Google's Top Phone Suffers From a Single Fatal Flaw

The Google Pixel 2 XL is a strange phone to review and provide a final verdict on. I absolutely love Google’s Pixel phones, and I love using the Pixel 2 XL. There are so many things this phone does well; so many things it does better than its competitors. It’s much better than last year’s model, too.

But at the same time, there are serious flaws with this handset that hold it back, particularly considering how much it costs. While I’ve only been using this phone for a few weeks, those who buy it will have to endure the issues for months, if not years. And that’s why I won’t be telling everyone to immediately go out and purchase it.

The key problem with the Pixel 2 XL is undoubtedly its display. For a high-end phone, it’s unacceptable to have such a flawed OLED panel when the competition is flooded with excellent alternatives. Many of the problems are unfixable, ranging from horrible viewing angles, to unevenness, to grain, to potentially serious long-term burn in. Color performance is also off, and while the non-default 'saturated' display mode improves things somewhat, this mode is more akin to a 'hack' than a true solution.

If you’re thinking about purchasing a Pixel 2 XL, you’ll have to decide how important display quality is to you. If you love a great-looking display, and think the above collection of issues will irritate you, you’ll be better off with a Galaxy or an iPhone X. But if you don’t really care, the Pixel 2 XL is excellent in nearly every other aspect.

The Pixel 2's standout feature is undoubtedly the camera, which is the best you can get in a smartphone right now. It produces stunning imagery with excellent detail, fantastic dynamic range and vibrant colors, with low light performance that blew me away.

The portrait mode is superb as well, producing simulated depth of field without the need for additional hardware. It works with the selfie camera as well, which allows the Pixel 2 XL to blow other selfie cameras out of the water.

Performance won’t surprise anyone, as the Pixel 2 XL uses the same Snapdragon 835 SoC as most other Android flagships, but it is improved over the original Pixel and those coming from past generations will see a decent speed bump. Battery life has improved as well, despite the larger display, to deliver easily enough juice for a day’s worth of usage.

The design is Google’s best yet. While the original Pixel was ugly for a flagship phone, the Pixel 2 XL’s expansive, small-bezel display, and clean aluminium unibody aesthetic gives this handset the premium design is deserves. Plus it’s now waterproof and it has stereo front-facing speakers. But there’s no headphone jack, which sucks.

The Pixel 2 line also provides the best software experience of any Android phone.

It’s clean Android 8.0 with no bloatware, fast software updates, and full support for the next three years. Plus there’s some neat additions, such as the always on display, Now Playing functionality, Google Lens, and the Assistant that can be activated in a moment’s notice in multiple ways. This is the way Google intends Android to be, and it’s by far the best way.

If you can get around the display issues, the next major hurdle is the price.

The Pixel 2 XL is an expensive handset, at $849 for the 64GB model and $949 for 128GB outright. The only advantage you get over the smaller Pixel is the larger, small-bezel display, and that costs you an extra $200. Everything else, from the camera to performance to software, is basically identical.

It is cheaper than both the Galaxy Note 8 ($929) and iPhone X ($1000), but more expensive than the LG V30 ($800) or Galaxy S8 Plus ($750 -- or less with some manufacturer deals that come and go), so compared to the rest of the market the Pixel 2 XL price isn’t outrageous. But I still feel that a $200 premium for what amounts to a larger display is tough to swallow, and that’s without factoring in cheaper flagships like the OnePlus 5.

The Pixel 2 XL feels one step away from being the undoubted Android champion. Had Google used a superior OLED display, the phone would have been an instant recommendation for basically anyone after a new handset. But with concerns over the display and a high price tag, explore your options before diving into the world of Pixel.

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Pros: The best smartphone camera. The best version of Android. Excellent performance and battery life. Significantly improved design, and it’s now water resistant.

Cons: Poor display for a flagship phone, which is really disappointing. No headphone jack. Expensive.