The original Google Pixel didn't have the best hardware - but then that wasn't the point.

It was Google's statement of intent, showing what it could do with Android when it controlled the components as well as the software. When it arrived with one of the best smartphone cameras around, it's safe to say it was mission accomplished. And now it's time for round two.

The Pixel 2 builds on that success, tweaking the formula for 2017 with the kind of features you'd expect from a flagship phone. Well, most of them, anyway. But again, hardware is only half the story.

Here's why specs really don't matter, and why the Pixel is already shaping up to be a serious smartphone contender.

Design & build

From the off, the Pixel 2 doesn't do itself any favours: it sticks to familiar big bezels above and below its 5in screen, while its bigger brother makes the jump to 18:9 and much skinnier sides. Sit one alongside a Galaxy S8 or iPhone X and it'll look a bit out of place - even if it does leave room for some sizeable stero speakers.

Things have changed around the back, though. The original Pixel's half-glass, half-metal design has been tweaked, with the glass moving further towards the top of the phone to cover the camera lens and not much else. It's a more refined look this time around, which I think works well. The fingerprint sensor stays in place, in perfect position for where your index finger naturally rests while you're using the phone.

The frame is made from aluminium, sure, but Google has treated it with a textured coating that adds a grippier, more premium feel. It really stands out, especially in the gorgeous (and daftly named) Kinda Blue colours. The whole thing is water-resistant now, too, which is a big win after being sorely missed last year.

Oh, and you can search all you want, but you won't find a headphone jack. Google has axed it, going for USB-C (or Bluetooth wireless headphones) instead. You won't spot the Pixel 2's party trick, either: squeeze-sensitive sides. Give your phone a fist cuddle and it'll wake up Google Assistant, just like Edge Sense on HTC's U11. Hopefully Google will let you customise the gesture to do more in certain apps - right now you can take selfies in the Camera but that's about it.

Screen & Sound

Not much seems to have changed when it comes to the Pixel 2's display: it's rocking a 5in, 1080p OLED panel, just like last year's original. It was great in 2016, though, and still looks great today.

Colours are vibrant, there's lots of detail on show, and contrast is fantastic - just as you'd expect from OLED. Seeing how Google insists other companies use OLED screens if they want their phones to play nicely with the Daydream View VR headset, it's only fair the Pixel sticks to that rule as well.

OLED also adds another feature: the always-on display. With almost all of the pixels switched off, this ambient screen mode uses next to no power, but still shows the time, date and any active notifications onscreen, even in standby mode. You also get the currently playing music track, which Google uses machine learning to detect directly on the phone. We've been using ID3 tags perfectly well for years, of course, but hey ho.

As for those stereo speakers - a room full of other journalists jostling to get their hands on a brand new smartphone is hardly conducive for a critical listening test. We'll have to wait until a full review to see how they cope with my melodic death metal and old-skool jungle playlists.

 

CAMERA

After the original Pixel proved to be such a good camera, you'd better believe Google is putting its full force behind the Pixel 2's 12MP snapper. It's got the works: OIS and EIS stabilisation, phase-detect and laser-assisted autofocus, auto HDR and even Google's version of Live Photos.

Unlike Apple's video clips, though, Google reckons its Motion Photos use algorithms to only animate the parts of the image that need motion. I've not seen this in action yet, but it's a great concept if it works.

It can also take depth-blurring Portrait shots - with either the front or back camera. Instead of using a twin-camera setup, it uses dual pixel AF and more clever algorithms to add bokeh to your snaps. The results looked really impressive on the phone's screen, but I'll want to compare with the iPhone 8 Plus to see which is really the best at blur.

Really though, what matters most is quality, and the Pixel 2 looks set to deliver. It took some truly impressive photos during my demo session, in not particularly great lighting conditions, with sharp details and well-judged exposure. This is partly because the phone doesn't just take one photo - it takes several, then stitches them together to get a higher quality end result. Google's algorithms really do make a huge difference - I'm looking forward to testing it properly next to big rivals like the Galaxy S8 and iPhone 8.

Tech Specs 
SCREEN:
5in, 1920x1080 OLED
CPU:
Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
MEMORY
4GB RAM
STORAGE
64GB / 128GB on-board
CAMERA
12MP, f/1.8 rear w/ OIS, EIS, PDAF, laser AF & LED flash. 8MP, f/2.4 fixed focus front
OPERATING SYSTEM
Android 8.0 Oreo
BATTERY
2700mAh non-removable

DIMENSIONS
146x70x7.8mm, 143g
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