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Google Pixel 2 XL review

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THE PIXEL 2 XL is the iPhone X of Google’s smartphone line-up this year.

Like Apple’s flagship, Google’s second-gen Pixel XL adopts a full-screen design and souped-up specs in order to challenge the likes of the Galaxy S8 and LG V30, while the smaller Pixel 2, like the iPhone 8, has been met with an underwhelming response due to its chunky bezels and somewhat dated design.

This means if you’re in the market for a full-fat Google flagship this year, the Pixel 2 XL is the smartphone for you. However, with a starting price of £799 – almost £200 more than last year’s Pixel XL – is it worth it? Read on to find out.

Design
Looks-wise, the Pixel 2 XL isn’t much different to last year’s Pixel XL. Google has taken things in a more modern direction though and like the Samsung Galaxy S8, the Pixel 2 XL sports a barely-there bezel around its 6in QHD+ display. This means that not only does the Pixel 2 XL look slicker than its predecessor, but it also manages to pack a bigger screen in a chassis that’s only a fraction fatter than last year’s model.

Around the back, things have been updated slightly. The contrasting glass panel that covers the camera is still present, but it’s been scaled back so that it no longer covers the fingerprint scanner. This means that as well as perhaps being less divisive design-wise, the Pixel 2 XL doesn’t attract as many greasy fingerprints as its predecessor, which can only be a good thing.

Pixel 2 XL design

We’re still not a huge fan of the rear placement of the fingerprint scanner, and while some will no doubt disagree, we find the sensor a little awkward to reach comfortably with our Donald Trump-sized hands. However, the sensor is a little bigger than that found on last year’s model, so others might not struggle so much.

We’re also not massively convinced by the Pixel 2 XL’s squeezable sides, or ‘Active Edge’ functionality, a feature borrowed from the HTC U11 that lets you grip the phone in order to fire up Google Assistant. It all just feels a bit, er, pointless to us, and squeezing a slab of metal in your hand also isn’t that comfortable to do.

While we’re moaning, let’s talk about the Pixel 2’s headphone jack. Or lack thereof. Like Apple, Google has decided to ditch the 3.5mm audio jack in favour of audio over USB-C, or Bluetooth headphones if that’s more your style. If the reaction to last year’s iPhone 7 is anything to go by, this is going to piss off a lot of people, and it means that most will have to carry Google’s bundled dongle around with them.

Although it’s dumped the headphone jack, Google has decided to equip the Pixel 2 XL with IP67 certification, which means it should be able to withstand a few pint-dunks.

Display
Improving on last year’s model, the Google Pixel 2 XL sports a larger 6in pOLED 18:9 display at a QHD+ 2,880×1,440 resolution.

As you’d expect, this all combines to make for crystal clear display quality. The pOLED tech,  which means the display can be easily viewed while wearing sunglasses, doesn’t offer colours as deep and punchy as those seen on Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8, for example, but rather offers up less-OTT, toned down hues. The brightness level doesn’t need to be set particularly high to achieve a good result, either.

Pixel 2 XL display

While we were quick to laud the viewing angles on last year’s Pixel XL, we weren’t quite so impressed with the Pixel 2 XL. Viewing angles appear marred by a washed out blue-ish tone, which quickly becomes uncomfortable to look at. It may be that this is an issue with our pre-release unit, so we’ll check with Google and update our review accordingly if so.

The Pixel 2 XL also features a Note 8-esque Always-On Display, which appeared to drain the battery at a lesser rate than Samsung’s big-screened flagship. This feature means that, even when the Pixel 2 XL is locked, you can glance at the display for the time, date and unread notifications.

Pixel 2 XL Always On Display

Unlike Samsung’s similar offering, the Pixel 2 XL is, er, always listening, which means that it can listen to music playing around you identify the song at the bottom of the Always-On Display. Drunk-us loved this feature, but everyday us, not so much.

Performance
Under the hood of the Pixel 2 XL you’ll find Qualcomm’s 10nm Snapdragon 835 processor, paired with 4GB RAM and either 64GB or 128GB baked-in storage.

While some will be disappointed by the lack of Snapdragon 836, which was tipped to make its first appearance inside the Pixel 2 XL, it’s unlikely anyone will have anything to complain about when it comes to the smartphone’s performance. We failed to make the Pixel 2 XL stutter no matter what we threw at it, and it appeared to handle everything from multitasking to gaming effortlessly.

This is largely helped by the handset’s Android Oreo OS, with Google’s claims that the OS will offer super-fast boot times and optimised background app usage proving true during our time with the Pixel 2 XL.

On AnTuTu, the Pixel 2 XL didn’t exactly blow the competition out of the water. It scored 165,841, less than both the Galaxy Note 8 (176,219) and Sony Xperia XZ1 (166,783). This modest performance is by no means a reflection of the handset’s real-world performance during our time with it,

Software
Naturally, the Google Pixel 2 XL runs Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box and puts Google Assistant, the firm’s answer to Apple’s Siri and Samsung’s Bixby, front and centre. As we’ve previously mentioned, Assistant can be fired up by squeezing the edges of the phone or, if you’re less flashy, by pressing the virtual home button on the display.

Pixel 2 XL Google Assistant

Google Lens makes its debut on the Pixel 2 and 2 XL. Similarly to Bixby Vision, the Assistant-connected image recognition app can identify what you’re looking at through the smartphone’s camera. Take a picture of a London landmark, for example, and Lens can tell you what building you are looking at and then tell you more about it.

Perhaps not so interestingly, Google has repositioned the Pixel Launcher to the bottom of the display, with smart suggestions on the top based on calendar events and weather. This isn’t a huge change, obviously, but it does add to the overall smartened-up feel of the device.

One of the best things about the Pixel 2 XL software-wise is that it’ll be among the first to receive future Android updates, be it Google’s monthly security patch bundle, or the form’s next major releases. What’s more, Google has already committed to bringing three years of Android updates to both the Pixel XL 2 and Pixel 2.

Cameras
According to DxOMark’s ranking, the Google Pixel 2 XL scores a whopping 98, making it the best smartphone camera ever tested.

It doesn’t sound all that on paper, though. The Pixel 2 XL sports a 12MP f/1.8 rear-facing sensor, and the same 8MP sensor on the front as last year’s Pixel XL.

However, this single-lens 12MP camera managed to take some of the most impressive shots we’ve seen from a smartphone camera, particularly those taken in natural light. Images are far more vibrant and crammed full of detail than those shot on competing Android devices, and while colours perhaps aren’t quite as natural as those from the iPhone 8’s camera, they do appear sharper.

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The addition of optical image stablisation (OIS) on the Pixel 2 XL is no doubt one of the reasons for these crystal clear images, as if the speed of the camera. Double -tapping the physical standby key takes you straight into shooting mode, and the onboard autofocus almost immediately locks onto the subject of your image. The volume up key on the right-hand side of the handset doubles up as a shutter key, which means it’s easy to capture photos while on the move.

What’s more, despite only having one rear camera, the Pixel 2 is capable of the same depth effect bokeh that dual camera devices offer, although the feature isn’t quite as impressive as Apple’s offering.

Battery life
The Google Pixel 2 XL packs a 3,520mAh battery, slightly meatier than the 3,450mAh cell inside last year’s Pixel 2. We haven’t had the handset for long enough to test this out fully, but the handset has so far managed to consistently make it into a second day without showing signs of waning.

Once it does run out of juice, Fast Charging is supported, with Google claiming that you’ll get seven hours of battery life from just 15 minutes on charge. This, impressively, appeared to be the case when we stuck our XL 2 on charge. However, there’s – sadly – no support for wireless charging included.

In short
So, is the Google Pixel 2 XL worth £800? If you can look past its annoyances – be it the lack of headphone jack, or dodgy viewing angles – it absolutely is.

In fact, the Google Pixel 2 XL is arguably the best Android smartphone on the market right now thanks to its blazing-fast performance, slick Oreo OS and 12MP single-camera that, somehow, manages to outperform even its highest-specced competitors.

However, there’s not much unique about the smartphone besides its Active Edge functionality, which most will never take a second look at, which means the Pixel 2 XL could struggle to woo buyers away from the curved-screened Galaxy S8 and Note 8 smartphones. µ

The good
Great design, gorgeous OLED display, blazing-fast performance, market-leading camera, decent battery life, Android Oreo.

The bad
No headphone jack, Active Edge is gimmicky, poor viewing angles.

The ugly
The price.

Bartender’s score
8/10

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