an area where Project Fi doesn't cover 100% like I do.

    The software is the smoothest and slickest I've seen on any Android phone. Plus the battery life has been outstanding. I get through a 16-17 hour day with 20-30% battery remaining after 3-4 hours screen on time. Fingerprint reader is top notch and super fast. I'll take this over face recognition any day and I prefer the placement of the reader on back of phone (and not close to camera lens) .

    I have looked hard for the screen burn in or image retention issue some tech journalists reported and I have not seen any indication of it on my phone. Maybe I got lucky or maybe the preproduction units these journalist had were particularly susceptible to this problem. The blue shift is definitely there, but its not a real issue. I don't look at my phone off angle that much and it is only really apparent on white backgrounds.

    So after some initial doubt, with all the negative press over the screen, I've decided this is best phone for me. It does a great job of things that are important for my use. It's not perfect by any stretch, but no phone is and I'm happy with my purchase.

  8. Waethorn

    The case looks nice - for now. Let's see what happens in 6 months time when it starts getting dirty. I find the cases with the plastic-y paint coatings over fabric or leather tend to last longer. Also, does it even wrap around enough to be higher than the screen face, or is it just a scratch guard for the back of the phone?

    Also, there are very few complaints about the non-XL Pixel 2, which uses AMOLED. AMOLED has a faster refresh cycle than "regular" OLED, which is usually passive (P-OLED/PMOLED).

  9. npatel2260

    Paul, I am seriously thinking about getting a pixel 2. and moving my service to Project fi.

    However, what I am hoping to do is use international sim when traveling ( need local number) and having my google fi number associated with the esim. Can you test out adding a att sim and see if both numbers are still "usable" does the phone act like a dual sim phone? I am looking online for such a test and amazed no one has test this. If you can let me know what you find would greatly be appreciated.

  10. bpaul14

    I love your cat. We have one exactly like it. It's a dilute tortie, right? She's a peach!

  11. Tom O'Brien

    Love the camera. The blue hue was initially annoying, but I must have adjusted because it doesn't bother me any more. Software is smooth as silk.

    The big feature (for me) I have yet to see addressed in reviews is the split screen that allows you to run 2 apps at a time. Let's me surf and text or have two web pages open on 2 browsers at one time.

    Did find audio through the headphone dongle is horrible on my phone. Bought a small Bluetooth receiver to plug my phones into and that vastly improved the sound. Update to 8.1 fixed my Bluetooth connectivity issues

  12. JerryH

    I know that many people are going to get stuck with that "no headphone jack". But I thought that you, Paul, in your own house, would not. Cast it. Use your Google Home to play the music. You have options there. Will you forget the dongle on a trip where you need it - probably. But why, why, why, are you needing the headphone jack in your house?

  13. Chris_Kez

    "While I still wish that Google had pushed a bit harder on the design..."

    This goes back to your point that Google didn't actually make these phones. The Pixel 2 comes from an HTC design, and the Pixel 2 XL from an LG design. Google's acquisition of the HTC team that worked on the Pixel suggests that perhaps in 2018 or 2019 we'll actually see a Pixel line that is entirely a Google product.

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to Chris_Kez:

      For sure.

      To be clear, I never had an issue with Nexus. This phone is a Nexus. What I have an issue with is Google claiming otherwise. And idiot bloggers writing stories about how Google is finally going after the iPhone in a major way. This is just branding. The actual strategy has not changed a bit.

      • Jaxidian

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        I think the strategy has shifted a bit, although you are right that it's much less significantly than Google would like us to believe.

        With the Nexus line, I think Google dictated some major components but left the design to the OEM. However, with the Pixel, I think Google is controlling much more of the design language than they did with the Nexus phones. So I do think there was a shift in strategy, even if it is fairly minimal.

        A very evolutionary approach, versus the revolutionary approach they'd like us to believe.

  14. wolters

    Thank you Paul. You might have convinced me that the "hype" over the quality of the XL might have been overblown.

    I do have a Note 8 and love it honestly. But yes, I also like pure Android. I also don't like to have duplicate apps on my phone that I can't disable (contacts, browser, calendar, etc.) With pure Android, I control that.

    I'm still considering the Pixel 2 XL, especially in light of moving to all Google Home and Assistant.

  15. wunderbar

    Paul, there's a cat in your sink.

  16. Chris_Kez

    Regarding the squeeze-to-launch feature, I actually think this could be nice. You can immediately launch the Assistant as you're in the act of pulling the phone from your pocket, and you can do so without having to speak-- which a lot of people find even more goofy than the idea of squeezing a phone. I've been using BT headphones for a few years, first with Windows Phone and now with Android, and have found that I've used Cortana or Google Now/Assistant much more often when I can just physically click a button. It's more reliable and certain than voice activation, and for whatever reason there are fewer instances where the assistant misses the first part of what I'm saying.

  17. wright_is

    It is funny, I started reading the article and I kept seeing "Windows Phone" this and "Windows Phone" that... Amazing how much functionality has made it across the divide to Android.

    Looking at the 3 devices in the photo, the Pixel looks clearer and sharper. Might be something to do with the depth of field, but I find the colour more natural as well. The iPad and iPhone both look "soft" and off-white in comparison.

  18. chrisrut

    Given that color balance, as a technology, is really old, I find it remarkable that color profile systems, which are standard fare here in PC-land, aren't available to end the debate. There is no right or wrong when it comes to personal taste. I use profiles extensively on my old but high-end graphics monitor to match the display to various output media for my photography hobby. That Dell looks horrifically blue until the profile tames it down to its warmer (and more accurate) self... And by coincidence, the night-mode turned off on my other monitor as I'm typing this - blue-ing up the display considerably... What am I missing? Phones don't do this? Sure... so should not this be just an adjustment in settings?

    I'm replacing my 950xl next week, and making the move to Android, so I'm following your adventures with particular interest. Thanks for the insights.

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to chrisrut:

      I don't recall where I read this but apparently there is no standard for this on Android or Windows, but this is one of those things that Apple gets right. Agree this needs to be fixed.

    • Chris_Kez

      In reply to chrisrut:

      Android just added color management in the Oreo update. Apple has supported color management for years, and has the benefit of controlling the OS and the hardware, which is part of why their displays are generally considered the best. I think Apple also calibrates every single device that comes off the line, whereas many other companies will test and calibrate products in batches.

      Displaymate just tested the iPhone X and concluded it is the best mobile screen they have ever evaluated. Apple actually did a better job with the Samsung panel than Samsung did in its own phones.

  19. MixedFarmer75

    I got my wife a Pixel 2. Not big on big phones. Nothing but good too say about the phone. Be nice to have wireless charging but not a big deal. It is the guaranteed updating that clinched it for me.

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