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Google Pixel 2 XL review: Google’s supersized, bezel-less flagship

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
799
inc VAT

Here's our official verdict on the Google Pixel 2, which has one major issue

Pros 
Superb camera quality
Great design
Cons 
Expensive
Terrible display
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Update: Google Pixel 4 XL announced

Did you pick up a Pixel 2 XL when it first launched back in 2017? Well, chances are your two-year contract is almost up, and you're likely looking for a new phone to fill that hole. 

Mercifully, Google has just unveiled the Pixel 4 XL. A lot has changed in only two years: this new phone is significantly faster, has a bigger, higher-resolution screen and secondary 2x telephoto zoom camera. It's currently available for preorder, starting at £729 SIM-free.

My original Google Pixel 2 XL review continues below.

Google Pixel 2 XL review 

I hate to be the bearer of bad news. But somebody has to tell die-hard Android fans that Google’s Pixel 2 XL isn’t very good. And that's not just because it doesn't offer a single feature that other manufacturers haven't already done, and done better.

READ NEXT: Best smartphone

That’s not necessarily a fatal flaw: you can do things competently and still sell. Unfortunately, there’s also one gigantic flaw that holds it back from any possible recommendation.

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Google Pixel 2 XL review: What you need to know

The Pixel 2 XL is Google’s latest plus-sized flagship. The second-generation Pixel XL is a smartphone that’s meant to pave the way for the next wave of Android smartphones, with top-end specs and a camera that’s best in its class.

Released a month after the regular-sized Pixel 2, the 2 XL is a 6in smartphone with a P-OLED screen and a 20-megapixel rear camera that, according to DxOMark, is unbeatable. The latest Snapdragon 835 processor runs the show, complete with 4GB of RAM and a choice of either 64GB or 128GB of non-expandable storage.

Google Pixel 2 XL review: Price and competition

At £799 for the 64GB model and £899 for the 128GB variant, Google’s second Pixel-branded smartphone creeps alarmingly close to Apple’s four-figured iPhone X.

Not only that, but 2017 has already been a year filled with excellent flagships. The Pixel 2 XL is forced to fight with Samsung’s excellent Android-wielding Galaxy S8 Plus (£621) and Apple’s iPhone 8 Plus (£799). Huawei’s fresh-faced Mate 10 Pro has also entered the ring, at $799.

Google Pixel 2 XL review: Design

The Pixel 2 XL’s design is marvellous. We may have been treated to many bezel-less displays this year; from Samsung’s Galaxy S8 to LG’s V30, but Google’s latest plus-sized smartphone is a particularly special one.

You’ll find a similar two-tone mash-up of glass and sand-blasted aluminium as last year’s effort, complete with rounded corners and edges that wrap around the phone, bordering the front display. The fingerprint reader can still be spotted on the rear (just below the camera) and it’s easy to reach despite the 2 XL’s full-bodied frame.

Coming in at 7.9mm thin, and weighing 175g, it may be a little portly but those rounded corners make for a phone that fits comfortably in the hand. On the right-hand side, you’ll find the easy-to-reach power button and volume rocker, and the left houses the nano-SIM tray. On the bottom, you’ll spot the solitary USB Type-C port for charging.

Pixel fans will be disgruntled to discover that there’s no 3.5mm headphone jack – just like with the regular-sized Pixel 2 – despite Google’s mockery of Apple precisely 12 months ago. Both phones do come with a USB Type-C to 3.5mm adapter in the box, and you can always use a pair of Bluetooth headphones instead, but most people would still class this as “annoying”.

Google Pixel 2 XL review: Display

Despite its special looks, it’s the Pixel 2 XL’s display that sets it back. Remember that one, glaring flaw I teased earlier? Well, this is it.

At first pass, its specifications are beguiling. The Pixel 2 XL’s P-OLED display measures 6in across the diagonal, with a resolution of 1,400 x 2,880, with both videos and Android games looking superb, with oodles of contrast. That is, however, provided you’re looking at the screen dead on.

Simply load up a web-page, or start viewing Netflix, and tilt the phone just a little bit to the left or right, up or down, and the screen takes on a distractingly hideous blue-ish tint. It’s a problem that, for someone who likes to read a lot on my phone on the go, rendered the Pixel 2 XL completely unusable.

And then there’s the bothersome flickering with the phone’s auto-brightness mode. Clearly, the Pixel 2 XL struggles to jump from one brightness to the other.

For £799 you’d expect the best, and the display issues with the Pixel 2 XL are simply inexcusable.

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Google Pixel 2 XL review: Performance and battery life

Internally, the Pixel 2 XL is powered by Qualcomm’s latest octa-core Snapdragon 835 processor: the same chipset found in Samsung's Galaxy S8 Plus and the cheaper OnePlus 5. Elsewhere, you’ll find 4GB of RAM and either 64GB or 128GB of non-expandable storage.

And the Pixel 2 XL’s performance is a match for every other manufacturer on the market, with only Apple’s iPhone 8 Plus edging out in front. Here’s how the Pixel 2 XL performed in Geekbench 4’s rigorous multi- and single-core processing tests:

Likewise, the Pixel 2 XL’s graphics performance is a similar story. As the below chart proves, it’s just as fast as its rivals but is again pipped at the post by Apple’s iPhone 8 Plus.

In terms of battery life, we’ve seen some excellent results from Snapdragon 835-equipped smartphones in 2017, with the superb OnePlus 5 leading the charge with its 21-hour lifespan. In our own continuous video playback test, the Pixel 2 XL’s 3,520mAh battery managed to squeeze out 15hrs and 9mins before running out of juice, lagging behind the OnePlus 5 by a good five hours.

It’s also a shame that, unlike the Galaxy S8 and iPhone 8, the Pixel 2 XL doesn’t come equipped with wireless charging. Having said that, the Pixel 2 XL does benefit from fast charging, taking roughly 1hr and 27mins to reach full capacity from flat.

Google Pixel 2 XL review: Camera

Finally, on to the Pixel 2 XL’s excellent rear camera. The folks at DxOMark awarded it a score of 98 – higher than any other smartphone camera on the market – and I've been itching to put it through its paces ever since the grand unveiling.

The Pixel 2 XL’s 12.2-megapixel sensor, equipped with a bright f/1.8 aperture, optical image stabilisation and phase-detect and laser autofocus produced images with loads of detail. And, with Google refining the performance of its excellent HDR+ processing algorithms, those images are much speedier to capture.

Put the Pixel 2 XL up against last year’s effort, and photographs captured by Google’s latest have better colour reproduction in outdoor conditions and a more neutral cast in low light. If you recall, last year’s Pixel struggled with white balance compensation, producing images with a warm, yellowish tint, but there’s no such evidence of that here.

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With the two images side-by-side, the differences aren’t quite so in your face, but pictures did look slightly more natural, with a touch more accurate colour saturation. There’s also a handful of new shooting features too, including “motion photo”, which captures a brief section of video to go with your still shots, and a portrait mode, which replicated the blurred “bokeh” background effect you get when shooting with a DSLR.

The Pixel 2 is also capable of shooting 4K video at 30fps. Although, quality isn’t as good as still shots - with footage looking too dark and oversaturated. Samsung’s Galaxy S8 definitely has the upper hand when it comes to video, even if the Pixel 2 XL does try to compensate with 120fps and 240fps recording.

Google Pixel 2 XL review: Android 8.0 Oreo

This year's Pixel 2 XL is running stock Android Oreo – which has made an appearance on the original Pixel via a software update – but it doesn’t include any real, impactful changes.

Picture-in-picture is the major development here, a feature focussed on multitasking that lets you keep one app, for example Netflix, in a small floating window while checking your email (or anything else you fancy) full-screen.

One of the cooler new features makes cut-and-paste much easier, through a feature called Smart Text Select. This automatically recognises items like phone numbers, place names and addresses, making it easier to select what you need quickly with a single tap.

And finally, we have Google Lens, which is all about analysing live images rather than static ones, interpreting everyday objects such as buildings, flowers and signs and providing information on them as you point the camera at them. Just like with Samsung’s own Bixby, Lens should recognise what you’re pointing your camera at and offer to perform follow-up actions on that information. I say should, because as it stands Lens struggles a bit, identifying London’s famous BT Tower as simply a “control tower” and a bottle of red wine as “liqueur”.

Google Pixel 2 XL review: Verdict

It’s very disappointing that in the end, the Pixel 2 XL’s display issues drag the phone back from greatness. Because of this, and unlike its regular-sized alternative, the 2 XL won’t be rocketing to the top spot of our smartphones hierarchy anytime soon.

Sure, it has the latest, and greatest processor on-board, and includes the best smartphone camera to date, but its lofty price and poor video capture quality mean Google’s plus-sized Pixel 2 XL is certainly not a phone I can recommend. At least, not in its current state.

Hardware
ProcessorOcta-core 2.35GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
RAM4GB
Screen size6in
Screen resolution2,880 x 1,440
Screen typeP-OLED
Front camera8-megapixel
Rear camera12.2-megapixel
FlashDual-LED
GPSYes
CompassYes
Storage (free)64/128GB
Memory card slot (supplied)No
Wi-Fi802.11ac
Bluetooth5.0
NFCYes
Wireless data4G
Dimensions158 x 77 x 7.9mm
Weight175g
Features
Operating systemAndroid 8.0
Battery size3,520mAh

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