Is the Google Pixel 2 all it’s cracked up to be? Heck yes it is.
I’m a fan of smaller phones, so when Google put the Pixel 2 up for sale I went for the mainline version. I also used the original smaller Pixel since it came out a lot more than the 2016 Pixel XL, so I knew beforehand which phone I wanted. So far, I’m not disappointed, and there are a few things I really love.
You should probably check out the video review and read the full Pixel 2 review to get a handle on all the specs and features of the phone, too. I’m not going to go into a lot of things nearly as deep as was done in the full review. This is more of my take on the phone after I’ve been using it for a while than an in-depth look at it from top to bottom. These are important, too!
The best of Android
I’ll start with the question a lot of people seem to have, especially folks thinking about moving to Android from Windows or iOS: Is the Pixel 2 the best Android phone you can buy right now?
Yes. It’s not the best LG phone you can buy, or the best Samsung phone, or the best of anything else any company has to offer. But when you want to see Android without any extras added so you can pick your own extra features from Google Play, the Pixel 2 is better than « stock » phones any other company like Motorola or Nokia has to offer.
The Pixel 2 is the best « regular » Android phone you can buy.
Is it the best overall phone? I don’t know. To me it is, as I don’t want another company deciding which features I have installed, or even a carrier having a say. When I spend my money, I’ll decide, thank you very much. Plenty of other people feel differently and want what phones like the Note 8 or V30 have to offer. I can’t decide which type of person you are. If you’re new to Android, I suggest you shy away from the everything but the kitchen sink model and buggy, slow software that Samsung and others use and stick with « regular » Android instead, as it’s very close to what you’re used to from Apple or Microsoft.
While no company makes phones that run unaltered Android (not even Google), the Pixel 2 comes very close and outperforms everything else when it comes to doing the things I want it to do, using the features and apps I have installed. It’s not perfect, but without doing things like rebooting regularly or manually deleting cache for my apps it zooms along and keeps me in touch with family and friends, lets me have a little fun and keeps me informed about the things I want or need to know. And it has one helluva great camera to boot.
An upgrade from last year
As mentioned, I used the 2016 Pixel a lot. The Pixel XL was great for Daydream (and still is) but I never found much of an advantage with the larger size. When the Pixel 2 arrived, I literally turned off my 2016 model and activated it, setting it up from the latest backup and never missed a beat.
Using the Pixel 2 feels a lot like using the original Pixel. That’s a good thing.
There are a few differences, but the experience is pretty much the same. The 2016 Pixel is just as snappy as its successor and is a fine phone that could be a great deal if you find a nice used one.
Don’t buy a 2016 Pixel new, though; the extra $100 you spend on this year’s model means two more years of software updates and warranty, and the camera alone is worth it.
The three biggest differences between the old and new Pixel are the camera, two front-facing speakers, and the headphone jack (or lack thereof). They are about the same size and shape, they have very comparable displays and the very same software. The Pixel 2 has a Project Fi eSIM (which works great and was simple to set up) along with Active Edge, which lets you bring up Google Assistant by squeezing the sides. At this time, though, I’m not finding either to be very compelling. Fi setup with a regular SIM card is easy enough and Assistant is always there when you call it. I do see why people would like Active Edge so I won’t dismiss it, I just don’t use it very often.
The longer warranty and extra year of support make the Pixel 2 a better buy than the original and maybe even worth an upgrade.
I’ll say more about the camera and the audio situation a little further down, but the Pixel 2 is a worthy upgrade just for the warranty and the extra year of updates. If you’re upgrading from something else, the Pixel 2 is definitely the one to get and worth more than the $100 difference from last year’s model.
You can’t say the words Pixel 2 without thinking of the screen. What you need to know is that none of the issues surrounding the Pixel 2 XL display affect the smaller version. You don’t have the extra-visible tint when holding it at an angle, scrolling won’t make everything look grainy and weird, and while normal OLED burn-in is to be expected, it doesn’t have the strange hybrid burn effect that some are seeing on the 2 XL.
None of the display drama seen with the Pixel 2 XL is here.
The colors seem to be a little warmer than the XL’s display, too, so things look closer to the way you expect when you’re using it. It covers 95% of the DCI-P3 color space, has a 100,000:1 contrast ratio and is an overall good 24-bit OLED panel. As a plus, work Google is doing to make colors more vivid on the larger Pixel 2 XL will also be able to give the Pixel 2 a bit of extra punch if you want it.
Eventually, Google will figure all of this out and, hopefully, force developers to support color profiles if they want their apps on Google Play, and we’ll look back on all this with the same nonchalance we did for previous Galaxy S phones before Samsung got it right with the S6.
The Pixel 2 has a good display with the same AMOLED drawbacks as all the rest, but nothing more.
It’s still an OLED screen. That means it will show yellow or blue or even pink on a white background when you tilt it away from you, and things like the battery meter, clock colon, and navigation buttons will eventually burn into the screen. I’ve called this « normal » behavior, but as a commenter once pointed out to me, it’s a thing that the companies making OLED displays need to fix rather than a thing we need to accept. One day we’ll have a display that looks as good as a Super LCD at all viewing angles, has the unlimited black depth and contrast ratio of OLED and doesn’t ever burn in or ghost. For now, we have good displays of each type and a good OLED one is on the Pixel 2.
Bluetooth, headphones, and Snap, Crackle, and Pop
The Pixel 2 does have great speakers, but they don’t make up for the headphone jack’s absense.
I hate that the headphone jack was taken away.
There’s no getting around it, and the headphones I like to use now need to have a dongle swinging from the cord that I’ll eventually lose, or they can just stay at home. The 2016 Pixel didn’t have any extras that made it a great audio powerhouse like we’ve seen from LG and others, but I could put my headphones into the hole and listen to music or a video without bothering anyone else.
To somewhat alleviate the pain, the Pixel 2 does have two front-facing speakers, which are plenty loud and as tinny sounding as a tiny speaker with no enclosure will always sound. To me, though, they are just an extra way to bother other people and I’d gladly trade them for a headphone jack. And before anyone says anything about « old tech » they need to have an excuse ready for 100 plus-year-old tech called the transistor that’s still in use for phones and every other modern gadget.
I’ve wrangled a pair of the Made for Google Libratone Q Adapt Wireless On-Ear Headphones to use, and they’re OK. They sound as good as wired headphones would with the Pixel and Pixel 2, but they also are another thing to keep charged. They also sound pretty poor when compared to my favorite headphones and a music player or a phone like the HTC 10 or LG V20. It’s certainly a trade I don’t want to make, so I don’t listen to music very often when I’m out without something that can play it decently. It’s just not worth keeping track of what’s charged and what’s not.
Taking away the headphone jack means I don’t listen to music as often as I used to.
I’m not seeing any other issues with Bluetooth. Granted, I don’t have a bunch of Bluetooth « stuff » here, but the Pixel 2 connects just fine to my desktop, my MacBook Pro, and my Pixelbook. It also works as expected with our Klipsch portable Bluetooth speaker or with a Logitech Bluetooth audio adapter connected to my stereo. We don’t have Bluetooth in any of our cars here and mostly use Chromecast for streaming audio, so I’m not the best person to judge any Bluetooth issues, but I don’t see any. Your mileage may vary.
I’m also not hearing the pops and snaps through the top speaker that many others are, but understand the issue well enough to see the problem. Google’s solution of toggling NFC while on a call will fix it, but they probably should look at how much power is being sent to the NFC antenna, or why it’s positioned in a place that may need that much power. Passive RFID for contactless communication only needs a millimeter or two of range to properly work and my Pixel 2 will read an RFID tag at five to seven centimeters. I’m assuming a proper long-term fix for a point bump hardware revision can tone things down a bit, but I could be wrong. Either way, shutting off the NFC antenna when a call is active works, and Google needs to get the fix out ASAP.
The warranty and extra life for updates may be the sensible reason you should buy a Pixel 2, but the camera is the fun reason. It’s everything you’ve heard and then some.
Google’s combination of machine learning and intelligent HDR processing make the camera in the Pixel 2 — both models have the exact same camera hardware and software — the best camera in a phone you can buy today. The hardware and software have been improved from the original Pixel 2, and the one thing Google was unable to do in 2016 was add OIS (optical image stabilization) and has adjusted its camera magic so that it works on the Pixel 2. That will help when you have the shakes.
Software-based photography will only get better with time. You can’t change lenses.
The Pixel 2 also has a dedicated SoC for machine learning called the Pixel Visual Core. It gets enabled in Android 8.1 for Google’s HDR+ algorithms (support for third parties will follow soon after) and will make the camera even better because the « smarts » that can recreate a scene will learn more, learn faster and be able to intelligently recreate missing data. Computational photography is something I’m fascinated with, and pixel-peeping photos at magnifications like 2400% show how great the Pixel 2 can do right now. The addition of a dedicated SoC will hopefully blow our collective minds.
The Pixel 2 can also do « portrait » photography with a single lens. This is also part of Google’s software magic, and somehow enough data can be analyzed to fake a depth map without adding a second focal point. None of this is new tech, but it is tech we’ve never seen on a phone and never seen at an affordable price.
Like all fixed focal length phone cameras regardless of the number of lenses, the portrait mode still looks, well, bad. Blurring the background or foreground and focusing on one shape as the subject is a lot easier than recreating the real unfocused look that our eyes or a more capable camera can recreate, and no matter which phone you use, it shows. As fascinating as the idea of how the Pixel 2 can do this as well as the iPhone 8 or Note 8 with only one lens is, I’m still looking forward to when it will get better across the board.
Portrait photos on tiny fixed lenses with no real aperture looks bad every time. The Pixel 2 looks no worse than phone cameras with two lenses.
The one drawback (or hilarious unintended feature, depending on when it happens) of doing everything through an algorithm is that when it fails, it fails spectacularly. Most of the time, though, it doesn’t fail. I’m not a big camera phone guy. I don’t leave the house without a « gear bag » hanging from my wheelchair, so I always have a camera stashed away somewhere. A phone that can take a decent spur of the moment photo is good enough for my use, so just about every phone since the Nexus 5 will work for me. But I love playing with new tech and find myself taking at least twice the number of pictures with a phone as I used to, even if only to look at the results then delete them. If you really love a good camera on your phone like many other people do, you’ll love the one on the Pixel 2.
Everything else, and should you buy this thing? Yes!
Battery life has been fine and I never hit the sheets without at least 15 – 20% of charge left. I plug it in on my nightstand, make sure the alarm is set and unplug it in the morning. It’s never locked up or rebooted that I can see (the only reboot was to install the 8.1 Developer Preview Beta) and phone calls, data speeds, and every-day functionality exceed my expectations.