Technophile

Google’s Pixel 2 and 2 XL: Android at its very best

Mala Bhargava | Updated on January 09, 2018 Published on November 15, 2017

These new phones are all about a smooth software experience, a fantastic camera and a whopping price tag

For about two weeks I’ve been using four Pixel phones: The original Pixel, two Pixel 2’s, and a Pixel 2 XL. The one attribute defining them all is creamy smooth performance. Load them with what you like, but they zip through it like a hot knife through butter. Whether you’ve fallen in love with the panda-coloured Pixel 2 XL with its bright orange button or are hankering after the ‘Kinda Blue’ version, you can be sure you’ll get a smartphone that works like a charm.

The Pixel 2 phones may not have 8 GB of RAM or 256 GB of storage, but Google has put together a software and hardware integration that allows it to do more with less. On these phones, Android is free from the stuffing that other companies insert to add distinguishing features, messing up performance in the bargain. All apps pre-installed on the phone are Google’s, a big relief. Both Pixel 2 phones run on the Snapdragon 835 with 4 GB RAM. Storage is either 64 GB or 128 GB. There’s no memory slot, but Google gives free space for photos.

Squeeze if you please

The Pixel smartphones are also meant to put the Google Assistant in your pocket. Other than the usual OK Google, you can call up the assistant with a quick squeeze on the sides of the phone, in HTC style. You set the sensitivity level and then just squeeze to ask Google something. The Google Assistant is actually more prompt and speedy than its rivals and is getting smarter as it knows more about us — collectively and individually. As an aside, I managed to get the Assistant to talk to itself, as it were, on two phones. To one phone I said “You’re funny!” A second phone said, “You flatter me! I like it!” And the third said, “Good, good”. This was a bit startling.

Sure shot camera

The camera on the new Pixels is a definite winner. Happily enough, it’s the same on both Pixel devices so you’re not shortchanged if you buy the smaller variant. The 12.2 MP camera has an f/1.8 aperture, OIS, phase detection and laser autofocus, dual-LED flash, 1.4 µm pixel size, 4K 30fps, 1080p 120fps, 720p 240fps. The front 8 MP camera has f/2.4, 1.4 µm pixel size, and 1080p video.

While nothing may seem that significant in terms of specs, the camera actually does a remarkable job of taking clear, sharp and quick pictures — almost without any work on the part of the user. You won’t find a complex manual mode on these phones. The app is, if anything, quite simplistic. But outright messed up images are a rarity. In indoor ambient light too, performance is amazingly good. Interestingly, the HDR is on by default though it’s easily turned off.

If there’s one thing that sometimes misses the mark, it’s the Portrait mode, which doesn’t recognise certain objects and blurs incorrectly. This doesn’t happen as much with people images as it does with objects. The Pixels are trying to achieve a background blur without dual cameras and at times, it doesn’t work.

Other interesting features on the Pixel 2 phones include the Always On display, an idea first introduced by Samsung, which now, in addition to notifications also listens to a song playing in the background and puts up the title. The number of songs recognised right now is limited, so you may not see your favourite Bollywood hit showing

This time, the Pixels are water resistant. They can withstand a few spills easily enough. The phones do not come with wireless charging though the batteries, 3,520 mAh and 2,700 mAh, do have quick charging. Battery life is not stellar but it does for the day.

Choosing Pixels

Of the two, the Pixel 2 is my favourite. Its five-inch form makes it easy to hold and use one handed. It’s light and slim and if you’re a little careful doesn’t really need a case. Its handiness also makes it easier to whip out to take a quick photo. But it does disappoint because of the thick bezels on the top and bottom. On the other hand, the OLED screen is really nice without being too saturated and unrealistic.

The Pixel 2 XL is the more enjoyable of the two when watching video or composing a photo. More real estate on a screen always comes in handy and the slim bezels and 18:9 ratio is more beautiful to look at and in keeping with what others have done. But there is the possibility that the screen issues will play on your mind, as will the intimidating price — although not compared with the iPhone X. Check out the no-interest EMI options if you’re interested in one of these all-Google phones.

Blue shifts and purple blobs

Since it launched, the larger of the Pixel 2 phones — the 2 XL — has been the subject of controversy because of a few screen related issues.

When you tilt the device, a blue tint is supposed to show up and disturb the user greatly. As I must speak from the experience I had with my review phone, I have to say I found this tint to be very minimal and entirely easy to live with. In actual fact, this is not an error but a characteristic of the type of display tech, pOLED, being used in any case.

Another issue being raised is about the colours on the display of the XL 2 not being bright and vibrant. It certainly isn’t a screen like the iPhone X’s or the Note 8’s but its vibrancy seemed good enough to me. This has already been addressed by giving the user options on tinkering with the display’s saturation level.

The third and more serious sounding problem is that reviewers reported some burn-in such as when an object on screen leaves an after-image, degrading the screen. I haven’t seen any sign of it on either phone.

I did notice, on three units of the Pixel, another peculiar thing, which is a nice blue-purple blob when using the camera and moving too close to a subject. This was in dim lighting and more visible on darker subjects. Google clarified that this was light from the auto-focus and was not a problem and one should just remain at the required distance from the subject even while shooting macros.

Price: ₹61,000 (Pixel 2) and ₹73,000 (Pixel 2 XL)

Pros: Smooth to use, clean interface, crisp clear photos including in low light, Assistant quick at hand, enhanced alwayson display, water resistant, slim bezels on the 2 XL, front firing stereo speakers

Cons: Exorbitant, Pixel 2 looks dated with thick bezels, minor screen related issues on the XL, background blur often messed up in photos, lack of headphone jack will annoy many

Published on November 15, 2017
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