A Review of Google’s Pixel 2 Smartphone

With the iPhone X set to go up for pre-order at 3:01 AM tomorrow morning (October 27), a lot of insane early adopters (full disclosure: I am one) will be at their computers in their underwear hammering “refresh” on multiple browser windows in hopes of snagging one of the new units available. Initial supplies will be tight–maybe 3 million for the world in this first week–so if you miss out this week (or if you don’t want to line up to buy one in person next Friday), it’ll probably be well into 2018 before you can grab an X.

What to do then? Purchase an 8? Or is it maybe time to look at other options? There are certainly plenty of very good Android phones available. Which brings me to the Pixel 2 from Google.

The phone arrived packed in very Apple-like packaging which certainly upped the anticipation level. My model is the Pixel 2 XL, the equivalent of an iPhone Plus. If you have a Pixel from last year, consider the 2 to be an incremental upgrade. If this were an iPhone, it would have an “S” designation.

Google is also following Apple in the sense that they’re developing software (Android) and hardware (the new made-by-Google products) together. This is a tough thing to do, given that only Apple and Microsoft (think their Surface products) have been able to create this kind of integration.

Transplanting my SIM from my poor overworked iPhone 6S into the Pixel 2, I set about using it as my everyday communicator. Here’s what I can tell you.

Build and fit-and-finish are solid. I liked the way the aluminum Pixel 2 XL felt in my hand. Sadly, my tester unit arrived with a screen flaw: two narrow pink lines running from top to bottom marred the display at first. But then as soon as it warmed up, the lines disappeared, leaving behind a screen that was lovely and bright. There’s no edge-to-edge display like we have with Samsung, but that would have pushed the price up. Google clearly wants to make it easier to afford these things.

Setup was easy and quick. There’s a handy migration function that allows iPhone users like to me to transfer data from my old iPhone 6S to the new Pixel.

I like the fact that the home button is on the back of the phone, which after a while seemed more intuitive and convenient than having it on the front.

A headphone jack? Nope. Like Apple, Google believes the future is wireless. A dongle is included in the box in case you’re going to hold out. (I also received a pair of Libratone QAdapt on-ear wireless ‘phones. They sounded and worked great–except for jogging. No on-ears should be used for that.)

If you’re the kind of person who listens to audio through phone speakers, the Pixel 2 is nice and loud–not a boombox by any stretch of the imagination, but it does the job well.

Using HTC technology, a physical squeeze of the phone activates Google Assistant. Gimmicky, maybe, but after a while I found myself using that. Weird how we adapt, huh?

The camera? Very good, but from what people tell me, it’s not much of an upgrade from last year’s Pixel. If you are a serious photographer, you will find much to like, including a feature called Motion Photos which can be used to create animated GIFs on the go. Handy, that.

Always On Display is also pretty cool. A glance at the phone will reveal date and time and whatever might be going on in the background without having to open the phone. And there’s a cool little feature that identifies songs that you might be hearing in the surrounding environment. It’s sort of like Shazam but not as accurate. Still, it’s neat.

Google sent along a set of Daydream View VR goggles, which are used by sliding the Pixel 2 into the front of the headset. Results were decidedly mixed with around-the-edges distortion and some latency that created some mild queasiness. Then again, I don’t do well with the current state of VR. Maybe your mileage will vary.

Bottom line, though, is if you’re looking for a plus-sized handset running Android (Oreo is another step forward) and you’re looking to step outside Apple’s Reality Distortion Field, the Pixel 2 XL is worth a look–especially when considering the prices vs. the iPhone X or the high-end Samsungs.

More at the Google Store.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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