Buy the Pixel 2 if you want the industry's longest warranty and software support cycle combined with a great camera and the best personal assistant on the market.
How can Google justify $650 for a smartphone, when the OnePlus 5 sells for $480, or the Motorola G5+ $230. What separates the Google Pixel 2 from its competitors?
Most smartphone consumers want to know three things about the Pixel 2: how does it compare to its competition? Is it better than the original Pixel? And who shouldn’t buy it?
What You Get When You Buy a Google Pixel 2
Unless your delivery person is a thief, you get a Pixel 2 smartphone — of course. On top of the bare minimum, Google includes very little in the way of peripherals: a SIM card ejector, a warranty manual, a USB-C charger (safe USB-C chargers), a USB-C to 3.5mm audio jack adapter, a USB-C to USB-C charging and data cable, an OTG adapter, and a collection of booklets and a fast-start guide.
Conspicuously absent are earbuds. The saving grace, though, is a USB-C to audio jack adapter. One irritating point, though, is that manufacturers claim that eliminating the headphone jack allows for slimmer phones. And chickens have teeth.
The Pixel 2 is a whopping 0.2mm slimmer than the jack-having Samsung Galaxy S8. What’s mind-blowing about the S8 is that it includes a 3,000 mAh battery and wireless charging.
The Google Pixel 2’s Hardware and Design
Clearly, then, the Pixel 2 must possess features that the Samsung Galaxy S8 doesn’t have. Because 0.2mm almost equals four pieces of paper stuck together.
A hardware comparison tips the scale in favor of Samsung. In head-to-head competition with Samsung’s latest flagship, the Pixel 2 fails to keep pace with the sleeker S8. Google offers a screen with lower pixel density (470 PPI versus 570 PPI). It lacks wireless charging, for unknown reasons. And its battery comes up 300 mAh less (2,700 mAh versus 3,000 mAh).
The Pixel 2 is the first to come with a new technology called eSIM (or e-SIM). It allows users to change network providers, without physically plugging in a card. While most subscribers of AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, or Verizon rarely touch their SIM cards, they could benefit from the technology when their contract runs out. Unfortunately, the only carrier compatible with eSIM, as of 2017, is Google.
The Pixel 2 also includes a gimmick called Active Edge (which HTC refers to as Edge Sense on the U11). It allows users to trigger a specific function on the phone by squeezing it. On the Pixel, its implementation sucks compared to the U11. And the U11’s Edge Sense didn’t impress our reviewer, Riley.
The Pixel’s saving grace comes in its processor. While on the surface, the second Pixel appears to share the Snapdragon 835 system-on-a-chip with the S8, Google throws a curve-ball in the shape of a custom photo processor known as the Pixel Visual Core (PVC), and specialized processors for voice recognition. The PVC processor remains dormant, though — at least, until Android 8.1 releases in a few months. Until then, the Pixel cannot record 4K video at 60FPS (which both Samsung and Apple smartphones can record at).
The main advantage of the Snapdragon 835 system-on-a-chip is the Snapdragon x16 modem. The modem is the same as in other phones with the Snapdragon 835. That means it should get the same (or slightly less) download and upload speeds as other flagship smartphones released in 2017.
The Pixel 2 Teardown
ZacksJerryRig did a durability test and teardown on the Pixel 2. He reveals quite a bit about the fundamental design of the Pixel, including internal components. Most important, he dispels a marketing lie about its exterior coating and some fundamental design flaws.
The Pixel 2’s plastic coating differs from the metal unibody of the original Pixel. Google’s marketing team refers to the coating as a “metal hybrid”. Unfortunately, there’s nothing metal about it. The plastic coating is only textured to feel like metal. Note, though, that there is an off chance that the polymer coating includes aluminum oxide, which aids heat dissipation.
It also turns out that the rear glass isn’t Gorilla Glass, the power button is plastic, and the front-facing glass is Gorilla Glass 5. Another point worth mentioning: the fingerprint sensor is covered in paint – and if scratched, it stops working.
It’s unclear to me why Google would use a metal unibody and then coat it with plastic. Aluminum is extremely rigid and prone to warping or breaking once stressed. So far, bend tests look extremely bad for the Pixel 2. Even ZachsJerryRig’s relatively light bend test caused damage.
Fortunately, Google makes up for a material disadvantage with superior software, amazing firmware updates, and an industry-leading warranty policy.
The Pixel’s Ridiculous 2-Year Warranty
After receiving reports of the Pixel XL 2’s burn-in issue, Google increased the warranty length on both the Pixel 2 and Pixel XL 2 to a whopping two-years. This makes the Pixel 2 – which uses a Samsung AMOLED panel – an extraordinarily good deal, particularly in comparison to the Pixel XL 2’s $850 price tag.
Put that crazy warranty policy in context: The Pixel 2 currently leads all smartphones in warranty policy, firmware update policy, and security update policy. What that means for consumers: if your phone breaks within a two-year period due to a defect in workmanship, you get the phone replaced. Google is also sometimes known to replace phones with physical damage — or help with repair efforts.
The firmware and security update policy is without competition. A firmware update policy of three years ensures that your phone continues receiving feature updates. A security update policy of three years — even more important — keeps extremely dangerous security holes from potentially costing you a great deal more than a damaged phone!
I should note that a 2-year warranty has an amazing non-obvious advantage: any credit cards that double warranty policies, will provide 4-year warranties. Combined with HTC’s reputation for creating fairly durable smartphones, that translates into a dramatically lower total cost of ownership.
How the Pixel 2 Looks and Feels
Just by looking at the Pixel 2, it’s obvious that Google tried improving the original Pixel. The Pixel 2 looks similar to the Pixel while adding its own unique flair. While the first Pixel uses a bare aluminum finish, the Pixel 2 aluminum unibody comes covered with a “hybrid metal” coating. Unfortunately, according to teardowns, it’s actually a plastic coating which serves to trap heat (see the section titled “Pixel 2 Throttling” below). It’s also notoriously lacking in durability and scrapes off fairly easily. On the positive side, the Pixel 2 offers markedly improved handling characteristics, due to the increased friction of a plastic coating.
In fact, combined with its 5-inch form factor and the extra large top and bottom bezels, the Pixel is among the easiest phones on today’s market to hold.
Using the Google Pixel 2
The Pixel 2 performs a lot of tasks that seem nearly unimaginable on another handset. For example, its personal assistant capabilities far exceed their nearest competitor, Apple’s Siri. And Samsung’s half-baked competitor, Bixby, doesn’t even merit a mention on the same page. Overall, you get snappier, more intelligent software compared to everything else out there.
The Pixel 2’s Camera (Like Most Smartphone Cameras) is Amazing
Google made the camera the core of the Pixel 2. Not only does it use a custom piece of silicon, co-developed with Intel, called the Pixel Visual Core. The Visual Core chip — according to Google — will assist users with photography by accelerating video and photo processing. It should result in faster photography with less motion blur. But don’t expect DSLR-like quality. For serious photographers, nothing beats a dedicated device.
Note, though, that there is some dispute about whether or not the Pixel Visual Core is currently enabled. Some websites report that Google will enable the chip when Android 8.1 releases. Other reports claim that the chip assists HDR+ mode. I suspect that the chip is at least partially functional because every photo seems to record a little bit of motion, just before and after the picture is taken.
As you can see, there is a huge creep factor when you first realize that your phone records video. Don’t get me wrong, this is without question a great way to get amazing photos, without accidentally getting a shot of someone mid-blink. It’s just a little disconcerting.
It Probably Has an Exmor Sensor
At the end of the day, though, most flagship cameras use the same camera sensor (a high-end Sony Exmor sensor) and similar gimmicks, like multiple lenses or cameras. Here’s a YouTube video from Nat and Friends on the Pixel 2’s camera sensor:
The camera improves over last year’s model by offering physical Optical Image Stabilization, instead of digital stabilization. However, the main difference between the Pixel 2 and its competitors is its post-processing. In other words, the software tricks it uses to make a photo look good after the picture is taken. But without question, the pictures look great:
The Pixel 2’s camera compares favorably to many other flagship competitors, particularly in speed. However, the qualitative difference is so marginal and subjective that I’d simply place the Pixel 2 next to other great smartphone cameras, like the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the iPhone 8. They’re about equal to one another. Except in one serious way: Google gives its users free cloud storage at its maximum resolution for photography until 2022 — only for Pixel users. And it’s just one of many features that Google uses to make the phone dead simple to use.
Transferring Data to the Google Pixel
Even getting started with the Pixel (unless you’re coming from an iPhone) feels easier than other phones. Google includes an OTG adapter (they irritatingly refer to it as a Quick Switch Adapter) which lets users transfer their data and apps over to the Pixel 2. If that fails, users can simply opt to transfer their data wirelessly over their network — if they elected to back up their data to Google’ servers.
The process works like this: you simply plug your old phone into the Pixel (using the adapter) when prompted at set up. The process takes a few minutes. Afterward, most of your personal information transfers over, including many apps, photos, and more.
Using Google Assistant
The key selling point of the Pixel series is its personal assistant, Google Assistant. Google’s Assistant leads all others in the artificial intelligence game. But in order to maximize the Pixel 2’s user experience, you’ve got to enable Always Listening. And like the name suggests, that means Google hears all of your conversations. Granted, you must able it during the initial configuration process — so there are no surprises.
On a Pixel, the Assistant is without question faster than its competitors. Even if you enable the Assistant on a Samsung Galaxy S8, which uses the same system-on-a-chip, it won’t respond as quickly or as accurately as on a Pixel 2.
The Not-so-Good Stuff
The Pixel 2 suffers from a few minor problems. But no deal-breakers — so far, at least. We’ll update this article if that situation changes.
Most phones throttle (lose performance) if they run at full tilt for too long. This problem is exacerbated when manufacturers shove octa-core processors into tiny, thermally insulated pockets — like a smartphone covered in plastic. Because plastic doesn’t radiate heat very rapidly, a Snapdragon 835 tends to reduce its speed in order to prevent an automatic shutdown.
A 20% loss of performance after a 15-minute burn test isn’t terrible — but it’s not amazing, either.
AMOLED Burn In?
Early reports regarding the Pixel XL 2’s problems (such as AMOLED burn-in) may deter many buyers. Google is reportedly investigating the XL 2. However, the regular Pixel 2 comes with a Samsung AMOLED panel, instead of an LG plastic OLED (pOLED) display. A known issue with plastic OLED is that it decays at a faster rate compared to AMOLED displays.
But let’s keep one thing straight: all OLED panels decay over time. There are ways to reduce the appearance of burn-in, but unfortunately, Google chose not to implement most of these features. The Pixel 2 does adjust the color of some of its menus automatically if you choose a dark wallpaper. But for the most part, the irritating navigation bar — which is the most likely part of your screen to permanently burn itself into your screen — still haunts the user experience.
The obvious course of action is to either develop an AMOLED-friendly navigation bar or use capacitive, physical buttons.
Should You Buy a Pixel 2?
I would normally rate a $650 smartphone — almost by default — an 8 out of 10. Why? Because a ZTE Axon 7 or OnePlus 5 costs between $400-500 and comes with expandable storage and similar specifications. And a Motorola G5 Plus costs $230 with the same user experience.
This is the first time that I’ve changed my mind on a phone. The Pixel 2 is a 9/10 on the basis of its industry-leading 2-year warranty which includes ship-in costs, and 3-year software support cycle. That’s twice as long regarding hardware and — in some cases — three times as long for security and feature updates.
Is the Pixel 2 the best smartphone ever? Not really. But it does have the best warranty and software support cycle ever. And that’s more than enough to warrant a purchase.