High-end Android phones have always been quick, but the original Pixel felt super-fast. The move to the Snapdragon 821 CPU and Google’s ability to control every aspect of the phone made other Android phones feel plodding in comparison.
The Pixel 2 doesn’t quite have the huge performance shift of its predecessor, probably because it uses the same Snapdragon 835 platform and 4GB of RAM as the majority of other 2017 flagships. Nevertheless, it remains speedy in almost every single area.
Yes – the OnePlus 5 has double the RAM featured here, but RAM management in the Pixel 2 is excellent. As a result, you won’t notice apps force-quitting or constantly reloading.
The true test of a phone’s performance can’t be measured after only a few days however; it’s how it functions over time. The Samsung Galaxy S8, for example, has already started to slow and feel bogged down after only a few months’ use. However, last year’s Pixel feels as quick as it did when it was released. If the Pixel 2 can achieve a similar feat then it’s the true winner.
The basic model includes 64GB of storage, and there’s a 128GB version available too. Note that there’s no microSD expansion, so make your choice wisely at the start. 64GB should be fine for the majority of users, helped by the fact that Google provides unlimited full-res uploads of your photos and 4K videos until 2020.
The original Pixel was hindered by terrible speakers. A single, pokey grille on the bottom was easily blocked when watching videos. In the Pixel 2, Google has switched to dual front-facing speakers that produce stereo sound that’s pushed directly at you. They sound far better than those in the original Pixel, but they’re not quite as detailed and bassy as those in the iPhone 8.
Wi-Fi performance is good, although it isn’t as fast at switching and connecting to networks as Huawei phones. Call quality is excellent, too.
The Pixel 2 isn’t the most spec-heavy phone out there, nor does it have all the bells and whistles you’ll find on similarly priced phones from Samsung, LG or Huawei. However, none of this will matter when you start using the device.
The Android 8.0 software experience is so much cleaner, so much smoother and so much easier to use than any other Android skin that’s come before. I can forgive the lack of an HDR display, or microSD slot, simply because it’s such a pleasure to use an Android phone that isn’t brimming with bloatware and superfluous extras.
Google has been tinkering with the homescreen for years now, and I think the launcher on the Pixel 2 is the best it’s ever been. The Google search box has moved to sit below the icons, meaning you don’t need to reach up to interact with it, and a new dynamic weather and calendar widget changes depending on your upcoming appointments. There’s also a selection of incredibly cool wallpaper that subtly changes throughout the day.
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Google Assistant was the big software addition last year, taking on Apple’s Siri with ease and quickly extending to others devices such as the Google Home. This year, we have a few new tricks, the coolest of which is Google Lens. Announced at the developer-focused I/O conference, Lens scans your photos and brings up relevant search results for information it finds.
For instance: I took a picture of a plumber’s van, ran it through Lens and it grabbed the website, phone number and offered up the website. It seems to work with memorable places, food items and other electronics too. Obviously, it’s still very early stages and there’s room for improvement. It struggles when there’s lots going on in the photo – and, oddly, if there’s a beard in a photo then it will always bring up ‘beards’ as the search result. I’d also like to see Lens integrated into the camera, rather than being a part of the Photos app.
Another new addition is part-software and part-hardware. Stripped straight from the HTC U11, the sides of the Pixel 2 are pressure-sensitive. Grip the phone, squeeze and the Assistant will pop up. Unlike on the U11, you can only use the squeeze function to open up the Assistant; you can’t remap it to anything else. This instantly makes it limited – especially since the Assistant isn’t exactly hard to initiate anyway.
Squeezy-features aside, the software at the heart of the Pixel 2 is the best there is on any Android phone. For me, that makes up for shortcomings in other areas.
It isn’t quite perfect, though. I prefer the much deeper battery-saver modes in the Huawei and LG devices, the screen colour tools in Samsung’s software, and icon customisation in Oxygen OS on the OnePlus 5. Maybe we’ll get some of these in Android P.