Google’s inevitable iPhone 8 riposte has arrived. Following the success of the iPhone 7-beating Pixel last year, it was obvious Google would once again follow suit. And again, the Pixel 2 is primed to make the same hard-hitting statement this year: there’s still a spot for Android in your pocket.
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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.
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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.
You have the iPhone 8, which has a 4.7in screen and costs £699, the Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact with a 4.6in display for £499 and that’s about it for the big manufacturers. It’s worth considering the Samsung Galaxy S8 in the same bracket, too; although the screen is larger at 5.8in it’s only fractionally larger than the Google Pixel 2, and it’s cheaper as well, at around £500 currently.
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 the circular fingerprint reader on the back, along with a solitary USB Type-C port on the bottom for charging. On the left-hand edge sits both the power button and volume rocker.
Are we missing something? Yep, the Pixel 2 doesn’t have a 3.5mm headphone jack – a startling move given Google’s mockery of Apple last year. You better get familiar with the supplied USB-C to 3.5mm adapter, or invest in a decent pair of Bluetooth headphones. At least Google’s latest phone has IP67 dust- and water-resistance, a feature last year’s Pixel lacked.
There’s also Google’s “Active Edge”, with which you can activate Google Assistant without pressing a single button. It’s basically the same as the HTC U11’s squeezy feature, but with machine learning behind it that can tell a deliberate squeeze from an accidental one.
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.
It’s battery life that’s the most important aspect of performance, though, and here the Pixel 2 is a bit of a mixed bag. In our video rundown battery life test, with the screen calibrated to 170cd/m2 brightness and flight mode switched on, the Pixel 2 lasted 14hrs 17mins. For reference, that’s four hours longer than the Sony Xperia XZ Premium, but slightly behind last year’s Pixel and a long way short of the Samsung Galaxy S8. But it performed well in real-world use, dipping to just 30% after a snap-happy Sunday at Kew Gardens.
Should the Pixel 2 fall flat, though, Google’s latest charges quickly. After 30 minutes of charging from zero, battery levels reached 44%, and after just 1hr and 20mins the Pixel 2 was fully charged. It can’t quite match the OnePlus 5’s rapidity in this regard, but it’s pretty nippy nonetheless.
Google Pixel 2 review: Software and features
Software-wise, not too much has changed from last year’s Pixel. It’s running stock Android Oreo – which has made an appearance on the original Pixel – but it doesn’t include any real, impactful changes.
Picture-in-picture is the major development here, a feature focussed on multitasking that lets you keep one app, for example Netflix, in a small floating window while checking your email (or anything else you fancy) full-screen.
One of the cooler new features makes cut-and-paste much easier, through a feature called Smart Text Select. This automatically recognises items like phone numbers, place names and addresses, making it easier to select what you need quickly with a single tap.
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And finally we have Google Lens, which is all about analysing live images rather than static ones, interpreting everyday objects like buildings, flowers and signs and providing information on them as you point the camera at them. Just like with Samsung’s own Bixby, Lens should recognise what you’re pointing your camera at and offer to perform follow-up actions on that information. I say should, because as it stands Lens struggles a bit, identifying London’s famous BT Tower as simply a “control tower” and a bottle of red wine as “liqueur”.
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 Pixel, you can choose from either “standard” or “vibrant” display profiles in the phone’s settings. The former produces more accurate-looking colours, while the latter had a tendency to oversaturate colours – but not by much.
Both modes are reasonably colour accurate. The “standard” profile is the better of the two, with our X-Rite colour calibrator returning an average Delta E of 1.71 (0 is perfect) and is a much better display than the 2 XL’s display with its viewing-angle problems.
It’s reasonably readable in bright sunlight, too. A circular polarising layer helps to reduce glare while peak brightness reaches 410cd/m2. That’s not as bright as the Samsung Galaxy S8 achieves, though, so expect to do some screen shading in really bright conditions. Given this is an AMOLED panel, though, at least contrast is perfect, which means both movies and photos benefit from plenty of pop.
Google Pixel 2 review: Camera
Last, but certainly not least, top the camera. Here, we’re treated to an almost identical 12-megapixel rear snapper to last year’s, but with a wider f/1.8 aperture that has both optical and electronic image stabilisation for seriously stable shots.
Given the wider aperture, the Pixel 2’s low-light performance is simply stunning, wrestling away its predecessor’s crown in one swift strike. If anything, the colours are slightly less rich than the original’s efforts, but it outperforms its predecessor more neutral and accurate colour representation.
White balance is slightly off, leaving us with pictures that looked slightly warmer than they should be, but there’s a noticeable improvement over last year’s Pixel. The original tended to wash over the image with a yellow-ish tint, but the same ill effect hasn’t reappeared.
Where the Pixel 2 also impresses is in outdoor shots. In good light, the Pixel 2 produced pictures with superb dynamic range and colour saturation, while the white balance was much more accurate. The Pixel really does set a brand new smartphone photography benchmark, distancing itself even further from both its predecessor and Samsung’s excellent Galaxy S8.
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.