The best Android handset out there: Google Pixel 2 review
- Pixel XL on a par with Apple's latest iPhone 8 in terms of looks and performance
- Camera and 'always on' screen are superb and a real step forward?for Google
- However, smaller Pixel is disappointing while XL is superb?
Google has never been, until now, known for its design.
While the last generation Pixel was a great phone, you'd never choose it over a Samsung Galaxy or iPhone in terms of design.
However, with the Pixel 2, or rather the Pixel 2 XL, that has changed - and Google has shown just how far it has come, creating a handset that is not only the best Android device out there, but arguably matches the iPhone 8 in terms of design and feel.
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A woman holds up the Google Pixel 2 phone, left, next to the Pixel 2 XL phone at a Google event at the SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco. The phones set themselves apart with promises to bake in Google's powerful artificial-intelligence technology for quick and easy access to useful, even essential information. You get some of that right away, but more will come later through free software updates and a wireless accessory.
HOW TO BUY A PIXEL?
The $650 Pixel 2 is a great, but rather bland workhorse.
The larger Pixel 2 XL is gorgeous, but starts at $850, more than the iPhone 8 Plus and the S8 Plus.?
Apple and Samsung include headphones; Google doesn't.?
But the Pixel 2 comes with a USB-C adapter so you can plug in ordinary headphones; like the latest iPhones, the Pixel 2 has eliminated the standard headphone jack.
Verizon is again the only U.S. carrier to offer the latest Pixel, although you can buy models that will work with other carriers - and Google's own Project Fi service - at Google's online store.?
The phone is also coming to the U.K., Canada, India, Australia, Germany, Italy and Spain.
However, it is the Pixel XL that excels - the bog standard Pixel is fine, but honestly, nothing to write home about.
But the XL, on the other hand, is gorgeous.
The 6-inch display is high-res (2880 x 1440), and curves into the edges of the phone, making it appear the front of the phone is all screen.
While admittedly not as slick as Apple's iPhone X, its a revelation for a Google phone - and stunning to look at and pick up.?
Another great feature is the always on display, which shows you the time and notifications, which I found to be really useful for just glancing at (and crucially, works really well at night, not being too bright and not too dim).
You can also set it up to listen to music and display the playing track - perfect for becoming a music bore in any pub.?
However, one annoyance is the curved edges many apps now have - they seem to ignore part of the screen and are slightly jarring.?
The colouring of the screen has also attracted a lot of attention - it automatically 'tunes' to your surroundings. It's generally pretty decent, at least until you fold it up to an iPhone 8, at which point you can see how much better Apple is at this. That said, it's something Google can easily improve over time - and this is the first time they're created an Android handset with the feature.?
The XL feels rather like plastic, however, unlike the glass of the iPhone, and while this may, in some user's eyes make it a little less 'luxury', it does lessen the feeling you're going to drop it.?
It's also worth mentioning Google's fabric case for the XL, which is superb, and really give the handset a nice feel.?
Google is sticking with the fingerprint sensor on the back, in an easy-to-reach spot, and it's fast and accurate.?
Both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL come loaded with octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processors, 4GB of RAM and 32GB or 128GB of storage.?
Both handsets have more than enough battery life to last you through the day - although disappointingly, no wireless charging.?
The Pixel 2 is a solid phone, and what you're getting is a strong tie-in to Google's services, including those intended to fetch what you need without requiring much effort.
It's also worth mentioning Google's fabric case for the XL, which is superb, and really give the handset a nice feel.
Google has also made it an incredibly easy move for iPhone switchers.?
An included dongle lets one easily move a range of data from the iPhone, including iMessages, and Google will automatically match as many of your apps as it can and install those.
Personally, this is the first Android phone that has made me think seriously about switching - although ultimately I, like I suspect many other users, decided I'm simply too tied into the Apple ecosystem, in particular iMessages and the Apple Watch, to move full time to the Pixel - at least until the iPhone X is available.?
However, there is a neat fast charge, which gives up to 7 hours of battery from 15 minutes of charge.
Google has also joined the growing number of smartphone manufacturers that have done away with headphone jacks.?
Instead, you’ll have to use either the USB C to 3.5mm adapter included in the box or buy a USB C-compatible headset.?
However, for audiophiles the wireless AptX standard is supported - and sounds amazing through the B&W ?
The other feature the XL really excels in is photography.
Last year's Pixel had a great camera, but it fell short in some shots because software processing made colors look too strong and clean at times.?
With the Pixel 2, colors look good without looking fake.
Google has also for the first time including its own chip,?Pixel Visual Core, which is Google's first custom system-on-a-chip (SOC) for consumer products - but somewhat oddly hasn't yet turned it on.
GOOGLE'S AI LENS APP?
The Pixel 2 comes with Google Lens, a way of searching Google just by pointing your camera at a landmark, object or storefront. This can give you quick access to reviews and store hours. It might help identify that mysterious building you walk by every day. Google Lens will also pull out web addresses and phone numbers from signs so you can browse or call with just at tap.
The feature correctly identified paintings of obscure figures in American history at a museum in New York, and it knew which Starbucks I was standing in front of, out of several in the neighborhood. But it's not foolproof: The iconic United Nations building came across as a generic tower.
I found Google Lens slightly more reliable than a similar Samsung feature, Bixby Vision. Bixby tended to miss on identifying businesses; a Chinatown bakery serving pork buns was thought to be a CrossFit gym - quite the opposite. On the other hand, Bixby identified a plaque dedicated to a Titanic victim, while Google just said, 'Hmm.'
It's a good start, but both still have work to do. And for now, Google Lens requires you to take a photo first. Seamless, instant analysis is 'coming soon.' All you'll have to do is squeeze the bottom of the phone for the Google Assistant to pop up.
Last year's Pixel phone will also get Google Lens, though without the squeezing capability. Eventually, other Android phones and iPhones should get it, too, but Google isn't saying when.
Next month, $159 wireless headphones called Pixel Buds will offer real-time audio translation, so two people can communicate using different languages, while hearing instant translations in a native tongue.?
A separate Google Translate app offers this now, but having the feature built into Pixel should make it easier to use.
The Pixel 2 also introduces a 'portrait' mode, which blurs out backgrounds to focus attention on the subjects.?
Apple's iPhone 7 Plus and 8 Plus and Samsung's Galaxy Note 8 manage this effect via a second camera lens to sense depth.?
Google does it all with software, so the regular-size model gets the capability as well, not just the larger XL.
Unsurprisingly, the other thing the Pixel is great at is bringing together Google's services, including those intended to fetch what you need automatically.
Overall, the smaller Pixel a pretty underwhelming - but the larger XL really is a sign to other smartphone makers that Google is now a force in phone design - and Apple and Samsung really need to watch their backs.??
GOOGLE UPDATES THE DAYDREAM VIEW VR HEADSET
Google also unveiled a new update to its Daydream View VR headset.
The $99 (￡99) headset is available in a slew of colors – Charcoal, Fog, and Coral – and is compatible with a number of different phones, including?Google Pixel 2, Google Pixel, Samsung Galaxy S8, S8+ & Note 8, Moto Z & Z2.
Google's Juston Payne speaks about the Google Daydream View at a Google event at the SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco, Wednesday
Users can slip their compatible smartphone into the headset, which works with a small controller that stores on the back of the head strap.?
According to Google, the new headset has custom-designed lenses for the widest field of view yet.
It measures 6.6 in (167.8 mm) by 4.6 in (117.1 mm), and weighs just 9.2 oz.
It's every bit as comfortable as the original, although annoying loses the handy storage space for the controller inside the headset.
It's a great addition to the handset - but Google still has to get the software side of the VR equation up to speed.?
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