Google’s mission to take on the iPhone just became more real on Wednesday, when the search giant took the wraps off the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. Both devices arrive in the midst of the fiercest smartphone battle in years, in which we’ve seen the Note 8, V30, Essential Phone, and iPhone X. Even Google’s Rick Osterloh recognized that the industry as a whole as reached parity.
Among the big changes this year, Google is taking a page from the HTC U11 by making a portion of the frame of the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL “active,” meaning the devices will respond to a gentle squeeze. The new feature was developed to easily invoke Google Assistant, rather than relying on the familiar “OK, Google” voice command. The feature can also be used to silence calls and alarms.
For the most part, the two phones are the same, save for the Pixel 2 XL’s larger 6-inch pOLED QHD+ display and 3,520mAh battery; the Pixel 2 features a 5-inch Full HD screen. What’s cool is the Pixel 2 XL’s screen features a circular polarizer, so it should look just fine when wearing polarized sunglasses.
Same is the 64GB and 128GB storage options, 12-megapixel cameras with OIS and Google’s new imaging chip, E-SIM, 4GB of RAM, IP67 water and dust resistance, Snapdragon 835 processor, and Android O. The Pixel 2’s battery is 2,700mAh. Google said DxOMark awarded the Pixel 2’s camera with a score of 98, which bests the score of 94 achieved by the iPhone 8 Plus and Galaxy Note 8.
While neither device features a dual-camera setup, Google is introducing a portrait mode, which the search giant says uses computational photography to achieve the effect. Google also claims the Pixel 2 offers greater high dynamic range, OIS, and a ton of machine learning. OIS even works when you take video and combines with a software stabilization feature called fuze stabilization. Additionally, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL support motion photos, which takes three seconds of video, similar to Apple’s Live Photos feature.
Google is adopting always-on display technology, which will support a feature that will automatically detect when a song is playing and show that information on your screen. Users can then tap the artist and they’ll be taken to that track on YouTube.
There’s also a new widget in the revamped Pixel launcher called “at a glance,” which will show users their upcoming meetings, traffic, and more. Google playfully hinted at the Pixel Ultra in its onstage demo, but it was probably more of a joke due than what’s to come.
Neither device has a 3.5mm headphone jack, as expected, which means the day when all phones lack the port is getting closer. Like Apple, Google sees the future as being entirely wireless, which is funny considering Google last year made it a point to mention its Pixel phones did have a headphone jack. To make up for the missing port, Google has included front-facing stereo speakers, not something you see in high-end flagships very often.
One of the big criticisms of the original Pixel was how bland the design was. The overall look is still familiar, but the level of polish looks vastly improved. The rear glass panel has been minimized, and the design just looks more high-end. (The Pixel 2 in blue looks particularly nice.) If you hate large bezels, however, the Pixel 2 won’t win any fans.
The Pixel 2 XL will grab attention for its 18:9 display, though it’s not quite as edge-to-edge as we’ve seen from competing handsets. The color scheme of white and black works beautifully, and the orange power button works well as an added bit of flare. In other words, criticisms about Google’s design prowess will no longer be part of the conversation. It’s worth noting, however, that neither Pixel device features wireless charging.
Google is also revamping its Pixel launcher, which sees the search bar move to the bottom of the phone below the app drawer. Visually, it looks odd, because it means there’s an app drawer, search bar, and then navigation buttons. There’s a lot going on in such a small space. It makes sense, however, because the change is designed to make one-handed navigation much easier.
Google Lens, which the search giant first introduced at I/O, will finally launch with the arrival of the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. The feature is capable of recognizing real world objects and providing users with more information. Google showed off a demo in which Lens was used on a street flyer for music lessons. Lens was able to recognize the phone number and email, making it easy for the user to call or send a message.
Similar to last year, buying a Pixel phone will get you a special Google perk. Each purchase will come with free unlimited high resolution storage on Google Photos. That means you can upload any file, from photos to video, to Google’s cloud service.
Google said the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL will be available for preorder today for $649 and $849, respectively. As many feared, they’ll be exclusive to Verizon, though you can also purchase the devices from the Google Store and Project Fi. Each purchase comes with a free Google Home Mini.