Google is fast becoming an AI-first company, and to really put AI at the core of the smartphone experience, it needs to control the entire stack, including services, software, and hardware.
Enter the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, which are, without doubt, the ideal choices for fans of all things Google. But what about the rest of the world? Are the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL great phones all-around? In our full review of the two phones, coming within the next week, we’ll clear that up for you, but until then we wanted to give you a couple of hints as to what you can expect. This is our Pixel 2 XL unboxing and first impressions.
A Type-C-to-3.5 mm dongle serves as a constant reminder that the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL lack a headphone jack...
Looking at the contents of the box— a pretty unremarkable sight— you’ll see all the usual essentials, as well as a few noteworthy accessories. One is a short adapter that lets you transfer your personal stuff from other devices without too much hassle. The other is a Type-C-to-3.5 mm dongle, which serves as a constant reminder that the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL lack a headphone jack. Now, many hate this omission, and I tend to agree with this sentiment. It’s a shame that I have to carry around an adapter in order to use my favorite headphones.
My first impression of the Pixel and Pixel 2 XL was one of simplicity and restraint. There aren’t many bells and whistles here, but all the key elements are found right where you’d expect them, including the fingerprint sensor, which is located below the glass window on the back.
The Pixel 2 XL has a 6-inch screen with the new 18:9 form factor we’ve seen on multiple devices this year. Meanwhile, the 5-inch Pixel 2 is definitely easier to handle and some may find it more accessible.
Another design element that’s becoming quite trendy is the use of rounded corners, as on the screen of the Pixel 2 XL, LG V30 and Galaxy Note 8. Some may dislike the fact that the image doesn’t go right to the edges of the Pixel 2, but it didn’t really bother me personally. Plus, big or small, however you feel about bezels, you have to applaud Google for putting dual front-facing speakers on both new Pixels.
The new Pixels are the first Google devices to feature always-on displays, which is a nice touch that is further enhanced by the addition of always-on music recognition. Instead of having to pull up a dedicated app like Shazam to identify music playing around you, you’ll be able to see the track title and artist right on the screen, without even having to wake up the phone. This is definitely a cool feature, and privacy-minded users should know that the phone does not, in fact, send out everything it records back to Google’s servers. Instead, ambient sound is compared to an on-device database containing tens of thousands of signatures of popular tracks.
The first Google phones with always-on displays, the Pixel 2 and 2 XL also have always-on music recognition.
It’s not really visible in pictures, but the back of the Pixels features a subtle texture that gives them better grip and will hopefully prevent unwanted incidents. That’s especially important, because if you hold the phones too tightly it will open Google Assistant, thanks to the integration of HTC’s squeeze detection feature. Squeezing definitely makes it easy to call up Google Assistant (it has become my preferred method actually), but it means you’ll have to deal with some unwanted interactions when holding the phone too tight or even just when picking it up.
Let’s talk a bit about the cameras. Obviously, we’ll leave the complete assessment for the full review, but we can talk a bit about the computational photography features that Google’s baked into both new Pixels. The rear camera is a single-lens model, which may feel a bit behind the curve. Google is trying to make up for that using various clever software techniques. That goes for the front camera too – its Portrait mode uses an algorithm that identifies the subject of the photo and blurs out the background. This simulates the depth of field, or bokeh effect, that good DSLRs are able to create, making some lovely shots possible.
The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL feature the same core specs (Snapdragon 835, 4 GB of RAM, ample storage), but they differ in battery size: at 2,700 mAh and 3,520 mAh respectively. I’ll just say for now that the relatively small battery capacity of the Pixel 2 doesn’t tell the whole story. I was able to go through a 3.5-hour Facebook video call before my battery died, while the next day I hit 4.5 hours of screen-on time during a session that included lots of browsing, social media, and gaming. So don’t discount it just yet.
The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL were my first chance to use Android 8.0 Oreo as a daily driver too, which was pretty exciting. All the interface elements flowed very smoothly, from app switching to opening dual windows, or using the new Picture-in-Picture mode to watch a video while doing other stuff. Everything felt just right. This is the face of Android that everyone should at least experience, if not use on a daily basis.
Finally, I was also able to try out Lens, Google’s new visual search feature that is currently integrated in Google Photos and will soon be included in Assistant as well. For instance, when I took a selfie, Photos read the text on my t-shirt and gave me a link to the amazing restaurant in Maui it referenced. That’s just a hint of Google Lens’ capabilities, and we’ll be sure to take a closer look in our upcoming full review.
That’s a wrap for my first impressions of the Google Pixel 2 and Google Pixel 2 XL. Overall, my initial experience with these phones has been positive. They pack a number of features that have already become a part of my daily usage. Battery life has been surprisingly good and the camera seems up to par with other flagships out there.
My full thoughts – and much more detail – are coming in the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL review, which will go live within the next week. In the meantime, let us know what you think!