When we talked about Google Pixel last year, the conversation definitely focused on the lack of devices: no dust and waterproof, no wireless charging, and no expandable storage. And the design looks uninspired and easily forgotten. However, many people - including us - think of it as one of the top 2016 smartphones.
The reason is simple: Google controls hardware and software, enabling the search giant to make devices deeper and more meaningful. The result gives users a very polished experience and a market-leading camera. And it comes with additional seeps from unlimited high resolution Google Photos storage.
Pixels are not blowing competition, but this is a great example of Google's ability - and it lasts to this day. This of course exceeds our expectations, offering a much-needed alternative to devices from Samsung and Apple-so what if Pixel's market share is reported to be less than 1 percent in the U.S.
Once Pixel 2 arrives, it is obvious the company is very serious about being competitive in the mobile space. While the original Pixel feels a bit uncertain and shy, Pixel 2 exudes confidence and courage. The design is sharper, the software is smarter, and has lots of cool tricks.
Disclaimer: Google sends Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL to us. For the written review, I will discuss Pixel 2. To learn more about Pixel 2 XL, see Jon's video review above.
Google Pixel 2 review: What you need to know
The Pixel 2 is Google’s latest Android flagship. The successor to last year’s excellent Pixel handset, this is the smartphone that’s primed to set the benchmark for Android phones for the next 12 months.
Out on 19 October 2017, the Google Pixel 2 is a 5in smartphone with an AMOLED screen and a 20-megapixel rear camera that, according to the folks at DxOMark, is the best in its class.
The latest Snapdragon 835 processor powers things, complete with 4GB of RAM and a choice of either 64GB or 128GB of non-expandable storage.
Google Pixel 2 review: Price and competition
At £629 for the 64GB model and £729 for the 128GB variant, Google’s second Pixel-branded smartphone doesn’t come cheap. However, since it’s a smaller 5in phone, there’s not quite as much direct competition as you might expect for the Pixel 2.
Google Pixel 2 review: Design
If you’re already familiar with last year’s effort, 2017’s design won’t come as much of a surprise. Both the Pixel 2 and its plus-sized sibling keep the divisive two-tone glass and metal rear of their predecessors, although the glass strip at the top is much slimmer than before, occupying roughly an eighth of its behind.
You'll still find a circular fingerprint reader on the back, along with a solitary USB Type-C port on the bottom for charging. On the left side there is a power button and a volume rocker.
Are we missing something? Yep, Pixel 2 does not have a 3.5mm headphone jack - a surprising move given Google's ridicule over Apple last year. You should familiarize yourself with the USB-C adapter to 3.5mm provided, or invest with a pair of decent Bluetooth headphones. At least Google's latest mobile phone has dust and dust resilience IP67, Pixel feature last year less.
There's also Google "Active Edge", with which you can enable Google Now without the press of a single button. This is basically the same as the feature of squeezy HTC U11, but with a learning engine behind it that can notify intentional blackmail from unintentional.
Google Pixel 2 review: Performance and battery life
Despite rumours suggesting otherwise, the Pixel 2 is powered by Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 835 processor, as opposed to the as-yet-unannounced Snapdragon 836 chipset. That’s not to say the 835 isn’t welcome; most of 2017’s best phones are all powered by it.
The processor works in tandem with 4GB of RAM and a choice of either 64GB or 128GB of storage. Like last year, there’s no microSD expansion, but you’ll find a 3,520mAh battery on the inside, up from last year’s 2,770mAh.
It’s no surprise then, that the Pixel 2 is a rapid performer. It’s quicker than last year’s Pixel, naturally and at least as quick as most of its rivals; the only phone it lags behind is the Apple iPhone 8 Plus. Here’s how the Pixel 2 performed in the Geekbench 4 multi- and single-core CPU tests:
Likewise, the Pixel 2's graphics performance is more than good enough to handle anything you can download from Google Play. As you should be able to see from the graph below, it’s once again as quick as its rivals and slower than the iPhone 8 Plus. The only outlier is the Galaxy S8, which has more pixels to render per frame than the Pixel and thus is slightly slower in the “onscreen” (native resolution) test.
This is the battery life that is the most important aspect of performance, and here Pixel 2 is a bit of a mixed bag. In our video slicker battery test, with calibrated screens up to brightness and 170cd / m2 flight mode enabled, Pixel 2 lasted 14hrs 17mins. As a reference, it's four hours longer than the Sony Xperia XZ Premium, but lags a bit behind Pixels last year and lags far behind Samsung Galaxy S8. But it does well in real-world use, dipping to just 30% after a fast-paced Sunday at Kew Gardens.
If Pixel 2 falls flat, the latest Google charges quickly. After 30 minutes of charging from zero, the battery level reaches 44%, and after just 1 hour and 20 minutes, Pixel 2 is fully charged. It can not match the speed of OnePlus 5 in this case, but it's pretty nimble.
Google Pixel Reviews 2: Software and features
Software-wise, not too much has changed from Pixel last year. It runs stock of Android Oreo - which has created the look in the original Pixel - but does not include real and impact changes.
Picture-in-picture is a major development here, a feature that focuses on multitasking that lets you store one app, such as Netflix, in a small floating window while checking your email (or anything else you like) full screen.
One of the coolest new features makes cut-and-paste a lot easier, through a feature called Smart Text Select. It automatically recognizes items like phone numbers, place names and addresses, making it easy to select what you need quickly with a single tap.
And finally we have Google Lens, which is about analyzing live images rather than static ones, interpreting everyday objects like buildings, flowers and marks and giving information about them as you point your camera to the camera. Just like with Samsung's own Bixby, Lens should recognize what you are pointing at your camera and offer to follow up on that information. I say it should, because as Lens says a bit of a struggle, identifying the famous BT Tower in London only as a "control tower" and a bottle of red wine as "liquor".
Google Pixel 2 review: Display
The Pixel 2 doesn’t come equipped with the same edge-to-edge 2K display of the bigger, Pixel 2 XL; instead, we’re treated to a regular 5in Full HD (1,080 x 1,920) AMOLED panel with a regular 16:9 aspect ratio, bezels and all. Have a read of my Pixel 2 XL review, though, and you’ll find that this is in fact, a good thing.
Unlike the original Pixels, you can choose a "standard" or "vibrant" display profile in phone settings. The former produces a more accurate color, while the latter has a tendency to accentuate the color - but not much.
Both modes are quite accurate. The "standard" profile is better than both, with our X-Rite color calibrator which returns the Delta Delta average of 1.71 (perfect 0) and is a much better view than the 2 XL display with its viewing angle.
It's fairly easy to read in bright sunlight too. The circular polarization coating helps reduce glare while the peak brightness reaches 410cd / m2. It's not as pretty as the Samsung Galaxy S8 reaches, though, so expect to do some screen shading in really sunny conditions. Given this is an AMOLED panel, at least the contrast is perfect, which means both movies and photos get a lot of benefits from pop.
Google Pixel Reviews 2: Camera
Last but not least, top camera. Here, we were treated to a 12 megapixel rear snapper that was almost identical to that of last year, but with a wider aperture of f / 1.8 which has optical and electronic image stabilization for serious steady shots.
With a wider aperture, Pixel 2's low-light performance is quite amazing, shifting the crown of its predecessor in one quick attack. If anything, the color is slightly less rich than the original effort, but is superior to its more neutral and accurate predecessor color representation.
The white balance was slightly extinguished, leaving us with images that looked a little warmer than it should have been, but there was a striking improvement from Pixel last year. The original ones tend to wash the image in yellow-ish, but the same bad effect has not reappeared.
Where Pixel 2 is also impressive is outdoors. With good light, Pixel 2 produces images with dynamic range and exceptional color saturation, while white balance is much more accurate. Pixel really sets the benchmark of new smartphone photography, distancing itself further than its predecessor and the excellent Galaxy S8 from Samsung.
There’s also a handful of new shooting features too, including “motion photo”, which captures a brief section of video to go with your still shots, and a portrait mode, which replicated the blurred “bokeh” background effect you get when shooting with a DSLR.
Meanwhile, the same can’t be said about its video capabilities. 4K capture is crisp and bursting with detail, but the Pixel 2 suffers from some very odd-looking colours. Across the palate, colours are hyper-saturated, and detail capture is noticeably softer than both the S8 and last year’s effort.
Google Pixel 2 review: Verdict
Once again, Google is leading the Android charge. It might be sticking with same uninspired design as last year's – and lacks the bezel-less display of its supersized sibling – but a much-needed processor upgrade and welcome camera improvements has seen the Pixel 2 rocket to the top of our smartphone hierarchy.