Google Pixel 2 XL Review Update: Display Changes

Posted on November 17, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android with 24 Comments

Pixel 2 XL Review Update: Display Changes

As you may know, I cut my Pixel 2 XL review short due to the rampant problems that customers have reported about the device. I just cannot recommend a smartphone with so many complaints.

But I’ve continued using it. And last night, I finally received the November software update that Google rolled out to address one of those complaints, that the Pixel 2 XL display is too dull, and not as vibrant as the display on other modern smartphones.

We live in a HDR world, when you think about it: Overly-saturated colors displayed on glossy screens has become the norm across our digital devices. And while you may or may not have an opinion on that effect—some love the HDR-like effect, some do not—I am more bothered by the notion that we have no choice in the matter. That blown-out, overly-colorful colors may simply become the norm, distorting our view of the world.

This effect impacts photos taken with HDR-capable cameras, and it impacts device display in general. Since the former represent our memories, I feel like that is perhaps the more serious matter. That is, it almost doesn’t matter how good a smartphone’s display is, per se. What matters is that the photos it takes are what you want. That might mean “accurate” to some people. It might mean “with a bit of HDR effect” to others.

Personally, I like a bit of HDR effect, which adds a colorful “pop,” or HDR color saturation to photos. It can be over-done, of course. But, generally speaking, I’m on board. And on that note, the Nexus 6P and original Pixel XL both had what I would consider an “ideal” HDR impact on photos. The iPhone 7 Plus, however, did not—in fact, those photos are routinely dull—and I hated that you could not just leave that camera in an a “HDR always on” mode. It is telling, I think, that you can now do so with the iPhone 8 and X.

The charge against the Pixel 2 XL display dullness had nothing to do with the camera. Instead, what users were complaining about is that the display itself wasn’t as bright and vibrants as was the case with previous phones. My experience is that the Pixel 2 XL display was fine out of the box. And the photos are likewise excellent. If anything, they might include a bit more HDR “pop” than was the case previously. I’m OK with that. Night and low-light shots, in particularly, are crazy-good.

So. That update. What did it do?

Two things. First, Google made the first of a promised series of changes aimed at eliminating screen burn-in. This is an issue with OLED displays—surprise, the iPhone X has the exact same problem—but it’s a particular problem with Android because of the always-present on-screen navigation buttons, which are often a start white on black, ideal conditions for burn-in. I’ve not experienced this (yet?) but I’ve only had the phone for 12 days or so.

Second, the update changes how the Pixel 2 XL display works. Originally, Google had programmed the display to be color accurate, which is what generated all the complaints: Users didn’t want “accurate,” they wanted vibrant HDR colors. Accurate, as it turns out, looks dull by comparison.

Oddly, you could make the Pixel 2 XL display even less vibrant by navigating to Settings > Display > Advanced and unchecking “Vivid colors” (which was enabled by default). I’m guessing no one ever did that. But then, I thought the default Pixel 2 XL display was fine too.

After this update, Display settings has changed. The “Vivid colors” option is gone, replaced by a new “Colors” link. When you select this, you’re presented with a new screen where you can choose between three color choices for the display, Boosted, Natural, and Saturated.

I have a ton of problems with this screen.

First, while one of those options does match to the previous “Vivid colors” choice (and one likewise matches what the display looked like when you disabled that), Google has opted to use a different term for the same thing. That’s confusing.

(“Boosted” is what used to be called “Vivid colors”.)

The options are in the wrong order, which is crazy: The middle one is the least saturated. Come on, Google.

Using Google’s usually quirky naming style, I would have have named these as “Accurate” (or “Natural,” I guess), “More vivid,” and “Even more vivid.” You know. Make it obvious.

But worst of all, and seriously, ponder this one for a moment: Google doesn’t provide one or more sample photos so that you can see what impact your choice is making. Guys, what the F!#@.

Fortunately, I figured out a way around this: The Pixel 2 XL supports a side-by-side mode that lets you display two apps on the screen at the same time. So I used this to display a photo in Google Photos and Settings, so I could test the color changes.

Here’s a simulated look at how “Natural” (on the left) differs from “Saturated” (on the right).

What I’ve found is that I do happen to like the most saturated version. Whatever. I would have been fine with this if they had never changed it. But there you go.


Tagged with

Join the discussion!


Don't have a login but want to join the conversation? Become a Thurrott Premium or Basic User to participate

Comments (24)

24 responses to “Google Pixel 2 XL Review Update: Display Changes”

  1. JacobTheDev

    I was confused by the ordering as well when I got the update yesterday. I would've named the setting "Color saturation," and labeled the options "low," "medium," and "high." You know, the obvious naming structure. Personally I prefer the "boosted" setting over "saturated" after using it for a few days; switching to "saturated" now looks too bright to me.

  2. mikiem

    "We live in a HDR world, when you think about it:"

    Actually I don't think HDR has much, if anything to do with it. I'm not sure for that matter, that most people saying HDR this or that really know what HDR [a somewhat misleading trio of characters] is. Pure black is pure black -- pure white is pure white -- how much data can you squeeze in between those extremes. A display that advertises UHD &/or HDR on the box should handle more data between black & white than a display without [10 bit vs. 8 bit], though how many discreet colors & the accuracy of those colors varies. You should get more detail, but more detail is just that, more detail, which more often than not is a somewhat subtle difference. The eye-catching ["Vivid"] parts are artificial, most likely added for better marketing, and of course to meet customer expectations.

    "Overly-saturated colors displayed on glossy screens has become the norm "

    That is true. It's also true that most never check, let alone calibrate their monitors or TVs, and that back when those TVs used CRTs, the color adjustments were almost always set wrong, often by quite a lot. Today most folks don't mess with the settings on their HDTVs either, but at least they're closer to being correct because of the digital circuitry necessary to make those panels look good. And it's always been easier & cheaper to have a flat panel display exaggerated color, rather than design & produce a more accurate display. As MikeGalos noted, cheaper, bass-boosting headphones are much more popular & common that more expensive, but accurate models -- with displays nowadays it's the same thing.

    "... it almost doesn’t matter how good a smartphone’s display is, per se. What matters is that the photos it takes are what you want. That might mean “accurate” to some people. It might mean “with a bit of HDR effect” to others."

    I find this aspect a little bit amusing... Yes, people are free to prefer whatever sort of photos, with whatever sort of FX they want. But if they really, Really were serious about those photos they'd use a better camera -- not the camera built into their phone(s). Personally I don't feel there's anything wrong with saying you prefer the camera on this phone or that one, & there's nothing wrong with saying I like this FX, or not, but some folks kind of get carried away. That said, viewing your photos with an accurate display is the only accurate way of judging them -- anything less can mask all sorts of problems. That more accurate display naturally doesn't have to be the phone's.

  3. PacoCornholio

    After playing with the updated screen color settings for my Pixel 2 XL I decided that the Saturated setting was more of an upraised middle finger to critics than a good faith attempt to mimic Samsung OLEDs.

    When you select this setting the white screen turns a little orange (to my eye), and colors turn cartoony. But when you go back to the Boosted setting greens get muddy again.

    Here's a test - show a Google logo on your phone's display, then compare that logo to the one on the box the Pixel came in. Try all 3 screen settings to see whether any of them can render accurately the colors on the box.

  4. seapea

    at least the Google premium phone doesn't block the left side of the screen when viewing edge-to-edge videos and photos. and iirc , didn't this issue of false colors being preferred come up before with the smartphone sector?

  5. PhotM


    Thank You for your honest, down the middle coverage as well as including your own view, it help me allot. I have a problem with the "masses view lumped together". I think it is because of the infinite number of agendas behind it. I have yet to hear you intimate any show stoppers so I got on the preorder wagon, here in Canada, with Rogers(my carrier since the mid 90's) earlier in the month. It arrived Friday, and I, like you really like it. The broad color setting order(I got the update Saturday night) appears to me, to be mimicking my TV(Sony XBR) where Neutral or Natural is in the middle(which is my preference on both, Just sayn'.

    Still no show stoppers BUT I have a question. Am I missing something or is there absolutely no Folders and only one display screen? I can work with that but it is one Samsung feature(my Note 4 died) I do miss. However there are many that I do not. For the most part, for me and my agenda, Google gets it right most of the time.

    Best Regards,


  6. AnthonyE1778

    Strange. I still haven't gotten this update to my 2 XL. I'm wondering if it's because I'm on the Android Beta Program?

  7. Reinier Zevenhuijzen

    Apple screens are factory calibrated and have very accurate colors and no one complains those screens look dull. I must conclude that the default Pixel 2 XL colors aren't accurate; they are just dull.

  8. wright_is

    Having worked in image production, where we were always calibrating the colour to be as natural as possible, I really don't like the super saturated look.

    When we bought our last TV, most of the UHD panels fell out of the running, because they were too vivid and unnatural. We ended up with an HDR capable TV, but its "normal" mode image is relatively neutral compared to most of the Samsung models we saw, for example.

  9. rlcronin

    Also note that the change was a quick hack that they could get into the November security update and that more changes are coming in December (which one presumes will be better thought out and/or refined than the quick and dirty patch). So I wouldn't judge the current state of things too harshly (Paul).

  10. Waethorn

    I don't read or hear anybody complaining about the display on the standard Pixel 2.

  11. HellcatM

    I still have the Samsung S7 Edge and I like the way they handled it. You have the 4 changes (Adaptive display, AMOLED cinima, AMOLED photo and Basic), but then you have Color balance which lets you play with the red, green and blue colors. You get a bit more to work with. Since people complained that the screen was a little blue they can fix that with a slider. People who were ok with it can just leave it alone..then you had the presets on top of that.

  12. Marciano Siniscalchi

    Paul, I also just got the 2XL, and am very disappointed with the display. The "saturated" option is way too saturated for me (as compared with the Nexus 6p, which was already pretty saturated). Have you tried the "Oreo Colorizer" app? It gives a more gentle degree of saturation. On the negative side, it's basically a hack.

    Heck, I wish Google didn't go all Apple on us and actually gave us MORE CHOICE!

  13. GT Tecolotecreek

    Looks like more over saturated lipstick on the Pigxel 2!

  14. longhorn

    My initial reaction is that the left photo is over-saturated and the right super-saturated. I'm not used to HDR so I view digital content with the same eyes that I view the real world. I'm viewing these pictures on a TN panel and they still look over-saturated. That is not to say that over-saturated is a bad thing. All IPS displays are very saturated. TN panels have a more life-like grey filter. There are really bad TN panels too. (Don't buy a TN panel today. They are much worse today than they once were, because they have become "budget" option.)

    Then there is the problem with LEDs as source of backlight. LEDs peak in blue while CCFLs peak in yellow. So CCFL is a more natural light source. Of course there is nothing natural about looking at a display (into a light source). Real life is viewed by reflected light so a projector is a more natural way to view images. What I'm trying to say is that viewing photos on a display is a matter of personal preference. No display is even close to real life. View a TV/monitor from a different room and you'll see a bluish light. The light from the sun is yellowish. So you can't get color accuracy with current display tech. And no, you can't replicate real life with RGB. The rainbow shows 7 or 8 primary colors when sunlight reflects off water molecules. Better to just focus on what you like. I find TN displays most similar to real life, but that's just my personal preference. Looking directly into the light source will always be a problem if we want accuracy. Use what you like, like what you use. :)

  15. MikeGalos

    Just to add a vote against the HDR and other oversaturated settings. That "fashion" is one of the reasons my desktop displays are now color corrected with an x-rite Pantone i1Display Pro color calibration system. If I want to look at cartoons I watch cartoons. If I want to see the colors in a photo that I actually saw, I count on modern technology to give me accurate colors and not look like a TV sales floor with everything oversaturated to make it "appealing".

    (For that matter I also don't fall back on turning the bass up on my audio system to make a bad system sound more dramatic)

  16. Rahul Partoti

    I don't understand what HDR photos have to do with the display. HDR in photography is different to HDR display. HDR photos take picture in burst (in very short time) having different exposure. Try to take HDR photos of moving objects and see.

    • mikiem

      In reply to Rahul_Partoti:

      "I don't understand what HDR photos have to do with the display."

      A so-called High Dynamic Range photo is a composite of photos taken over & under exposed. One will bring out more shadow detail, while blowing out the highlights -- the other will give more highlight detail, but muddy the shadows. A single shot OTOH will be more balanced between light & dark, but miss some of that detail at the extremes.

      A 10 bit [or higher] UHD/HDR display should be able to display more colors, more lightness levels between black & white. So just like you see more shadow detail with HDR photos, you should be able to see more shadow detail with the UHD/HDR display, providing that detail is included in whatever you're viewing. 

      But both of those can be sort of dull when it comes to marketing. So if someone wants to hype the HDR capabilities of a phone's camera, they add whatever FX to make it appear more vivid -- the same with displays. What they have in common are exaggerated colors etc. that are added to help them sell, & since those colors are what people see, they assume that artificial coloring is what it's all about. 

      • Rahul Partoti

        In reply to mikiem:

        Well put Sir! Hence it would have been better to describe this in the article and skip topic of HDR photos all together. Don't think taking HDR photos was the issue. Even a non-HDR photo will look different in OLED display (saturated Colors in case Vivid option is chosen).

    • MikeGalos

      In reply to Rahul_Partoti:

      Remember this is also the same industry that calls a camera with two fixed focal length lenses an optical zoom because two of the 252 focal lengths aren't done by cropping.

      • Rahul Partoti

        In reply to MikeGalos:

        It's the marketing at the end which decides on how to sell more. I am more worried about the bandwidth requirements. Don't see a 1080 HDR. We get this only with 4K.

        For photos taken by phone I wonder if we will start to see a race of having more than 2 camera modules. Wouldn't it be better if industry focused more on better OIS and having less noise in camera sensor. Also correction for the distortion at the edges of these wide lenses needs to looked into.

  17. pagliladki

    Bring back the headphone jack and SD slots please. sorry image