Review: Google Pixel 2 Smartphone

Taking a look at Google's new Pixel 2, which the company says has the best camera ever in a smartphone.

Let me begin this review by saying that the Pixel 2 was probably the phone I most anticipated in 2017. The original Pixel was my favorite phone of 2016 thanks to a great combination of clean software and an amazing camera.

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The follow-up adds some more key features but overall, I've been less enthusiastic about Pixel 2 because it seems like what Samsung and Apple are putting out might be a better fit for a majority of people. Let's take a look.

There are two version of the Pixel 2 - regular and XL. They have slightly different designs, but the main features are the same. Same 12-megapixel cameras and similar water-resistant design, but no headphone jack or wireless charging.

Software

Pixel 2 runs the latest version of Android 8, called Oreo. There aren't a ton of recognizable new features, but a lot of little tweaks here and there. The home screen has a search bar at the bottom, an ever-updating status reminder at the top and little dots on app icons that represent something new, like a notification.

What I love about the software also leaves me desiring more. It's a "clean" version of Android, which means it is very basic. This is what Android enthusiasts love - there is no bloat to slow you down. It also means that it is borderline boring. It is super fast, but I have noticed some bugs and random resets here and there.

Pixel 2 photo, taken from an airplane window

Camera

This is the real gem of any Pixel phone. Last year's Pixel had the best camera I have ever tested on a phone. Google says they've improved the Pixel 2 camera even more, but I think you'd be hard-pressed to notice a big improvement. Maybe that's because the cameras on the Samsung Galaxy and iPhone 8 lineup have gotten so good. Still, the Pixel camera takes clear and crisp shots, especially when it comes to selfies and night shots.

Oddly, I think the camera is taking darker photos that aren't as bright and bold as last year. In my head to head comparison of Pixel 2 versus iPhone 8, almost all of the shots were nearly identical in quality. In some cases, you might prefer the look of the iPhone 8 shots.

Still, there is no doubt in my mind the Pixel 2 is better for selfies, which are pretty bad on the iPhone in all but the best light. Also, Google's use of artificial intelligence for image processing is really apparent in night shots. In general, I find that Pixel pictures have a depth and clarity to them that makes iPhone shots seem sort of flat in comparison.

On the flip side, the Pixel camera doesn't support a lot of the creative features I like about the iPhone, like connecting an external microphone or slew of accessories.

Portrait mode on Pixel 2 front facing camera

I do like the portrait mode on the Pixel, which works on both the front and the back cameras. It gives you that nice looking blurry background. Keep in mind, like any Google product, the Pixel will get better over time thanks to software updates.

Google Lens and Assistant

The thing I love most about Android phones in general and the Pixel, in particular, is how they function as a true personal assistant. Google is amazing when it comes to automatic reminders, information about where you are and answering questions.

Google Lens is a new feature that lets you search for things inside images. For instance, if you take a picture of the Eiffel tower, you can press Lens and it will identify the structure and tell you more information about it. It can also read QR codes, web addresses, emails, phone numbers and more. It's not particularly necessary, but it's neat to have.

Google Assistant is amazing. The Pixel 2 lets you squeeze the sides of the phone to activate it. I found that you will probably end up turning the sensitivity up pretty high because every time I picked up the phone I would accidentally activate the squeeze function. Still, Google Assistant is unmatched in helpfulness - you can do everything from get simple search answers to control your smart home devices.

Conclusion

There is a lot to like about the Pixel, but as a whole, I feel like what Samsung and Apple offer is a better companion for most people. The Pixel almost feels unfinished in its current state, while when you pick up a Note 8 it has nearly every feature you can ask for in a phone - including great software with helpful extras, a headphone jack, and wireless charging. iPhone might not be as exciting, but it always works and has an app and accessory ecosystem that's second to none. If Pixel was half the price of its competitors, I might think differently, but starting at $650 for a 64-gigabyte model, it's right in line with other flagships. Don't get me wrong - I absolutely adore the camera in the Pixel and still think it's overall the best on the market - but one standout feature does not make a phone pocket worthy.

Hear more of my thoughts on the Pixel 2 on my podcast (about 28 minutes into the episode).

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