Perhaps one of the most anticipated smartphones of 2017 has been released, the Pixel 2. It comes in two sizes, and I’ve gotten my hands on the smaller, 5-inch version, and I’ve been testing it for the past 5 days or so. Coming from a Nexus 6p, it’s awesome to have a small device that I can fit easily in my hand again. And for once, a phone manufacturer made a small version of a handset that has the same specs as its larger counterpart. The only difference between the 2 and the 2 XL are the displays, battery, and manufacturers.
The smaller is made by HTC, and the larger is made by LG. Both devices have Snapdragon 835’s, 4 GB or RAM, Adreno 540’s, basically, what you would expect from a flagship in 2017. Now, the handset is made of aluminum, but it has this hybrid coating around it, so it feels more like a high-quality plastic than metal. I don’t mind it, it feels nice still, but I do miss having that cool, metal touch when I pick it up. It is IP67 water resistant, not as good as IP68, like the Galaxy phones, but it can still resist being submerged in one meter of water for 30 minutes, so, good job there, Google. The buttons feel nice and clicky, but they both have the same smooth surface, so you could get them confused. Along with the buttons on the right, you’ll find a SIM card slot on the left, a couple microphones on top and bottom, and a USB C port. That’s it. A year after Google mocked Apple for removing the headphone jack, they pulled the exact same move. No USB C earbuds are included, but there is a USB C to 3.5 mm jack adapter in the box. The phone doesn’t have its own DAC included, so this dongle has to have it built in. Thankfully, it’s a decent DAC, and it sounds pretty good with my headphones. Now, beware, only certain dongles, specifically, the ones that come from Google, will work with this.
There may be others in the future, but you have to get one that has a DAC inside, otherwise the phone won’t be able to convert the audio, and you won’t be able to hear anything. Now, you also better not lose the one that comes with it, because Google has these on backorder. I have a 2nd one coming, but it’s shipping about month after I ordered it. At least, you know, if you leave it in your pocket, and it goes through the washer, it should be fine, or at least mine was. I really don’t like this move, but I suspect that in the next few years, most phones won’t have a headphone jack anyway, so I figured I’d get the switch out of the way now, because I really like everything else about this phone. I guess the dongle life isn’t too bad. Anyway, looking at the top, we find front facing speakers, which are fantastic. They get nice and loud, and while they still don’t rival a dedicated speaker, this is about as good as you’ll get on any current device. Now, also looking at the front, we see some disappointingly massive bezels. I would say that these are to accommodate the speakers, but clearly Google has shown, with the 2XL, that you can make slim bezels and still fit them in. To compare, here is the LG G2. Its display is 0.2 inches bigger, same aspect ratio, and its bezels are smaller on all sides.
This is coming from a device that was released over four years ago. My theory, and this is just a theory, nothing more, is that Google couldn’t find a suitable display with the 18 by 9 aspect ratio in the size they wanted and still wanted to give the phone that same general shape and size. So, they went with a 16:9 ratio, and then just added the bezels. It kind of just makes the phone feel outdated instead of up to modern standards. Inside those bezels, however, is an excellent 1080p OLED display. This one suffers from none of the issues plaguing the 2 XL. It looks good, it’s bright, it has, okay, it could have good colors, if Google would open up the display to show more than just the sRGB color range.
Basically, the panel can display a very wide range of colors, but Google has limited it to this specific sRGB color range to make it look more realistic. In my opinion, it makes it look kind of washed out and muted. They could totally fix this with a software update, and they’re actually considering doing this, and I really hope they do. To compliment the display, Google has introduced live wallpapers. these are fun little wallpapers with very subtle animations, like these little cars driving way down there on the road. they look great, and because you probably won’t be spending a lot of time on your home screen, it really shouldn’t affect your battery. Speaking of which, I’ve been very impressed with how long this thing lasts. I’ve gotten 5+ hours of screen on time, most days, and that’s coming from just a 2700mAh battery. Not to give you an idea of my usage, I use Snapchat, Spotify, Chrome, Messages, Hangouts, Sync for Reddit, all of these variously throughout the day. They also introduced a few new features in Oreo.
Just to skim through a few of my favorites, you can now snooze notification, so they’ll pop up again later, app icons will display a little circle if you have a notification from that app, and specifically to the Pixels is the always on display, and the always listening music feature, which uses a database of about 17,000 songs to tell you what song is playing at any given time, and since it’s stored locally, this should work regardless of your connection, as long as that song is in the list. Now, this doesn’t have the entire audio for each song downloaded, so it doesn’t take up a whole lot of space. In my experience, this has worked quite well, although it does sometimes take a little while to recognize the song, but it’s a really nice feature and I find myself using it a lot. Another feature that I thought was going to be kind of gimmick-y and I ended up loving was the Active Edge. Just squeeze the bottom of the edges of the phone, and you’ll bring up Google Assistant. I found myself using Assistant a lot more, because of this feature. It’s far faster, and less clumsy, than saying “Okay, Google”.
Ultimately, it’s doing exactly what Google wants: getting me to incorporate Assistant into my daily routine for easy questions and simple tasks, and I love it. Really, that’s been my whole experience with this phone. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of a Samsung. But that’s not why you buy a Pixel, you buy it for the user experience, and Android 8.0 provides an excellent one of those. Everything is buttery smooth, and things just work like they’re supposed to. You can be sure that you’ll get updates and three years of them at that, with the new Pixels, and you forget all about the extra features that are not there, and in some people’s opinion, boring design, because using these phones in your daily life is just such a pleasant experience, just like with last year’s devices. Now, I have yet to talk about one thing: the camera, and that’s because I wanted to save the best for last. And I mean that in a sense that this camera, as it’s DXL marks score suggests, is the best camera in any smartphone…for now.
Its pictures come out sharp, detailed, and with good colors and a high dynamic range, and it’s excellent in low light. It’s a 12.2 megapixel camera and this time, Google included optical image stabilization in the rear shooter. Combine optical image stabilization and electronic image stabilization and the videos this thing shoots are just insane. The sharpness is excellent, and the stability is unreal. It also only has one camera, and yet, it does portrait mode. All the other phones that do portrait mode use two cameras. Now, this one has these things called dual pixels, where each pixel is actually two pixels, just microns apart. It uses the difference in perspective to calculate how far away things are, and it blurs appropriately. I’m rather impressed with how well this works, especially with my hair. It doesn’t always get it right, like with this picture here, the building in the background clearly should have been blurred all the way, but, like any camera app, Google can improve this with updates.
The front camera is decent, and while it only has normal pixels, it uses Google’s machine learning algorithms to determine what should be blurred, and what shouldn’t. and I have found that it works pretty well. Basically, Google’s trying to make this phone smart. They’ve got the Google Lens, they’ve got Assistant, they’ve got always on display, always listening for music, they’re trying to make it do things for you that other smartphones don’t.
So, to wrap it all up, this is, in my opinion, the best small phone you can buy today. Its footprint is about equivalent to the Galaxy S8, but the speakers, camera, and delightful software experience make this phone a complete joy to use. Its build is good, and you don’t have to worry about it getting wet anymore. Now, whether or not it’s worth $650 is up to you, but I haven’t once regretted dropping the money on it myself.