For a majority of the 10 years smartphones have been mainstream, phone makers have been copying each other’s designs. It’s not easy to differentiate when all you really have is a slab of glass and a handful of variables like materials, camera, ports, and bezels to work with. It’s only recently that we’ve been able to suss out some genuine schools of design thought, and genuinely competing philosophies of phone design are only beginning to emerge.
That’s why the designs for the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are remarkable: in its second year of making phone hardware, Google is establishing an aesthetic that isn’t just consistent, but is distinct from what both Apple and Samsung are doing. Google hardware is all about pragmatism and approachability.
Google also layers on a new iteration to the oldest of tech clichés: the integration of hardware and software. For Google, the future isn’t in the merger of hardware and software; it’s in the merger of hardware and machine learning.
The new Pixels also seem like pretty good phones.
Let’s get the basics out of the way. The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are Google-made phones coming out on October 19th. The less-expensive model is the 5-inch Pixel 2 with 64GB of storage, at $649. The Pixel 2 XL starts at $849. You can spend $100 more on either model to get 128GB of storage.
The phones are identical except for a few key things: the size and type of screen, the size of the battery, and the basic hardware design. Otherwise, they have the same cameras, same processors, same dual-speakers — the works.
You may have heard that the Pixel 2 is manufactured by HTC and the 2 XL is manufactured by LG. That’s true, but Google is again insisting that it made these phones, and that it isn’t just tweaking around the edges of existing phones like it did with the old Nexus line. Having used these phones a little bit over the course of a couple days, I saw a lot more Google here than I did LG or HTC.
Google is quite proud of the screens on these phones, both of which are OLED (though they’re produced by different manufacturers). The company claims they have a contrast ratio of 100,000:1, which compares to 1,400:1 on the iPhone 8. When I asked Google’s hardware chief Rick Osterloh about them, he was confident. “Screens have so many dimensions: brightness, color gamut, quality, contrast ratio,” he said. “We’ll be strong in every dimension — certainly competitive in every dimension — and leading in many.” The screens can be set to always-on, showing time and notification icons on a black background. They look nice, but I’ll need to do a lot more looking and testing before I can say anything definitive.
The speakers on both phones got plenty loud without too much distortion. I’m sure it was a priority to get those speakers in there, but I’m also sure I would rather have smaller bezels. The overall audio story on Pixel 2 is a big deal: it does away with the headphone jack, but it also supports a bunch of new audio codecs over Bluetooth 5. I can also tell you that the Pixel 2 is a thousand percent better at recognizing when I say “OK Google” than last year’s phone.
There is a lot about these phones that is not very surprising: the standard Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM, OLED screens, 12-megapixel rear cameras and 8-megapixel selfie cameras. When people say phones are boring now, what they often mean is that you can’t really differentiate them by looking at a spec sheet. That’s mostly true of the Pixel 2.
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
- Memory: 4GB RAM
- Storage: 64GB or 128GB
- Rear camera: 12.2MP, 1.4μm pixels, Autofocus with laser and dual-pixel phase detection, Optical and electronic image stabilization, f/1.8 aperture lens
- Front camera: 8MP, 1.4μm pixels, f/2.4 aperture lens, fixed focus
- Video: 1080p at 30, 60, or 120 fps on rear camera
- “Active Edge” squeezable sides
- USB-C, no wireless charging
- No headphone jack
- Bluetooth 5.0
- 18W power adapter and USB-C headphone dongle in box
PIXEL 2 XL SPECS
- Battery: 3520mAh
- Screen: 6-inch, 2880 x 1440 pOLED, 100 percent DCI-P3 coverage, 100,000:1 contrast ratio
- Size: 6.2 x 3.0 x 0.3 inches
- Weight: 175 grams
PIXEL 2 SPECS
- Battery: 2700mAh
- Screen: 5-inch, 1920 x 1080 AMOLED, 95 percent DCI-P3 coverage, 100,000:1 contrast ratio
- Size: 5.7 x 2.7 x 0.3 inches
- Weight: 143 grams