After using Google’s new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL for several days, I’ve concluded they are the best Android phones I’ve ever used and a worthy competitor to Apple’s new iPhones. One reason is, of course, the new hardware. But I’m just as impressed with the phone’s simple but clever operating system software that makes it a joy to use.
I spent most of my time using the XL version because I prefer a larger phone. But when it comes to specifications, software, camera quality and features the two models are identical, so what I have to say about the larger model also applies to the smaller one, except when noted. For example, the XL has a larger and higher capacity battery and a higher resolution screen and, according to Google, gets up to 7 hours of battery on a 15-minute charge. My battery performance on the XL was considerably better than what I got on the Pixel 1. It lasted all day which, for me, is unusual. Both versions are water resistant and both come with the latest Snapdragon 835 processor.
Like the flagship phones from Apple and Samsung, these phones are pricey. The basic model starts at $649 for 64 GB of storage and the XL costs $849. On both models, an extra $100 buys you 128 GB of storage. It’s worth noting that you can buy adequate new Android phones and even better used phones for as little as $200.
Like its predecessor, the new Pixels have a fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone, which is easy to reach. I find Apple’s front sensor a little awkward to use. But the best thing about the new sensor is that it’s quick and accurate. The phone unlocks immediately when you touch the sensor and, so far, it’s worked every time. That’s important because I no longer hesitate to lock my phone now that I can unlock it so quickly and easily,
The XL is decidedly big, but to its credit Google reduced the size of the bezel to eliminate some wasted space. It didn’t cut the bezel out entirely as did Samsung with its edge-to-edge display on some models, but at least Google did add some screen real estate without having to make the phone humongous.
Both versions of the phone have front speakers and they’re noticeably louder than the previous model, which I appreciate if I’m listening to audio or watching a video without headphones or an external speaker. Speaking of headphones, Google followed Apple’s lead by taking away the 3.5 mm headphone jack. I miss it, but have come to the realization that wired headphones are a dying species. Google sent along wireless Bluetooth headphones that work fine, though I prefer the Plantronics Backbeat headphones that I’ve been using for more than a year. The phone does come with a dongle to use legacy headphones and speakers but dongles are annoying and — if you lose it — it costs $20 to replace.
Google has also improved its Bluetooth connectivity. There are fewer sputters and pairing seems to be a bit easier than before. Google’s wireless Pixel Buds will cost $159 when they ship in November. In addition to handling music and phone calls, they will enable access to Google Assistant and Google Translate. Google may have given up on the consumer version of Glass, but now it has an in-ear way to keep you constantly connected to Google data.
The phone’s camera is also better than last year but it’s arguable whether it’s better than the ones on the latest iPhones or Samsung phones. Like the iPhone, Google offers portrait mode, which blurs the background to give you more professional looking pictures of people. Instead of following Apple’s lead with two cameras, Google has only one but uses software to detect faces and improve the quality of head shots, which means it works on both the 12.2 megapixel back camera and the 8 mp front facing (selfie) camera. CNET did a detailed comparison between the Pixel 8 and the iPhone 8 and concluded, “It’s a pretty even playing field and honestly, it doesn’t get much better than the cameras on these two phones.”
At the end of the day, a phone is just a slab of glass and metal and chips, with the real value being in the software. And this is where Google shines. The company avoids loading the phone with bloatware or messing with the user interface just to be different. Sure, Samsung, HTC and other companies have smart engineers and designers, but both Google and Apple understand that sometimes less is more, which is why I appreciate that Pixel phones are pure Android without unnecessary additives just as Apple’s iOS remains uncluttered and easy to use.