Google Pixel 2 XL review

The search giant takes aim at Samsung and Apple's finest smartphones

IT Pro Innovation
Price
£666
  • Fresh, attractive yet practical design; The best take on Android Oreo around; Powerful hardware
  • Atrocious screen viewing angles; Poor colours on the display; Bad 4K video compression

Google's Pixel 2 XL is arguably the Google phone Android fans have been waiting for since the debut of its predecessor, the Pixel XL, some twelve months ago.

Amid a strong lineup of Android handsets this year, such as Samsung's Galaxy S8, the Pixel 2 XL brings its A-game to the mobile arena, offering a new and refined design, boosted processing power and a more capable Google Assistant.

However, the hype surrounding the Pixel 2 XL means it has a lot to live up to, particularly when Apple's iPhone X is being released in the same month.

02/02/18 UPDATE: We have been using the Pixel 2 XL for around four months now and have encountered a few issues with our review handset.

Most prominent is speaker distortion when playing audio through the phones stereo speakers or making calls. When watching a video with the volume set at 50% or higher the audio has a distinct and distracting crackle; ramp it up to maximum and there a rattling quality to the sound that's rather unpleasant.

The distortion when making phone calls is less noticeable but it presents an annoying fuzzy tone that sounds a little like there is a bad connection, when in fact the call quality on the phone the Pixel 2 XL was connected to remained clear.

There are numerous reports of speaker problems from other Pixel 2 XL users, though the handsets our sibling sites Alphr and Expert Reviews had to test did not suffer from such speaker distortion. As such, the issue appears to affect some but not all handsets.

We also experienced some problems with connectivity with the USB Type-C port. When plugged into a laptop, the connection would sometimes struggle to maintain a steady link to the machine it was being used with. Then when using the bundled headphone dongle, our Pixel 2 XL ended up crashing a few times and refused to recognise our headphones despite them working fine with the smaller Pixel 2.

Looking around on various support forums, we noticed we were not the only ones encountering such problems. These issues could be resolved through a software update, but at the time of writing there was no fix available.

While we feel the Pixel 2 XL is a very impressive Android phone, if you are looking to buy one we'd recommend giving it a thorough test within the cool-off period of mobile contracts or within the phone's warranty.

Design

Whereas Google's Pixel 2 had a very 2016 design with big bezels and a squared-off screen, the Pixel 2 XL is bang on 2017's trend of bezel-eating display.

The 6-inch display runs edge-to-edge on its sides, while bezels are still present on the top and bottom of the handset, though they are greatly reduced over the original Pixel XL. These bezels now house a stereo speaker array too, meaning the Pixel 2 XL makes better use of the extra space it has than its predecessor.

Chamfered edges have been dropped in favour of a rounded design that feeds back into some nicely textured aluminium, which feels very lovely in the hand.

Around the back, the glass panel that marks out Pixel phones is still present and correct - except it has been reduced by half so it now only holds the camera module, which protrudes slightly from the phone's back due to holding a more sophisticated camera than its predecessor.The Pixel 2 XL's fingerprint scanner is still well-positioned in the middle of the phones rear top-half and is easy to find when unlocking the phone in a hurry.

While the handset is a tad taller than its older sibling, it's lost a little of the Pixel XL's girth which gave the original handset a pleasant heft, though the Pixel 2 XL still feels solid and capable of surviving a few drops.

Just as it has done with the Pixel 2, Google has left the 3.5mm headphone jack on the wayside with the Pixel 2 XL, forcing users to either opt for Bluetooth headphones or use the bundled USB Type-C adapter. This may seem like a pain, but neither option is very intrusive to use, and by removing the headphone port the handset gains its brace of speakers which have a solid audio punch.

While the headphone jack has been dropped, the Pixel 2 XL has gained IP67 water and dust resistance, which should help it survive a British downpour.

Another new feature that's not so easy to spot is the HTC U11-inspired Active Edge: squeezable edges on the bottom part of the handset's sides which, when given a quick grip and release, activate the Google Assistant. It might seem a tad odd, but actually works quite well once you find the right way to squeeze the Active Edge.

Available in two colours - 'Just Black' and the rather fetching 'Black and White', which has an striking orange power switch - the Pixel 2 XL is rather spartan in its colour options, and overall the Pixel 2 XL, while a step up in design over its predecessor, is not exactly the flashiest phone around.

The Galaxy Note 8 is more striking with its Infinity Display and glass construction. But the Pixel 2 XL feels more like a phone you can use without worrying about damaging its fancy exterior, rather than the more fashion accessory-like iPhone for example.

The large screen with its rounded design and the lack of flashiness of the chassis draws focus to the Pixel 2 XL's smart abilities and excellent take on stock Android, making it a phone that can be used hard and fast rather than a device to fondle and admire; something that we appreciate when it comes to tapping out emails and working on the go.

Display

On paper the 6in, 2,880 x 1,440 resolution pOLED display (with the p standing for the plastic panel the screen uses) looks set to be pretty good display. After all, the Pixel XL's display was impressive, so Google can only do better right? Well, not quite.

At first glance the Pixel 2 XL's display is definitely striking, with rounded corners that help make the handset's bezels fade into insignificance. However, despite hitting 99.8% sRGB coverage and offering excellent contrast in our tests, measuring in at a ratio of Infinity:1, the Pixel 2 XL's colours appear muted - if not close to washed out. Even with the display's brightness cranked up, the colours are not as vivid as they are on the AMOLED-toting Pixel 2 or the original Pixel XL.

This could be a calibration problem that Google might be able to solve with a software update, but the pOLED panel throws up another gremlin that's harder to fix; its viewing angles are pretty poor. Unless you look at the display head on then the colours fade out and and take on a distracting blueish hue.

This is not great for a flagship phone, particularly as during our hands-on experience with the handset at the Pixel 2 launch event, the Pixel 2 XL's display looked a lot more impressive. There's a chance that we have received a handset from a faulty batch, but our sister site Expert Reviews reported similar issues with its review model.

While the display is disappointing, in longer use with the brightness - which is admittedly excellent - on full and the adaptive display mode turned off, the Pixel 2 XL is still pleasant to watch video on, and its size makes scrolling through web pages and bouncing between apps in split-screen mode a joy.

The Pixel 2 may offer better colours but its smaller bezel-flanked display still makes the Pixel 2 XL's larger screen more desirable on the display front, as it really showcases Android at its best and offers a 'phablet' experience that really means you can get the best of both a smartphone and tablet.

For some the flaws in the Pixel 2 XL's display may be too much of a sticking point, but we found you can learn to live with its shortcomings and enjoy its pleasantly curvy design and the fact that Google's own take on Android Oreo feels fantastic on a bezelless 6-inch screen.

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