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Let the haters do their hating: Google’s Pixel 2 XL is excellent

by Justin Herrick | December 7, 2017December 7, 2017 1:30 pm PST

There’s only one true way to describe the Pixel 2 XL: polarizing. Since the phone’s launch a few months ago, critics and consumers have engaged in endless debate over whether or not it’s a competitive flagship. Most of the contention comes from the display. Google invested a fortune in LG’s display-making business to create a custom OLED panel for the Pixel 2 XL. And, when the phone was released, people immediately pointed out a long list of flaws.

Google’s plus-sized model couldn’t catch a break. I, too, was among those knocking the Pixel 2 XL. It appeared that one of the world’s largest technology companies somehow managed to ship a phone with an awful display. Burn-in, blue tint, and graininess plagued units everywhere. People were returning their phones, and Google offered a very weak response in addition to opening an investigation.

To this day, there’s been no real explanation of how the problems occurred. That’s why fear remains among consumers who want to buy the Pixel 2 XL, and I was one of them up until recently. Today I’m a proud owner of the Pixel 2 XL. How I went from hater to believer took time, which I suspect will be true for many others as the calendar flips to 2018.

Google has a really good flagship on the market. The hard part, though, is getting everyone to change their minds after countless headlines have ingrained this belief that the Pixel 2 XL is inferior to the phones it was meant to topple.

Hearing about the growing number of issues affecting the Pixel 2 XL upset me. Then the poor transparency on Google’s end disappointed me. So I canceled my pre-order, which was set to arrive on November 4. There was no way I could pay almost $1,000 for a phone that, according to the vast majority of reviews and forum posts, was unworthy of being a flagship. I decided instead to hang on to my Pixel XL from 2016 and wait until the Galaxy S9 next spring.

I wrote the controversial piece calling on Google to stop selling the Pixel 2 XL. In it, I slammed LG for failing to use Google’s near-$1 billion investment wisely. Google, too, earned criticism for not handling the situation quickly and transparently. If the Mountain View-based company ever wants to be compared to Apple favorably, it needs to achieve excellence in every way on a consistent basis. Based on what I heard about the Pixel 2 XL, I lost hope in Google’s hardware efforts indefinitely.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized perhaps the Pixel 2 could be a fit. On a whim one night, I purchased the smaller model from the Google Store. It arrived, I loved the design, and two hours later I requested a refund. The next morning, I sent the Pixel 2 back to the Google Store because I didn’t like the phone at all. The all-white back was attractive, but the front’s bezels were way too big for this day and age.

If I’m going to spend a lot of money on anything, I’m going to love it or return it. We all work hard for our money. Using it on something we’re less than thrilled about is just not acceptable.

A few weeks went by, and I came to appreciate the Pixel XL more than ever before. I don’t care what anyone says; the 2016 flagship was simple yet beautiful, its camera captured jaw-dropping shots, and the battery life got me through the day. And, to be honest, I’ve always wanted an Apple-iPhone type of thing from Google. Hopefully, that explains why seeing the Pixel 2 XL get dragged through the mud led to my pre-order getting canceled.

Although completely satisfied with my year-old phone, I wasn’t excited every time I picked up the Pixel XL. I’ve been covering the mobile industry for more than four years, and you can understand that makes me want the latest and greatest.

The Google Store pleasantly surprised me in late November when it started running a holiday promotion in which all Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL orders included a $100 credit and a free Google Home Mini.

Eventually, I placed an order upon going through plenty of thinking. Then I canceled the order because I was nervous. Actually, I ordered and canceled about five times before facing the fear. If I didn’t like the Pixel 2 XL, I’d just return it. If I happened to like it, I’d keep phone and get in the neighborhood of $400 back for trading in my reliable Pixel XL. Seemed like a safe bet.

My Pixel 2 XL arrived on December 4. I’m happy to share that it’ll be staying with me. No, it’s not the perfect phone. There’s never been a perfect phone, and there never will be one. But the Pixel 2 XL’s issues have been greatly exaggerated in my opinion. The weeks-long crusade against Google and LG for the display’s issues, while existent to an extent, is a classic case of “much ado about nothing.”

We’ve already reviewed the Pixel 2 XL on TechnoBuffalo, so I won’t go into detail in every area. Its design is modern with an edge-to-edge display. The camera is industry-leading, as was its predecessor’s. Battery life, at least for me, spills over into a second day. And Google handles the software with promised software updates hitting before they do on any other Android device. Those are all things you expect from Google’s flagship. With that out of the way, let me tell you how I feel about the Pixel 2 XL’s display.

Turning on the Pixel 2 XL for the first time you’re definitely going to notice the different color profile, especially if you’re coming from another OLED-based device. On the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, sRGB mode is automatically activated. That may make you think the colors are cold or muted, but this is really a more accurate portrayal. We’ve all become familiar with the warm, color-popping style made popular by Samsung.

A minor software update sent to Google’s 2017 duo within weeks of the investigation launching adds additional settings for the display. While sRGB mode can be turned on/off in Developer Settings, it’s these user-facing settings that you’ll want to check out. Natural and Boosted seem about the same (still cold), but Saturated injects warmth and a slight red tone to the display’s look.

Personally, I prefer OLED panels over LCD panels. In that sense, I’m thankful Google opted for this particular technology. To get the warmth of an OLED panel back, I chose Saturated. It aligns closely with what I’ve seen and enjoyed on other phones.

As for the other problems listed, I haven’t noticed any of them. Maybe I could find some graininess if I used a magnifying glass or a microscope, but the naked eye isn’t going to pick up on anything unless your unit is defective. Also, my unit hasn’t experienced immediate burn-in. My only gripe was the muted nature of the sRGB mode, a complaint I easily resolved by switching the color settings.

The loudest people in any comments section or forum are the haters. When bad things arise, they’re the first to bring down the vibe. Then staunch fans dive in. Before you know it, insults are hurled between both sides. What good comes from that? Nothing at all. It’s far too easy to understand someone else’s perspective and possibly make concessions of your own.

What so many of us are failing to realize in this instance is that, actually, the Pixel 2 XL doesn’t have any issues we haven’t seen already.

Phones with OLED panels often get burn-in. That’s not a new phenomenon. Image retention is also common across all types of screen-based products. Blue tint? Look at one of Samsung’s phones. A shift in color is standard for all displays, and the blue is typical for OLED panels. Time to put aside your grudge and embrace the excellence like I have. The Pixel 2 XL’s shortcomings aren’t enough to cast the phone off as a failure.

I’m here today to tell you that I was way off. Google’s Pixel 2 XL is actually one of the best phones you can buy today.

Google’s Pixel 2 XL deserves your attention. If you’re looking for a new phone, it should sit right up there at the top of the list alongside Apple’s iPhone X and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8. I’ve used all three in recent weeks, and it boils down to the perfect blend of hardware and software. Of course, though, Apple loyalists shouldn’t go anywhere near the Pixel 2 XL. But, for those who prefer Android or want a refreshing experience, it doesn’t get any better than this. So the moral of the story here, my friends, is that you should never judge a book by its cover. Or, in this case, you should never judge a phone by its OLED panel unless you get to know it.

Seriously, don’t shy away from this phone. You could end up like me and, after finally spending some time with the Pixel 2 XL, wonder why you were so sour. Google deserves to be praised, not panned. Now I look forward to seeing the first true ‘Google Phone’ in 2018.


Justin Herrick

Justin is easily attracted to power buttons. His interest in technology started as a child in the 1990s with the original PlayStation, and two...

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