Wrapping it up
The Minipixel. Or rather, Medium Pixel, if the other one is XL. The Pixel 2 is just as good as the XL, only smaller, cheaper, and not as good-looking.
It's got a display that doesn't turn blue when you look at it off-center (it's a little sad that we need to point it out in 2017), it takes top-quality photos and videos, and runs Android as Google intended it to be. As an added bonus, it's reasonably priced - by 2017 standards, that is.
It doesn't give you the option to add your own storage, and it doesn't have a headphone jack - Google is going full-Apple this year. We do, however, appreciate the improved weather sealing - the old Pixel wasn't IP-ed enough, but this one is.
It was a fun couple of weeks with Google's latest and here's what we discovered during this time.
Google Pixel 2 key test findings
- The smaller Pixel isn't all that small, but is definitely the one to get for single-handed use. Design isn't as striking as last year, now that we've gotten used to the glass panel on the back (it helps that it's shrunk too), and the Just Black version in particular has a very understated, incognito look next to generally flashier competitor. Priorities. If you want more color on your Pixel, Google will happily offer you a selection of fresh cases.
- The fingerprint reader is right where it should be, which can't really be said about the power button/volume rocker arrangement. Active edge is a neat hardware shortcut to Google Assistant without being obtrusive like a certain extra button on one of the rival phones (cough, Bixby). The better weather sealing this year (IP67) is a welcome improvement over the original Pixel. The absence of a 3.5mm jack is a bummer and no dongle can make us feel better about it; for the record there is one in the box.
- The Samsung-made display on the Pixel 2 exhibits none of the issues of the XL's panel, and is actually even better color calibrated for accuracy. The lack of a brightness boost under direct light, however, means it can't match the screens Samsung fits in its own devices in outdoor scenarios. That said, contrast is great both indoors and in the sun.
- Battery life is good, with solid numbers in both of our screen-on disciplines, but less impressive voice call endurance and standby times.
- Stock Android doesn't feel as featureless anymore and Oreo is actually quite mature and polished. The overall experience is light, snappy, and the new animations are nice attention to details. We're also fans of the live wallpapers and the full notifications that show up on the Always On display for a second.
- Benchmark performance is on par with other Snapdragon 835 devices, which is to say it's among the best in the Android world.
- The stereo speakers are very loud - Excellent as our ratings go, so even better than the XL. The sound is also full-bodied and distortion-free.
- Above average loudness and good clarity, but sub-par channel separation can be used to describe audio output to an external amp with virtually no degradation when using headphones. Still, the XL is louder.
- The Pixel 2 has one of most capable cameras on the market for both stills and video. Photos are detailed, well exposed, with great dynamic range and colors. In difficult lighting there's a little more noise than we'd like, but the Pixel 2 still produces excellent images. Portrait mode works rather well too, despite the absence of a second camera.
- The selfie camera is superb as well, in good light and low light alike. Selfie portraits with a defocused background are a nice option too.
- Video quality is excellent too, both in 4K and FullHD, though 1080p/60fps in particular is quite soft. Audio is still mono, though.
The Pixel 2 is the current reference Android phone. The Pixel 2 XL will give you a larger (if a little flawed) display at a price premium, but is otherwise the same thing. This is a dilemma decided on size, price, and availability, not on the merits.
Google Pixel 2 XL
A couple of key rivals from camp Apple deserve to be mentioned before we move on to more droids. The iPhone X is the one to have this season, but it's substantially more expensive than the Pixel 2. It'll give you a telephoto camera and a signature notched display. Meanwhile the iPhone 8 can be had for as much as what Google charges for a Pixel 2, and is slightly smaller. The iPhones' cameras are excellent themselves, battery life is comparable between the three phones, and all three displays are superb. Choosing between a Pixel and an iPhone is more a matter of ecosystem than performance. Oh, and price, if you're eyeing the X.
Apple iPhone 8 • Apple iPhone X
The Galaxy S8 comes immediately to mind when we think of Pixel 2 competitors. It offers more display in the same footprint and better battery life. Samsung also gives you a microSD slot, not insignificant if you have a huge offline music selection or take a lot of photos or video. The Pixel 2 does counter that with unlimited cloud storage, but the cloud isn't always an option.
Samsung Galaxy S8
Outside these big three, we'd entertain the thought of grabbing a Huawei P10. Excellent display, superb camera (a rather unique among these color+monochrome combo), comparable battery life, and a microSD slot, all for slightly more than half the price of a Pixel 2 in most markets. Sure, there's no IP rating on the P10, and no unlimited cloud storage, but did you not read the 'half the price' bit?
Is the small Pixel 2 the better Pixel this year? Certainly not if you're looking for a large display. Put that aside, however, and the Pixel 2 delivers the goods just as well as its XL counterpart while being considerably more affordable, not to mention you can actually buy one right now. Add to that the glaring lack of reported display issues on the Pixel 2 M, in stark contrast to the rocky launch of the Extra Large version, and it could mean that small is the way to go.