Pixel 2 review: A great smartphone that still holds its own against the Galaxy S9
Google Pixel 2 review: Performance
Performance is great, as you’d expect from any flagship Android handset in 2017, but the Pixel benefits especially from the clean, trim version of Android Oreo it comes with. While other handsets are waiting patiently for the rollout, Google goes first and it’s a joy to use. This will be the first handset to get Android Papaya, Penguin, Pancake or whatever weird name Google comes up with in 2018.
Still, even the most bloated of Android installations would sail along with the Pixel 2’s specification, which it shares with a few of its key rivals. Just like the HTC U11, Sony Xperia XZ Premium, OnePlus 5 and the US edition of the Samsung Galaxy S8, the Pixel 2 is masterminded by the powerhouse Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor – a 2.35GHz octa-core monster. This is backed by a decent 4GB of RAM, meaning it lines up exactly alongside the S8, U11 and XZ Premium – only the OnePlus 5, with its extra 2GB RAM, stands in front.[gallery:4]
What this means is that, in terms of performance, there’s very little to choose between all the main players, as you can see from the graph below. Even the extra RAM in the OnePlus 5 doesn’t count for much.
Marginal differences but, honestly, at this point personal preference and price differentiators should be your deciding factor. The same stalemate is reached in 3D performance, with the Pixel 2 achieving 56fps on the visually intensive GFXBench Manhattan onscreen test. The Samsung Galaxy S8 and HTC U11 achieve lower results here, but only because they have higher resolution displays and therefore must render more pixels per frame.
In terms of battery life, Google doesn’t quite meet the high bar set by last year’s Pixel. While that managed 16hrs 23mins in our punishing battery test (a looped video with screen brightness locked to 170cd/m² in Flight mode), this year’s handset managed “just” 14hrs 17mins. That puts it right in the middle of the pack: longer lasting than the Sony Xperia XZ Premium and HTC U11, but well short of the Samsung Galaxy S8 and OnePlus 5.
Of course, a looped video test, while a useful yardstick, doesn’t replicate all real-world conditions, and for the days I’ve been using the Pixel 2, I’ve found battery life to be very good indeed. Battery seems to drain very slowly from light screen use, and so far I’ve yet to dip below 30% before turning in for the night. And with the bundled fast charger, getting it up to full capacity is pleasingly speedy, too.
Google Pixel 2 review: Camera
So far, the Google Pixel 2 is doing well – but then so is every other flagship phone. True, you save £20 on the price of its main rivals, but that’s the kind of saving eaten up over the 24 months of a contract. Long-term Pixel users will know that Google’s ace in the hole is the camera, and once again for still shots, this is simply the best smartphone camera you can buy.[gallery:10]
In bright conditions, the Pixel 2’s 12.2-megapixel, f/1.8 OIS- and EIS-stabilised camera manages to surpass the high bar set by the original Pixel, and even exceeds the very high standards of the HTC U11 and Samsung Galaxy S8. The dynamic range and colour saturation are spot on and the white balance is far more accurate to boot. The original, on the odd occasion, would tinge images a little yellow – there’s no evidence of that here.
But it’s low light shots that make the smartphone camera and, in these tricky conditions, the Pixel 2 truly excels. Once again, the dynamic range and colour saturation are superb. Colour retention is excellent, while noise is brilliantly kept under control. The original Pixel managed slightly richer colours, but that advantage was offset by the aforementioned slight tint of yellow. The more neutral Pixel 2 gets the nod here.[gallery:9]
And there a couple of new features to play around with as well: “Motion photo”, which captures a short snippet of video at the same time as your stills, a bit like the iPhone’s Live Photos feature; and “2Portrait”, which does an incredible job of recreating the blurry background bokeh you get from shooting with the aperture wide open on a DSLR.
Hold on to that champagne though, Google. There’s a downside. And that downside is video.
While 4K video is crisp and bursting with detail, the colours are all over the place. They seem to be hyper-saturated, and a direct comparison with last year’s Pixel and the Samsung Galaxy S8 shows that detail capture is considerably softer.
Google regains points for its brilliant use of EIS (electronic video stabilisation), which records footage that looks like it could have been recorded on Steadicam – but you can’t escape the feeling that this is a missed opportunity. Hopefully, the strange saturation can be improved by OTA updates.[gallery:11]
Google Pixel 2 review: Software and extra features
Still, if anyone can fix that, Google can, as evidenced by its superb implementation of Android 8.0 Oreo. It’s not only clean, lean and spritely, but it’s packed with clever features, too. The always-on screen, for instance, is an incredibly useful use of the phone’s OLED screen, lighting up only the pixels it needs to while displaying the time, date and key notifications permanently on-screen.
Google also puts this to use with its next insanely clever feature “Now playing”, which listens to what’s going on around you, recognises songs automatically and displays them at the bottom of the always-on screen – and it does this without needing a live internet connection.
Then there’s “Active edge”, a feature that apes the HTC U11’s squeezable frame to launch Google Assistant from the lockscreen or quickly silence incoming calls, and Google Lens. Alas, the latter is only a preview of the advanced AI feature demonstrated during Google I/O earlier in the year (no live, in-camera image analysis yet), but you can see the potential. Pop into Google Photos and feed Google Lens a photo or two from your stream and you’ll quickly be impressed by its ability to recognise objects and landmarks; you’ll also quickly realise that it’s far from finished.
Google Pixel 2 review: Verdict
So, the million dollar question (well, £629 – blame the weak pound): should you buy the Google Pixel 2? That’s not quite the straightforward yes or no question it appears on paper and depends a lot on your personal preference. Let’s try and personalise this verdict.
If you like the look of the Pixel 2, but prefer a bigger handset, don’t plump for the Pixel 2 XL until they sort the screen out. Look to the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus or Note 8. Maybe even the Huawei Mate 10, if it’s as impressive as it seemed in our time hands-on with it.
If you want the most bang for your buck, the Pixel 2 seems appealing but, despite undercutting the Samsung Galaxy S8, Sony Xperia XZ Premium and HTC U11 on price, it’s still £180 more than the OnePlus 5. And at this point, you can easily find the S8 for around £500.
Okay, that’s who shouldn’t buy the Pixel 2. Who should? The advantages the Pixel 2 have are two-fold for my money: the camera and the company. The former is easy to explain: this is by far the best camera phone on the market, taking phenomenal shots in tricky conditions.[gallery:6]
But it’s not so much better than you can argue it’s worth ignoring the HTC U11 or Samsung Galaxy S8 for. The Googlyness (for want of a better word) might just be, however. The stripped back OS enjoyed by the Pixel 2 is a joy to use. It’s snappy, comes with everything you need and isn’t overloaded with bloatware. I keep finding charming little things that make me squeal with delight. Example: watching the highlights of Derby County’s heroic 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest, I received a message, so pressed the home button to investigate. Without asking, the match was minimised to a dinky picture-in-picture square, playing on while I responded.
That’s a small thing, but it’s an important one. While other companies often trip over themselves trying to overload their phones with new features, Google adds ones you find naturally and feel just right. Plus, Google handsets invariably get software updates and new versions of Android first. If that matters to you, the Google Pixel 2 remains a solid recommendation.
Google Pixel 2 specifications
|Processor||Octa-core 2.35GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 835|
|Screen resolution||1,920 x 1,080|
|Memory card slot (supplied)||No|
|Dimensions||145 x 70 x 8 mm|
|Operating system||Android 8.0|