Android purists have always rushed to the nearest Google device they can get their hands on.
It all started with the Nexus, and with the introduction of the Pixel, Google redefined what an Android experience should be. Seamless as it was, it still lacked the desirability of its iOS and even some Android competitors.
Enter 2017 aka the anti-bezel revolution. The Pixel’s put on a slick new suit for round 2, and this time it’s amped up everything we loved about the original Pixel. With added smarts and an even better camera, is this the Android we’ve been waiting for? OK Google, let’s see what you’ve got.
Design and build: If looks could thrill
While its more portable brethren rocks boring old bezels, the XL sheds the borders for a cleaner face. It’s the much sought after 18:9 affair up front, albeit with a larger chin and forehead than we’re used to seeing on the likes of the S8, Mi Mix 2 as well as the iPhone X.
While Apple chose to pack the X with a rather intrusive notch up top, Google’s approach involves loading the face of the XL with dual stereo speakers. The decision to ditch a drop-dead design for better sound suggests Google prioritising symmetry and practicality over aesthetics. Is it a decision we love? For the most part, yes. While it isn’t quite the head-turner we’d like it to be, we’re all for sense over style that could soon wear off.
The XL’s rather gigantic proportions are cleverly masked using a curved glass panel that neatly blends into its aluminium body. Rather than bog down the device with unnecessary glass, Google’s coated the back with a textured finish that serves three vital functions: it keeps the weight down, banishes fingerprints and makes it easier to grip, all while looking seductively stealthy. It adds up to save the XL from becoming annoyingly unwieldy for its size.
The glass panel around the back has also aged like wine, now sleeker than before. It cleverly hides the phone’s antennas while giving it a distinct design without trying too hard. Below it is the conveniently positioned fingerprint scanner, which Google claims is the fastest ever. Honestly, we’d require Planet Earth camera tech to prove it, but all we know is it’s as fast as we’d ever need it to be.
Google’s finally made its phones certified swimmers with IP67 dust and water resistance, which instantly secures your near-₹ 75K spends. It’s time to bid adieu to the headphone jack, proving Apple’s forecast of the aging port accurate. Is it something we miss? Given the selection of superb wireless buds around, not even remotely so. But if you must have it, Google bundles an AUX adapter in the box itself.
Screen and sound: Bigger is better
That’s a bold statement for someone who’s actively shunned big screen phones for as long as they’ve existed. Little did I know, all it would take was a bezel-less design to change all that. The extra screen space justifies the plus size and Google’s execution in the form of a 6in 1440p pOLED is impressive to say the least. Right about now, I can bet that statement will raise a lot of eyebrows, and obviously, I will address the elephant in the room. But first, let’s talk about the competition. Sat next to more dazzling OLEDs from Samsung like the one on the iPhone X, the LG OLED on the XL just feels plain dull. It’s even urged Google to install a Vivid Colors mode on the device, but it’s a marginal boost, one we’re happy to live without.
A full-screen video is all it takes to instantly silence sceptics. Bright, vibrant colours fill the screen with gloriously deep blacks we’ve come to expect from OLED panels. Considering the XL shares its panel with LG’s V30, it should come as no surprise that the device supports both HDR 10 as well as Dolby Vision. Why Google won’t plaster this critical detail all over its promos is a mystery to us. But, we fired up a supported YouTube video and the results were staggering. Brightness, colours, contrast all instantly amp up, benefitting from HDR support.
Here’s the caveat you’ve all been curious about: when viewing the screen even slightly off-axis, colour temperature instantly appears cooler regardless of your settings. Is it a distracting deal-breaker? We’re happy to report, not one bit. At the normal angle most of us view our screens, colours appear perfectly fine. As for all other reported issues relating to screen burn-in and the likes, we’re yet to experience a single one of those. So, we’ll put a rest to all the screen-related debates by saying this should not affect your buying decision.
That beautiful screen is flanked by stereo speakers that perfectly complement the whole viewing experience. There’s a satisfying weight to the audio it pumps out, which isn’t just loud but oozes clarity. What makes it special is it’s hard to muffle the stereo sound, putting it at par with HTC’s fantastic BoomSound audio.
Camera: When one’s greater than two
Up until last year’s Pixels, the iPhone saw little competition as far as camera quality was concerned. It almost immediately ended all arguments in favour of the iPhone, purely based on its powerful photography skills. All that changed with the launch of the Pixel. Not only did it trounce the competition, it did so with a single lens setup. Even our readers agreed that its camera was tops in a blind test we recently conducted.
Believe it or not, the Pixel 2 XL camera is even better. It still stays true to its single lens setup, and it still slays. The 12MP sensor now packs a wider f/1.8 aperture powered by phase-detect and laser-assisted autofocus. Combine that with Google’s wickedly clever algorithms, and you’ll struggle to find a better smartphone snapper. Yes, we’re looking at you S8 and iPhone X . What’s Google secret sauce you ask? Part of the process includes the XL taking several shots, stitching them all together, and eventually producing one awe-inspiring result. In HDR+, the phone crams an incredible amount of detail and dynamic range into a shot, truly placing it a cut above its closest rivals from Samsung and Apple.
Google’s machine learning sorcery enables the phone to produce spectacular depth effects and bokeh blur without the need for dual sensors. Instead, the XL makes use of a dual pixel sensor, which splits each pixel into two smaller ones. Algorithms do all the critical number-crunching detecting what stays focused and what doesn’t, resulting in a photo that gets top scores in our books. Google’s aggressive focus on machine learning and AI is immediately apparent in its photography skills.
Fans of Apple’s Live Photos will appreciate the presence of Google’s version of the feature called Motion Photos. For those of you still wondering, it basically adds movement to your photos from videos captured during, before and after engaging the shutter button.
Google’s machine learning does more than just improve photos - using Google Lens, it even recognises objects in them giving you a quick glance at related info. Given that it’s still in beta, it doesn’t always produce great results. But, it’s a promising glimpse at the future of Google’s intelligent camera and its capabilities.
Last year’s Pixel lacked optical image stabilisation, but with electronic stabilisation alone it wowed us with its results. This time around, you get both. The systems work in sync to give you phenomenally stable handheld footage.
Software & OS: Clean and clear
There’s really been no alternatives for anyone wishing to experience Android in its truest form. The Pixels have always showcased the software’s full potential and the Pixel 2 XL is no different. Running Android’s tastiest version yet, Oreo, it’s a delight to use. It’s also the only place to get your hands on the Pixel launcher, which conveniently puts the Google search bar at the bottom of the big screen.
More Pixel-specific perks include Ambient Display, a nifty feature that puts time, date and active notifications on the standby screen for a quick glance. Google’s machine learning pulls some clever tricks here too. The Now Playing function has its ears open for music playing nearby displaying the song and artist at the bottom of the screen. It can even pull this off in flight mode, plucking info from an extensive database saved for offline use.
Picture-in-picture is another neat new feature that makes its presence felt on Google’s new software. It shrinks Google Maps down to an unobtrusive size, placing it in a corner with a few taps. Borrowing from the HTC U11’s squeeze-tastic Edge Sense feature, Google introduces its own version called Active Edge on the Pixel 2 XL. Launching the Assistant or silencing phone calls with a quick squeeze is rather intuitive. Considering how quickly it summons Google’s Assistant, we wouldn’t be surprised if we switched over entirely from the traditional ‘OK Google’ voice command.
Performance & Battery life: marvel at its superpowers
A top-the-of-line Snapdragon 835, 4GB RAM, pure Android 8.0, it’s hardly a shock how fast the Pixel 2 XL feels. Apps load in a hurry, games are buttery smooth, multitasking works seamlessly, we really do feel like captain obvious right about now. Storage too comes in roomy sizes of 64GB and 128GB depending on your budget and needs. Given that Pixel users get unlimited full-resolution storage to Google Photos for stills as well as 4K videos, storage isn’t a worry for your favourite memories.
If you’re concerned the 3520mAh battery won’t suffice for its large pOLED screen, we’re here to banish any such negative thoughts. It’ll easily power through an entire day’s use on a full charge. You can thank Oreo’s optimisations for its fantastic standby power usage. The bundled fast charge adapter will have it singing in its full glory quickly enough when the juice runs out. Something that can’t be said for iPhone X/8/8 Plus users who must pay extra for a fast charge adapter.
GOOGLE PIXEL 2 XL VERDICT
Google’s second attempt at making its own smartphone improves massively on its predecessor’s strengths. A faster performance, a further improved camera, and all other features we wished were present the first time around are right where we want them in the Pixel 2. Most importantly, the first Pixel’s divisive design has also made progress in leaps and bounds, making it the first lust-worthy Google phone. Apple and Samsung still possess the most drop-dead gorgeous designs, but for the first time Google has bridged the gap.
Between the two new Pixels, the XL is the one to go for - yes it’s pricier but that makes it no different than other flagships. The added screen real estate is a sight to behold. The bezels might seem chunkier than its rivals, but the dual-front facing setup more than makes up for it. Is it the most complete Android experience Google was hoping to deliver? Absolutely. Google’s only gotten better at making phones, and the Pixel 2 XL is its best one yet.