Google Pixel 2 XL, Replaced

Posted on April 5, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Mobile with 53 Comments

Google Pixel 2 XL, Replaced

My old Pixel 2 XL on the left, and the new one on the right.

My replacement Google Pixel 2 XL arrived yesterday, and I’ve spent much of the intervening time configuring and testing it.

So far, so good. This refurbished device—which, like my Apple refurbished hardware purchases, looks and feels brand new—appears to mostly solve my biggest issue with the original phone I purchased last November. That said, I’m not sure I’ll ever fully trust it. And there is an endemic audio issue that this new device absolutely does not fix.

Can I live with it? I think so.

First, let me outline the issues I’ve had with the Pixel 2 XL. These represent only a small subset of the many issues that others have had with this handset. But they are troubling problems when you consider that the Pixel 2 XL, as configured and shipped to me, cost over $1000.

The first was performance: Like all of the other Android devices I’ve owned—and I’ve owned dozens—the Pixel 2 XL exhibited obvious performance rot over time.

That this had happened so quickly in its lifetime was disappointing but not unprecedented: Its predecessor, the Pixel XL, did exactly the same. And the performance issues that I noticed most clearly were identical to what had happened previously with that device: You press something on-screen—like the Camera app icon—and when nothing happens, you go to press it again, but then the underlying action (the Camera app appearing) finally does happen, so you inadvertently press on something else. This is frustrating, and continual, and it really wears on you over time.

Based on my years of experience across those many devices, it’s clear to me that performance rot is an endemic Android issue. And it’s one that’s not solved by the “pure” Android experience that Google provides on its own devices. The only recourse is to reset the handset to its humble factory beginnings, and that’s something I did repeatedly with the original Pixel XL.

I’ll probably do so, too, with this phone. (I’ve only done it once so far, and that was to install the first Android P developer preview.) But I do this kind of thing enough with Windows, too, and maybe I just need to accept this reality and stop worrying about it.

The other major issue I had was with using USB-C audio.

As you may know, I use, very much prefer, and strongly recommend the Bose QuietComfort 20 in-ear noise-canceling headphones. They are expensive, for sure, at $250. But if you fly at all, or commute by bus or train, these headphones are a godsend. Are, in fact, necessary.

Bose makes two versions of the QuietComfort 20, one for iPhones and their peculiar audio controls, and one for everything else. Even when I was using an iPhone primarily, however, I purchased the version for everything else because they are more universally compatible. And because those buttons worked just fine with the iPhone.

These headphones worked great with the original Pixel XL and my previous Android handsets, like the Nexus 6P. Those devices, of course, had normal headphone jacks. But the headphones also worked great with the iPhone 7 Plus, which does not: Apple’s Lightning dongle worked flawlessly, without any audio hiccups or other issues.

Not so with the Pixel 2 XL. Like Apple, Google dispensed with the headphone jack on its latest handset. But unlike Apple, Google didn’t get it right: The USB-C-to-headphone dongle never worked consistently for me. And it was especially bad with the Bose QuietComfort 20. I experienced all kinds of popping sounds when the headphones’ cable moved around, and when I manually navigated to the next song (or podcast or whatever). And the sound would just stop working through USB-C all-together, sometimes right in the middle of playback, so it would start playing out of the speakers instead. On more than one occasion—and this is embarrassing—the person sitting next to me on a plane told me that audio was coming out of the phone speakers while I was listening via the headphones.

(These issues extended to USB-C headphones too, in case that isn’t clear. Over time, audio over USB-C just failed.)

I had other audio issues, too. The earpiece speaker would stop working when I made phone calls, for example, turning all calls into overly-loud speakerphone calls. A reboot usually solved that one, temporarily, but the sporadic nature of this problem was likewise frustrating.

By the time my most recent trip rolled around, I had simply started bringing a second phone with me so I could use that to listen to music, podcasts, and audiobooks on the go. That’s a cute luxury, of course, but it’s also a silly necessity. So when I got back from Colorado this past week, I did a bit of research about the Pixel 2 XL warranty and then contacted customer service.

It went about as good as I could have hoped, kind of like when you call support at your cable company and just sleepwalk through all the troubleshooting nonsense they make you go through so you can simply arrive at the end-point you already know is necessary. In this case, that the phone has a mechanical/physical defect and needs to be replaced.

Anyway, we did step through a few basic troubleshooting steps, which were pointless. But I must have answered the questions correctly because Google scheduled a refurbished phone replacement at a cost of $1,005.94 ($949.00 plus taxes; shipping was at least free) to my credit card. I’ll get that back if I return my first Pixel 2 XL within 30 days.

It arrived mid-day on Wednesday.

I had three primary worries about the new phone: Whether the audio issues would be fixed, whether it would exhibit any of the other problems that Pixel 2 XL owners had reported, and whether I would be able to easily transfer my Project Fi configuration and phone number from the old device to the new. (As you may recall, I had big issues with that latter bit when I switched to Android last fall.)

It didn’t get off to a great start: You can configure your Project Fi connectivity during the initial Android setup, and because the Pixel 2 XL has an internal eSIM (in addition to a normal SIM tray), you don’t even need to swap or use a SIM to do so. But Project Fi setup failed right up-front.

“Here we go,” I said out loud, to no one in particular.

Sucking it up, I let the phone update before I looked at Project Fi again. This involved an incredible number of app and system service updates through the Google Play Store and even an OS upgrade (to Android 8.1).

I used this downtime to test audio a bit by playing a YouTube video and swapping between the Bose headphones with a USB-C adapter and a pair of USB-C earbuds. That worked normally, and I could even jiggle the cables around with no issues. So that was good.

And then I set up Project Fi. And … It worked fine, and quickly. After a few test calls and text messages, I could tell see that everything was going to be fine on that count. And my old Pixel 2 XL reports Project Fi is “not fully activated,” which makes sense.

So now I was ready for some more audio tests.

This involved installing Audible (audiobooks) and Pocket Casts (podcasts), downloading some content, and seeing how that worked. And then streaming music via Google Play Music.

This all worked fine. But there is an audible “pop” that happens whenever I switch manually between the song (or other content I’m listening to) and the next song. It’s annoying, and especially pronounced on the Bose headset, but it doesn’t happen if the song just ends and naturally switches to the next song. So it’s … bearable. Not ideal. But I can live with it.

(I happened to mention this on Windows Weekly yesterday and Leo noted that this was a common issue with USB-C audio dongles. This is not an issue with Apple’s Lightning dongles.)

With this little bit of confidence, I started installing more apps and downloading more content. I will wipe out my first Pixel 2 XL this week, and if all goes well through the weekend, I’ll ship it back to Google so it can become their problem.

Looking ahead, I will be on the lookout for any further issues. And I will almost certainly find myself resetting the handset from time-to-time to handle what I expect to be regular performance rot problems. Testing new beta milestones of the next Android P release should help with that.

But you may be wondering. Why even bother? What is it about the Pixel 2 XL that keeps me hanging on even though I’ve had all these issues?

We all do a bit of mental math when it comes to a purchase like this. It’s not just about the cost, which is substantial in this case, it’s about some combination of benefits that just puts it over the top.

This math is personal: The reasons why I might choose the Pixel 2 XL, in this case, may not add up for you. But as I’ve written before, the Pixel 2 XL has what I perceive to be the best smartphone camera in the market (especially for low-light shots) and Project Fi compatibility, which provides me with seamless and inexpensive usage both at home and internationally. Both of these things are very important to me, but the combination of both in one device is what sells it for me.

Of course, the phone has to work too. It has to handle the basics, like playing back audio. And performing well over time. And the Pixel 2 XL has other issues, like its display, which can be almost impossible to see in broad daylight. All of this is put into that equation, and evaluated. All of us will arrive at an answer that works for us.

And there are and will be phones that reset the math. The Samsung Galaxy S9+, despite its camera (which is excellent but not Pixel 2 XL quality) and lack of Project Fi compatibility came really close. But I ultimately felt that the gorgeous display wasn’t enough to make me give up the things I really cared about. Maybe the OnePlus 6. Maybe some future iPhone.

We’ll see. For now, I’ll semi-nervously continue using the Pixel 2 XL, waiting for the audio to pop and then fail as it did before. But hoping that it does not.

 

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Comments (53)

53 responses to “Google Pixel 2 XL, Replaced”

  1. X911ty12

    Overpriced and a pile of issues.

  2. Bluesman57

    Performance degradation on Android is usually caused by poorly written or rogue apps. I found that an NFL team app I had installed was using 33% of my battery for some reason, and I haven't even opened it since the season ended. If you have Facebook installed I highly recommend ditching it, it does all kinds of things to degrade performance (not to mention the spying it does).

    Go to App Permissions and revoke permissions apps do not need, and turn off all unnecessary notifications. Seems like every app you install these days wants to spam you with incessant push notifications. Those will degrade performance.

  3. ethics13

    I've honestly did not experience any rot with my OG Pixel nor my Pixel 2 for 3 months and now Pixel 2 XL. I have about 100 apps installed, constant notifications, etc... I am not disbelieving your experience but that's something I have not even seen on reddit/r/googlePixel sub -- plenty of other complaints though. Mostly screen.

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to ethics13:

      I anticipated this kind of feedback. :) Sure.

    • wright_is

      In reply to ethics13:

      I've experienced it on my Galaxy S3, htc Sensation, Nexus 5X. I haven't experienced it on my Mate 10 Pro yet, but I've only had it a couple of months.

      The 5X was particularly bad, after a factory reset it was somewhat quicker, but after a couple of weeks, it went back to about 5 seconds to open the camera app and a further 5 seconds between pressing the shutter button and the phone taking an image (other apps were similarly slow to open and react).

      That said, I had a similar slowdown on my iPhone 3GS, but that was largely because iOS larded up over the 3 years I used the iPhone.

      I only use about a dozen apps (Office, Outlook, Doggcatcher and Audible being the main ones).

  4. dietzeld

    I suspect the refurbished unit will be much better. My new Pixel 2 XL is only a couple weeks old and I have not experienced these issues. It's been a terrific phone. Great battery life, terrific camera with machine learning for constant picture quality improvements, monthly security and bug fix updates, clean Android experience without junkware, 2-year warranty, and Project Fi eSim for traveling were my major purchase drivers.

  5. g_howell

    Is the Pixel 2 non-XL camera on the same level with the Pixel 2 XL?


    I'm considering purchasing a Pixel 2, and it's not really made clear by most of the reviews I've read.

  6. Winner

    As I've said in other posts, I have had the Nexus 5, then 5x, and now 2 XL and I've never had the performance rot that Paul is talking about. I just wonder if it's a particular app or use case that doesn't apply to most people. I've never factory reset any of my Google phones, nor needed to.

  7. raptor

    You should really stop junking up all of the Android phones you use with the Microsoft bloatware you proactively install. Just look at all of those Microsoft services running in the background.


    System->Developer Options->Running Services.

  8. Daekar

    My old Android phones got performance rot, but my newer ones haven't. The first thing I do is disable and uninstall everything I don't care about... That's all the Verizon crap, half the Google stuff, and half the Samsung stuff. Then I install the Microsoft stuff and my audiobook and podcast apps and I am done. As long as I don't install games and other unnecessary items my phone never seems to slow down.

  9. dcdevito

    "the Pixel 2 XL exhibited obvious performance rot over time"


    Your phone was a lemon, no Pixel will do that.

  10. Matthew Boyle

    Hi Paul, I listen to you and AZ as well as WW all the time. Just wanted to say that I finally ditched my aging Nexus 6P last weekend and bought a pixel 2XL. The price was 629 pounds UK and with a trade in of my 6P it was 530 pounds UK. I am delighted with the phone and it feels like a nice evolution from the Nexus. Screen seems fine although I did put it into saturated mode by preference. I do a lot of photography and use lightroom on an iPad pro and Mac book Pro so I am fairly screen-fussy. It is a pin sharp screen with good contrast and I'm not seeing the blue shift until the phone is tilted a long way away from my natural holding position. Battery life is good, form factor is good, it's a delight to use. I look forward to enjoying the camera, but haven't used it more than casually; I tend to always have an Olympus CSC with me, but hey, I'm up for playing with this. I guess what I wonder is whether the screens are improved on new batches?

    • Angusmatheson

      I’m interested why you use android phones while so deeply in Apple’s ecosystem - iPad Pro and MacBook Pro. What made the pixel 2 XL more appealing than an iPhone 8 or X? Usually iPhone is the point of entry - lots of people have iPhones, only a few iPad or MacBook pros. In reply to Matthew Boyle:


      • Matthew Boyle

        In reply to Angusmatheson:

        Hi Angus, I know it seems odd, and I did really consider an iPhone X. What keeps me favouring an all Google phone is simply Google assistant. My phone sticks to my dashboard in my car, and I speak to it to play music or navigate using the excellent Google maps. I can't control Google maps for example through Siri.

        Hope that makes sense.

        Matthew
  11. Steven Lendowski

    Hey Paul. I dont usually comment, but i think i have the answer to "performance rot".

    Normally i rooted all my Androids and used cutoms roms, updating and switching ROMs on a at least monthly basis, so this would not become a problem in the last 5+ years for me. And even if it did, with root, i could just flash a NANDROID backup from TWRP, and have a perfectly clean setup in 15 minutes tops.


    But now, i got a used LG V20 from my uncle, in a asian variant, that is nearly impossible to root. And now, i went crazy because of the lags.


    THE ISSUE: Its a cache problem. Thats why factory reset helps. BUT: Its much easier and 100 times faster, to just delete the cache in android setting. System cache and apps cache.

    There are also apps for this, but 99% are just bloatware, crapware, whatever. So manually deleting in setting is done in a minute, and your device will be as good as new. It maybe lags for some minutes, but then i should be good.


    I repeat this once a week, and can finally love my V20.


    On a sidenote:

    As a IT pro, do your self a favor, and learn how to root and use TWRP. Super easy once learned, and the real reason why Android is superior over any mobile OS alternatives.


    If this helped you, maybe you could throw a month premium my way.. ;) As a disabled person on next to no income, i would appreciate it. Greetings

    • jgraebner

      In reply to Steven_Lendowski:

      Oreo changed the way that cache is managed, so the option to clear system cache no longer exists. You can manually clear each individual app cache still, but that is a tedious process and really doesn't do all that much.

      • Steven Lendowski

        Oh, thats a bummer.. But then again, i guess XDA will already have a solution in the form of an APK... Or one could at least find a more accesible solution there. Anyway, now that it is removed from settings, any new solution may require Root, so that should be the first thing todo anyway. Especially on a Pixel device, which is one of the easiest to root, AND one of the most used and supported by the gazillions of devs at XDA.

        In all my time on Android, 99% of all possible problems i could find a solution there.. Again, if one has root.

        I just wish the Windows dev community would be as engaged today. ;)

        Anyway, i would switch my nougat for oreo anytime, because of project treble. So one could easily load any possible ROM, even generic AOSP roms, OR Linage OS (My 4 year old Xiaomi Mi4 has latest linage OS, and has NEVER lagged, runs smooth as butter. Or an iPhone ;) )!

        Custom ROMs are the answer to nearly any Android problem..

  12. red.radar

    My original nexus device is comically in useable even after wipe and fresh install.


    i think component quality is a factor too. Cheep flash ? Perhaps ?

  13. smoothbond

    This is not a critique, i'm being sincere when i say, it boggles the mind, completely boggles the mind that anyone would go through ALL the bugs you've described just so you can take some nice night shots. We all have different priorities I guess, to each his own.

  14. Minke

    I have owned a Pixel 2 (not XL) since last year and so far have had zero major problems and in fact I think the performance has increased, if you can believe that. Battery life easily runs from 6am to whenever I go to bed, with gobs to spare unless I do something like run navigation all day long. I must admit to never having used the USB-C adaptor since I am not a headphone user. Absolutely love the camera! I should add that I have been using it on AT&T and T Mobile, and not on Project Fi. Couldn't resist the 55+ program on T-Mo with unlimited data for $60 per month for two lines, so I effectively pay $30 for unlimited.

    • Minke

      In reply to Minke:Another thing I should add is that I do use a lot of Google services like Gmail, Drive, Photos, and Maps and everything works so seemlessly that it is a huge feature of a Pixel. However, I didn't like the Pixel launcher, and almost never use the Assistant except to test it once in awhile, so I could see moving on to something else if I could find an equally good camera.


  15. Thretosix

    biggest problem I have with the Pixel phones is that they are locked to a carrier that I will never use, too bad Google, your Nexus phones are all I bought before you left me for a provider.

  16. Jaxidian

    Paul, for your audio issue, you might want to consider buying an Essential USB-C to 3.5mm dongle for ~$15. They're generally considered superior to Google's adapter. They're definitely compatible (I've tested them) but I can't personally say whether or not it fixes audio pops simply because I've never experienced audio pops.

  17. dbtom

    Instead of using USB-C audio (which I understand is very problematic) consider using a Bluetooth adapter. I bought the unit below for about $15 from Amazon. I use it with my iPhone 7plus when I want to charge and listen at the same time on long flights. It is not as seamless as airpods but I use the same Bose headsets you have and need the noise canceling. I haven't tried this on Android, but I bet it works better than USB-C. It's very small but it is also another thing to charge.


    Mpow Bluetooth Receiver, Streambot Mini Bluetooth


    • mikiem

      With most of these receivers I think quality can be inconsistent -- some work great, but when reading reviews, some obviously didn't -- if you expect to return it then you'll be pleasantly surprised if you don't, but not too upset if you do. Their usual physical construction is also often on the weak side, & those won't take much physical abuse.


      Look for aptX Low Latency. Most [at least higher end] phones have this builtin, and it [allegedly] prevents the terrible lag that can happen with regular Bluetooth. [I believed the hype, went with a compatible receiver (from Trond) & it works great, but I didn't buy a receiver without so I have nothing to compare it to.]



  18. David Guillaume

    Can't recommend the Samsung Galaxy S8 highly enough, no performance issues, or any other issues for that matter, still working flawlessly after a year of heavy use and the price has dropped considerably now that the S9 has been released.

    • jdmp10

      In reply to David Guillaume:

      Not disputing what you're saying but I can't stand TouchWiz and no, putting a launcher over it isn't the same as having a real AOSP experience like I have with my Essential phone. Feature for feature sure Samsung has thrown everything but the kitchen sink into the S8 like previous versions but many of those I have no need for. I'm running 8.1 now on my Essential phone and will be one of the first if not the first vendor to have P after the Pixel phones get it.

    • Winner

      In reply to David Guillaume:

      I bought an S8 and returned it.

      I found the UI undesirable. I found the button placements aggravating and non-ergonomic. I found Bixby maddening. I found the camera worse than my Google phones. And I found the fingerprint sensor finicky, poorly shaped, and poorly located.

    • Bsobotta

      In reply to David Guillaume: I'm with you on this. I had an S8 for a short amount of time and loved it so much I needed the bigger version. Went to the Note 8. This thing is phenomenal. I couldn't go back to LG or stock Android due to the features I would be missing.


  19. Jarrett Kaufman (TurboFool)

    Odd. I have none of these complaints with mine. Also, why not use the backup restore option to make your process dramatically easier? Wouldn't have to manually be reinstalling all your apps slowly.

  20. PincasX

    google is my ISP and while I have mostly positive things to say about the service the customer support is awful. I know what you are thinking, you are thinking “all ISPs have terrible support” and you are right but Google sets a new low when it comes to ISP support. Anyway, I have wondered if that was the case for their other products and it sounds like it is

  21. ben55124

    Has Paul reported performance rot with his op5t? Anecdotely my op3 still runs fine and has been through 2 major android updates without reset.

    • Jaxidian

      In reply to ben55124:

      Performance rot varies hugely based on what apps you run as well as what settings you have configured in your OS (accessibility settings can kill performance pretty quickly, some app permissions can too). Paul is right that performance rot is very common on Android, but there are still some things you can do to mitigate the impact of it. Sadly, those things are not very obvious.


      That said, I find myself reinstalling Windows more often than I find myself resetting my OS on my primary Android phone (I hack at secondary Android phones, so those don't count). So it's far from unique to Android!

  22. JacobTheDev

    Is the screen on your replacement Pixel 2 XL any better than on the old device? I've heard they very quite a bit from device to device, and that later productions tended to have better screens.

  23. nbates66

    Wait... so Google have to charge you so you can be sent a warranty replacement phone? I've dealt with shipping charges for warranties with various companies previously but never actual device cost... Is that their standard practice?

    • ChuckOp

      In reply to nbates66:


      This is pretty standard. Otherwise they wait for you to ship the defective unit before sending the replacement. I did this with a Garmin product, and they put a hold on my credit card in the amount of the retail price until they received the defective product. Made it easy to quickly get a replacement.

      • wright_is

        In reply to ChuckOp:

        When my Surface Pro 3 battery died (and when it dies, you can't even boot the thing when it is attached to the power supply!), Microsoft shipped out a replacement straight away and it came with a return shipping slip for the old one.

        The same with Amazon, every time I've had a defective product, Amazon have sent out a replacement without charge, but with the notice that if the original isn't returned within 30 days, the new product will be charged for.

        Some third party Amazon shops have told me not to bother sending the defective product back, they just sent replacements (usually on items under 30€, so probably not worth the processing to them).

    • Polycrastinator

      In reply to nbates66:

      I think of a credit card hold - not charge (so if your bill rolls around you don't actually have to pay it) - as pretty standard for cross shipping devices. I've seen that happen for Microsoft, Asus, and HP.

  24. drrjv

    You troubles have made me even more happy with my iPhone X, which I have found to be a game changer. So happy they dumped the Home button :-)

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