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Avoid the Pixel 2 XL while Google investigates screen issues

by Brandon Russell | October 23, 2017October 23, 2017 1:30 pm PDT

There’s a controversy brewing around the Pixel 2 XL’s 6-inch QHD P-OLED display, and it’s poised to spoil what is otherwise a sterling release from Google. The issue has gained such widespread attention that prospective buyers are second-guessing whether there’s a deeper problem beyond a few faulty units.

So, is the Pixel 2 XL’s dull display really that bad? TechnoBuffalo’s Jon Rettinger, who spent over a week with the device, said the criticism is worrying, but overblown.

That opinion, however, was not shared by CNBC’s Todd Hasleton (formerly of TechnoBuffalo), who said the Pixel 2’s screen looked especially dull compared to the vibrant screen on the iPhone 8.

Other complaints across Reddit and the forums of XDA Developers say the Pixel 2 XL’s screen displays grainy images and an unsettling blue tint. The Verge’s Vlad Savov, meanwhile, wrote a scathing assessment of the Pixel 2 XL’s display troubles, providing convincing evidence as to why it’s not up to a par.

In one comparison between the iPhone 8 Plus and Pixel 2 XL, images shared by The Verge show the Pixel 2 XL’s screen features a sickly blue-ish green tint. Granted, it’s difficult to provide an accurate representation of each display via the internet—it’s something you need to see in person—but it helps illustrates how different the screens look.

Google released a statement in response to the growing chorus of complaints, saying it designed the Pixel 2 display to “have a more natural and accurate rendition of colors.” It added, “We know some people prefer more vivid colors so we’ve added an option to boost colors by 10% for a more saturated display.”

If that answer doesn’t satisfy customers, Google said it may introduce options to further customize the screen’s look. Whether Google will actually follow through with more tuning options remains to be seen.

In reading the numerous complaints from Pixel 2 XL owners, the issue seems most noticeable when compared to competing flagships, especially against the iPhone 8 and Galaxy S8, the latter of which features arguably the market’s most stunning display. While it’s true the Pixel 2 XL’s screen isn’t nearly as vibrant, Google says its colors are more natural and accurate.

Some argue that, while the Pixel 2 XL’s screen does exhibit more muted colors, it isn’t enough to dissuade the average user from picking the device up. CNET’s Sean Hollister said: “Screen nerds may want to steer clear of the Pixel 2 XL for now, but we don’t believe any of the issues we’re seeing are deal breakers.”

In our own testing, we noticed the blue cast mentioned by other Pixel 2 XL users, especially when viewing the display at different angles. The screen’s saturation, meanwhile, is calibrated much differently compared to something like the iPhone 8—when viewing the same photo side-by-side, the image on the Pixel 2 XL looks much darker, like it has been edited.

A more pressing concern than color, and one that may be indicative of a deeper issue, is OLED burn-in, which is already appearing on units after just a few days of use. A Pixel 2 XL used by Android Central’s Alex Dobie exhibits clear signs of burn-in, with the onscreen navigation buttons appearing as ghostly images.

In a statement to The Verge, Google said it’s “actively investigating” reports about OLED burn-in—an issue that’s common, but only after several months of use. Seeing the problem appear shortly after the device launched is very disconcerting.

For what it’s worth, we haven’t seen any signs of burn-in on the Pixel 2 XL unit we have in the office, but we’ll update if that changes.

The more problems the Pixel 2 XL encounters, the harder it becomes to recommend, especially at $849. As the weeks go on, who’s to say what else will crop up—things have already gone from bad to worse for the device. Worst case scenario, Google halts production as it investigates the issue.

If production is halted, it could prove to be a death knell of sorts, especially with the iPhone X just around the corner. Having used the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, I actually prefer the smaller form factor despite there being no edge-to-edge display. Perhaps consider the Pixel 2 if the larger device’s screen troubles persist.

We’ll keep a close eye on how things develop over the coming days.


Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...

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