Google Pixel 2 XL Review: I’m Calling It

Posted on November 12, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Mobile with 75 Comments

Google Pixel 2 XL Review: I'm Calling It

The Google Pixel 2 XL offers flagship-quality hardware, a superior camera, Google Fi compatibility, a clean Android experience. The oft-reported problems with the device, mostly related to the display, are vastly overblown, at least in my experience.

And yet. There is absolutely no way I can recommend the Google Pixel 2 XL to anyone. I won’t tell you not to buy it: As noted, there’s lots to like. But I cannot put that recommendation on my conscience.

The issue is simply stated, so let me get it out of the way up-front: The sheer number of problems reported about the Pixel 2 XL should alarm anyone. Period. Should be enough to prevent the credit card from exiting the wallet. Should be enough to force any potential customer to consider the alternatives.

These problems may not all be true. They may not all be true of all of the manufactured devices. But they are not all not true, if that makes sense. They can’t be.

I know what that sounds like.

As humans, we’re both blessed and cursed by intuition. It’s why we’re still here as a species. When our forefathers saw color shifts in the tall grass, they assumed a predator was lurking and fled. When we see smoke, we assume fire. It never mattered whether our fears were true in each instance, our experience taught us that we only needed to be wrong once to be dead. We survived as a species because enough of us never stuck around long enough to find out. Blind trust just isn’t in our DNA. (Well, except for Apple fans. Let’s just stick with the script here.)

So I’m using the Google Pixel 2 XL. And I’m not seeing any of the problems that others have reported, with the display or otherwise. Not a one. I’ve still not yet received the update that “fixes” the non-vibrant display, and I don’t even care. It looks fine to me.

The one minor display issue that I have experienced, and wrote about, is that it is comparatively washed out in direct sunlight. This morning, to test this again, I walked outside with the Pixel 2 XL, the original Pixel XL, the iPhone 7 Plus, and a Moto Z2 Force that I’ve not yet written about. And I observed how the display performed on each, on the home screen and in general usage, and in the camera app (which is where I had noted the issue previously.)

Here’s what I found: The Pixel 2 XL display is more washed out, in direct sunlight, than the display of the original Pixel XL. It is also more washed out than the display of the iPhone 7 Plus. It is as washed out as the display of the Moto Z2 Force, which features a 1440p Super AMOLED display.

One might say that the Pixel 2 XL and Moto Z2 Force displays perform nearly identically in direct sunlight. Likewise, the displays of the Pixel XL and the iPhone 7 Plus are likewise nearly identical.

But the Pixel 2 XL display is not “unusable” in this situation. It’s just not as good as the display of its predecessor (and it’s possible that the coming vibrant display mode will “fix”—e.g. “improve”—this. But it’s not broken, and it’s not a deal-breaker. It’s just … not as good.

There’s so much to like about the Pixel 2 XL, and I almost feel like I’m in mourning in writing this.

The onboarding experience, with both Android generally and with Project Fi in particular, was excellent. The Pixel 2 XL includes both an e-SIM and a nano SIM slot, so you can have two cellular connections if you want. I skipped the nano SIM and just used the internal e-SIM to set up with my existing Project Fi account and phone number. Unlike my earlier disastrous attempt, it went swimmingly.

The performance, so far, is excellent. That said, the performance of my original Pixel XL was also excellent in the early days, and it has always betrayed me in the end. By which I mean, no matter how many times I reset the device and start over, performance creep happens. Every single time. But with its Snapdragon 835 processor, 4 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of storage (in my case, a 64 GB is available too), the Pixel 2 XL is future-proof if you assume, as I do, that “future-proof” means “until Fall 2018, when I will be shopping for a new phone again.” And if you assume that performance creep won’t be a factor. I am not convinced of that at all.

But for me—and, again, in not being able to recommend this device to you, I can pretty much just focus on my own needs for a change—this device brings together the things that literally are important to me. I wrote about this stuff previously, but they weren’t just words: This really is where it’s at for me: A crazy-good camera. A modern, 18:9 aspect ratio and high DPI display. And Project Fi compatibility.

The Pixel 2 XL scores the highest-possible marks on the first and third of those two needs: This is the best smartphone camera I’ve ever used, period. And it rates an “acceptable” on the middle one: When you get past the reported issues with the quality of the display, which I never will, and think only about the form factor, it’s … acceptable. It’s a solid B- effort.

That is, the Pixel 2 XL in no way meets the lofty standard set by Samsung with its Galaxy S8/S8+ and Note8. Those devices have raised the bar on display quality and functionality to new heights that even Apple can’t meet. (Though, to be fair to them, the iPhone X display is a wonder, and it needs to be seen to be believed.)

The Pixel 2 XL display is not technically edge-to-edge, but it’s close. There are bezels on all sides of the device, but they are very thin on the left and right. The corners of the display are artificially curved so that it looks like a rounded rectangle. But you just know there is screen under there. They’re just covering the corners. It’s … second rate, frankly.

But I can see past the display, if you will, because it so ably meets my other needs. And you can do some things to mitigate the effects I mentioned. A case really helps. And using a wallpaper with a black background, which I did coincidentally, helps the display blend seamlessly into the black of the device’s body. You lose a sense of where the display ends. It’s actually really nice.

Brad joked on Twitter this weekend that I “bought a $1000 phone that doesn’t work.” I took that as it was intended, but that critique is not really fair: My Pixel 2 XL, at least, works great. It really does. And since this came up back when I purchased the Samsung Galaxy S8+ and then later returned it, no, my intention all along was never to buy this, test and review it, and then return it to Google. In fact, I’m not returning it: Google can keep my $1000, and I will continue using this device for the next year. Assuming I don’t run into any display issues, that is. I’m keeping it.

Am I worried that I will run into issues? That maybe that screen burn-in issue will occur, or whatever? Sure. I can’t stop writing about it. But what I am far more concerned about is that it will happen to you. Whatever you think of me, please understand that I take this kind of thing very seriously. And I cannot—simply cannot—recommend the Pixel 2 XL to anyone I care for. It just wouldn’t be right.

And it’s too bad. Because the Pixel 2 XL is an excellent device, a worthy competitor that falls just short of the Apple and Samsung market leaders.

But you should not buy it. Sorry.


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