Google Pixel 2 XL review: The best pure Android phone yet

Alex Kidman 14 November 2017

Google's supersized Pixel 2 XL impresses with swift performance, excellent battery life and a super-fast camera.

Quick Verdict
The Pixel 2 XL excels in essential photography and general app performance, although the screen could be improved and the overall design isn't that flashy.

The Good

  • Incredible single lens camera performance
  • Great battery life
  • Nippy app performance
  • Water resistant

The bad

  • No microSD expansion
  • Single lens is still photographically limiting
  • No headphone jack
  • Screen issues shouldn't happen at this price point

Order Google Pixel 2 from Telstra from Telstra deals

  • Available in 64GB and 128GB
  • Free unlimited online storage to save photos and videos
  • Long lasting and fast charging battery
  • Use Google Lens to learn more about landmarks, artwork and more
  • New Pixel-exclusive AR stickers to dress up your photos
  • View details

    Google has a long history of developing its "own" Android handsets, stretching back through the Nexus phones and tablets to the emergence of its more premium-styled and premium-priced Pixel devices. The Google Pixel 2 XL is a Telstra-exclusive Android handset that sells itself on just how pure its Android vision is. Indeed, it's the most Google-centric phone in the entire Android world, and a fine premium device in its own right.

    Pixel2XL_4_738

    Design

    Many premium handsets sell themselves on fancy or fashionable designs. Not so the Google Pixel 2 XL, which has a design that's not particularly fancy in any real way at all. You could even call it plain, and while it doesn't look cheap or nasty, it's also relatively bereft of any design features that make it stand out. In some ways, it feels like a throwback to Google's earlier Nexus phones, which sported similarly ordinary designs.

    The Google Pixel 2 XL is the largest of the new Pixel family, measuring in at 157.9x76.7x7.9mm with a carrying weight of 175 grams. It features a 6-inch 1440x2880 P-OLED display with minor bezels around all sides, so it's not quite a "full" screen phone. They're a necessary compromise because the top and bottom bezels house quite solid front-facing speakers, while the sides have to accommodate the squeezable sides technology that Google's adopted directly from HTC.

    As with its predecessors, controls are kept to a minimum, with USB C charging, no headphone jack and no ability to add microSD card storage to the Pixel 2 XL. Again, Google would really prefer that you kept content in the cloud rather than on a card, and as such it's advisable to consider the 128GB variant if storage is important to you.

    The Pixel 2 XL comes in either a straight black finish (dubbed "Just Black") or in a two-tone "Black and White" finish that's a touch more striking, but still less showy than some competing handsets.

    If your smartphone needs to be your fashion accessory, you may find the Pixel 2 XL a little underwhelming, especially given its asking price. I had the same observation about last year's Pixel phones too, and it would be nice for Google to put a bit more pressure on the design teams for Pixel to come up with some slightly more striking designs. Maybe next year.

    Pixel2XL_camera_738

    Camera

    Where 2017 has seen an increasing number of premium cameras adopt dual lenses to enable photographic flexibility, including portrait modes, Google has opted for a single lens 12.2MP f/1.8 optically stabilised sensor paired with a front-facing 8MP f/2.4 sensor. Despite appearing on paper to be a lesser option, actually shooting with the Pixel 2 XL is generally a pleasure, especially if you shoot a lot of video.

    The use of AI to guide its photographic efforts does have genuinely excellent results most of the time, but there's a significant catch for some smartphone photographers – there's no "manual" mode to allow you to adjust settings. Indeed, Google's Pixel 2 camera app goes out of its way to try to stop you changing any setting at all, including HDR. That's probably fine for the vast majority of users, but if you want a little more photographic flexibility, you won't find it here. You'll simply have to trust Google to get it right.

    At the time of writing, the Pixel 2/XL enjoys top spot in DxOMark's sometimes contentious mobile benchmark tables. Specifically, its ratings stand right now as follows:

    HandsetDxOMark Score
    Google Pixel 298
    Apple iPhone X97
    Huawei Mate 10 Pro97
    Apple iPhone 8 Plus94
    Samsung Galaxy Note 894
    Apple iPhone 892

    The Pixel 2/XL scores most highly for its video performance, which is genuinely exceptional if you like filming from your phone. Here's some sample footage from my morning commute over the Sydney Harbour Bridge:

     

    Bear in mind that this is entirely handheld footage, and Sydney's trains aren't exactly known for being the most still or stable of platforms. In DxOMark's estimation, the Pixel 2/XL trails the iPhone X in still photography, but that's arguably more of a subjective call depending on your usage and especially your photographic skill level.

    The Pixel 2 XL is exceptional if you're happy to point and shoot and trust it to make the right AI call on the type of photo, especially when it's a low-light photo. Here's a comparison shot from the Pixel 2 XL in low light:

    Pixel2XL_lowlight_738

    And the same shot taken with the iPhone X:

    iPhoneX_lowlight_738

    The Pixel 2 XL also manages a "portrait" mode. This has been managed by other phones through the use of dual lenses, but the Pixel 2 XL does this with fancy software interpretation of the scene behind it to create a mostly clean bokeh effect. Here's our editor-in-chief in standard and portrait photo mode side by side:

    GusvGus_Pixel2XL_Portrait2_738

    Portrait mode isn't flawless, as it sometimes struggles with complex hair arrangements or lower light situations. In some instances, subjects can end up with a slightly exaggerated edge that makes them look a little like they've been photoshopped in. Google may be able to improve that since it's essentially a software function, but it's not quite as smooth as the effect you can get from an actual dual lens camera.

    Google also incorporates its Google Lens features into the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. This uses machine learning and Google's vast repository of visual knowledge to analyse any picture you throw at it to return contextually relevant results. Lens is a little rudimentary, and it can't analyse every feature you throw at it, but pitching it at some standard Sydney landmarks saw it happily identify them and draw up relevant web results that could be very handy for tourists.

    GoogleLensOperaHouse_738

    Still, the Pixel 2 XL sits up there with the best overall performing cameras I've tested this year. It's not as flexible without a second lens, and that goes beyond just portrait modes because the lack of a secondary lens means there's no optical zoom, no extra wide angles and no monochrome features to use in your photographic arsenal.

    You could overcome those with clip-on lenses to an extent, but that's not an ideal solution either. Again, quite how much that matters to you will vary depending on what you use your phone's camera for, and for many, the automatic processing of images to a pleasant standard will be enough of a hook. Here's some sample images direct from the Pixel 2 XL to compare:

    Pixel2XL_samplephoto5_738 Pixel2XL_samplephoto4_738 Pixel2XL_samplephoto3_738 Pixel2XL_samplephoto2_738 Pixel2XL_samplephoto1_738

    Performance

    I often end up commenting that benchmarks, while a useful gut feel guide, aren't the complete story when it comes to smartphone performance. The Pixel 2 XL might just be the best example of this maxim I've seen this year. In Geekbench 4's CPU test, the Pixel 2 XL tests near identically to any other Snapdragon 835-based system we've tested this year, although a fair distance behind any of Apple's A11 Fusion-based iPhones:

    HandsetGeekbench 4 CPU Single Core (higher is better)Geekbench 4 CPU Multi Core (higher is better)
    Apple iPhone X418510319
    Apple iPhone 8427010272
    Apple iPhone 8 Plus411310221
    Huawei Mate 10 Pro18886787
    Samsung Galaxy S8+20206690
    Samsung Galaxy S819896628
    Huawei P10 Plus18636544
    Nokia 819326529
    OnePlus 519766506
    Samsung Galaxy Note 820246490
    HTC U1119196362
    Sony Xperia XZ Premium19086324
    Google Pixel 2 XL19146254

    And here's how it compares using 3DMark's Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark:

    Handset3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Result
    Apple iPhone 864461
    Apple iPhone X61256
    Apple iPhone 8 Plus59205
    HTC U1140239
    Sony Xperia XZ Premium40086
    Google Pixel 2 XL39551
    OnePlus 539497
    Samsung Galaxy Note 832277
    Huawei Mate 10 Pro30765
    Samsung Galaxy S828409
    Samsung Galaxy S8+28120

    However, in real-world usage, the Pixel 2 XL is the swiftest Android phone I've tested this year, hands-down. I can't help but suspect that, aside from its clean Android install (a trick that other phones, such as most of Nokia's handsets, use), Google's managed to sneak in more than a little software optimisation to really push the hardware to deliver because it genuinely does.

    For standard everyday tasks, response is silky smooth and fast, whether that's unlocking via the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, checking email or quickly zipping out a social media update. This pushes the Pixel 2 XL beyond the simple realm of hardcore Android aficionados because nobody ever wishes their phone would operate more slowly.

    While the Pixel 2 XL is an LG-built device, its smaller partner, the Pixel 2 is an HTC production, and it's from HTC that Google has borrowed the "Edge Sense" concept (also found on the HTC U11) for squeezable sides on the Pixel 2 XL.

    Like the HTC U11, you can set the degree of force needed to activate the motion, but unlike the U11, you can't actually pick what feature you'd like to invoke with a squeeze. On the new Pixels, it's to activate Google Assistant or to optionally mute calls, and that's it. I was one of only a few reviewers who saw merit in Edge Sense, and while it does sell Google services, it feels limiting in a way that Android often avoids. It's a closed platform play that would feel far more at home on an Apple phone, really.

    Then there's the contentious issue of the Pixel 2 XL's P-OLED display. Google has made some interesting choices when it comes to calibration, some of which are often overstated, and others that are slightly more problematic. On the lighter side, the Pixel 2 XL is calibrated specifically to the sRGB standard. That means (in very simplified terms) that it's a significantly less vibrant display than you might be used to on competing OLED displays from, say, Samsung or most Chinese OEM makers, who love oversaturated displays. Neither approach is "wrong", just "different".

    It's probably worth having a decent look at the Pixel 2 XL's display in real life to work out if this is going to bug you, and while you're at it, give it a slight tilt.

    That's because the Pixel 2 XL has one of the most noticeable cases of blue shift when you tilt it of any premium phone released this year. It's a factor for any display screen because they're typically built to present images straight on. Still, you really don't have to tilt the Pixel 2 XL much to see it, and once you're aware of it, it's hard to ignore. Again, this isn't a critical error, but it's less than desirable on what is, after all, a premium-priced handset, in the same way that the iPhone X "notch" is something of a visual blight.

    Pixel2XL_1_738

    Battery life

    The Pixel 2 XL features a 3520mAh battery, which is a solid size for a larger Android device that should bring with it decent battery life. As always, your precise battery life will vary by usage, and I've yet to hit a phone that I can't send flat in a day if I particularly push it. Anecdotally, however, it's quite easy to keep the Pixel 2 XL going for more than a day, and this is backed up with battery benchmarks, where the Pixel 2 XL acquits itself quite well. Here's how the Pixel 2 XL compares using Geekbench 3's battery test:

    HandsetGeekbench 3 Battery Test DurationGeekbench 3 Battery Score
    Apple iPhone 8 Plus15:27:409276
    Galaxy S8+14:55:308955
    Google Pixel 2 XL14:22:308625
    Apple iPhone X12:46:507652
    Nokia 812:22:107421
    Sony Xperia XZ Premium12:06:407266
    Samsung Galaxy Note 812:00:507208
    Samsung Galaxy S811:47:507078
    HTC U1111:42:407026
    Apple iPhone 810:30:00DNF

    The Pixel 2 XL can't unseat Samsung's Galaxy S8+ or the awesome battery life of the iPhone 8 Plus in benchmark terms, but it's a very solid offering that should have little trouble lasting all day for most users. While it supports rapid charging via USB C, there's sadly no sign of Qi or PMA compatible wireless charging, which would have been a nice addition to the Pixel range.

    Pixel2XL_2_738

    Verdict

    The Pixel 2 XL is like a fix of pure Android, and that means that, like other pure Google devices, it's particularly well suited to the Android fan base that loves to have the latest Google OS and happily lives within Google's suite of services. If that's you, there's really not much point considering other phones because the Pixel 2 XL will meet your needs and then some.

    For the wider phone buying audience, it's a very worthwhile contender and definitely worth putting into your consideration pile when choosing a new premium smartphone. It's a particularly smart buy if you struggle with getting the best possible photos out of your phone, although you've got to balance that against considerations such as the lack of a microSD slot and the missing headphone jack. The screen could ultimately be a little more vibrant and with less of a blue shift problem than it has, and that's a minus mark on a premium handset if you compare it against other options. Still, even if you're not part of the hardcore Google faithful, this is an excellent handset.

    Pixel2XL_5_738

    Alternatives

    At its $1339/$1549 outright price point, you could have just about any other phone you'd care to name, but there are a few very obvious contenders to the Pixel 2 XL in the premium space worth comparison. If you're happy jumping between operating system camps, consider the Apple iPhone 8 Plus, which features dual cameras, equally snappy performance and even better battery life, or if you don't mind spending a little more, the much more stylish iPhone X.

    If the thought of buying an iOS device brings you out in a rash, there are plenty of top quality Android alternatives worth pursuing as well. You could get the same Snapdragon 835 in the much less expensive OnePlus 5, or a more stylish body and dual lenses in the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, for example. If portrait and monochrome shooting are a key consideration, Huawei's Mate 10 or Mate 10 Pro may meet your needs. If you wanted video as a focus, consider Sony's slow-motion-spectacular Sony Xperia XZ Premium. If the squeezable sides concept intrigues, HTC's U11 is also worth considering.

    Pixel2XL_3_738

    Google Pixel 2 XL: What the other reviewers say

    SiteCommentScore
    TechRadar"A really impressive smartphone with an absolutely killer camera."4.5/5
    CNET"The Pixel 2 XL serves up an exceptional camera and Google Lens in a bigger package, but the display leaves some bristling."4.5/5
    Trusted Reviews"For the second year running, the larger of the two Pixel devices released by Google is the more enticing."4.5/5
    Android Authority"You don’t buy a Pixel for its revolutionary hardware or industry-leading design..."8.7/10
    PCMag"The Pixel 2 XL packs more Google into its body than any other phone on the market."4.5/5
    AFR"Google is an engineering company, one of the greatest engineering companies of our generation, but it still has a thing or two to learn about luxury and desirability."N/A
    SMH"These are phones for people that want to use Google's services and software to their fullest."N/A
    News.com.au"The Google Pixel 2 XL is a slick, high-end phone that demonstrates just how fast Google’s hardware is evolving."4.5/5

    Pixel2XL_3_738

    Pricing and availability

    Google sells the Pixel 2 XL in Australia through the Google store for either $1399 with 64GB of storage or $1549 with 128GB, in either Just Black or Black and White finishes.

    In Australia, like last year, the Pixel 2 XL is exclusive to the Telstra network and is available at a variety of price points on contract.

    Pixel2XL_7_738

    Specifications

    Product Name
    Google Pixel 2 XL
    Display
    6.0in
    Resolution
    1440 x 2880 pixels
    ppi
    538ppi
    Software
    Android 8.0
    Storage
    64/128GB
    RAM
    4GB
    Battery
    3520mAh
    Front camera
    8MP f/2.4
    Rear camera
    12.2MP f/1.8
    Processor
    Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
    Size
    157.9 x 76.7 x 7.9 mm
    Weight
    175g

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