The Google Pixel 2 XL Review

The Google Pixel 2 XL Review

The Big Decision

I finally did it, I made the big decision to switch from iOS to Android. After upgrading to an iPhone 7 Plus in 2016 and seeing no massive improvements (other than the camera), I felt it was time to try something new. That something was the Google Pixel 2 XL.

It’s safe to say that I have been somewhat bored with iOS. The tried and tested safe user environment and the graphical user interface, coupled with the recent announcement of the iPhone 8/Plus and iPhone X left me with a taste of disinterest in my mouth. I’ve felt that there hasn’t been a massive jump in evolution with the iOS ecosystem for some time.

So when I spotted the Google Pixel 2, I felt like it was time to potentially make the switch from an ecosystem I was so heavily invested into an entirely alien one. It was no easy decision I might add. First I had to pay off my current contract and secondly, I had to figure out how I was going to migrate from an all Apple system to an open Android system.

So thus my journey began. After days of watching and reading reviews on the Pixel 2 and the XL version, I debated the possibility of the change so much that I consoled with my good friend Daryl Baxter from Outpost about it.

Daryl was the main influence in my decision to purchase my iPad Pro (review on that in the future). He advised me to “go for it”, change is always a good thing and we both agreed the iPhone X was lacking in a lot of ways, but even worse the iPhone 8/8 Plus was not a justifiable upgrade after such a short time.

On the 1st  December 2017 and after much research and discussion I took my first step from iOS to Android with the purchase of a Google Pixel 2 XL.

The First Mistake

It all started with a huge mess, the first mistake started when I ordered the wrong Pixel 2 model. I accidentally placed an order for a white Pixel 2 due to Carphone Warehouse’s complex and unfavourable website. I found the phone I wanted, I clicked buy, and I was then brought to the available tariffs. It was here that I was shown some very good tariffs, so I picked the best one. However, I would soon find out that it switched my selected option of the Pixel 2 XL in black and white but for the basic Pixel 2 phone in white.

The next day the phone arrived and I instantly knew something was up by the size of the box. This was not the phone I wanted. I quickly checked my receipt and it was indeed the Pixel 2 in white. This was slightly embarrassing, a setback, and a mistake that forced me to visit my local Carphone Warehouse store to sort out this mess.

The staff at the Malvern Carphone Warehouse store saw where the confusion lied. The Pixel 2 in white is the same name as the Pixel 2 XL black and white on the website and in their internal system. During this discovery, we must have spent a good 15 minutes confirming that the phone I initially desired was to be the phone that we were to order in its place.

This negative did have a happy ending in the end. I received the Black and White Pixel 2 XL in 64gb on the same contract with no additional cost to my monthly payments.

The Anticipation

After a day of anxiously awaiting the arrival of the phone I had read so much about, the anticipation became unbearable. Fortunately, the phone arrived at work with 20 minutes to spare before the end of the day. I rushed home with excitement and began the process of unboxing, inspecting, and then setting up the phone.

Unboxing

I felt a similar vibe to unboxing an Apple iPhone when unboxing my Pixel. The packaging was neat, clean, and featured precision folded cardboard with a perfect fit, gloss white packaging and that clean Apple famous aesthetic.

Each part of the phone had its own compartment. First, you open the box to reveal the Pixel 2 XL and below that, the quick-charge plug socket, a USB-C cable, and the USB-C to headphone adapter.

Pixel 2 XL BoxPixel 2 XL Unboxing

Pixel 2 XL unboxing components

The Transfer

Setting up the Pixel 2 was extremely easy and quite frankly, somewhat worrying. With the simple connection of the two phones with a single cable, I was able to transfer all my contacts, messages, and photos over to my new phone. If it wasn’t for my impatience I wouldn’t have felt so silly. One day prior to receiving my Pixel 2, I spent the majority of the night researching and transferring all of my contacts, photos, calendars, and much more over to Google’s alternatives.

All that was required was for me to make this transfer was to disable the password on my backups through iTunes. This transfer took about 15 minutes in total for around 14gb of photos, apps, calendar entries, contacts, and messages.

The iPhone to Pixel 2 XL Transfer

This easy transfer poses a potential security risk. If someone has access to an iOS device that does not have encrypted backups enabled, it would be easy for anyone to potentially clone their data and steal personal information. I’m honestly surprised Apple has allowed this form of data transfer to be possible.

First Impressions of Android Oreo

My first impressions of Android Oreo were very positive. Google’s minimalist approach was a much nicer Android experience than that I have experienced using my friends Samsung phones.

Everything was very simple, easy to follow, and there was minimal clutter. The layout was very customisable with app placement and widgets. I love the fact that I can swipe up to view all the apps on my phone. This feature is something I wish iOS had. With iOS I found scrolling through pages of apps (in no particular order) quite frustrating (and yes, I do realise there is a search function) whereas on Android they’re all laid out in alphabetical order and presented in a simple fashion.

Another thing I love is the fact that the theme changes depending on your background. If you’re running a light image as your background you will have a light theme filled which is pleasant and bright. If you have a background filled with dark imagery the OS will switch to a dark theme which I have to say is very appealing and does not strain my eyes – especially at night.

Battery Life and Charging

I use my phone a lot during the day, when I’m not working I’m glued to my phone reading emails, catching up with social media, watching videos, surfing the internet, and using location and processor intensive apps on the regular. So having a good battery is incredibly important to me. The battery on the Pixel 2 XL is impressive. Google supports USB-C quick charge which will give you 7 hours of battery life after only 15 minutes of charge. On a full charge I can get a day and a half of usage and at a push, I can get two days battery without a charge.

Now when it comes to charging, the phone is supplied with a quick charge wall adapter and a USB-C cable. This is somewhat of an inconvenience because this USB-C cable is only compatible with USB-C devices or the supplied charger. One solution I found was to purchase several USB-C to Type-A cables which allowed me to use my Anker power brick, the USB connection in my car, and to allow myself to connect the phone to my computer.

A Key Missing Feature

Jumping from an iPhone 7 Plus to a Pixel 2 XL in terms of usability and reachability came with some problems. There is a key missing feature which could be implemented to make the experience much more fluent and enable easier use with one hand. That feature is reachability. On the iPhone 7 Plus I can double tap the home button and it would drag the screen down to allow me to reach the back button and many other options at the top of the screen.

Android does have a way around this in terms of returning home with the handy back button. However, this isn’t great for apps that have menus and buttons located at the top. This forces me to use two hands.

The Headphone Jack and Speakers

Wait, there is no headphone jack? Well, what did you expect? It has become so normal for electronic device manufacturers to give up potential battery real estate for a headphone jack. I can’t blame them, the provided adapter is small enough to not be an inconvenience and I see no decline in audio quality from using an adapter over a standard headphone jack. Yes, I’m losing the ability to charge and listen at the same time, but honestly, if I’m ever at a location where I can charge my phone, I’m usually within arms distance of my iPad, or computer which has a set of speakers or a headphone jack. I just wish Google included some headphones as I’m currently using my old iPhone headphones.

The speakers on the Pixel 2 are front facing and powerful. The audio quality is clear, precise, and there isn’t a tinny sound that destroys any enjoyment of your content. I know for a fact they are not the best smartphone speakers on the market, as I believe the new Razer phone holds that crown. However, for day to day use, they’re right for the job.

Things I love

You may have noticed that I have already picked up on two things I love about this phone, but there are a lot of things I love about the Pixel 2 XL. To start with, the actual phone itself is gorgeous. I love the panda look of the black and white model, even down to the orange power button. This gives it a unique look and something that adds something new to a market crowded with all black, rose gold, and grey phones.

The rear touch sensor fantastic. It unlocks my phone in a fraction of a second (much faster than my iPhone) and if you swipe down on the sensor it reveals your notifications. Swipe down once more and you’ll have full access to your quick access options, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Flash Light, and more. Now, what about the camera? The camera is fantastic, possibly the best results I’ve seen from a phone camera but, not without its flaws.

Size wise the phone fits comfortably in my hand and doesn’t feel like I’m holding a phablet and the button placement are easily accessible without any strain.

Google Photos is fantastic! When you purchase a Google Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL you gain unlimited storage for full resolution pictures and videos online. This means you no longer have to store them on your phone, thus eliminating the need for a large storage model. I have the 64gb model and when I connect to Wi-fi, my phone backs up all of my photos and videos instantly. Once this is done I have the option to remove them from my phone and free up space. Another handy feature is the built-in assistant. The assistant scans images based on location, people, and date it was taken, then it offers to create events, animations, collages, and even apply filters. It is a lovely touch which allows me to take a trip down memory lane every so often.

Pixel 2 XL always on display

The always on display which is prominent on most modern Android phones is fantastic. Why does the iPhone not have this? The tiny notification icons are incredible. I love how simplistic and how little information they give away. It is exactly how notifications should be displayed on a lock screen. However, I’d love it if they were displayed in colour like when they are first displayed.

Google Assistant

Let’s take some time to talk about Google Assistant. Siri is something I barely used when I used my iPhone 7 Plus (and all previous versions that supported it). To me Siri felt underwhelming, unfinished, and half the time it got things wrong. My experience with Google assistant has been the exact opposite. It is accurate, full of information and does what I ask. I simply squeeze my phone (a surprisingly handy and welcome feature of this phone) and ask away.

So far I’ve had a 99% success rate with my queries. Some of those include:

  • Dictating text messages
  • Calling contacts
  • Finding out information on the fly
  • Checking my calendar
  • Playing YouTube videos based off of my query
  • Pausing, skipping, and playing music
  • Launching Spotify playlists
  • Yes, even taking a selfie.

Google Assistant Examples

So far I am still yet to discover everything it can offer. Along with the purchase of my Pixel 2 XL, I was due to receive a Google Home Mini with my phone. However, due to stock issues at Carphone Warehouse I have still yet to receive it. After I’ve received it, I may return to this review to comment on the phone’s compatibility with the Google Home Mini.

Issues I’ve Encountered

This would not be a fair review if I did not mention the many issues I’ve encountered. So to better explain them, I will list them off below and then expand on them.

  • Unresponsive Apps
  • Touch Screen issues
  • Portrait Mode
  • Screenshots
  • Notifications
  • Sharing of data with iOS apps

Firstly I’ll start with my issues with unresponsive apps. One of the many perks of using an iOS device is that all apps are coded for one architecture and have a very good track rate of being compatible across all iPhone and iPad devices. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for Android. Many apps I’ve used have been plagued with bugs, crashes, and slow responsiveness. This has obviously been addressed over the time I have been using the phone, as I have received numerous app updates. So much so, that many apps seem to have multiple updates a week. All though I can’t expect every app to be perfect, I would hope Google would be a bit more stringent with apps and their compatibility issues.

The touchscreen can sometimes fail to recognise my fingers in certain spots. I first noticed this while swiping through Instagram. I’ve noticed this more prominently on the edges and corners of the screen. Coming from an iPhone with a near perfect touchscreen experience, it can come off as disappointing from such an expensive device.

Portrait mode on the camera app is great. However, to unlock portrait mode on the front facing camera I had to download a package for the camera externally and install it. This was a feature highly publicised which was not on my phone nor available through updates from the default Google Play Store.

One little annoyance is the inconsistency of app icons. Now, I know this is me being picky, but why are 90% of my apps circle and the other 10% square?

Screenshots are something I use on the regular but, unfortunately, it feels like I have to crush my phone and hold down the two buttons for almost two seconds before it will take a screenshot. Even after that, I have no options to review and edit them prior to saving them or add any form of annotation.

I love the notification system on Android, it is clean and simple but, it is not without its annoyances. I receive notifications when I visit a shop, save a screenshot, download an image from Google photos, and so much more. Why does Google need to tell me that I should consider taking a photo at my location? I understand a lot of people take photos of their food and drink, but I do not need to take a photo of my trip to the local supermarket.

And finally, one thing that annoyed me was that most apps do not share data between iOS and Android. This is because the majority of iOS apps use iCloud to store data, whereas Android it offers you a choice to store data locally, with Google Drive, or in some cases, app-specific online storage. One thing I would have loved to have kept would have been my old WhatsApp messages that I and my girlfriend have accumulated over the course of our relationship, unfortunately, I’ve had to settle for a text document as a backup.

The Camera

The Pixel 2 Camera is fantastic, the shots it produces are second to none when it comes to a mobile phone (at the time of writing this). I love how clear and sharp images are processed. The increased dynamic range offered by the sensor really brings out so much more.

The flat image produced might put people off, however, I find this to be brilliant implementation as I am someone who edits all his photos before sharing them. The dynamic range present in the flat image allows you to bring out so much detail and colour from something that would otherwise seem quite bland. It’s just a shame we cannot shoot in RAW as I feel this camera could bring out even more from its already impressive sensor.

Below is an example of a before and after photo. The first image was shot at Symonds Yat on an overcast and windy day and the second image is the same shot, but I’ve taken some time to edit it to breath more life into it.

Pixel 2 XL Camera Comparison

The Portrait mode is fantastic (when it works). I’ve noticed on many occasions that the software blur fails to calculate the entire area and at some points fail to blur certain points on an image. It falls short often when shooting objects. It’s very smart with faces, but when you add a body, another person, or varying objects in the foreground and background, it begins to struggle.

Pixel 2 XL Portrait Mode Inconsistency

The Portrait mode is hit or miss. As you can see, it finds it very hard to work with non-human subjects.

Obviously, a software effect will never be as accurate as the real thing, but to eliminate the need for a second camera, it does perform admirably well. Another advantage of this software implementation is both the Pixel 2 and the Pixel 2 XL are equal in camera quality.

Selfie Portrait mode is very promising with the front-facing camera. The software picks up subjects (even in low light) and creates that desired blur effect. It is just a shame that the front-facing camera is not the same as the rear. I believe that all phone manufacturers need to address having equal cameras on both the front and rear.

So what about the low light performance? This camera was advertised for its ability to shoot photos in low light clearly and I can confirm that is is very good in this regard. The quality is good, but it does have a fair bit of grain. Check out a few unedited photos I took during low light situations.

Google Pixel 2 XL Low Light in Snow

Google Pixel 2 XL Low Light

Video

Video quality is fantastic, the in built optical stabilisation makes filming on the move a smooth (but not perfect) experience. I haven’t attempted this with any form of gimbal to see if the optical stabilisation interferes with it like on an iPhone, but it is definitely smooth shooting with little effort.

4K video files are as expected, huge. 1080p is very clear and can be shot up to 60fps, anymore I feel would be overkill as I would prefer far more manual options and the ability to manually adjust exposure, shutter speed, and more. Obviously, I could download a dedicated film app, but it would be nice to have advanced features out of the box.

Ultimately it is definitely the biggest selling point of this phone. It shoots fantastic portrait and landscape photos and is fast to focus and fast to shoot. If you’re after a solid camera, this is the phone for you.

Apps and the Google Play Store

Coming from Apple’s App Store to the Google Play store is quite a difference, Apple’s App Store is very user-friendly and straightforward. When I first opened the Google Play store I had so many app recommendations thrown in my face that I didn’t know where to begin.

Now to some, this might seem somewhat a little much or a godsend, but I have found it at times to be very helpful with an ounce of confusion. Apps are all over the place and it the viewing isn’t optimised for the screen size. Everything apart from the main menu is a slider. This includes the top menu, the categories and all of the app recommendations. Some people may prefer this, but I’d prefer a more tailored layout based on my phone, especially as it is a Google-produced phone. However, amongst this mess, I have found some very good apps which I use daily. So what apps am I using on a day to day basis?

Firstly, the apps I’ve been using based on recommendations from friends are the following.

  • Sync
  • File Manager by ASUS
  • Google Rewards
  • Outlook

Sync was the go-to Reddit client recommended to me by a friend. It’s simple to use layout, easy filtering, search and previews made it a no-brainer to be the first app I paid for an ad-free experience.

File Manager by ASUS is fantastic. It allows me to search through my phones storage and hidden system files with ease in a simple to use interface. It allows me to store images and documents away from all my other apps by creating a hidden folder and storing them in this folder. Consider it a simple secure way to store sensitive documents and images from prying eyes and apps on your phone.

Google Rewards

Google Rewards has been a fantastic download. It is a simple app which allows you to get paid in Google Play credit to answer some of the simplest and shortest surveys imaginable. I was paid 22p to answer a single question survey. Obviously, some people may not wish to give away specific information or personal details to Google, but the information I’ve provided is nothing that would cause me to be at risk from identity theft. If anything, it’ll help Google provide better-tailored products for me.

Outlook has been my go-to email client for my main account. I’ve also tried out the Gmail app and “Inbox by Google”, but it seemed as if these new modern clients tailor my experience and hide important emails. Even when I attempt to search for them, they would be unfindable. Outlook keeps it very simple as it should be with emails. The focused inbox is extremely smart and the “other” folder contains ALL of the remaining emails.

The apps I use on a daily basis thanks to the recommendations of the clutter that is the Google Play store are as follows:

  • Google Fit
  • Google Authenticator
  • Curiosity
  • Inbox by Google

Google Fit unveiled one of the surprises that I was unaware of (which I question the accuracy of) is the built-in pedometer in my Google Pixel. I was unaware that I could use my phone to track my daily steps, calorie burning, and distance walked. As someone who works at a computer all day I do not get to be very active during the day, so being able to set myself a goal is a psychological push for me to get off my backside and move.

Google Authenticator has now become my 2-step authentication app of choice. Originally I chose to use Authy on my iOS due to its push notifications when I sign into an account that requires authentication, but Google Authenticator is simple to use and runs a lot smoother on Android than the alternative. However, I will continue to use Authy for certain logins on Android for the time being.

Curiosity was recommended to me based on my usage of Sync. I love reading about anything that looks interesting and that I can learn from. Technology, science, culture, news, health, whatever. Curiosity gives me daily articles where I can actually learn something new. Whether it is about our solar system or the human body, there is an article for every type of person.

Finally, Inbox by Google is a more advanced mail client from Google that I find to be somewhat interesting and unique, but I seem to have found a lot of issues with it. Firstly, it straight up does not work with my main email account, it only seems to work with my Gmail accounts I have (yes I have multiple). It displays emails in a lovely way with graphical elements and colour, but it also seems to hide emails or make me hunt for them because they’re not important in its eyes. So until these are ironed out, I’m currently using three email clients on my phone. Outlook, Inbox by Google, and the default Gmail app.

My Conclusion

To summarise and conclude on my few months with the Google Pixel 2 XL I would say that as a die-hard iPhone and Apple fan, I would say it was a sensible and rewarding switch. Like all new endeavours, there is much I still need to understand and learn to fully appreciate the phone. There are various software issues and bugs that need to be ironed out and some basic features that could greatly improve the usability of the phone.

The Pixel 2 is an incredible phone, I bought it because I was tired of the recycled iPhone program that made small incremental upgrades each major release. With the Pixel 2 there is a groundwork to dominate the market with simple features such as the multi-use touch sensor, incredible battery life, quick charging, squeeze to assist, and the camera really makes this a standout phone worthy of your money.

So if you’re looking for a new phone with a fantastic camera, long battery life, great speakers, and a confident operating system, I would highly recommend trying this phone out. Overall I give the Pixel 2 XL in its current state a 9/10.