Google Pixel 2 XL, Round Two

Posted on April 2, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Mobile with 38 Comments

Google Pixel 2 XL, Round Two

Five months ago, I paid $1000 for a Google Pixel 2 XL, and I’ve been living with its various issues ever since. This phone is a failure by many measures: Google’s phones sell poorly and there were so many reported problems with this particular device that I eventually refused to review it.

But that refusal was for you, for readers of this site. There was just no way I could ever recommend a product with that many issues. I knew that I would continue using this handset regardless, and for a number of reasons. Though I’ve spent the first few months of this year considering other phones, including the recently-released (and excellent) Samsung Galaxy S9+ that I’m currently evaluating.

Let me ruin the surprise of my coming review: The Galaxy S9+ is an amazing phone, and it would be a great choice for virtually anyone. For me … it just falls short in a few key areas. Notably low-light photography and Project Fi compatibility. That those are key Pixel 2 XL advantages (for me) is, of course, notable.

So I’m going to give the Pixel 2 XL another chance. And for a number of reasons.

First, I made a few changes that have positively impacted some of the issues I had with the device. Key among them was blowing away the OS so I could install the Android P Developer Preview: this nicely solved, if temporarily, the many performance issues I’d been experiencing. And while it has introduced some new camera instabilities, these are easily solved by restarting the app. I can live with that. (Plus, there will be future Android P previews that should solve this issue.)

Second, I stopped using a case.

I realize that sounds a little goofy. The Pixel 2 XL is sleeker sans-case, which is obvious enough. But more to the point, it feels better—more premium, if you will—without the case. And unlike certain glass-covered handsets, like the Galaxy S9 or newer iPhones, it seems rugged and more able to withstand day-to-day use this way.

Of course, neither of those changes solve the biggest issue I’ve had, which involves audio over USB-C. As you may know, Google controversially (and wrongly) removed the headphone jack from the Pixel 2 XL. But this has caused me all kinds of problems.

I’ve used the Google-supplied USB-C-to-headphone dongle. I’ve bought another one from Google. I’ve tried two other dongles that came with other phones. And I’ve tried two pairs of USB-C headphones. Nothing works: The audio continues to come through the device’s internal speakers. It’s infuriating, and it means I can’t use the Pixel 2 XL when I travel, when I walk and listen to podcasts, or when I’m in the car. It is completely unusable.

(Say what you will about Apple’s decision to remove the headphone jack starting with the iPhone 7. But this handset—I have an iPhone 7 Plus—has always worked perfectly well with a dongle. No issues, ever.)

I’ve not had this issue with any other phone, including those that do still include a headphone jack: Audio over USB-C, using the same adapters/headphones, always works.

So today I finally did something I should have done a long time ago. I contacted Google Support. And after a round of troubleshooting that I knew would amount to nothing, they agreed to send me another (refurbished) Pixel 2 XL. It should arrive later this week.

Will this solve my problem? I hope so. Because when it comes down to it, the Pixel 2 XL is otherwise the phone I do want to use: It has the modern form factor I like, the camera I want, and the Project Fi compatibility I prefer. If I had one that just worked, I’d be happy to continue using it going forward. And who knows? I may even review it, finally.

You know, assuming it actually works.


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