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Google Pixel 2 Review: Best Android ever?

The Good

  • Strong performance

The Bad

  • Software needs some love
4

The standard Pixel 2 handset offers a full specs update compared with the original Google phone, although its bigger sibling, the Pixel 2 XL, is the mobile that’s stealing the spotlight.

Last year saw the introduction of Google’s new Pixel smartphones. High-end handsets that boasted premium specs, unique design work and – of course – a clean, vanilla version of the company’s own Android OS.

We still have a serious soft spot for those original blowers, as you’ll see in our long-term Pixel review and long-term Pixel XL review. They’ve obviously been surpassed in many areas by an army of awesome Android blowers, freshly launched in the intervening twelve months. Yet if you still own one of Google’s originals, chances are you don’t have any pressing need to upgrade.

Of course, if you didn’t snatch up one of the first Pixels, you might be tempted to skip straight to the second generation. Google has just released the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, which offer an obligatory step up in specs and some other refinements here and there. You also get the fresh new Android Oreo, complete with a host of tweaks and new features.

Starting at £629 here in the UK, the Pixel 2 is a seriously top-end flagship phone, rivalling the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy S8, the LG V30 and Apple’s iPhone 8. So has Google packed in enough value to make that steep asking price worthwhile? Here’s our in-depth review.

Check out our full Pixel 2 XL review for our thoughts on the mega-sized model.

Pixel 2 review: Design

If one of your priorities is a compact design that’s easy to handle, the Pixel 2 will certainly appeal. This is one of the few smartphones of 2017 that hits our new, updated definition of ‘compact’: 5-inches or under.

That said, while the new Pixel is noticeably smaller than rivals such as the OnePlus 5 and Sony’s Xperia XZ1, it’s actually pretty close in size to Samsung’s 5.8-inch Galaxy S8. That’s thanks to the undeniably chunky bezels surrounding Google’s display. While the S8’s screen wraps around the edges and stretches near to the top and bottom of the device, a large part of the Pixel’s frontage is dead space. That’s a shame considering the reduced bezels of the XL model.

All the same, the Pixel 2 is pretty easy to use one-handed. You don’t even really need the fingerprint gesture, for dragging down that notifications bar.

Compared with most other flagship handsets, the Pixel 2 also lacks a certain something in the looks department – at least, in the standard white or black model. The handset is well constructed, with a metal backing that stretches around the edges seamlessly. As with last year’s devices, the Pixel sports a glossy glass surfacing around the camera lens, to break up that matte finish. This still looks pretty snazzy, although the Pixel 2 XL offers a more premium feel with its smooth curves, while the contrasting black and white model is pretty cool.

We’d say go for the ‘kinda blue’ model, which stands out more – although we still prefer the really blue Pixel finish.

The good news is that the Pixel 2 is impressive hardy. Not only can it shrug off bumps and bangs, it’s also fully water resistant, to survive an unexpected dip in the toilet.

Over on the rear of the phone you’ll find a fingerprint sensor, which is perfectly positioned for effortless use. Pick up the handset and your finger should naturally fall onto the scanner, to unlock it in an instant. Sadly there’s no iris scanner alternative, although you can choose the less secure voice unlock feature for those moments when your hands are messy.

What works?

The Pixel 2 is quite compact despite those chunky bezels and reassuringly tough to boot, complete with full water resistance.

What doesn’t?

There’s a definite lack of sex factor considering that premium price tag.

Pixel 2 review: Screen and media

One of the major controversies surrounding the new Pixel 2 XL was the state of that 6-inch pOLED display. Although that mighty panel is certainly sharp and a respectable way to take in an HD movie, we were surprised to see issues with tinting and colour vibrancy.

Thankfully these problems aren’t present on the standard Pixel 2. That 5-inch AMOLED screen isn’t much different from the previous Pixel’s panel, sporting the same dimensions as well as an identical Full HD 1920×1080 resolution.

We didn’t see any issues with colour temperature and so on, although once again visuals lack any kind of punch. Considering this is an OLED display, image reproduction is much closer to the likes of the iPhone 8, with its IPS panel. You can definitely expect more realistic hues, rather than colours that really pop. That’s even with the ‘Vivid colours’ mode activated.

Contrast levels are definitely solid however, with deep blacks and quite crisp whites on show. We’ve happily watched TV shows and full-length movies on that dinky screen, without complaint.

Despite the compact design of the Pixel 2, you still get dual front-facing speakers, positioned above and below the display. These pack a punch when it comes to top volume, so you’ll have no trouble hearing over loud background noise. However, as you might expect, they’re also pretty tinny. Forget about enjoying any kind of bass, while clarity also suffers as you crank up the sound.

Google has stripped the 3.5mm jack, although you do get a Type-C USB adapter for slotting in your wired headphones. Alternatively, Bluetooth 5 is supported for wireless sets.

If you download your media rather than stream it, the good news is that you have 64GB of storage space on the standard model. That can be upgraded to 128GB for an extra £100. Sadly there’s no support for microSD memory cards, however.

What works?

The Pixel 2’s display is crisp and boasts impressive contrast levels, strong visibility and realistic image reproduction.

What doesn’t?

If you want punchy visuals, you should look to rival devices from the likes of Samsung – which also offer headphone jacks and expandable storage.

Pixel 2 review: Features and OS

The software side of things is identical between the standard Pixel 2 and the bigger Pixel 2 XL, with Google’s latest Android Oreo OS on board. So far we quite like Oreo, although a fair few of the new features need a little more love – such as the frankly knackered picture-in-picture mode. And while purists will enjoy the lack of feature-heavy overlays, we can’t help but feel that rival devices from the likes of Samsung and Sony offer more for your money.

Google Assistant is of course on board and improving all of the time. You now have full support for multi-room streaming and Chromecast control, for instance, while smart home support is also expanding. You can now call the Assistant into action with a quick squeeze of the Pixel 2, thanks to those Active Edge sensors. It’s a solid feature that works well, although can’t be remapped to another app on demand.

Check out our full Pixel 2 tips and tricks guide for an in-depth look at our favourite – and not-quite-so-lovable – Android Oreo features. You can also get loads more info on the latest Google OS in our Android Oreo hub.

What works?

This is one of the only ways to check out Android Oreo, in its glorious, naked form. Google Assistant continues to grow and can be quickly accessed via that Active Edge sensor.

What doesn’t?

A lack of ‘bonus features’ means the Pixel 2 struggles to stand out over rivals, as far as software is concerned.

Pixel 2 review: Performance and battery life

You can expect a silky smooth experience no matter what you’re up to, as the Pixel 2 offers the same Snapdragon 835 chipset as its bigger sibling. Qualcomm’s beefy chipset is backed by 4GB of RAM, to take down any task you throw its way.

If that means nothing to you, don’t worry. The Pixel 2 is essentially just as powerful as other rival flagship phones, and should stand the test of time admirably. In our week of testing, we didn’t see any kind of stutter or lag, while apps load the instant you tap on them.

Battery life is also impressive, even though the standard Pixel phone offers a much smaller cell than the XL model (2700mAh compared with the bigger phone’s 3520mAh battery). We regularly managed well over a day of life per charge, and at least a day and a half even with heavy use.

There’s no support for wireless charging, although fast charge is super effective. An hour at the plug gets you close to a complete charge, while just ten to fifteen minutes will happily last you over a long commute.

What works?

Great performance and long battery life makes for happy users.

What doesn’t?

No wireless charging support is a shame, considering the growth of Qi tech.

Pixel 2 review: Cameras

One area where the Pixel 2 certainly shines is its camera tech. Although Google has stubbornly stuck with a single lens shooter, our camera tests produced results that happily rival any dual lens smartphone snapper out there. You may not get the telephoto abilities of the iPhone 8 Plus, or the wide-angle view of the LG V30, yet the Pixel 2 is still up there with the best for overall quality.

Check out our in-depth Pixel 2 camera review for photo and video samples and all you need to know.

What works?

Crisp, detail-packed and perfectly balanced photos, in pretty much any conditions. Even the Portrait Mode works well, despite the Pixel 2’s single lens.

What doesn’t?

Video quality and shooting options could be improved.

Pixel 2 review: Verdict

Google’s Pixel phones are among the very few Android handsets out there to offer a clean, unfettered version of the OS, packed inside some premium hardware. You might not get much in the way of frills, yet the Pixel is a well-constructed smartphone that delivers dependable performance and solid battery life, as well as one of the better cameras of 2017. It’s also pleasingly compact, compared with the slew of 5.5-inch-plus mobiles out there.

The only issue for us is that asking price. The likes of the OnePlus 5, Honor 9 and Moto G5s Plus also serve up impressive camera tech and slick performance, at a significant cost reduction. In fact, the Pixel 2 has the exact same problem as the Nokia 8 flagship: right now, you can get a very similar experience for a lot less cash.

Check out our Pixel 2 hub for everything you need to know, including our Pixel 2 XL review, tips and tricks guide and plenty more features.

Specification

Bonus featuresFingerprint sensor

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