Google Pixel 2 review

The best camera on a smartphone

TODO alt text

Our Verdict

The Pixel 2 clues us in on why Google called its phone series Pixel: it was building the best camera on a phone. This second-generation effort fulfills that promise with best-in-class photos, dual front-facing speakers and water-resistance. You have to be okay that it looks dated and there’s no headphone jack.

For

  • Top-of-the-line photos and video
  • Dual front-facing speakers
  • Premium water-resistant body

Against

  • Bezels really stand out in 2017
  • No 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Camera app could be better

The Google Pixel 2 is here to prove that two cameras aren’t always better than one on a phone, especially if you favor photo quality over today’s trendy all-screen designs.

It’s Google’s superior software that pushes this Android Oreo phone to snap the best-looking pictures we’ve seen, topping the camera on last year’s impressive Pixel and Pixel XL debut.

What’s more, this year's upgrade is faster, water-resistant and adds a new way to call up the Google Assistant: simply squeeze the phone’s sides to launch your new AI buddy. It sounds like a gimmick, but it’s easier than accidentally hitting another (Bixby) button.

The Pixel 2, with its 5-inch screen, doesn’t look like the future of smartphones, except for its lack a 3.5mm headphone jack. Unlike the Pixel 2 XL, which has an edge-to-edge 6-inch display and tall 18:9 aspect ratio, this one is bezel-heavy. 

That really shouldn’t bother you if you want a phone that’s a great size, runs smart software and has a fantastic camera that will make your friends – even your Samsung-owning friends – jealous. This is one for people who favor functionality over fashion.

Price and release date

  • Starts at $649 / £629 for 64GB model
  • Ships to first buyers on Thursday, October 19

The Google Pixel 2 price is keeping up with its competition, even if its design doesn’t seem as current. It was announced on October 4, and the first shipment date to customers is October 19.

It costs $649 or £629 for the 64GB version, and $749 or £729 for the 128GB configuration. In the US, this phone is sold on-contract through Verizon only among the carriers, but ordering it from the Google Store will mean it works on all networks, including AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint.

For a limited time, you can get a free Google Home Mini with your purchase of the new Pixel 2 if you're in the US, UK, Australia, Canada or Germany.

Design

  • Great size and likable design
  • Squeeze the sides to launch Google Assistant
  • Waterproof, but no 3.5mm headphone jack

The Google Pixel 2 has a likable size and aesthetic, if you can look past the fact that the phone won’t wow you with a all-screen front. It has a futuristic camera, but the design seems dated.

It easily fits into one hand thanks to its palmable dimensions and light weight. A few years ago, this would’ve been considered a phablet, but today, next to the Note 8, it’s a normal-sized Android phone. You can eke out one-hand-operation with its 5-inch screen. That was literally a tall order when we used the 6-inch Pixel 2 XL.

Both new Pixel phones are now IP67 waterproof (meaning they can go underwater up to 1m or 3.3ft down for an hour) and retain a glass-and-metal design on the back, albeit with less glass toward the top compared to their predecessors. The fingerprint has been moved – don’t worry, it’s not off-center, like Samsung’s new phones – onto the textured aluminum portion of the back, while the camera remains on the glass side and has a protective ring around it now.

You won’t find a headphone jack on this phone or even USB-C earbuds inside the box. It just comes with a simple 3.5mm-to-USB-C adapter. Google may have done some advanced AI research and figured out you probably own better headphones than ones it usually supplies for free. Plus, it’s all the more reason for you to buy into those Pixel Buds, right?

Sound out of this phone still sounds great when paired with the headphones and we even liked listening to music through the dual front-facing stereo speakers. This has become rare among smartphones, which too often fire onboard audio out of the bottom of the phone through a single speaker. It increases the size of the top and bottom bezel, but the stereo speakers are part of the functionality-over-fashion trade-off we’re talking about.

It pulls a feature from the HTC U11 called EdgeSense. Squeezing the phone’s sides launches the Google Assistant, which in our experience, has come in handy. It’s also way better than adding a dedicated AI button. Samsung uses such a button for its Bixby assistant and we can’t stop accidentally pressing it on the Galaxy S8 and Note 8. Our only complaint is that Google won’t allow you to customize this squeezable feature to open up the camera or another app of your choice.

The Pixel 2 XL comes in four colors: Just Black, Clearly White, Kinda Blue and Black & White. In the US, the currently-sold-out Kinda Blue version is a Verizon-exclusive.

Screen

  • Full HD 1080p screen is bright and colorful
  • Thick bezels make it far from an all-screen phone
  • Not the best choice for Google Daydream VR

The 5-inch Google Pixel 2 display looks superb for Full HD, but it’s also uninspiring at the same time. It’s bright and colorful, though not as rich as a best-in-class Samsung smartphone screen.

What’s distracting about is its screen-to-body ration. Large bezels flank the screen on all sides. It’s even more noticeable in 2017 with so many all-screen Android phones around, including the bigger Google Pixel 2 XL. It’s especially distracting when the bottom three on-screen buttons show up in a black bar outline and seem to eat into your precious screen space.

The display works okay with Google Daydream, but it’s less than ideal given the fact that you can see individual pixels at 1080p. The headset really calls for a Quad HD display from the Pixel 2 XL.

We did like its new always-on display, which shows the date, time and notification icons, and the overdue double-tap-to-wake-the-screen functionality. It’s now a lot easier to see what’s going on with your phone before you wake it up, and double tap it to set your day in motion. 

You just have to get beyond the bezels and the fact that a Google Pixel 2 case makes the outline seem even more pronounced with another outline.