Google’s Nexus devices gave Android lovers the experience of a stock UI, in a time when producers and carriers have been forcing hefty custom skins and bloatware onto the devices they sold. The Nexus phones found their share of fans by striking a fantastic balance between price and performance.

With a loyal user base already in place, Google decided to try playing in the big leagues with the Pixel series last year. The philosophy of providing the best Android experience remained, but the emphasis was more on premium features and performance than affordability. This direction continues with the Pixel two and Pixel two XL, though Google is taking slightly different design procedures this time around, which makes for some interesting differences between the two.

The Pixel two XL is what we have for review today, and it is the bigger and prettier of the two. It is priced starting at a steep Rs. 73,000, which places it right against the Apple iPhone 8 Plus (Review). Obviously, it also competes with other flagships including Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 (Review) and LG’s V30 (which is yet to start in India).

It’s also really hard to ignore all of the bad press this phone has received ever since it went on sale. We are going to keep an open mind despite multiple reports of all serious issues, and observe how they really affect our day-to-day usage. We’ve got a lot to undergo, and prospective buyers have a lot to think about prior to making any final decision. Let us begin.

Google Pixel 2 XL design and build quality
The Pixel 2 XL seems great in the Just Black trim, however it is also possible to get it in Black and White, which is much more attention-grabbing. Google has employed a aluminium unibody chassis to the phone but there is no way of telling when you hold it due to the coating applied. This has its advantages and disadvantages. The matte finish on the Just Black version does not bring in fingerprints and offers a good grip. Plus, it helps hides the antenna bands. On the flip side, we personally miss the premium feeling of vulnerable metal and glass. The coating seemed fairly resilient to scratches in the short time which we used the phone, so it will be interesting to see how it holds up after a few months of usage.

The positioning of the volume rocker is ergonomic as it lines up nicely against your thumb (if you’re right-handed), but the volume buttons are a bit of a stretch. The SIM tray is set on the left side, and just takes a single Nano-SIM. The USB Type-C (USB 3.1, Gen1) port is placed in the bottom, and is the sole physical port.

You can find stereo speakers in the front – the earpiece doubles up as one speaker, and there’s another below the monitor. We even have a notification LED in the top right corner.

We finally get to the component which has everyone up in arms — the display. Google has used LG’s pOLED technology, and in reality that the Pixel two XL is entirely made by LG. LG has used Gorilla Glass 5 with subtle curved borders on all sides. However, if you look carefully, the display itself does not actually bend – you will find sizeable black borders all around it to accomodate the curved glass. The 6-inch panel adheres to the 18:9 aspect ratio and also boasts of a compact 1440×2880 pixel resolution.

Coming to the issues that lots of consumers are facing, yes, we immediately noticed a blue tint when viewing anything on display from an angle (more on that later), and the colours did seem dull (the reds and greens mostly). We have not struck the highly publicised burn-in issue however, so hopefully our review unit isn’t influenced by that. Google has since reacted to these issues and has said that a fix is coming via a software update.

On paper, this display promises 100 percent of this DCI-P3 color area. The double look of colors is caused due to how the Pixel two XL’s display is calibrated to the sRGB color gamut, which was done for “aesthetic” reasons. Honestly, aside from being jarring at times, this is something we can see ourselves finally growing accustomed to. After a couple of days, we barely noticed the difference. Videos looked fine as long we weren’t doing a side-by-side comparison with a different phone, especially one like the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and the original Pixel which both have good screens.

The upcoming fix will make it possible for users to pick a different colour profile, which should result in livelier colours. The burn-in issue is also being addressed too, and while there is absolutely no fix for the physical nature of the screen, Google’s UI will auto-fade the navigation bar outside if not in use so that it isn’t likely to burn in, color match the bar to every apps’s color scheme, and drop the display’s brightness down from 50nits. Meanwhile, there is a temporary fix out there till Google has its act together.

But, there does not seem to be any solution to the blue tint issue, as according to Google, that’s “inherent in the display hardware”. Although Google claims the blue tint is simply visible at sharp angles, this simply is not the case. Over the dull colors, this is always annoying, especially if you have Night Light switched on. We do not think Google deserves a free pass here, even with all the lengthy explanations it has come up with. No matter which way you look at it, the display on the Pixel two XL simply isn’t as good as those on different flagships.

Round the back, the glass patch is shorter so it does not cover the fingerprint detector like on the older model. The circular fingerprint sensor is smaller this time as well, but is just as fast in authentication. You might also use it to pull down the notification color with a swipe down. Google calls this ActiveEdge, and it’s similar to the feature that HTC introduced with all the HTC U11 (Review). As of now, it can only be used to call up Assistant and silence incoming calls. You may change the intensity of of the pressure that’s needed so that you do not accidentally trigger it when holding the phone or taking it from you pocket.

In the box, you receive a fast-charge capable adapter, USB Type-C to Type-C data cable, Quick Switch adapter, USB Type-C to 3.5mm adapter, SIM eject tool, warranty leaflet, and quick start guide. The quality of the accessories is very great, and they feel long-lasting.

Google Pixel two XL specifications and attributes
Google has gone with Qualcomm’s best current SoC, which is the Snapdragon 835. This is an octa-core chip which we’ve seen in the OnePlus 5, Sony Xperia XZ Premium, Nokia 8, Sony Xperia XZ 1, and Mi Mix two. Along with it, you also receive 4GB of RAM and 64GB or 128GB of storage. Sensors include a barometer, hall sensor, gyroscope, compass, and also the customary accelerometer and ambient light sensor.

The Pixel 2 XL is IP67 certified for water and dust resistance, so it could survive being dunked underwater. Sadly, the phone misses out on several flagship-level features such as wireless charging and also an HDR display.

The Pixel two XL (along with the Pixel two) introduction Google’s first in-house chip (with assistance from Intel) called Visual Core, which is a dedicated image processor. It’s inert right now and will be activated after these phones receive the upcoming Android 8.1 update. The main purpose of Visual Core is to allow third-party programs to take advantage of HDR+ image capturing and processing, which is now only available in the Pixel camera program.

Google’s strength has always been in software and the Pixel two XL is the provider’s brand new vessel to flaunt this. It runs vanilla Android 8.0 out-of-the-box however there are a number of new additions to the homescreen, lockscreen, and launcher. Thanks to the pOLED panel, the Pixel 2 XL comes with an abysmal display attribute, which shows you that the time, date and unread notifications. However, you can’t interact with notifications on the lock screen like you can on Samsung’s present phones.

There’s also a Currently Playing feature, which automatically recognises a tune playing in the background and will show you its title and the artist at the bottom of the display. We tried it with hot English and Hindi tracks and it functioned well for the most part, even though it could not recognise a few newer Bollywood tracks and failed where there was too much background chatter. Overall, it looks like a nice feature to have but is no substitute for dedicated apps like Shazam or even SoundHound especially when dealing with not-so-popular monitors.

There’s also a brand new ‘At-a-Glance’ area at the top of your home screen, which gives you the time, weather and other details like upcoming appointments from the calendar. This cannot be taken out of the homescreen. Thus far, just information from the Google Calendar program and traffic updates are being shown, but Google will soon be linking this to more programs in the coming months. The quick search bar was moved to the bottom, where it’s nearer to your thumbs. It stays put because you swipe across homescreens, and cannot be removed either. We covered the main features of Oreo when it launched, and you are able to read all about them here.

Google Assistant functions as expected, and swiping right takes you to the Google Now screen with relevant news shown to you in the kind of cards. Bundled apps include Google’s usual suite, also Allo and Duo. The interface is slick and speedy but it may feel a bit bit too barebones sometimes. For instance, something as basic as being able to annotate a screenshot once you take it, isn’t supported. The Settings app has shifted quite a bit, and now, similar functions are grouped together. Some options are also hidden from view, in order to give the program a simpler appearance. Gestures that are encouraged include a double-press of this power button to launch the camera app, and a double-flick of the wrist from within the camera app to switch between the front and back cameras. There are also new live wallpapers called Living Universe, which look really cool.

The Pixel 2 XL is privy to an early beta of Google Lens, a brand new feature that uses machine learning to recognise objects, street address, phone number, etc, from the photos you have taken and gives you more information about these. Presently, this attribute can be found in the Photos app in the Pixel 2 and Pixel two XL but it will be added to the camera program and to Assistant in the coming months. To get a beta product, it works decently well. When you are browsing through your photos, you’ll notice the Lens icon just before the delete icon. Tapping it will bring up a little window in which Lens will present its best guesses of what’s in the picture.

In our experience, it functions well with addresses and phone numbers (provided that they’re in focus). Lens properly identifies the details and offers you options to navigate to the place or phone the number directly, which is very convenient. It even managed to recognise the species of several flowers we taken, a kind of cat, and also the model of a car based only on its profile. There were times when it failed to recognise items or just gave generic descriptions of these. Its true potential will be realised after Lens comes to the camera, in which you’ll be able to see additional information regarding objects in front of you, in realtime.

Google Pixel 2 XL performance, camera, and battery life
Like the previous Pixel smartphones, performance is blazing fast. There is pretty much zero lag when multitasking or running heavy apps. The display’s touch response is also superb and although it brings smudges, they are off easily. The display does not get really bright, but we didn’t have difficulty using it outdoors under bright sunlight.

Call quality is extremely good and that the earpiece is loud enough even in noisy environments. The Pixel 2 XL works nicely as a speakerphone too. We didn’t seem to have any audio issues with our unit, as many others have reported. The dialler program now has Google Duo integration, and you’re going to see a video icon next to each individual’s name. Tapping that will directly place a video phone to them via Google Duo. Soon, you will also have the ability to switch from a voice call to a video telephone, mid-way.

The 18:9 display is sharp, and everything seems smooth. The stereo speakers do a good job her in separating noise but the volume level varies from program to app. For instance, we really needed to calculate the volume when watching Netflix displays even in a relatively quiet room, but music streamed through Apple Music was quite loud. We didn’t hear any distortion at high volumes and even though there’s no serious bass, the sound is warm without resorting the tinny signature that many smartphone speakers have a tendency to possess. 4K videos play smoothly, and now you can utilize picture-in-picture mode with YouTube videos.

We recommended the first Pixels to a lot of individuals, purely based on camera quality, and the Pixel 2 XL is no different. The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL have the exact same camera configuration, which is a single 12.2-megapixel sensor in the back and also an 8-megapixel, fixed-focus sensor in the front. The back camera has an upgraded f/1.8 aperture and optical stabilisation (along with electronic stabilisation), which are big improvements over the past year’s phones. The rear camera also gets laser and laser dual-pixel autofocus. Focusing is extremely quick under good lighting, and we almost never needed to tap to focus. There’s also hardly any shutter lag, and photos are saved nearly instantaneously, even with HDR+ enabled.

You can go into the settings to either switch it off or activate an “HDR+ enhanced” mode instead, which adds a bit of lag to photo processing. Honestly, we couldn’t find any significant difference between the 2 modes. Maybe with the Pixel two XL’s Visual Core enabled, we might see even better (and faster) results in the future.

Harness to see full-sized Google Pixel 2 XL camera samples

The quality of photos taken during the day is pretty excellent. More than the upgraded hardware in contrast to the first Pixel, it’s Google’s software magic that really helps in achieving stunning pictures. Details are extremely good and colour accuracy is spot on the majority of the time. Pictures have a neutral colour tone this time around, compared to the first Pixel which veered towards the cooler side. Low-light performance is quite good too and even though focusing speeds dip a little, it’s still quick. Noise is treated well, although there is visible noise in landscapes taken in very low light. On the flip side, you receive great dynamic range.

The big new addition to the Pixel 2 XL’s camera program is a Portrait mode. It functions just like it would on any dual-camera smartphone, only here, it uses the dual pixels in the exact same detector to gauge the depth behind a subject. Unfortunately, you can not see a preview of the blur effect on screen when you are taking the shot, and you can’t correct the intensity afterwards either. It takes about a second or 2 to get the result to be applied, so there is a bit of lag when you attempt to check photos you’ve just taken.

The Pixel 2 XL gets it right pretty much every single time, even in low light in which many double camera setups struggle or refuse to do the job. There are minor flaws in the blurring process at times, but that holds true for pretty much all smartphones with dedicated thickness cameras as well. Since this is all software-based, Portrait mode works even with the front 8-megapixel camera. Details are very great in low light, and skin tones are represented well.

Thanks to the combination of optical and electronic stabilisation, the ‘shimmering’ impact in video when you are moving is eliminated. Stabilisation works very well in low light, but video may find a bit noisy. In fact, we’d say the microphones are a bit too sensitive, so if you’re planning on vlogging that you might want to keep a good distance between you and the camera in order for your voice isn’t too sharp. Recording modes include 1080p at 120fps/60fps/30fps; 720p at up to 240fps; and 4K in 30fps. Video quality is quite good in daylight, with powerful details and colours. Slow-motion video is also good. We wish the Pixel 2 supported 4K at 60fps, since this appears to be the next big video attribute and is currently supported by the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X.

It’s possibly once of the easiest programs to utilize, which is good for novices, but a bit too constrained for power users. There’s no manual or professional mode here, which we’ve seen in most flagship Android phones for many years now. The only degree of manual control you receive is the ability to lock the exposure and focus, and adjust the exposure and white balance. You can get Motion Photos, which means that the camera captures a couple of seconds of video along with a still.

One benefit of having a massive phone is you get a big battery. The 3520mAh battery continued us well over a full day on a single charge, which is quite good. Heavy use of the camera does make a sizeable dent in the battery life. Our HD video loop test didn’t have an extremely impressive runtime as we were able to get only 12 hours and 43 minutes. But, we believe that this could be down to the pOLED panel along with also the QHD+ resolution.

Fast charging functions wonderfully on the Pixel two XL. We recorded a 66 percent charge in 30 minutes, and 90 percent in about one hour, by an empty tank. The bundled adapter has similar output specifications as Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0-certified power adapters, however, fast charging didn’t seem to work the we tried a third-party charger.

Verdict
With all the learnings from its first two Pixel generations, possibly the Pixel 3 might be an ideal Android device everyone hopes for (you know, third time’s the charm). But that is in the future, and today we are dealing with a phone that costs Rs. 73,000 and has witnessed more issues within a couple of weeks of its release than most phones see in their entire lifecycles. Granted, many of these issues can be fixed with software patches, and we’re sure Google is working on them round the clock, but the experience needs to be in a certain level right from the beginning.

The display is definitely sub-standard – there is no 2 ways about that. The dull colours should be fixed soon, however, the blue tint might annoy you constantly – it sure did with us. If you find that you can’t live without punchy colors, then we recommend choosing the iPhone X, iPhone, 8 Plus or Samsung Galaxy Note 8 instead.

Now, on to the Fantastic stuff. As far as large-screen phones go, the Pixel 2 XL is one of the better ones we’ve lived with, largely due to its ergonomic design. It isn’t as eye-catching as some other flagships, but the understated look will have its own share of takers. The no-frills Android experience might be a bit too dull for a few, but you’re ensured timely software updates and security patches, which Android OEMs don’t always prioritise. Then there’s the camera, which is capable of some fairly incredible feats even with its single lens.

The Pixel 2 XL feels overpriced in India if you consider that it retails for $849 in the US (approximately Rs. 55,200). In the wake of all of these issues that have cropped up, Google is currently offering a two-year warranty for both its Pixel 2 devices, which is applicable here.

If you don’t want to take a chance with the Pixel two XL (and we don’t blame you), the Pixel 2 could be a better choice. It has had fewer problem reports than its bigger brother and you lose the 18:9 display, but it’s also less expensive while still offering the same fantastic cameras, hardware and software as the XL. Stay tuned to our review of the Pixel 2.