Between the Galaxy Note8's high starting price and Apple's iPhone X starting at exactly $999, brands are relying on higher price margins to meet or exceed their profit goals. How much more expensive will phones get next year? Will costs plateau, or will we start to see a steady decline in overall smartphone sales over the next few years?
Prices aside, Google made a big decision to shift from the mid-range Nexus brand to the high-end Pixel brand last year. Being part of the premium crowd does a couple of things: it puts you at the level of other top performers like Apple and Samsung, and people will hold your brand to higher standards. This happens when there is more money at stake. And you can't afford any slip-ups in this price range.
Google has seen nice success with the Pixel brand, overall. Even on its second generation smartphone, Google still stumbles a bit. The phone is facing availability issues, and it remains a Verizon exclusive in the States (although it can be purchased directly unlocked from Google for all US carriers). We'd like to see the next Pixel become available at more carriers to give consumers more choices than just Apples and Galaxies.
The 2 XL does fill in the blanks quite nicely with some of the stuff that the original Pixel XL was missing: IP67 water resistance, stereo loudspeakers, and OIS on the camera. Granted, the Pixel 2 XL no longer has a headphone jack, but that's the direction the mobile market is headed. The Pixel 2 XL's hardware has also matured well - the design is simpler, yet, somehow more refined.
We've seen an increase in Google's promoting of Google Assistant and the new Active Edge feature is a perfect example of that. Google wants to get more people using Google Assistant as it catches up with Amazon's Alexa, which has gained lots of traction over the past few years.
We are impressed with the camera, the Pixel 2 XL takes excellent photos, and Google's single-lens portrait mode is a hit. Google's HDR+ algorithm proved with the first Pixel XL that camera hardware doesn't need to have the best specs to outperform the others. It also proved that software on a camera is just as important as hardware, and Google did not disappoint with the optics. Unfortunately, unlike last year, the advancements in post-processing have not caught the competition off-guard and the Pixel 2 XL's AutoHDR+ camera no longer shines as brightly in comparison to the image quality that the competition can offer.
The dual-stereo speakers are a welcome addition to the Pixel. Sadly, there's no longer a 3.5mm headphone jack, so welcome to the dongle life. On the other hand, the Pixel 2 XL was among the loudest devices we've ever tested so that it will power even bigger headphones loud and clear and with good stereo separation.
The first alternative in mind is Google's own - the first-generation Google Pixel XL. You can still purchase it directly from Google, but you can find one even cheaper if you're willing to buy one second-hand. The Pixel 2 XL offers a few improvements over the Pixel XL: IP67 water resistance, stereo speakers, improved camera optics, and a taller 18:9 display.
The new camera is certainly better in some aspects, and you won't get portrait mode or OIS. Regardless, the Pixel XL can still put up a good fight, and you'll still get updates directly from Google. It goes to show you the first-gen Pixel aged well, a year after its release. Even if you're upgrading from the Nexus 6P, the first-gen Pixel XL is still worth your consideration if you're iffy about spending a lot of money.
The OnePlus 5 will get you a near-stock Android experience with all the bells and whistles of a flagship smartphone. It also gets you the latest Snapdragon 835 CPU, 6GB or 8GB of RAM, a respectable camera experience, and a long-lasting battery endurance. Plus, the device is available worldwide, so you shouldn't have too much trouble finding it.
The problem lies in that at the time of writing this, the OnePlus 5 is sold out. Rumors and teasers of an updated OnePlus 5(T) have been circulating the news. There will be a large price gap between the new OnePlus phone and the Google Pixel 2 XL. If you're on Verizon or Sprint, the OnePlus 5 doesn't support CDMA networks so that's a serious consideration too.
The Galaxy Note has many loyal users, even after the Note7 recall from last year threatened Samsung's reputation. The Note 8 has a similar-sized footprint as the Pixel 2 XL and comes with a class-leading and gorgeous Super AMOLED display. Samsung likes to pack features into its smartphones, which is part of the reason why it takes longer for major Android updates to hit Galaxy devices. These days, though, Samsung has made the UI much less overwhelming and less cluttered than it used to be.
The S-Pen is the Note8's defining feature, it separates itself from the rest with this powerful "stylus." The Note8 also has an excellent dual-camera, IP68 water resistance, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and wireless charging. The price range isn't too far, but if you're looking for a "go big or go home" phone, the Note8 is that phone this year.
The S8+ is a large phone that can get everything done and has the same, excellent quality display that we've seen with the Galaxy Note8. The S8+ doesn't have an S-Pen nor a dual-camera, and from our experience, the Note8 feels snappier in day-to-day usage.
If you're thinking about switching platforms, the iPhone 8 Plus is the go-to Apple phone right now. It offers a fluid software experience, user-friendly interface with plenty of features and services, and long-lasting battery life. Apple's new processors are blazing fast for getting stuff done. If you don't mind the outdated hardware design and are growing tired or frustrated with Android, you may like iOS.
We've included the smaller Pixel 2 device in here because it's a worthy alternative to the Pixel 2 XL. Frankly, the Pixel 2 has the better-looking display of the two, and its smaller size is refreshing among a sea of devices with displays larger than 5.5 inches.
The Pixel 2 gets the same hardware, software, and camera experience as the Pixel 2 XL for $200 less than the Pixel 2 XL. If you are considering the Pixel 2 XL but can't stomach the price, the cheaper model gets you everything except the large screen. Battery life is still pretty solid on the Pixel 2.
The LG V30 is roughly the same size as the Pixel XL 2, but offers a few compelling features like a powerful video camera experience, a secondary ultra-wide-angle camera, and comparable battery life. The Pixel 2 XL uses a display identical to this one, but the V30's looks better. LG's software isn't exactly a fan-favorite, but this time around, LG has cleaned up the interface for the better.
The Google Pixel 2 XL is one tall glass of smartphone. It's the best smartphone for Android enthusiasts, and 8.0 Oreo is the most refined and matured version of Android that we've seen yet. Add three years of software updates and unlimited Google Photos storage at full resolution, and you're looking at Google's finest software/hardware experience on mobile.
If you've already got the Pixel XL and are looking to upgrade to the Pixel 2 XL, you might consider holding onto it for another year. The new camera is slightly better, but the Pixel XL still holds its own as one of the best smartphone cameras. Besides, this is a lot of money to drop for a new phone considering the Pixel 2 XL starts at $850.
What's unfortunate are the concerns surrounding the display of the phone. During our review period, there've been reports of screen burn-in issues on brand-new devices. Likewise, the blue color-shifting and somewhat muted color reproduction of the display has to be held to more amounts of scrutiny considering the price that Google is selling the phone at. Google will address the muted colors and burn-in concerns with a future firmware update but there is hardly anything that can be done about the color shift. Still, for many of you, this may not even be a concern so definitely try and get a look at the phone's screen first-hand at a store before committing to the purchase.
Here's the bottom line. The Google Pixel 2 XL brings Google into the present: high-end specs with a high-end camera in a premium body with a new-age 18:9 display. The Google Pixel 2 XL is for the kind of person who likes to tinker with their phone or who would like to have the latest software by the company that makes the mobile software for more than half the phones on this planet. The flexibility of Google's operating system is something that many appreciate, and to be able to appreciate Oreo the way that Google intended is an Android purist's dream.