Google Pixel 2 XL review: A solid pure Android phone… as one would expect

Android / Google / Mobile / Mobile Reviews / Reviews / Tech
Google-Pixel-2-XL-review

The Pixel 2 XL is a solid Android smartphone with the added luxury of having timely security updates straight from Google.

TA-ratings-94The Pixel 2 series is Google’s second go at their own branded smartphones. It’s been out for a few months now and has since received an update to Android 8.1. Our Google Pixel 2 XL review takes a look at the larger of the two recent smartphones released by the tech giant to see how it stacks up with its pure Android experience. Be sure to check out our Google Earth Live Case review as well, you’ll definitely want some sort of smartphone case to protect this investment if you purchase one.

Specifications

The Google Pixel 2 XL has the following features and specifications:

  • Operating System: Android 8.1.0, Oreo
  • Display
    • 5.98″ (152 mm) 18:9 display
    • QHD+ (2880×1440) pOLED at 538ppi
    • Always-on display
    • 100% DCI-P3 coverage
    • 100000:1 super contrast ratio
    • 24-bit depth
  • Processors: Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 835 64-bit Octa-Core (2.35GHz + 1.9 GHz)
  • Memory & Storage
    • RAM: 4GB
    • Storage: 64GB or 128GB
  • Cameras
    • Rear: 12.2MP, 1.4 μm, f/1.8, autofocus with laser + dual pixel phase detection, optical and electronic image stabilization, 720p/1080p/4K video
    • Front: 8MP, 1.4 μm, f/2.4, fixed focus, 480p/720p/1080p video
  • Media & Audio: Stereo front-firing speakers, Wireless HD audio with LDAC, AptX, AptX HD
  • Battery: 3520 mAh, up to 7 hours with 15-minute charge
  • Wireless & Location: Wi-Fi 2.4G + 5 GHz 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 2×2 MIMO, Bluetooth 5.0 + LE, NFC, eSim, GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, Galileo
  • Network: Worldwide network/carrier compatibility
  • Sensors: Active Edge, Proximity/Ambient light sensor, Accelerometer/Gyrometer, Magnetometer, Pixel Imprint: back-mounted fingerprint sensor for fast unlocking, Barometer, Hall effect sensor, Android Sensor Hub, Advanced x-axis haptics for sharper/defined response
  • Ports: USB-C 3.1 Gen 1
  • SIM: nano SIM
  • Materials: Aluminum unibody, Corning Gorilla Glass 5, IP67 water and dust resistant
  • Water & dust resistant
  • 2-year warranty
  • Daydream ready
  • Colors: Just Black, Black & White
  • Dimensions: 157.9 x 76.7 x 7.9 mm
  • Weight: 175g

What’s in the box

  • Google Pixel 2 XL smartphone
  • USB-C 18 W charging plug
  • USB-C to USB-C cable
  • USB-C to 3.5 mm headphone adaptor
  • Quick switch adapter
  • SIM ejection tool
  • Quick Start Guide

Design

There’s no question the current reigning “style” when it comes to smartphones is rectangular with rounded corners and screens that are slightly or fully curved around the edges. The Google Pixel 2 XL is no different. Rectangular in shape, both the back and front edges are curved slightly, as are the corners. It’s a design that works, however, and when using it without a case, it’s comfortable and easy to hold.

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The Google Pixel 2 XL has the typical (as of late) rounded smartphone design.

As far as buttons and ports, the Pixel 2 XL is pretty minimal with a power button in the upper third of the right side of the phone, the volume rocker below it, and a single USB Type-C charging/transfer port located on the bottom. The left side is where you’ll find your SIM card slot.

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Left (top) and right side views of the Pixel 2 XL.

The front of the device is just as minimal with the front-facing camera in the upper left corner of the screen. Dual front-facing speakers are centered along the very top and very bottom edge of the display on the front of the phone.

Google-Pixel-2-XL-review-01

Front view of the Pixel 2 XL.

The back of the Pixel 2 XL has the Google “G” logo centered in the bottom third of the phone. Directly above that in the top third is the rear-facing fingerprint scanner with the rear-facing camera and LED flash above that and to the left. The camera does stick out slightly so if you’re planning on using this device without a case, that’s something to keep in mind when placing your phone down on a flat surface.

Google-Pixel-2-XL-review-02

Back view of the Pixel 2 XL.

Interestingly enough, given the coated unibody aluminum construction, the Pixel 2 XL actually feels almost like it’s constructed of plastic instead. Still, it feels solid, durable, and has a nice weight to it. The device is also IP67 water and dust-resistant so you don’t have to worry much if you accidentally get it wet or spill something on it.

Our review unit was of the “Panda” variety — white back aside from the top camera/sensor portion, and white sides. It’s an interesting look and the oddest part of the colour scheme is the hot fluorescent orange power button while the volume rocker is white. Personally, I’m not a huge fan but if you’re like me there is also a fully black version of the Pixel 2 XL.

Overall, the Google Pixel 2 XL isn’t anything really to write home about and has a similar design to many other smartphones out there. That being said, it’s a tried and true design format that (un)fortunately works well.

Display

The 5.98″ 18:9 pOLED display is quite sharp and crisp with nice colour representations at its QHD+ (2880×1440) resolution. Text was easy to read and the 24-bit color depth with the 100000:1 contrast ratio makes video viewing enjoyable. Unfortunately, due to the 18:9 screen ratio, you’ll be seeing thicker black bars on the left and right when watching most videos. You can also choose between Natural, Boosted, and Saturated colors based on your preference.

The one thing about the display is that it has rounded corners which, while they look nice and blend the screen in more with the bezels, did cause the odd app to lose a small portion of its content. It’s a minor issue, and screenshots still render a full rectangular image so it’s simply a case of the rounded bezel covering part of the actual screen.

Software

The Google Pixel 2 XL ships with Android 8.0.0, but was recently updated to 8.1.0. The latest version of the Android operating system adds a few new features including being able to see remaining battery for your connected Bluetooth devices, in place system updates, the ability to disable the fingerprint scanner after multiple failed attempts, and more. The always on display is also a nice feature and can be toggled on or off in the settings. Another fun feature that I enjoyed was the Now Playing feature which displays the current song name and artist of any music playing nearby.

Two of the bigger features though, in my opinion, are the Active Edge which allows you to squeeze the Pixel 2 XL to launch Google Assistant and added functionality to the fingerprint scanner. I’m not a huge user of digital assistants, but I did find that I used Google Assistant more frequently because of the Active Edge. It really does make it easier to access. While the squeeze to launch Assistant works great, it would be nice to be able to map this function to open another app or digital assistant if you don’t use Google Assistant. Likewise, while the fingerprint scanner can now be used to expand or collapse the notification drawer, there’s a lot more functionality that can be added. Still, it’s nice to see Google implementing features that other Android OEMs have used for awhile now and adding them to the stock Android experience on their devices.

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While the fingerprint scanner can manipulate the notification drawer, there’s plenty of functionality that Google could be adding.

Being a Google device, it does run stock Android without any additional bloatware and, for those of you who are security conscious, gets very timely security updates and new software updates.

Performance

With the Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 835 CPU and 4GB of RAM, there’s nothing that the Google Pixel 2 XL can’t handle. Apps and games load quickly and run smoothly, and switching between apps is just as quick. As far as performance goes, given the specs and stock Android, there are no surprises here.

Sound Quality

The Google Pixel 2 XL sports a pair of dual stereo speakers — one at the top and one at the bottom of the phone. It sure shows as well when listening to music or watching videos. Sound is fairly balanced and is clear and crisp but, like most other smartphones, is lacking a bit on the bass end. Still, as far as smartphones go, the sound quality on the Pixel 2 XL is right up there.

Camera

When the Google Pixel 2 XL was first announced, it had the best camera on any smartphone according to DXoMark. The camera on this device is indeed pretty stellar with a quick loading camera app and pretty clear, crisp, and fairly colour accurate images given the right conditions. Even lower light photography is pretty decent if you can hold the phone still enough. In fact, I actually used it for some of the review product photos I took of some recent reviews (like those in our Dell Latitude 7212 review) as I felt that the camera was that decent.

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The camera app has the usual assortment of settings including timer, HDR mode, grid assist, colour temperature, manual exposure brightness control, and flash toggling. Another feature the Pixel 2 XL camera has is motion which takes a picture but adds a motion version of a couple seconds to it to make a moving image.

A fun feature that Google rolled out to the Pixel phones is the addition of AR (augmented reality) stickers which lets you add everything from text to Star Wars characters and food or sporting activities to your images. For the most part, it works pretty well and can make for some fun images.

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100% crop, outdoors.

In addition, photos taken with the Pixel 2 XL are stored at full resolution for free on Google Photos for two years which offers some extra peace of mind for those precious memories.

Reception/Call Quality

I’m one of those that rarely use their smartphone for phone calls but for the few that I do make, reception was great and call quality was clear and crisp. The party on the other end of the calls had no issues hearing me and said it sounded clear as well.

Battery Life

Battery life is a growing concern these days with smartphones getting thinner and thinner. With the Google Pixel 2 XL, I was able to consistently make it through the day and then some on a single charge. Usually by the end of the day, with moderate usage like checking and responding to email and chats, playing a few games for about an hour, browsing the web, and watching the odd video, I’d be sitting at between 35-40% battery life left.

If you do find yourself running down the battery quickly due to extra gaming or heavy use, the Pixel 2 XL does recharge pretty quick and even a short 15-minute charge will give you a few hours of extra battery life.

Price/Value

The Google Pixel 2 XL isn’t cheap though and goes toe to toe with other high-end flagship devices. The device sells through the Google Store for $849USD ($1159CAD) for the 64GB version and $949USD ($1289CAD) for the 128GB version. You can save a few dollars on Amazon with the 64GB version for as low as $719.99USD for an unlocked version.

While it may seem pricey, the Pixel 2 XL is pretty much in line with other devices with similar specs.

Wrap-up

The Google Pixel 2 XL is the second iteration (and third or fourth smartphone depending how you look at it) of Google’s internally developed smartphones. While it’s nothing overly special or different, it is a solid Android smartphone with the added luxury of having stock Android and timely security updates straight from Google. It’s also nice to see Google implementing some features from other OEMs into the hardware and the Android operating system as well, but there are still many more useful features they can add.

*We were sent a review unit of the Google Pixel 2 XL for the purposes of this review.

Google Pixel 2 XL

$849+ USD
9.4

Design

9.0/10

Display

9.5/10

Software

9.5/10

Performance

10.0/10

Sound Quality

9.0/10

Camera

9.5/10

Reception/Call Quality

9.5/10

Battery Life

10.0/10

Price/Value

9.0/10

Nailed it

  • Solidly built smartphone
  • Clear, crisp screen
  • Great battery life
  • Fantastic camera
  • Stock Android getting more useful functionality
  • Active edge useful
  • IP67 rated

Needs work

  • Not a fan of the fluorescent orange power button
  • Fairly stock/bland design
  • Active edge can't be remapped to other programs
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