Google on Wednesday took the wraps off its new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL phones, the sequels to the first-ever Google-designed Android handsets. Both devices look sharp, minimal, and sport what the company says is one of the best mobile cameras on the market, with original Pixel buyers able to testify the device line’s prowess in the picture-taking department.
But perhaps you’re still on the fence. Maybe you own an Apple product, and you’re simply fed up with iOS, or have no intention of buying the iPhone 8 or shelling out for the iPhone X. Or perhaps you’ve been looking for a cleaner, simpler, and bloatware-free Android phone, but not sure you want to get something quite as premium as Pixel 2. It does start at $649, and can get as expensive as $949 for a 128GB Pixel 2 XL.
To make the decision easier, we’ve broken down three of the best and worst qualities of the new Pixel and Pixel 2 Xl, to make that cost-benefit analysis more clear.
PIXEL 2 AND PIXEL 2 XL HAVE THE SAME STELLAR CAMERA
Don’t just take Google’s word for it — the Pixel 2’s camera really does stand out, more so than last year’s model it appears. The Verge’s Dieter Bohn went hands-on with the Pixel phones prior to the reveal event and came away impressed. “If Google can consistently produce similar results to what I’ve already seen, it has made a big leap over last year’s Pixel camera, and stands a strong chance of contending with the dual-lens / camera bump system on the iPhone 8 (and presumably the iPhone X),” he wrote.
The best part, however, is that you don’t have to choose which camera to get. Like last year’s models, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL have the same single-lens setup. Google decided to only differentiate its pricier XL version with a larger screen and bigger battery. The company also put a lot of the same photo tricks you get with the dual-camera iPhone 8 Plus / iPhone X. That means you get the background blurring bokeh effect on both the front-facing and rear-facing camera on the Pixel 2 phones, without needing the price bump inherent in adding a new component.
GOOGLE LENS, AR STICKERS, AND ASSISTANT SQUEEZE ARE PROMISING
The promise of a Google-made phone has always been more in the software than the hardware. Beyond the stock Android you get with a Pixel device, Google this time around is also packing in some powerful artificial intelligence and augmented reality features that will hopefully keep its smartphones competitive with the iPhone and ARKit, and to a lesser extent Samsung and Bixby.
On the new Pixels, you’ll get Google Lens, the company’s new on-demand object recognition tool, built in. The Pixel 2 is the first phone to fully support the platform, and Google says it will for now work with a handful of useful-sounding categories like books, movie posters, business cards, and landmarks. Google is also positioning its ARCore framework similarly to Apple’s ARKit, and it showed some new AR stickers — including life-sized, cartoony versions of Stranger Things characters — to hammer the point home.
Perhaps the strangest, but also most promising, new feature in this category is Google’s new Assistant squeeze activation, in which you apply gentle pressure to the sides of the phone to automatically activate Google’s voice-based AI companion. Telling users to squeeze their consumer electronics is a bit odd, but in practice, it sounds like an intuitive way to activate the Assistant, which Google hopes will become one of Android’s most useful and powerful software differentiator. Plus, with the giant Pixel 2 XL, activating Assistant with a squeeze will work great without needing to reach your thumb over.
ALWAYS-ON DISPLAY AND MICROPHONE
Always-on displays were a big thing just a few years ago, during the original Moto X era, but seemed to fall out of favor with consumers out of battery life concerns. Now, with more AI-assisted smarts built into our phones, Google is bringing the always-on display back with its Pixel 2 devices, with one neat twist.
GOOGLE’S ALWAYS-ON SCREEN IS ALSO ALWAYS LISTENING FOR MUSIC TO TAG
On top of being able to display notifications and the time at a glance and remain primed for the “Ok Google” voice command, the Pixel 2 will also listen for any ambient music playing, which it will try and identify on the fly. That’s a huge plus for Shazam lovers, as the biggest pain in using music tagging software is making sure you can deploy it fast enough to catch an identifiable snippet of the song playing before it’s gone for good.
Of course, with every new phone there are some drawbacks, be it a compromises on price or screen size or battery life, obnoxious changes to ports, or some other addition or subtraction that makes it harder to transition from one device to another. The Pixel 2 is no different, though it is much like its predecessor and reliably lacking in big and obvious flaws. Here are some negative aspects of the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL worth considering before upgrading your Android phone or jumping ship from iOS.
PIXEL 2 AND PIXEL 2 XL… HAVE THE SAME CAMERA
I know, I know, you’ve heard this one before. But hear me out. While it’s great that both the $649 Pixel 2 and $849 Pixel 2 XL sport the same exact camera and all the software and hardware benefits it provides, that also means you’re paying a hefty $200 premium for a device that has only a larger screen and a bigger battery. Apple, which reserves the dual-camera setup for its larger iPhone Plus line, charges $50 less at $799 for its iPhone 8 Plus and gives buyers the added benefit of an improved camera. (It should be noted that the starting price of the standard Pixel 2 is $50 less than Apple’s iPhone 8.)
It’s a bit of a double-edged sword, because it removes “better camera” from the list of benefits you’d normally be able to include when deciding whether to opt for the bigger of the two Pixels. If bigger screens are your thing, then the choice seems simple enough. If not, you’re going to have to consider whether the Pixel 2 XL’s slight battery life bump and bigger screen, and all the ergonomic challenges it may bring, are worth the price.
NEITHER OF THE NEW PIXEL PHONES HAVE A HEADPHONE JACK
This is a controversial one. Following both Apple and other Android phone makers like Lenovo and LeEco, Google too decided to scrap the 3.5mm headphone jack on the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. It’s been a whole year since the iPhone 7, with only its Lightning port, kicked up a fair deal of dongle drama, and the world has more or less come to terms with the loss of our on-device auxiliary ports, even if it has caused some headaches and justifiable backlash. That still doesn’t make it any easier for prospective Pixel buyers who really want to charge their phone and listen to music at the same time, or who own expensive pre-USB-C headphones.
Making matters worse, Google seems to have a dongle pricing problem. The company is bundles a 3.5mm to USB-C headphone adapter in the box with each new Pixel phone. But lose that and you’ll need to shell out $20, which is more than twice what Apple charges for its similar 3.5mm to Lighting adapter. Google is also peddling a $44.95 Moshi-made third-party adapter for listening to music and charging your phone at the same. That’s $10 more than Apple’s similar Belkin-made one. And here we were thinking only Apple could charge exorbitant prices for accessories you didn’t need a year ago.
IXEL 2 XL SCREEN IS NOT QUITE EDGE-TO-EDGE
One shortcoming of the larger Pixel 2 XL is that the bigger screen is not quite as impressive from a design standpoint as Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and Note 8, nor Apple’s iPhone X. All four of phones have large, eye-popping OLED displays. But what sets the Pixel 2 XL apart is the somewhat hefty bezels on the top, bottom, and sides of the device.
Of course, it’s not super noticeable, and the screen does still look rather gorgeous. It also doesn’t have that signature iPhone X notch that looks as if it will be quite an annoying aesthetic and software design hurdle. But if you’re a big fan of the edge-to-edge design of Samsung, and the generous amount of screen real estate in the more compact package you get with the iPhone X, the Pixel 2 XL is lacking on that front.