Google Pixel 2 XL review

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

Camera

Speaking of smartphone cameras, the Pixel XL had one of the best mobile cameras around, and thankfully the Pixel 2 XL continues that legacy.

Photos snapped through the 12MP, f/1.8 aperture lens are detailed and have nicely balanced colours. There is a small but noticeable improvement in contrast and detail over the camera of the original Pixels, too.

However, video at 4K/30fps is a weaker point, with captured footage appearing to have less detail when compared side-by-side with a video caught on Pixel XL. This issue is likely down to poor video compression though, which is something that Google should be able to patch out.

Optical image stabilisation is now available in the Pixel 2 XL, helping achieve better macro and low light photography, but things get smart when the optical image stabilisation is combined with the handset's electronic image stabilisation. Machine learning stitches the two techniques together and smooths out any bumps and jerks when recording video; if you need to shoot a video one handed or after a lot of coffee, the smart stabilisation really works well to iron out any jittery movement.

And the machine learning doesn't stop there. When taking stills, the Pixel 2 XL captures multiple pictures from a single shot and uses smart algorithms to form the best possible picture out of the images. It also records a three second clip to create a form of 'live photo' with smartly selected beginning and end points for the clips.

The Pixel 2 XL's camera also has a novel approach to snapping photos with impressive depth of field, thanks to the use of a lens that has pixels made up of two smaller pixels, forming a dual pixel camera that uses machine learning to measure the depth of pictures, without needing a second lens like the OnePlus 5 or iPhone 8 Plus.

This is the tech behind the Pixel 2 XL's portrait mode, which helps keep the subject of a photo in focus while artistically blurring the background. Working on the 8MP front-facing camera as well, the Portrait mode produces some very nice pictures that achieve some of the fancy bokeh effects that would normally be the domain of DSLR cameras.

Without a doubt, the Pixel 2 XL has one of the best cameras out of any smartphone, and if Google can improve the video compression then that camera will go from excellent to sublime.

Verdict

While it's getting difficult to actually buy a bad smartphone these days, there has been a clutch of impressive handsets that made their debut this year; were it not for them the Pixel 2 XL would be the best Android handset around.

Despite our disappointment with the display, the size of it combined with the performance of the hardware and the Google's smart software means the Pixel 2 XL is great for work and play.

On the other hand, if you value your privacy then the Pixel 2 XL is not for you, as it's smart features are at their best with free access to your apps and data.

The sticking point is really the price. When the Pixel 2 XL hits stores, Google will want 799 for the 64GB version and 899 for the 128GB model, which is a rather high price for a utilitarian smartphone.

The mighty Galaxy Note 8 is in that price range and offers a more striking design and mesmerising display, and the Galaxy S8+ is now available for a little more than 600 and offers excellent performance as well as a great 6.7-inch display and a refined software experience.

Fans of pure Android who want a well-made, big-screen workhorse of a smartphone will want the Pixel 2 XL, which is worth the extra cost over the smaller and less impressively-designed Pixel 2.

However, for those who are less fussed about smart virtual assistants and near-stock Android, Samsung's Galaxy handsets are likely to be the better fit thanks to their superior design and displays. And Apple fans are not likely to be swayed when the iPhone X is on the horizon and is only (comparatively speaking) a little more expensive.

Nevertheless, the Pixel 2 XL is Google's attempt to showcase its machine learning chops and present the best take on Android around, and it succeeds with aplomb. If Google can keep improving upon its Pixel phones each year, then we could soon be seeing a new smartphone champion to knock Apple and Samsung off their pedestals.

Verdict

The Pixel 2 XL is the best pure Android phone in the market with a smarter Google Assistant and a large curved screen. Unfortunately, the display is a nasty disappointment, with poor viewing angles and dull colours which keeps Google's phone from achieving greatness.

ProcessorOcta-core 2.35GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
RAM4GB
Screen size6in
Screen resolution2,880 x 1,440
Screen typeP-OLED
Front camera8-megapixel
Rear camera12.2-megapixel
Flashdual-LED
GPSYes
CompassYes
Storage (free)64/128GB
Memory card slot (supplied)N/A
Wi-Fi802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth5.0
NFCYes
Wireless data4G
Dimensions157.9 x 76.7 x 7.9 mm
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