Precisely a year after launching the first Pixel phones, Google is back with its second generation. Once again there are two sizes to choose from and we’ve gone hands-on with the Pixel 2 at the London launch event.
Like Microsoft, Google continues is foray into the hardware market with a bumper crop of devices for 2017 including Android Oreo smartphones, smart home and more. The firm today also announced the Google Home Mini and Pixelbook.
Google Pixel 2 price and release date
Last year the Pixel started at £599, but the new model – like rivals – is more expensive than last year. The Pixel 2 price is £629/$649 making it a bit more pricey, but this time a fair bit cheaper than the iPhone 8 and a little less than the RRP of some rivals.
A Pixel 2 on contract with EE will start at £9.99 on a £47.99 a month, 24 month 4GEE Max plan. You’ll also get a free Google Home Mini worth £49 if you order before 4 November.
You can pre-order the Pixel 2 starting 4 October and it has a release date of 19 October.
The Pixel 2 XL will arrive later on 15 November with a price of £849/$799.
Google Pixel 2 design and build
This year the Pixel 2, codenamed Walleye, is again made by HTC in partnership with Google and this can be seen in the design of the new model. The firm made both phones last year but the Pixel 2 XL is made by LG, which over the years has made numerous Nexus devices.
The result is that these are two quite different handsets rather than simply being two different sizes of the same thing.
Although the Pixel 2 is the cheaper option, the design isn’t as exciting compared to the XL. It’s got much bigger bezels around the screen where its bigger brother is more like the LG G6 or V30 with a ‘FullVision’ display.
It’s a good job that Google has made use of the bezels on the Pixel 2 with front facing stereo speakers this time – otherwise we would have been thoroughly disappointed.
Like the original Pixel, the new phone has a metal chassis which now houses the circular fingerprint scanner and Google logo. It’s not wedge shaped any longer but feels nice in the hand with a nice powder-like coating on the aluminium.
There’s a smaller but still unusually large glass section at the top which encompasses the camera, which is bigger and looks more out of place this time around not being in the corner.
There’s not enough glass to add wireless charging but Google has upgraded the design to be fully waterproof and it has an IP67 rating which means you can dunk it in up to one meter of fresh water for up to 30 minutes.
Like the HTC U11, the Pixel 2 is squeezable so there are pressure sensors in the sides of the chassis where you naturally hold the phone. It’s called Active Edge so squeeze it and you’ll load up the Google Assistant to do whatever you – like asking a simple question or taking a selfie.
The Pixel 2 will come in three colours: Kinda Blue, Just Black and Clearly White.
Google Pixel 2 specs
Not only is the design similar to last year’s original Pixel, the specs are largely the same too. Here’s what the Pixel 2 has to offer in the hardware department.
At 5in, the Pixel 2 has the same screen size as its predecessor and it’s one of the smallest you’ll find on a flagship phone. That’s good for some users, but bear in mind that the bezel-free designs of late mean much larger displays without the device being much or, in some cases, any bigger.
Google is still using AMOLED technology here and the resolution remains at Full HD (1080×1920), which is fairly low for a flagship but does have advantages when it comes to graphics performance and battery life.
In terms of aspect ratio, the Pixel 2 uses the traditional 16:9 so the Pixel 2 XL couldn’t be much more different in the display department. It’s 6in, pOLED, Quad HD+ and has an aspect ratio of 18:9.
Google touts some clever features including intelligently switching off some pixels when they’re not needed to they stay black. The Pixel 2 screen is also always-on so you get information whenever you need it, including a feature called Now Playing (exclusive to the Pixel) which can detect what music you’re listening to from a database of 10,000 songs without the need to contact Google over the internet.
Processor, memory and storage
It’s thought that the original plan for the new Pixel phones was to introduce a new Qualcomm Snapdragon 836 processor. However, delays on that chip mean both Pixel 2 handsets are powered but the existing Snapdragon 835 which is used in a number of rivals.
Although it’s a great processor, launching at this time of year means the Pixel 2 is likely to be one of the last phones with the 835 and it won’t be too long before it’s out of date. This only matters to the kind of user who is keen on having the latest and greatest – during our hands-on time with the Pixel 2, performance is very smooth indeed.
The Snapdragon 835 is backed up by 4GB of RAM which is about the average for a high-end device and there’s now double the starting storage at 64GB. You can upgrade to 128GB if you don’t mind paying £100 more for the phone.
You should think about which storage capacity to choose, as the Pixel 2 still doesn’t offer expandable storage like most of the Android world. However, you do get some free storage for photos and video we’ll explain below.
In this area, flagships have been top-notch for a long time so it’s no surprise that the Pixel 2 has dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi, GPS, NFC and Bluetooth 5.0. The latter being the main change, upgraded from version 2.0.
One of the biggest questions leading up to the launch was whether Google would follow some others, namely Apple, and ditch the headphone jack on the Pixel 2 phones. Well sadly the headphone jack is gone so you’ll need to use Bluetooth or the supplied USB-C adapter.
The fingerprint sensor, as mentioned, remains on the back of the phone which may or may not be your preference for positioning. We haven’t tried it at the launch event but we imagine it’s just as good as previously. Google says it unlocks faster than any other phone.
Like the iPhone 8, the camera is pretty much the same on the Pixel 2 compared to the previous model. On paper anyway.
You get a 12.2Mp rear camera and, although bigger models often come with dual lenses that’s not the case with the Pixel 2 XL. There’s phase detection and laser autofocus, plus a dual-LED flash but there’s now optical image stabilisation (OIS).
The phone offers 4K video recording at 30fps and 720p slow motion at 240fps. Google is pretty happy with its combination of digital and optical stabilisation for video and in a demo it looks great,
The original Pixel phones were two of the best phones around for photography so we hope that’s the case again. We’ll need plenty of time to test them out before we know for sure. Google has gone from a DxO score of 89 up to 98, the highest for any phone to date.
Like the first Pixel phones, you get unlimited cloud storage for all your photos and videos taken on the Pixel 2 in original full quality for two years.
At the front is an 8Mp camera again which seems like it will offer perfectly decent selfies. Some test photos at the launch event from both cameras look promising, especially the results of the portrait mode.
A breakthrough in battery tech is arguably the most sought after in the phone world and doesn’t appear to be here yet.
Like almost every phone out there, the Pixel 2 has a reasonable size battery but it’s unlikely to last anyone longer than a day of average usage. This is our initial impression which we’ll test out of course. Google says it offers ‘all-day’ performance.
Once again you’ll charge via USB-C and fast charging will get you 7 hours of battery life from a 15 minute charge. As mentioned earlier, there’s no wireless charging here should that be a deal breaker.
Google Pixel 2 Software and apps
You’d think the Pixel 2 phones would be the first to come with Android 8.0 Oreo but oddly that’s not the case. Sony managed to get there first with the Xperia XZ1 and Xperia XZ1 Compact.
That said, these offer the pure Android experience also known as ‘stock’ whereas the Xperia devices use Sony’s slightly tweaked interface.
Having Android completely as Google intends it is overall a very good thing for us. It means a clean and intuitive interface with all the best bits of Google – like the Assistant – at your fingertips without distraction from often unnecessary bolt on features or bloatware.
Rather than a design overall or anything similar, Oreo brings with it a number of refinement and some new features.
You’ll benefit from autofill passwords, new emojis and improved notifications. There’s also picture-in-picture which allows you to watch video in a small pop-out window while doing other things, although bizarrely this doesn’t work with YouTube.
The Pixel 2 phones will also have exclusive features such as a database of 10,000 song details so you know what you’re hearing without needing to communicate with Google. They will also have a preview of Google Lens so you can essentially do a search with your eyes.
By using the camera you can grab emails or phone numbers from a photo, recognise who painted an artwork and get ratings for films or books if you take a photo of a poster – for a few examples.
Read more in our Android 8.0 Oreo review.