Google Unveils Pixel 2 And Pixel 2 XL

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Ed Baig reviews the Pixel 2 XL. Josmar Taveras, USA TODAY

Google's Pixel 2 XL Phone(Photo: Robert Deutsch, USAT)

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It’s impossible to predict whether Google’s brand-new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones will fare better than last year’s well-reviewed but poor selling first-generation models. Among other reasons, the smartphone crowd loves their iPhones and Galaxys, and Apple and Samsung obviously remain formidable competitors.

What I can say is that the new phones prove how good Google has gotten at hardware,  bolstered by artificial intelligence and software. And if you’re in the market for a premium handset, Pixels belong in the conversation. For starters, the AI-infused Google Assistant that was a banner feature on the first Pixels is only getting smarter. And the already strong cameras are also getting better.

I’ve focused my testing on the Pixel 2 XL, the larger and, at $849 on up, more expensive of the two new Android Oreo-based Pixels. But those of you who prefer a smaller phone should certainly consider the more compact, though less stylish, Pixel 2, which costs $200 less to start. The phones are still cheaper than the four-digit busting price of the upcoming iPhone X.

More: iPhone X first look: Intriguing, fancy and pricey

More: Google Pixel 2 XL and Pixel 2: Google unveils its iPhone rival

Though you can buy the Pixel unlocked from Google or Best Buy and use it with any wireless carrier, Verizon is the exclusive seller among U.S. carriers.

I can recommend either Pixel phone, though there are some shortcomings worth noting.

A closer look:

Design and usability

The XL starts up quick and is snappy to use, with a fingerprint sensor on the back for unlocking the screen that is equally fast. It does not have the kind of gee-whizzy facial unlocking feature that Apple will be delivering on the iPhone X, though how well Apple’s Face ID will work is a big question mark.

The 6-inch display on Pixel XL is beautiful, though lovely displays have become the norm, at least for phones in this price range. I’m less wild about the physical design generally. The Pixels are not quite edge-to-edge as is the case on the all-screen Galaxy Note 8 or upcoming iPhone X. The bezels on the smaller Pixel are even wider, making the 5-inch display seem somehow smaller than it is.

While nitpicking, Google eliminated the standard headphone jack just as Apple did on recent iPhones. That means you have to rely on wireless Bluetooth headphones or on the USB-C adapter in the box to connect wired headphones.

At least Google added water resistance, a major omission on last year’s Pixels.

Photography 

Here’s where the Pixels especially excel. I shot some terrific pictures even in low light. Google, following the lead of Apple, added a portrait mode feature that blurs the background while keeping the main subject of your photo in focus. The effect, which is very nice, works on both the 8-megapixel front and 12-megapixel rear cameras.

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Portrait of Sydney Baig blurs the background (Photo: Edward C. Baig)

Two images are automatically captured when you take advantage of the portrait feature. You can toggle back and forth after the fact to choose the one you like best, or just keep both. Google accomplishes this feat with a dual-pixel sensor rather than a second rear camera like on the iPhone 7 Plus, 8 Plus or upcoming X or Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8.

I do have another quibble here, however. To turn on portrait mode on the Pixel you have to go into a menu. I’d rather the control were front and center in the Camera app, just as it is on iPhones and Galaxy Note 8 that boast the feature.

Also new (and welcome) on the Pixel is a “motion photos” feature similar to live photos on the iPhone -- basically a few seconds of video are captured along with a still image.

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You can turn on Now Playing to ID songs without launching an app. (Photo: Edward C. Baig)

 

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Google's Pixel 2 XL smartphone displays the name of "Fantasy," the Earth, Wind & Fire song it hears (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USAT)

Your main squeeze 

Pixel owners, like owners of other smartphones, can summon the Google Assistant by barking out the familiar “OK, Google” vocal command. On the Pixel, however, you have a silent method as well: you can squeeze the side of the phone. You can adjust the sensitivity of the squeeze, and also use this gesture to silence incoming calls.

Battery

The Pixels lack wireless charging, a feature that has been on Samsung phones and other devices for some time now and has finally come as well to the iPhone. Google does promise fast charging and says it can deliver up to seven hours of battery life from a 15-minute charge. For what it’s worth, I reached an 18% battery charge level after 15 minutes.

Fortunately, when fully charged, I got well over a day of mixed use.

Although it is not perfect, the Pixel 2 XL is a strong upgrade over Google’s first foray into producing its own phones. While it lacks some features found on other top phones from Samsung and Apple, photo buffs and Android fans will be very pleased with what Google’s done with the Pixel 2.

Email: ebaig@usatoday.com; Follow USA TODAY Personal Tech Columnist @edbaig on Twitter

The bottom line

Google Pixel and Pixel XL

$649 or $749 for Pixel 2 with 64GB or 128GB; $849 for Pixel 2 XL with 64GB or $949 play.google.com

Pro. Superb cameras, free photo storage, Google Assistant, fast, snappy, strong battery life, `Now Playing' music feature.

Con. No wireless charging; some promising features not yet fully baked.

Source : https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/baig/2017/10/17/review-google-pixel-2-phone-challenges-iphone-x-samsung-galaxy/770287001/

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