A triumphant second chapter for Google’s flagship smartphones perfectly melds hardware, software and Google AI
At a Glance
1. 5-inch and 6-inch versions | 2. Highest-rated camera of any smartphone | 3. Google Assistant built-in | 4. Active Edge “squeezable” frame to launch Google Assistant
When Google debuted its new Pixel and Pixel XL devices around this time last year, they were met with high praise and rave reviews as a new era for the company’s smartphone line. With 2017 seeing the launch of several impressive new handsets from the world’s biggest players, all eyes were on Google this week as they announced the next generation of their Pixel smartphone. And, to say the least, they didn’t disappoint with the announcement of the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, two beautifully impressive new devices packed with best-in-class cameras, subtle but elegant design upgrades and stunning displays – all backed by Google’s AI and machine learning for some super-smart tricks.
From their Made by Google launch event in San Francisco, Google announced the 5-inch Pixel 2 and the 6-inch Pixel 2 XL. Opting for an if-it’s-not-broken-don’t-fix-it approach, Google has largely kept the design of the smaller Pixel 2 the same, with a few exceptions, such as the addition of front-facing stereo speakers and the removal of the headphone jack (more on that below). The Pixel 2 XL, on the other hand, has seen some substantial changes – for the better. Most notably is the display, which Google has stretched from last year’s 5.5-inch to a beautiful nearly edge-to-edge 6-inch display, bringing the company’s flagship devices into the fray with its major competition. The XL also benefits from the front stereo speakers and has lost the headphone jack. Beyond that, both Pixel devices share near identical, and impressive, specs on the inside. Here’s an overview.
Both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL come equipped with a 12.2-megapixel rear camera with optical image stabilization, for beautiful clear and steady photographs. And as a nice feather in their cap again this year, these new cameras were rated a record-setting 98 points by camera rating entity DxOMark, outranking the iPhone 8 by four points. Behind the lens is some serious new tech. The Pixel 2 uses something Google calls a “dual-pixel” sensor, which allows for faster autofocus and a portrait mode using – wait for it – only one camera lens! How is this possible, you ask? While most smartphones now come equipped with two cameras on the back to deliver portrait mode (the ones with the beautiful blurred-out backgrounds), the split dual pixels essentially act as the second lens to take a second image that is slightly offset from the first. Combining them makes for beautiful portraits that will work with objects as well as people. You can add or remove the blur effect afterwards and adjust it for fine-tuning. Oh, and an additional benefit of this amazing tech is that for the first time in any smartphone, this portrait mode will also work on the Pixel 2’s 8-megapixel selfie camera.
And if this wasn’t impressive enough, the Pixel 2 devices introduce its own Motion Photos feature, similar to the iPhone’s Live Photos, where the camera takes a short three-second video clip and packages it into a file so you can choose the best part. And lastly, just like last year, both Pixel devices come with free unlimited storage in Google Photos and allow uploading of your photos at their full resolution, so you can access on your laptop or other devices for printing or sharing or whatever.
Sure to become an invaluable resource, the Pixel 2 devices will be the first devices outfitted with Google Lens, which was announced in the spring. The basic gist: point the Pixel’s camera at something – like a landmark, monument, a dog, a pair of cool shoes, a flower, whatever – snap a picture and a combination of Google Assistant and machine learning will tell you what you’re looking at and give you all kinds of information about it.
The Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL literally want you to hug it. OK, not so much a hug as a light squeeze, but still. A new feature for both devices, Active Edge is a function where you squeeze the device’s sides to launch an application – by default it activates Google Assistant. It will also silence phone calls. While it seems like a little detail, the feature worked quite well and is a helpful way to launch the Assistant without voice or unlocking the device.
Augmented Reality is so hot right now. Taking advantage of the Pixel 2’s new cameras, both devices will support a whole array of AR features. One of which, AR stickers, is the ability to overlay cool and fun animated emoji and characters on your pictures and videos. At the Made by Google event here in Toronto, we were able to play around with some fun AR elements themed to the Netflix show Stranger Things. Drag a Demogorgon into your living room and take a pic standing next to it, or place Eleven next to your dog and watch her eat Eggos. Fun for the whole fam.
Bye-bye headphone jack
First, don’t panic. The loss of the headphone jack in the Pixel devices isn’t the end of the world. With most companies now following suit, it’s only a matter of time before this becomes the new norm. Using the device’s USB-C port frees up valuable space for design and tech (Google and Apple both argue this), and the inclusion of a headphone adapter in the box means you can still use your favourite 3.5mm headphones anyway. Plus, if you get yourself a pair of Google’s new Pixel Buds, you’ll be thanking them. They sound great and allow you to use Google Translate to converse in real-time with people of different languages (up to 40, in fact).
Display: The Pixel 2’s 1920 x 1080 AMOLED (441 ppi) and Pixel 2 XL’s 2880 x 1440 pOLED (538 ppi) displays are Google's most stunning yet. Gorilla Glass 5 protects it while an always-on display means you can check key notifications without waking the phone.
Cameras: A 12.2-MP “dual-pixel” sensor and optical image stabilization make for unreal shots even in low light. Portrait mode is available in the rear camera as well as the 8-MP selfie cam.
Battery: The Pixel 2 packs a 2,700-mAh power plant, while the Pixel 2 XL has a 3,520-mAh battery. Fast-charging delivers seven hours of charge in just 15 minutes.
Storage: Both models come in two capacities – 64 GB and 128 GB – to meet every need.