The Google Pixel 2 XL is a better phone than the Pixel 2 in a lot of ways. It has a more modern-looking design with thin bezels and a high-resolution 2880 x 1440 pixel display. It offers longer battery life. And it has just about all the features that make the Pixel 2 such a great phone including an amazing camera, a speedy fingerprint sensor, and 3-years of software updates delivered directly by Google.
It also has the same marks in the “cons” column including the lack of a headphone jack, wireless charging, or an SD card slot.
But after spending a few weeks with both phones, there are a few key reasons I decided to buy a Pixel 2 and not a Pixel 2 XL.
I find the smaller phone easier to hold in one hand. I find the $649 price more palatable than the $849 starting price for the larger model. And the 5 inch Pixel 2 doesn’t suffer from some of the display problems that plague the 6 inch Pixel 2 XL.
Yes, Google is addressing some of those issues with software updates. But some problems, like the blue tint that appears when viewing the phone at angles, isn’t likely to be addressed by software.
While the Pixel 2 XL display has made headlines recently, I honestly wouldn’t call any of the display issues dealbreakers for me: I don’t notice them most of the time when I’m actually using the phone, unless I’m actively looking for them.
For the most part this phone is a pleasure to use, and folks who prefer large screens or slim bezels might find this a better option than the Pixel 2. I just personally don’t want to spend the extra $200 for a phone that’s tougher to hold in one hand.
Google loaned me a Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL to review, and since there are a lot of similarities between the phones, I’m going to refer you to the original review for discussions of the software, camera, and performance.
But I’ll use this space to talk about some of the differences in the experience of actually using the Pixel 2 XL.
The Google Pixel 2 XL features a 6 inch display with an 18:9 (or 2:1) aspect ratio. It’s a pOLED (plastic OLED) display with glass that curves at the edges of the phone, although the screen doesn’t wrap over the edge of the phone the way it does on Samsung’s recent flagship phones.
While the 5 inch Pixel 2 has rather large top and bottom bezels (by 2017 standards), the Pixel 2 XL has relatively slim top and bottom bezels. They’re larger than those found on some phones, but one upshot is that there’s room for stereo front-facing speakers, with one above and one below the display.
Some have noted that the top speaker is a little quieter than the bottom speaker, which could make stereo audio sound a little uneven. But I honestly haven’t really noticed this very much… then again I tend to use a Bluetooth speaker or headphones most of the time when listening to music with the phone.
The entry-level Pixel 2 XL sells for $849 and features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. For an extra $100 you can get a 128GB model.
The phone has a 3520 mAh battery, a USB Type-C port, and comes with an 18W fast charging adapter.
While the phone has a bigger, higher-resolution display than the Pixel 2 (which has a 5 inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel AMOLED display), the bigger battery still helps the larger phone get longer battery life.
During the week I spent testing the Pixel 2 I could usually get about a day of battery life… but toward the end of the work day I usually found myself tempted to plug in the phone for at least a little while to top off the battery.
I haven’t really had to do that with the Pixel 2 XL. More on that below.
Google sells the phone in black, white, or black and white “panda” color options, although the last time I checked only the black model was in stock.
Like the smaller model, the Pixel 2 XL has only a single port: the USB 3.1 Type-C connector on the bottom of the phone. There’s no dedicated headphone jack, but Google does include a USB C-to-3.5mm headphone adapter in the box. You can use the adapter to plug in analog headphones and the adapter is also compatible with laptops and other devices with USB Type-C ports, which is a nice touch… although an even nicer touch would be not needing a dongle to use your existing headphones.
There’s a fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone, where it’s relatively easy to reach with a finger while you’re holding the phone with the screen facing you.
Above and to the left of the fingerprint sensor is is the phone’s 12.2MP rear camera, which is capable of taking some excellent shots thanks to a combination of hardware features and software processing. There’s an 8MP front facing camera which is less impressive, but which does support Google’s portrait mode photography since Google relies on software rather than additional camera lenses to determine what part of an image frame should be blurred.
The Pixel 2 XL has an aluminum unibody frame, a glass panel around the fingerprint sensor and camera on the back, and a coating that helps the phone earn its IP67 water and dust resistance rating.
The phone supports 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 5.0 and NFC as well as global wireless networks. It also has an eSIM as well as a physical SIM card slot, although right now the eSIM is only compatible with Google’s Project Fi wireless network.
Like the Pixel 2, the 6 inch Pixel 2 XL supports Google’s new “Active Edge” feature, which lets you launch Google Assistant or silence incoming phone calls by squeezing the sides of the phone.
Google also loaned me a Pixel 2 XL case with a fabric finish. It offers some protection for the sides and back of the phone, and extends a little bit over the front so that if your phone falls there’s a chance the case will hit the ground rather than the glass screen.
Since the case doesn’t match the curve of the phone’s screen, it’s a bit funny looking when viewed from the front. But it does allow you to feel the curve of the display with a thumb or finger so that swiping from the edge works just as well with the case as it does on a naked phone.
It’s not my favorite case style, but I found myself using it more than the Live Case that Google loaned me for the smaller Pixel 2.
Personally I do tend to use a case on my phones, and I bought a Spigen Rugged Armor case that I’ll use with my Pixel 2 when it arrives. It’s cheaper than any of Google’s official cases, and I think it looks and feels better.
The camera is pretty much identical to the camera on the Pixel 2, which means that it’s one of the two best smartphone cameras I’ve ever used.
You can check out some of the photos I’ve captured using this phone’s camera toward the end of this section.
The software experience isn’t quite stock Android: it’s Google’s Pixel-ized version of Android, and for the most part that’s a good thing. An even better thing is that the Pixel 2 will be one of the first phones in line for security and feature updates for the next three years.
Google’s phones are also very, very fast.
How’s it different from the Pixel 2
OK, let’s talk about why this phone deserves its own review. While it’s similar in many ways to the Pixel 2, the larger phone has a bigger battery life, a different display, and a different design.
I’ve actually been a little surprised at how infrequently I think about the fact that this phone has an 18:9 display rather than a 16:9 screen. I suppose it does mean that I can fit another few lines of text on the screen when reading articles on the web, scanning headlines in Feedly, checking email, or reading eBooks. But it’s not something I notice very often
The phone does display black bars on the left and right sides of the screen when you’re watching 16:9 or 4:3 videos in some apps, but the black bars are so dark on the AMOLED display that they look like screen bezels and I quickly forget they’re even there.
I suppose the one real advantage to having a 2:1 screen is that you can multitask by launching two apps in side-by-side windows that are exactly the same size as one another. But as happy as I was when Google added support for split-screen multitasking in Android Nougat, it’s not something I find myself using very often.
So basically this just feels like a phone with a big screen. And that’s great if you like big screens. The aspect ratio and slim bezels mean the phone’s also not that much bigger than the 5 inch Pixel 2… but I still find it’s easier to hold the Pixel 2 in one hand and reach across the phone with my thumb. I have to change my grip on the Pixel 2 XL to reach the top of the screen, which makes this feel much more like a 2-handed phone for me.
I also find that I’m slightly more likely to drop the larger phone than the smaller one. I blame the awkward way I grip it in a desperate attempt to use it with one hand.
Still, after using the larger phone for a week, any smaller phone really does feel tiny when I first pick it up.
I could totally get used to the larger phone if I had to. I just don’t think the extra screen real estate (and slimmer bezel real estate) is worth spending more money on.
There is one area where the larger phone truly outshines its smaller sibling though: battery life. I often ended the day with 30 – 40 percent of my battery capacity left after 4 or more hours of screen-on time.
That means the larger phone gets maybe an extra hour or two of screen-on time than the 5 inch model.
The other key difference between the phone comes down to the display: the smaller Pixel 2 has a full HD AMOLED screen with the kind of color saturation we’ve come to associate with AMOLED phone displays. It also has decent viewing angles.
Google’s larger phone has a display that’s… less than perfect. The thing that bugs me most is the fact that when you tilt the display it takes on a blue tint. But other issues that users have reported include:
- Muted colors due to limited color gamut
- Burn-in, with the portion of the screen where the navigation buttons are displayed continuing to display faint echos of the buttons against some backgrounds
- A grainy quality when viewing light backgrounds when the display is dim
- A black “smear” where black pixels display improperly when scrolling in some situations
Google is addressing some of those issues through software updates. For example, users will have the choice to adjust the color gamut if they don’t think the default sRGB settings are vibrant enough. And some changes to the way the navigation buttons are displayed should help alleviate burn-in problems.
The only issue that really bugs me is the blue tint though, and that’s something Google has no plans to fix.
On a more affordable phone, I wouldn’t call any of the display issues dealbreakers. But $849 is a lot of money to spend on a phone that looks different when you view it from a slight angle.
Anyway, here are those camera samples I promised. Note that the images are quite large, so they may take a moment to load.
All of the pictures of the Pixel 2 XL featured in this review were taken with the smaller Pixel 2, which has a virtually identical camera.
Under the hood there aren’t that many differences between the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. I don’t hate bezels and don’t love big screens, so I placed an order for the smaller model. But I totally get why some folks would prefer the Pixel 2 XL.
Even with the unusual screen aspect ratio, videos and photos look better on the bigger screen. The extra space also comes in handy when chatting, reading, or doing just about anything else. It just makes the phone a bit more awkward to use in one hand.
The design is also certainly more striking, and I really like the feel of the curved edges, which makes swiping from the side of the display toward the center feel more comfortable than on a phone with a flat glass display.
But the best thing about the larger phone is the larger battery which provides an extra hour or two of active battery life, and several more hours of standby time.
On the other hand, the screen is less than perfect, which is kind of a problem on a phone that was supposed to be Google’s flagship for the coming year.
That said, both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are a pleasure to use thanks to speedy performance, well though-out software, and all the things Google improved since the company launched last year’s Pixel phones (such as adding water resistance, stereo speakers, and an even better camera).
The Pixel 2 phones aren’t necessary the best choices for everyone. Need a headphone jack? This isn’t the phone for you. The same goes for SD card slots and wireless charging. I’d put removable batteries in this category, but that ship has largely sailed… good luck finding a high-end phone with a battery that can be swapped out.
There’s also no shortage of even cheaper options if you don’t need all the features and perks that come with a Pixel 2. Huawei, Motorola, ZTE, Nokia, and OnePlus are just some of the phone makers with excellent phones that sell for between $300 and $600. The mid-range market is heating up, and I would have considered picking up this year’s Moto X4 Android One phone instead of a Pixel… if it had a better camera.
But the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL justify their price tags in a few key ways. They have some of the best smartphone cameras around. They have speedy processors, plenty of RAM, and enough built-in storage that you might not miss your microSD cards.
And they come with some perks that are only available for Google’s Pixel phones, including a guarantee that you’ll get software updates for three years, a 2-year warranty, and the option to backup photos and videos captured on the phone to Google Photos at their original quality through 2020.
Even with an imperfect display, I think the Pixel 2 XL is a pretty good phone. I’m just not sure if it’s $849 good. And that’s one of the main reasons I bought the smaller model for $649.