by Joe Bursley
I’ve written previously about Apple’s latest smartphone release and how it dropped the ball from Android. I’ve been an Android user since I got my first Samsung S4 in high school and switched to the Google Pixel over this summer. I considered waiting a few months for the Google Pixel 2 which just released October 4th. I’m glad I didn’t. While in some ways the Pixel 2 is an improvement upon the Pixel released the fall of last year, its release is more akin to that of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8, where most of the substance remains the same. Compared to other high-end phones released in 2017 like the iPhone X and the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Note 8, the Pixel 2 doesn’t quite measure up.
Both the Pixel 2 and its big brother, the Pixel 2 XL, have an impressive 4 GB of RAM, identical to that of the first line of Pixels. This is also similar to the Galaxy S8 and other Android phones released in the past two years. Sadly, Apple’s iPhones have never reached above 3 GB even with the newest iPhone X. Four GB of RAM is a good amount of processing power, and I realistically can’t imagine a phone needing more than that. That said, the most notable high-end phones with more RAM are the Galaxy Note 8 and the OnePlus 3, 3T and 5.
As far as pixel density goes, the Pixel 2 boasts 1080p resolution and 441 ppi, while the 2 XL has 2880×1440 resolution and a beastly 538 ppi. This is higher than the iPhone X’s 452.63 poi and lower than the Galaxy S8 at 571 ppi. Pixel density and resolution affects the clarity and sharpness of the screen imagery. This is a pretty important spec to consider if you’re looking to upgrade.
Both of the new Pixels feature front-facing speakers and OLED displays, although this has become standard on Android phones. They also sport something called “Active Edge” that allows one to squeeze the sides of the phone to trigger certain actions; the default action here is Google Assistant, once again integrated directly into the Pixel brand of phones. The Google Assistant is Google’s answer to the likes of Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and I guess you could even count Samsung’s Bixby (though I wouldn’t), with the added benefit of accessing the power of Google’s search engine for information. If your phone lacks a personal assistant or you’re just sick and tired of Siri constantly turning on in the middle of a lecture hall, the Google Assistant is a great option.
Even from a camera non-enthusiast like myself, the Pixel 2’s cameras are spectacular and are clearly what Google wants to stand out as with their previous phones. I won’t get into too many specifics, but the rating is based off of DxOMark, an independent organization that sets image quality standards for phones and cameras, which gave the Pixels their (then) highest rating of 90 for image quality. This year, the top contenders were the iPhone 8 Plus and Samsung Note 8 tied at 94 – that is, until the Google Pixel 2 received a record-setting overall score of 98. Google is also integrating their new feature Google Lens into the new Pixel 2 and 2 XL, which allows Google Assistant to identify objects and show information just by pointing the phone’s camera at something. This is more focused on software instead of hardware, but is still only applicable to phones using Google Assistant – which is almost exclusively the Pixel phones at this point in time.
The phone’s home screen will get rid of the annoying, inconvenient search and weather widgets permanently fixed at the top, and replace it with an equally inconvenient “at a glance” widget, supposedly connecting with your calendar and planning apps for constant reminders of what you have to do. The search widget, meanwhile, will be permanently affixed to the bottom of the screen between the app drawer and the Android soft keys. Presumably, this is meant to increase search volume and ease of access, but I usually just like opening the Chrome app.
The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL will support an always-on display that shows quick notifications and the time without waking the entire screen – a benefit of an OLED display. They’re also using always-on microphones to recognize and display the music you are listening to, whether you’re in a coffee shop or listening to the radio when a song comes on that you just have to know.
The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL only offer 64 and 128 GB storage options – a limit for which I also criticized Apple. This may be the direction toward which the market is headed, but I personally like to have my options open for storage space, including the optional microSD card. Google does, however, offer unlimited storage for photos and videos in their Google Photos cloud system; so that’s okay. If you like to use SIM cards for ever-expanding storage, as many Android enthusiasts do, then you’re out of luck with the Pixel 2.
Despite having great pixel density and display resolution, the Google Pixel 2 once again has annoyingly large bezels on top and bottom, identical to the Pixel and Pixel XL from last year. In an age with Samsung’s “Infinity Display” and Apple’s almost-bezel-free iPhone X, the added space to the phone’s front without increased screen size seems bulky and unnecessary. The Pixel 2 XL improves on this, minimizing the bezels and bringing the phone’s screen almost to the edge of the phone, but it still falls short of what consumers are looking for in a smartphone this year.
The Pixel 2 is 5 inches, just like the first Pixel, and the two are indistinguishable from the front. (I’ll comment on Google’s “unique” design choices below) The Pixel 2 XL is a full 6 inches. This, compared to last year’s 5.5-inch Pixel XL, makes the screen more impressive as it takes up so much of the front face.
While the camera is certainly great, it does come with a cost: the camera lens has gotten larger. It now juts out from the back of the phone and creates a slight but noticeable bump on the back. This isn’t too much of an issue, but it is aesthetically irksome from a design standpoint. Last year’s Pixel has the camera embedded in the phone. This meant that the back of the phone was completely smooth (except for the fingerprint scanner).
Speaking of which, the Google Pixel 2 and 2 XL continue the trend of placing the fingerprint scanner on the back of the phone instead of down on the front where a home button would be located. I’ve personally found this much more convenient when holding on to the phone in my hand, using my index finger to unlock my phone quickly. It is, however, quite inconvenient when the phone is laying down flat on a table. Double tapping to wake my Pixel and using the password to unlock my phone can often be cumbersome and unresponsive, but perhaps the Pixel 2 will be more receptive to those gestures.
Google is also adding augmented reality stickers that can be applied to pictures and videos, including third-party brands like Star Wars and Stranger Things. And I won’t even beat around the bush here: they are also copying Apple’s Live Photos function, calling it “Motion Photos.”
I’ll discuss design more below, but I almost like what Google is doing with its color scheme. I mean, the Pixel 2 has three color options, with “Just Black,” “Clearly White,” and “Kinda Blue”, which is a more metallic grey/slate color. This is in contrast to last year’s “Quite Black,” “Very Silver,” and the limited edition “Really Blue” that was a very vibrant and bold…well, it was “really blue.” I wish they would offer other color options (perhaps from the Red/Yellow/Green/Blue combination of colors that just screams “Google”) as I feel it would help people personalize their phones more, but I understand it is risky and expensive from a manufacturing and distribution standpoint. Still, it’s refreshing to see a deviation from the standard blacks and silvers we always see. A lot of the design of the Pixels seems simplistic and pragmatic, as opposed to the “awe-inspiring” flashiness of the Galaxy or iPhone lines. Google seems to be focusing more on usability than looks with their new phones. If you like the aesthetic and uniformity of Galaxies and iPhones, the Pixel 2 certainly seems like the “ugly duckling” among the high-end phones.
Google has taken an interesting stance on pricing that is certainly going to set itself apart from the market: this year’s Pixel 2 starts at $649, the same starting price as last year’s Pixel. Prices will vary depending on what storage options and size you choose as well as payment plans through Verizon, but in a world where top-end phones now cost $800-$1000, Google’s pricing is certainly enticing for users looking to upgrade this year. In addition, if you buy through the Google Store, you can receive up to $410 on a new Pixel 2 by trading in your old phone to upgrade.
First things first, Google got rid of the headphone jack. Everyone speculated they would, and they did. Instead of a headphone jack they are offering Google Pixel Buds, which are wireless headphones with the Google Assistant built in. I’m not mad; I’m just very disappointed.
Finally, on to the design of the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. The Pixel designs have always been a point of contention among users and critics since last year’s phones offered the “metal and glass” mix, seen here. While it certainly is distinctive (for those who don’t have an opaque case), the design received mixed reviews at best with many simply asking “why?” in regard to Google’s choice. The Pixel 2 doesn’t scrap the design entirely, although the glass rectangle is smaller and no longer encompasses the fingerprint sensor on the back. Google, however, takes its bold design choice even further with the “Black and White” option for the Pixel 2 XL, which covers the top part of the phone with glass and leaves the rest a bright white.
The contrast is stark, but that doesn’t even compare to the bright orange power button on the side of the phone. The “Kinda Blue” color scheme also has a bright teal power button, though this is less noticeable with the overall blue hue. I’m honestly baffled by what Google did here and I was even a fan of the original two-toned mixed material design from the first Pixel. I just don’t know why they felt it necessary to create a BLACK AND WHITE phone design and then add an ORANGE power button. Perhaps Google just wanted to be THAT phone. Maybe it’s part of a marketing campaign for Android 8.0 Oreo. Or, hey, the phone debuted at the start of October; maybe the black, white, and orange is just Google trying to be spooky for Halloween. Again, those who like their phones smart and pretty will probably dislike the Pixels for this reason alone.
Oh boy, I sure do love phones with no headphone jack
— Shikki Mizuki (@SonicDahMario) October 4, 2017
Overall, Google’s phone is an admirable second attempt to break into the premium smartphone market. While the design is certainly questionable, many of the features appear to be what was lacking from the Google Pixel last year with improvements primarily in the software department. If you’re already using a Google Pixel or any phone from 2016, you don’t need to worry about upgrading. It will be best to wait until the Google Pixel 3 and you’ll probably still be able to get money for a trade-in at that point. If, however, you’re in the market to buy or upgrade to a new smartphone after a few years and you don’t mind the “unique” design choices and the lack of a headphone jack, the Pixel 2 is a great contender at a modest price that won’t break the bank. Just please, don’t buy the Black & White design.
Joe is a sophomore Telecommunications major at Ball State. Joe’s focus at Byte is writing and editing for the Features section. After graduation, Joe hopes to work as a producer at a news studio and eventually publish a book or two.