Google Pixel 2 Review: Essentially Perfect
What is an ideal smartphone? For me, it’s a rather straightforward definition which starts with a comfortable, compact, and a handsome design that doesn’t feel like jewelry. The display should be bright, accurate and not too saturated or dull. A quick and excellent camera is a must. Performance shouldn’t degrade at least for a year which makes stock software an obvious trait. Lastly, a battery that can last a day even if I click gazillion pictures.
As you can tell, my demands are largely fundamental. I am not looking for any whizzy features from the future or a shiny exterior. Surprisingly though, not every smartphone, irrespective of the price range, is capable of checking all of these items. I always end up living with at least one major and essential compromise.
When Google introduced the Pixel 2 — a successor to the highly acclaimed Pixel 1, I was almost certain that this will be the closest contender to fulfilling these requirements. I was excited… until the issues began to pour in. Lots and lots of issues. However, the majority of these flaws were limited to the larger of the two, the Pixel 2 XL (our REVIEW here). The Pixel 2 was just ignored under this controversial shadow. It was, in fact, the one I was the most interested in despite the lack of that glorious tall screen.
Being a Pixel 1 owner myself, I was quite disappointed by this act and set out to find out if it was any worth the high-cost Google was demanding. After two weeks of extensive usage, hundreds of portraits, thousands of pictures and three days of a road trip, here’s what I think of it.
Function over Form
The Google Pixel 2 inherits its predecessor’s two-tone glass and metal design which now seems to have become a signature look for the series. The glass section has been, however, shrank a tad bit on the Pixel 2. While the entire phone is built out of aluminum, Google has coated the rear with a smooth plastic layer to yield a more utilitarian body. This material extends to the fingerprint sensor which is a nice touch.
Choosing function over form is a bold move in this day and age, but it has certainly paid off here. The phone also feels surprisingly lightweight despite weighing 143 grams, almost as the iPhone 8 which has an all-glass shell. The corners are no longer curved as Google has decided to favor a more boxy approach.
Like last year, most users will find the Pixel 2’s design boring. And they are probably right in a lot of ways especially when we consider the competition. However, I think it’s a very elegant and modern appearance that I personally prefer over others. The edges are smooth and echo rest of the design’s snazzy aesthetics. There’s also a subtle chamfered line running along the sides which I think is particularly clever as it adds a sumptuous character to it. I usually don’t say this about phones but holding the Pixel 2 is a weirdly pleasant experience. Google also decided to ditch the wedge-like shape because of which there’s an infinitesimal camera bump on the rear.
Unlike last year, Google has not wasted the space on those two huge bezels on the front. This time, it has added two stereo speakers, and they’re incredible. I truly haven’t heard better sound from a phone till date. It’s loud, lucid and doesn’t distort on extreme volumes which is astonishing considering how high it can get. Perhaps, HTC’s Boomsound might come close, but I didn’t have a phone to compare. The only pet peeve I have with this phone is the absence of a textured power button which I’m not entirely sure why they decided to abandon. It was present on the Pixel 1.
Letting #Donglelife Sink in
The Pixel 2 is also water resistant (IP67 certified) which essentially means it can survive minor splashes of water, but you can’t jump into the pool with it. Another big change on the outside is the lack of a standard headphone jack. I learned to live with it in a few days. However, this transition will be a lot more annoying for you if you still use wired headphones.
Google does bundle a dongle in the box (which I always keep connected to my backup earphones), but there’s no complimentary USB Type-C headset which is indeed, outrageous keeping in mind the cost and what other OEMs offer. The “Just Black” color option is now darker than before and attracts more smudges on the back that I normally like. That being said, most users will opt for an additional case anyway, so it’s not a deal breaker.
The bottom line is that the Pixel 2’s design won’t appeal to the masses. But it’s as impressive as other phones in the market, and you probably will not realize this until you hold it for a couple of minutes. If you are looking for a bit more glamor, you can always opt for the Kinda Blue option.
There’s a 5.0-inch Full HD AMOLED panel on the front of the phone which is devoid of any of the snags its bigger sibling suffers from. It’s bright, vivid, and also supports the always-on feature that persistently shows you little bits of information without draining too much battery. The screen is protected by a layer of Corning Gorilla Glass 5. In a recent software update, Google also brought a bunch of additional color profiles, but I’ve found the default “boosted” setting to be the most accurate and balanced.
A Compact variant that doesn’t skimp on power (again)
Under the hood, the Pixel 2 comes with all the power you would want including a Snapdragon 835 octa-core processor, 4GB of RAM, 64/128GB of internal storage which is not expandable, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, and a 2700mAh battery pack. I’m also glad to report the Bluetooth is no longer wonky and works perfectly even for lengthy sessions.
Being a Google phone, the Pixel 2 represents the prime Android experience and in spite of a handy form factor, is no slouch in the performance department. I didn’t face any lags whatsoever throughout my week’s usage, applications launch instantly, and it was able to handle all the games I threw at it. Considering my own Pixel 1 has still managed to retain its pace, I wouldn’t worry about this one either. “Ok Google” recognition from longer distances has been dramatically improved as well even if there’s another active media device in the room.
That being said, it’s worth mentioning a multitude of users have encountered critical performance hiccups on their units including two of our own editors at TechPP. The primary differences being they were using the bigger Pixel 2 XL and had used it for a relatively long time of over a month after which the lags started appearing.
The Pixel 2 ships with Android 8.0 and Google says it will receive updates for three years which is a first even for a Google phone. The company has already rolled out Android 8.1 which brings a slew of nifty additions such as a battery indicator for Bluetooth devices (thank god!), new boot animation, a custom new font, a proper Oreo logo and a few other miscellaneous little changes.
The Pixel 2 also packs a couple more software tricks. One of which is “Now Playing” that always listens for music in your surroundings and displays it on the lock screen as well as notification panel whenever it detects one. The feature works offline. Hence you don’t need to worry about Google being Google.
In addition to that, Google Lens is now available in the Photos and Assistant apps. For the uninitiated, this essentially lets you search with your camera. Unfortunately, it will be a while before Google Lens reaches the same level of accuracy the company’s other products celebrate. It does function in some obvious cases such as logos, popular landmarks, what have you. Moreover, if you point it at any handwriting on, for instance, whiteboards, it will ask if you’d like to save it to Google Keep and even remember the image for later purposes.
There is a myriad of ways through which you can summon the Google Assistant on a Pixel 2. The most interesting one among these is called “Active Edge” that lets you fire up a conversion with the virtual assistant by squeezing the edges of the phone. It’s fine, although I mostly used it for snoozing alarms and phone calls. Moreover, it would have been better if Google didn’t limit it to just the Assistant. Even HTC allows you configure the action. Additionally, it seems terribly underutilized as of now. Google could have made it a lot more dynamic and contextual. For instance, switching to the selfie camera in the camera app, switch tab in Chrome, you get the idea.
Also Read: Android Oreo Review
Battery life has consistently remained above average for me. On heavy usage and the always-on display turned off, the Pixel 2 was able to churn out at least four hours of screen on time. Basically, you can easily get a day of juice out of it. You will be, though, still charging it every day. Google provides a fast charger in the box which can top up the phone to 100% in less than 90 minutes.
Finally, let’s talk about the camera. The camera that has raised smartphone standards beyond what anyone could have imagined, all thanks to Google’s software prowess. Before I go on and drool over how spectacular it is, here’s how its Portrait mode works without a dual-camera setup.
Google is employing something called a Dual Pixel technology. In layman’s terms, it means every pixel the phone captures is actually a pair of pixels. Along with better focus, the Pixel 2, therefore, has significantly more information to process and play with. And as you probably already know, Google loves data.
On an iPhone, you get two pixels which are half an inch apart but the Pixel 2 benefits from two pixels which are less than a micron apart. As a result, the Pixel 2 is able to produce considerably better and accurate depth-of-field effects. In addition to blurring the background, Google also sharpens the foreground object which ameliorates the shot even further. This can though, at times, compose less natural pictures as unlike the rest of the phones, the Pixel 2 is artificially creating the depth through machine learning instead of making use of a secondary camera.
The Pixel 2 also, of course, features Google’s HDR+ technology for automatically adjusting the scene’s dynamic range. Moreover, the 12-megapixel lens is now supported by Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) as well and comes with a smaller f/1.8 aperture.
The Google Pixel 2 snaps impressive pictures in most lighting scenarios right out of the box. Colors are vivid, exposure is usually on point, and the autofocus never encounters any shutter delays. Yes, there were instances where the colors were a tad washed out but that doesn’t happen too often. There’s very little chance you will be ever disappointed by this camera, though. Each and every picture I took with it was sharp and detailed.
Low light shots are equally admirable with very little grain and precise dynamic range. It does occasionally struggle with handling the noise in dimly lit areas. That being said, it’s still better than any other phone out there. And oh, you should know the lens glare issue is gone as well.
The Portrait Mode for both the front and rear camera time and again produced better images than most dual-camera equipped phones which left me wondering whether the trend is plain hype. On the Pixel 2, you can just take a shot and let the software take care of the rest. It can be a hit or miss in some complicated situations where there are too many objects in focus.
However, it works perfectly the majority of times and handles skin tones very well even during the night. It can look a bit oversharpened at times, though, I’m merely nitpicking here. The post-processing can take an extra second but Google has now enabled its Pixel Visual Core chip through the Android 8.1 update which certainly speeds things up. The camera app saves both the Portrait and normal shot so that even if the blur didn’t work out, you can use the other one.
Videos too have improved significantly when we compare it with the Pixel 1. For starters, they are not choppy anymore even when the slow-mo mode is enabled. OIS and EIS (electronic image stabilization) now function in tandem to fabricate stable clips whether you’re in a car or jumping on a trampoline. More importantly, 60fps recordings no longer look like they were shot on a potato. While videos taken in daylight are decent enough, the Pixel 2 still fails to curb noise in low light just like its predecessors.
The other big drawback that Google needs to fix is the camera app itself. The Portrait Mode is way too hard to reach especially if you’re planning to shoot selfies. First you need to swipe from the left for accessing the additional menu, then tap Portrait Mode, and lastly, click the switch camera button. Furthermore, if you were already taking selfies and then go into the Portrait Mode, you’ll have to tap the switch camera button again. Pretty unintuitive for a company that’s betting on a more pragmatic approach in every aspect. The camera app also lacks a few essentials like a timelapse setting or even a professional/manual mode for adjusting things like the shutter speed.
In spite of these limitations, the Google Pixel 2 sports the best smartphone camera money can buy right now. There hasn’t been a single instance where after taking a picture, I thought “oh, this photo could’ve been better, let me try again“. At one point, I stopped previewing my shots right after I’ve captured them. So I was like a shooting machine on a recent trip I took — double tap the power button, point, shoot, back in the pocket and repeat. As a cherry on top, Google also lets you upload your pictures in full-resolution (4K videos backed up in 4K) without any additional costs till 2020.
So, coming back to the million dollar question of whether the Pixel 2 fulfills all of my ideal smartphone needs? Definitely. Without a doubt, the Pixel 2 is the most complete phone I’ve ever used. It takes the imperfect Google Pixel from last year and fixes much of what ailed it. I’m probably going to skip updating this year, though as my Pixel 1 is functioning just fine right now unless, of course, Flipkart comes up with any tempting exchange offers.
Should you buy it at a starting price of Rs 61,000? If you can afford it and want the best camera and Android experience in a compact form factor, then absolutely go for it. Also, Flipkart and Google have been kind enough to come up with stupendous offers. Apart from a dated bezel-full design, I don’t think there are any major flaws with it. If you’re more interested in the larger, Pixel 2 XL, you can read our other review.