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Google Pixel 2 XL review: a practical, functional smartphone and good looking too, if a little pricey

Handset is powered by the latest Android OS, takes great photos with its single-lens cameras, has an embedded SIM card and a squeeze-enabled digital assistant, all for US$849

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 November, 2017, 7:18am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 November, 2017, 7:18am

Practicality and functionality are the driving forces behind Google’s Pixel 2 smartphone. Powered by Android 8.0, the Pixel 2 XL is also a polished showpiece of the Android platform, albeit a rather pricey one at US$849.

Design and hardware

The big brother of Google’s new Pixel 2 family comes with a 6-inch display set and a modern slim bezel design. The P-OLED screen with its resolution of 1,440 x 2,880 pixels translates into a vivid and sharp display with a high pixel density of over 500ppi.

While its bezel is among the thickest among the latest smartphones on the market, it’s a great looking device, with its artful curved screen and rounded corners. The smartphone is also IP67 certified for dust and water resistance.

The Pixel 2 XL feels good in your hands, courtesy of its matte-finish metal back. Its beauty is not marred with antenna lines, although the strip of Gorilla Glass along the top is an annoying fingerprint magnet.

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A top-of-the-range Snapdragon 835 processor and 4GB of RAM powers the device.

While the Pixel 2 XL only supports a single nano-SIM card, it is one of the first consumer phones to support eSIM, or embedded SIM. The latter allows you to use a phone without a physical SIM card with operators that support it.

Audio aficionados may be disappointed to find the 3.5mm stereo plug gone, although there is a USB-C to 3.5mm adaptor included in the box. Unlike other flagship smartphones, the Pixel 2 XL eschews the dual camera in favour of a single-lens camera. Finally, the device comes with Bluetooth 5.0 and aptX HD music playback, and is charged using a USB-C connector with PowerDelivery 2.0 (PD 2.0) support.

Software and features

One reason for the slightly thicker bezels is the front-facing stereo speakers along the top and bottom of the phone. I found stereo music playback to be loud and crisp, which is great when using speakerphone during calls. Although it is no longer novel, the always-on display is another nice, practical touch.

Despite its single lens, the Pixel 2 XL camera produces some excellent photos. In general, it copes well with a variety of tricky environments, such as night shooting or very brightly lit surroundings. The AI-powered bokeh shots turned out indistinguishable from those taken with dual-camera smartphones. Video quality is good, thanks to the company’s blend of optical and software image stabilisation.

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The Active Edge feature lets you bring up Google Assistant by squeezing the phone. This sounds gimmicky, but is a genuine improvement over having to hunt for the right icon. This “squeeze and speak” works even when the phone is locked – although you are prompted to authenticate before Google Assistant will respond.

A “Now Playing” feature will show the name of songs the device hears in the background without prompting, which Google says is done without sending data to its servers. Don’t expect it to work with Mandarin or Cantonese songs, though.

Other Pixel favourites include the “Caller ID” feature that leverages Google’s Maps database to automatically identify business callers not in your phone book.

Performance and battery life

The Pixel 2 XL is one of the first devices with Android 8.0 installed. This means that it has a host of Oreo-only capabilities, such as faster boot up time, picture-in-picture display for full screen apps like Google Apps and YouTube in full screen, fine-grained notification control, and built-in minimising of app execution in the background.

I have no complaints about the overall performance of the Pixel 2 XL, which I find to be snappy and smooth. And unlike some smartphones, I didn’t notice it getting warm during bouts of intense activity either.

Although some have complained that the Pixel 2 XL’s battery is not as long lasting as other devices, it didn’t affect me.

When it comes to charging though, I find the Pixel 2 XL slower than other smartphones that support fast charging, even when used with the bundled charger. This is likely a design choice to preserve the longevity of the battery, though it is a bit of a surprise, considering that PD 2.0 technically supports up to 100 watts. The extended usage a full charge offers means that it isn’t a deal killer, though.

Conclusion

Overall, the Pixel 2 XL is a highly appealing smartphone. It plays it safe in various areas, such as design and charging speed, but offers a host of nifty features that you’ll enjoy using.

Key specs

Dimensions 157.9mm x 76.7mm x 7.9mm

Weight 175g

Display 6-inch

Battery 3,520mAh

OS version reviewed Android 8.0 (Oreo)

Processor Snapdragon 835, Octa-core

Cameras Back: 12.2MP (f/1.8). Front: 8MP (f/2.4)

Memory 64GB/128GB ROM and 4GB RAM

Colours Black, black and white

Price: US$849 (64GB)