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1 month ago

Best Android Phones of 2017

Google Pixel 2

Best overall

Google Pixel 2

See at Verizon See at Best Buy See at Google Store

Google's new Pixel 2 gives you sleek and solid hardware, all of the requisite specs inside and runs simple and intuitive software at a breakneck pace. The hardware surely isn't flashy, but it's beautiful and efficient — and it's now IP67 water-resistant like we expect.

The software features and Google's apps aren't numerous, but they're delightfully useful without being bothersome. And with three years of guaranteed updates, you don't have to worry about the future.

The Pixel 2 has once again set the standard for Android cameras as well, with Google's "HDR+" processing buoyed by new camera hardware and even better processing. Photos are accurate with just a little extra punch of color, and can manage tough scenes with little issue. And with Android 8.1, a new "Pixel Visual Core" chipset will be enabled to give you even better photos, which is tantalizing.

Bottom line: The best Android experience comes straight from Google with the Pixel 2. Great hardware and amazing software support an amazing camera that's only getting better.

One more thing: Though Verizon will tout the Pixel 2 is "exclusive" to the carrier, know that you can buy the phone unlocked from a variety of sources and use it on your carrier of choice.

Why the Google Pixel 2 is the best

If you want the best possible Android experience, you go straight to the source: Google. The company has gotten serious about user experience and interface design, and it really shows with Android 8.0 Oreo on the Pixel 2. Everything is blazing fast, smooth, consistent and intuitive throughout the interface. It's a core competency that separates the Pixel 2 from the competition, and it's something that any smartphone user can appreciate.

Google has gotten really good at user experience and interface design.

And it's not just software customization that makes it happen — Google has included a Snapdragon 835, 4GB of RAM and 64GB (optionally, 128GB) of storage to make sure your phone has plenty of room to run. A 2700mAh battery seems small (well, normally, it is), but it manages to get you a full day of use without worry. The little body also packs front-facing stereo speakers, which are a rarity in 2017.

Further to that point, Google has sourced a quality 5-inch 1080p panel that looks good at the $649 price point. Oh, yes, it's just 5 inches. Despite its big top and bottom bezels, the Pixel 2 is quite comfortable to hold and reach to all four corners of the screen without the help of a second hand.

The Pixel 2 doesn't focus on the number of features, it focuses on the impact of each one.

If there's one knock on the Pixel 2, it's that it doesn't have the sheer volume of features in its hardware or software that some of the competition does. It doesn't have a headphone jack, wireless charging or an SD card slot; and if you're used to having a bunch of specialized software features on your Samsung, LG or Huawei phone you won't find them here.

But for most people, those are relatively small prices to pay to get a daily experience of using a phone that's fast, intuitive, smart and filled with a core set of features that can actually wow you. That's what you get from the Pixel 2.


Best for features

Samsung Galaxy S8

Samsung Galaxy S8

See at Verizon See at AT&T See at T-Mobile See at Sprint See at Best Buy

The Galaxy S8 has slick hardware with tiny bezels that let it have a big screen in a small body, but inside it still offers everything you want: a high-end processor, lots of storage, an SD card slot, full waterproofing and a top-end camera.

Though its software can be a little overwhelming, you can't argue that Samsung continues to pack in hundreds of features to a single phone, making sure there's something in here for everyone's needs. Samsung continues to take this approach of offering more more more with just a few compromises — and it continues to work.

Bottom line: The Galaxy S8 gives you piles of features in a beautiful body, and is a great choice for a wide range of potential buyers.

One more thing: You should consider the option of paying a little extra and get the larger Galaxy S8+ for a bit more screen and battery life.



Best with a huge screen

Samsung Galaxy Note 8

Samsung Galaxy Note 8

See at Verizon See at AT&T See at T-Mobile See at Sprint See at Best Buy See at Amazon

Take everything that makes the Galaxy S8 great, and scale it up — that's what also makes the Galaxy Note 8 compelling. A very familiar glass-and-metal body is wrapped around a larger 6.3-inch display, but a panel that's even better in terms of brightness and colors.

For this top-dollar phone you'll find top-end specs, great performance and super-capable software. Plus a new dual camera setup that offers you 2X zooming without losing resolution and a new "Live Focus" mode that mimics the background blur of a professional camera. None of the camera changes come at a cost of reduced primary camera quality, either.

Then you get the S Pen, of course, offering fine input, drawing abilities and new productivity tricks you simply can't get from any other phone out there. The stylus isn't for everyone, but you'll find plenty of people who swear by its capabilities.

Bottom line: For the biggest, most powerful and most capable phone Samsung makes, look no further.

One more thing: Be ready to spend the big bucks — the Note 8 is far and away Samsung's most expensive phone ever at nearly $1000.



Best mainstream alternative

LG V30

LG V30

See at AT&T See at Verizon See at Sprint See at T-Mobile

LG's V series has traditionally been a big and brawny phone, but in 2017 the V30 is just a great overall device that has handily taken over from the G6 launched earlier this year. It stuck with a metal-and-glass build, but slimmed down the sides and integrated subtle curves to make it rather easy to hold despite a 6-inch 18:9 display on the front.

Internally you get top-notch specs you'd expect from any flagship, and around back LG continues to impress with a fantastic pair of cameras. The standard shooter does really well despite its small pixels, and the secondary wide-angle camera is the best implementation LG has ever made. It offers an extremely unique perspective you just don't see anywhere else.

LG's software is capable and smooth, if still a bit clunky and uncoordinated in a few areas — but that can still be said about most phones nowadays.

Bottom line: LG does all of the basics amazingly well, and accents it with a nice body and super-capable pair of cameras.

One more thing: The V30 isn't yet widely available in Western markets, but we expect it to hit store shelves early in October.



Best for keyboard

BlackBerry KEYone

See at Amazon See at BlackBerry

The market for phones with a physical keyboard may not be as large as it once was, but BlackBerry Mobile's KEYone has reinvigorated the market. Not only does it offer a best-in-class efficiency through its ample 3505mAh battery and power-sipping Snapdragon 625 chip, but its keyboard feels like it's straight out of the old BlackBerry Bold — in a good way.

Bottom line: BlackBerry is back with a phone that feels just as comfortable in the Android world as it did in the BB10 world.

One more thing: The KEYone has a pretty great camera that's underappreciated in the marketplace.



Conclusion

The Pixel 2 doesn't have as many features as some other phones, but the entire experience of using the phone, from top to bottom, is ahead of the competition. Just about anyone can appreciate what Google offers in this phone.

Best overall

Google Pixel 2

See at Verizon See at Best Buy See at Google Store

Google's new Pixel 2 gives you sleek and solid hardware, all of the requisite specs inside and runs simple and intuitive software at a breakneck pace. The hardware surely isn't flashy, but it's beautiful and efficient — and it's now IP67 water-resistant like we expect.

The software features and Google's apps aren't numerous, but they're delightfully useful without being bothersome. And with three years of guaranteed updates, you don't have to worry about the future.

The Pixel 2 has once again set the standard for Android cameras as well, with Google's "HDR+" processing buoyed by new camera hardware and even better processing. Photos are accurate with just a little extra punch of color, and can manage tough scenes with little issue. And with Android 8.1, a new "Pixel Visual Core" chipset will be enabled to give you even better photos, which is tantalizing.

Bottom line: The best Android experience comes straight from Google with the Pixel 2. Great hardware and amazing software support an amazing camera that's only getting better.

One more thing: Though Verizon will tout the Pixel 2 is "exclusive" to the carrier, know that you can buy the phone unlocked from a variety of sources and use it on your carrier of choice.

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1 month ago

Moto X4 pre-orders starting soon, Amazon Alexa Moto Mod coming November

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Solid mid-ranger? Check. Confusing Moto Mod? Check.

Motorola's announced just a few smartphone this year, and one of them is the Moto X4. The X4 was first announced at IFA in August, but U.S. availability was never fully disclosed. Thankfully, that's changing today.

You'll be able to pre-order the Moto X4 starting on October 19, and when the device officially goes on sale on October 26, it'll be available from Best Buy, B&H, Fry's, Jet, Motorola, Newegg, Republic Wireless, and Ting. You might notice that Amazon is missing from that list, but that's because it's getting a special version of the phone.

The Moto X4 is the latest handset to join Amazon's Prime Exclusive line of devices, and it's by far the highest-end smartphone to make its way to the program yet. Prime Exclusive phones come with Amazon apps preinstalled and advertisements on the lock screen, but because of this, they also have discounted prices compared to their regular unlocked counterparts.

The Prime Exclusive Moto X4 will save you $70.

The Moto X4 normally costs $399, but with the Prime Exclusive version, you'll be able to pick it up for just $329. Pre-orders begin on October 18 at 10:00 PM PT for this model, and it will start shipping on October 26.

In addition to the Moto X4, Motorola also announced that the recently leaked Alexa Moto Mod will be available for purchase from Amazon, Best Buy, Motorola, and Verizon this November. It's officially being called the Moto Smart Speaker with Amazon Alexa, and it's one of the most...interesting...Moto Mods we've seen yet.

The speaker features a stand on the back so you can pop it up on a table, desk, or another flat surface, but it also attaches to the back of your Moto Z for charging its battery that should last for about 15 hours with mixed use. However, unlike all other Moto Mods, there's no cutout for your Moto Z's camera. So, if you've got the Alexa speaker attached to your Moto Z, you'll need to pop it off in order to take photos. It's a ridiculous design choice, and it kind of defeats the whole purpose of Moto Mods in the first place.

In any case, the Moto Smart Speaker with Amazon Alexa will cost $149 when it's launched next month.

Moto X4 hands-on: Familiar name, entirely different phone

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1 month ago

The Pixel 2 doesn't support wireless charging, and that's heartbreaking

172

Wireless charging may not be as important as water resistance or a great camera, but to me it's essential.

I've had a good run: since about April, I've been consistently using a phone with wireless charging. It started with the LG G6 in late February, continued with the Galaxy S8 and S8+ in April, transitioned somewhat awkwardly to the Moto Z2 Play and Z2 Force with an optional Moto Mod, and went right through to the end of summer with the Galaxy Note 8 and LG V30. Oh, and the iPhone 8 Plus, too.

Sure, there were some blips in between — the HTC U11, the OnePlus 5, the BlackBerry KEYone — but for the most part, the wireless charging pads next to my bed and in my office have been in near-constant use this year.

Wireless charging is still more of a want than a need, but it's so, so convenient.

That's coming to an end with the Pixel 2 series. While the phone is practically overflowing with 2017's best hardware specs, including water resistance, its metal chassis negates the one thing that I've come to take for granted from most flagships today. Wireless charging has insinuated itself into my life in ways I didn't expect; popping a phone onto a charger for a few minutes to top it up before leaving the house is convenient in ways that hunting for a plug never will be. People can criticize Qi charging's finicky nature — you must place the phone just right, or else — but it doesn't take long to find the sweet spot.

Wireless charging hasn't exactly taken off, even with Apple's newfound support of the standard. It's the very definition of a want versus a need, and its benefits aren't clear until it's had sufficient time to call attention to itself. When first placing a phone on a wireless charger, you may ask, 'So what? This ain't all that.' And that first time, it may be true. But do it again and again, and then buy a second charging pad for somewhere else in your house, and it quickly becomes indispensable.

That the Pixel 2 doesn't have wireless charging isn't enough to quell my affection for it, nor dissuade me from buying the larger Pixel 2 XL when it's available in Canada, but it goes a long way to make me consider the Galaxy Note 8 as my daily driver in the long-term. And with companies like Starbucks expanding their support for in-store wireless charging, and Ikea doubling down on home furniture with the feature built in, it'll be interesting to see whether a year from now people actually give a damn.

In the meantime, my Note 8 is propped up on its Convertible, and it's looking pretty damn good right now.

Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL

Google Store Project Fi Verizon Best Buy

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1 month ago

Metal vs. plastic vs. glass: Which is the best phone material?

92

One day phones will be made from stardust and unicorns. For now, though, we have three choices.

Phones all look the same once you scrape away a few details. They're rectangles designed to fit (mostly) into one's hand and a display where we can tap and poke the things we see to find other things poke and tap. You can even make phone calls with them!

It's those details, though, that makes the difference. Speakers, bevels, buttons and the physical size are the things that make a Galaxy Note different from a Moto E4. They also are a big part of the price and what we use to decide which one is better for our own uses. One of those details that's always a point of discussion and sometimes a point of detraction is what the body of a phone is made of. Oddities like wood or gold phones aside, you'll find three different materials are being used to make phones is all sizes: metal, plastic, and glass.

Which one is best?

Metal

Metal, done very well.

Plenty of phones use a metal band or a faux-metal finish over plastic trim, but there are also plenty that are made of metal. Usually, that means some manner of aluminum alloy that's very thin and light because the buying public is in love with thin and light. Nobody wants a 3-pound phone built from cold forged steel to lug around all day.

Metal screams premium.

For many, metal equals premium. Seeing an aluminum phone polished or anodized with a crisp finish does make a phone look good, so naturally, a lot of people associate them with high-quality, even if only subconsciously. But this isn't always the case as aluminum can actually be cheaper than other materials. Blame our perception here.

A metal phone can be a great phone. It can also be a poor phone. Let's look at the pros and cons.

Pros

  • That premium look. As mentioned, a phone that's well built will always look good with a metal design. Metal is beautiful and we can't help but feel that anything beautiful is automatically premium. For many, having a premium phone is important.
  • It's "modern". Metal is a big part of the industrial design school of thought. Minimal markings and no extraneous parts to take away from a single piece of metal with a certain shape is a complete design aesthetic, and it often ties in well with a premium look. There are plenty of fans of this type of design.
  • Heat transfer. That way a cold metal phone feels when you first pick it up provokes a thought. It doesn't have to be a good thought, but if you ever noticed that your phone felt cold you were thinking about it. Touch is one of our senses, and it's an important one.

All of these "pros" work together to give the impression that the small metal object you're holding is simply a superior product. Some people feel differently, but most people can't say a phone like a Pixel or ZTE Axon Pro felt bad or was built poorly.

Cons

  • Bends and dents. Metal deforms fairly easily — especially light, malleable metal like aluminum —and tends to keep its new shape, at least the types used to build phones. We're not talking about people on YouTube bending phones for a living; we're talking about sitting on your phone and bending it or dropping it and putting a big dent in that premium shell. (Buy a case?)
  • RF transmission. This means your LTE, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth signals. Radio frequencies of the safe variety have a tough time transmitting through dense material. This can mean your phone needs to have antenna lines or glass cutouts for the antennas and probably won't support wireless charging if it's made of metal.
  • Heat transfer. The same thing that makes a metal phone feel solid and cold when you first pick it up will also make it feel hotter after you've used it for a while. Heat sinks and heat pipes (also made of metal) try to offset this, but a metal phone will always have a hot spot where the chipset is. And sometimes they can get uncomfortably hot.

The same material that can make a phone feel premium can also stop it from having premium features, like smooth lines without antenna bands or wireless charging. And they look a lot less premium when you dent or bend them.

Plastic

Moto Maker was awesome.

Plastic comes in all shapes, colors, and sizes. Man-made materials have that advantage. That means plastic can also come with a number of different finishes, and phones can feel slimy or even soft when made of plastic. Plastic is also cheap and very workable which means curves and design elements can be used with plastic that isn't feasible with other materials.

Any shape and any color, and tough as nails.

Some plastic phones look and feel great. Of course, others don't. Consumers can be influenced by their experience enough to think all plastic phones are a slippery, glossy, slimy mess even when they're not and the general perception is that Plastic phones are cheap. But a plastic phone can be great, too.

Pros

  • Cost. Not the cost to the consumer, but the costs of making the phone from beginning to end. Using plastic means manufacturing equipment is easier to tool, which means designers have more freedom to work with the shape, which means phones don't always have to look like a flat slab and still be reasonably priced. We love things that look nice and things that are reasonably priced. We love it more when they are both.
  • Resilliance. Plastic is tough. Like football helmet tough. You might be able to break plastic but it will take a lot more abuse than metal or glass, and for the most part, it will snap right back into shape if it gets bent or dinged.
  • RF transmission. Plastic can be designed to be tough but still allow radio waves to pass through with very little signal loss. When you're building or using a phone, this is important.
  • Millions of colors. You can make plastic that's any color imaginable. Companies like Nokia (the Nokia of old, R.I.P.) and Sony have put this to the test and orange, lime, pink, yellow and even brown phones have all been offered and had their fans. Black is also a color for folks who like to keep things tamer.

Plastic gives a manufacturer the freedom to build a phone that's tough and beautiful. And we've seen some very high-end phones from almost every manufacturer that were plastic, and nobody complained that they were plastic.

Cons

  • They feel bad. At least, they can. One of our favorite phones was LG's G2. One of the phones we always complained about when it came to the finish of materials was the LG G2. It was the phone that coined our use of slimy when talking about bad plastic. Don't even get us started on the Galaxy S III.
  • They can stain. The plastic on the phone can be stained by a colorful case or spending too much time in a cup holder in Florida-style weather, and some plastic finishes can stain you or your clothes. Remember the orange red Nexus 5? It did both.
  • They look cheap. Not all of them, of course. HTC, as well as that Nokia of old, built some gorgeous phones that were plastic. The LG Optimus 3D was not my favorite phone. Not even close. But it was plastic and the body, the build, and the finish were stunning. But for every good plastic phone you can buy there will be four or five bad plastic phones in equally bad plastic clamshells on a hook at Walmart. That makes people equate plastic with cheap.

All the plastic phones that were tough, looked good and came in a plethora of colors have to compete with the bottom-of-the-barrel plastics used in phones that have none of those qualities. It's not fair to compare things this way, but you usually won't find a phone you think is plain ugly or that feels slimy that's not made of plastic. Stereotypes are real.

Glass

Everybody into the pool!

We started seeing glass phones with the iPhone 4 and Nexus 4. They aren't completely glass, of course, but there are plenty of phones with full glass backs to go with the full glass front. They can be beautiful and give a look that compliments a great design. They can also be fragile; phone screens break all too often and so do glass backs.

It only looks wet.

Using glass also adds to a phone's price. Cheap pieces of soda-lime glass you may find at the hardware store aren't suitable for a phone. Instead, specially made ultra-clear low-expansion glass and composites like Gorilla Glass are used and can add a lot to the final price. Exotic materials like synthetic sapphire can be exceptionally clear for the wavelengths of light a person can see, and very scratch-resistant. They are even more expensive, often prohibitively so.

Pros

  • RF transmission. Glass is dense, but still allows for radio waves to pass through fairly easily. This means your LTE signal, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth will be stronger without any long antenna cutouts.
  • They look great. Phones with a glass back can have a feeling of depth if anything is under the glass. Glass can also shimmer and give the illusion of being wet. Both of these effects together can make for a stunning look. Samsung is a total pro at this, and its recent glass-backed Galaxy phones are simply beautiful.
  • They feel good in your hand. Glass can be polished until it's very smooth. Because it's inert it will also feel solid and cold like metal does. When you hold a glass-backed phone in your hand it just feels like a luxury product. Everyone loves luxury products, even if it's only an illusion.

Cons

  • Glass breaks. There is nothing any company can do to make thin glass unbreakable. That means when you drop your phone (and you will) you have to worry about breaking both sides.
  • Glass scratches. Everything will scratch, but glass seems to be the best at doing it. No matter what a company tells us about the Mohs scale or hardened polymers, glass will scratch. Scratches on a phone with the wet and deep illusion like a Galaxy S8 look terrible when they have a big scratch across the back.
  • Glass is slippery. When your hands are damp holding a glass phone is like squeezing an ice cube. It can pop right out of your grip and when you consider that glass breaks and glass scratches, you have a recipe for disaster.

Glass-backed phones can look amazing. That silky wet look of a Galaxy S8 or the disco ball look of the Nexus 4 makes for a beautiful looking piece of gear. We want our expensive things to be beautiful.

Unfortunately, glass is also a really risky material to use in a phone. It needs to be thin (glass is heavy!) so when you use hardened treated materials like Gorilla Glass the risk of breaking increases because hardened glass is more brittle. It's a catch-22 situation that we gladly put ourselves in because of how great it looks.

So which is the best?

That depends on just who you ask.

If you were to ask me, I would say that glass is the best. I like the way it looks and I like the way it feels. I know it will break or scratch easily, and I'll take that risk. I'd also tell you that plastic is probably the real best because it is more workable, more resilient, and is better for radio transmission. And good plastic can both look good and feel good. But I like glass better.

Glass is best. No, wait. Metal. Or Plastic.

While there is no one winner here, there is a loser. Metal. Metal looks and feels good, but it's a horrible material to build a phone with. It's easy to bend, it's easy to dent, and radio waves hate it. But there are plenty of people to tell me I'm wrong.

That's OK. The important thing is that you buy what you like, and because so many different companies build Android phones there's a good chance it's out there. I might be on team glass and you might be on team metal but you don't have to use my phone and vice-versa!

Your take

Which team are you on? Do metal or glass look so good that their shortcomings are forgivable? Or do you just love plastic and the range of colors or the soft feel of a quality finish?

Get into the comments and let us all know which you like and why. Then be happy we have more to choose from than a single phone or its plus version.

Continue the conversation in the forums

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1 month ago

Everything wrong with Google's Pixel 2

142

The Pixel 2's got some issues.

Let's talk about the Pixel 2. It's Google's latest flagship for 2017, and there's a lot to like about it. The Pixel 2 has an industry-leading camera, top-notch performance, rock solid battery life, and some of the best software you'll find on any Android phone to date. We could go on and on here, but listing the positives about Google's Pixel 2 is easy.

Something that's not so easy? Admitting it has issues. Despite the Pixel 2 arguably being the best Android phone on the market, that's not to say it's without its own set of quirks.

Both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL share a few drawbacks compared to other flagships that are available, and our forum users have been quick to point them out.

*/
Wiley_11 10-16-2017 10:15 PM “

Lack of wireless charging.

Reply
*/
dov1978 10-17-2017 08:15 AM “

No wireless charging No dark mode/theming Poor manual camera settings No 2nd camera (portrait mode should suffice) Sure they're minor issues but they'll probably become more and more frustrating over time.

Reply

Along with these complaints, there are quite a few people that also have some issues with the Pixel 2 XL specifically.

*/
erojas388 10-18-2017 06:50 AM “

Just cancelled my 2 xl pre-order. Sucks because I really like the phone but I just could not get used to that screen. I tried 2 display models and 1 retail and there is no difference whatsoever. It feels like a downgrade from my u11. If the screen doesn't matter to you then you'll be getting a great phone. Unfortunately I just cannot spend $1000 on a phone that has a screen that looks identical...

Reply
*/
cyndie1030 10-16-2017 09:37 PM “

I changed my order from a 2 XL to the regular 2 because of the posts from folks looking at them in the Verizon store and saying they looked weird, felt top heavy, flimsy feel, washed-out screen (saw photos of that), and then I started noticing how the rounded screen looked weird where it met the edges. I think I'll be happy with the 2. Great screen, same pure Android experience and great camera.

Reply
*/
anon(9072051) 10-16-2017 09:48 PM “

Lack of wireless charging and the 2:1 display.

Reply

We know not everyone has gotten a chance to go hands-on with the Pixel 2 just yet, but whether you have or haven't, we want to know – what don't you like about the Pixel 2/Pixel 2 XL?

Join the conversation in the forums!

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1 month ago

BlackBerry KEYone available for just $499 from Amazon and Best Buy

19

On sale between now and 11:59 PM CT.

TCL's BlackBerry KEYone is not a perfect phone, but compared to all of the flat slabs of metal and glass we've seen throughout the year, it's definitely one of the most eye-catching. The KEYone's physical keyboard and utilitarian design harken back to a bygone era, and if you've been wanting to relive the BlackBerry glory days but have been waiting for the right time to jump on a KEYone, your day has finally come.

The KEYone's regular retail price of $549 has never been outrageous, and when compared to handsets like the Pixel 2 XL and Galaxy Note 8 that cost dangerously close to $1000, it's considerably lower price tag makes it a much more justifiable purchase. However, thanks to a flash sale that's available between now and 11:59 PM CT, you can pick up the KEYone for just $499.

This deal is available at Amazon and Best Buy (both online and in-stores), and both outlets will carry the GSM and CDMA unlocked variants so you can use the KEYone no matter what carrier you're subscribed to.

For more info or to purchase the KEYone during this limited sale, check the links below.

See at Amazon See at Best Buy

BlackBerry KEYone

Amazon Best Buy BlackBerry Mobile

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1 month ago

Google Pixel 2 + Pixel 2 XL video review

31

How do you follow up on two of the best Android phones ever made?

That's the conundrum facing Google to answer with its new Pixel phones, which, understandably, have an awful lot to live up to. Aside from anything else, these are the flagship devices from the people who make Android. Expectations are high, especially with the super-expensive price tags these phones will carry.

So the question is: Are are these the best Android phones of 2017? And the answer is: Mostly yes. Google's new phones are more complex than last year's models. And the competition is that much fiercer this time around.

Check out our Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL video review for a full breakdown of what we love — and what's not so great — about two of the most important Android phones of 2017.

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1 month ago

The Pixel 2's eSIM makes it dead simple to ditch your carrier for Project Fi

29

Google's new Pixels have an ace up their sleeves.

The new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL have what's called an "eSIM" — essentially an embedded SIM card that can be activated and deactivated on the fly to emulate a physical SIM card. But you don't have to know the details about how it works — you just need to know that it's an amazing innovation that makes it dead easy to use Google's Project Fi cell service on your new Pixel 2.

With these new phones, it takes but a few minutes to go from having no cell service at all to having an active Project Fi account. And if you already have Project Fi, things are even simpler: it'll take just a few seconds to switch between using whatever SIM card is in your Pixel 2, and being back on Project Fi. And vice-versa, as often as you want.

If you intend to give Project Fi a try, all it takes is downloading the Project Fi app on your Pixel 2 or 2 XL. Set up your account, and it will recognize that your phone has an eSIM. It takes just a couple of minutes to assign your phone number to the phone and enable service, and you're ready to go. Yes, it's really that easy.

You can switch between Fi and your usual carrier in a matter of seconds.

Even cooler is how things work when you have a regular SIM card in your phone and Project Fi service. You can be using Verizon, for example, with a regular Verizon SIM in the phone. Just go to the "Mobile network" settings and tap on "Carrier" and you'll see both your current carrier and "Available carriers" — sweet. Verizon is enabled, but you just tap "Project Fi" and confirm that you want to switch — your phone will be operating on Project Fi in a matter of seconds. No reboot, no removal of your Verizon SIM, nothing.

It takes just a few minutes to set up Project Fi for the first time on a Pixel 2.

This is an amazing gateway into Project Fi, but it's also a fantastic option for anyone who wants to keep Project Fi around as a secondary carrier option — particularly for its international roaming option. You see, Project Fi works internationally at the same $10 per GB as it does locally, which is far cheaper than Verizon charging you for specific packages or per-day rates. Fi also lets you "pause" service for 90 days at a time with no fee, meaning you can let it sit on your phone dormant until the day you need to go international. What a world.

Should you use your Google Pixel 2 on Project Fi?

The Pixel 2 or 2 XL will be many people's first chance to use Project Fi, and I seriously recommend it. Using the eSIM in your phone is just an example of how simple and pain-free Project Fi is. It may not be the go-to choice for everyone as their daily phone plan, but having the option available at a moment's notice when you do want to switch, or just use it internationally from time to time, is a great feature of these phones.

Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL

Google Store Project Fi Verizon Best Buy

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1 month ago

ZTE Axon M has thick bezels and two screens, coming to AT&T for $725

23

Two screens for the price of one!

There's no shortage of high-end smartphones these days. Thin bezels, sleek frames, and big, vibrant displays are all the rage these days, but then again, that's something we've been pushing towards for years now. True innovative design seems to be a rarity, but ZTE is ready to change that with the all-new Axon M.

The last time we saw the Axon brand in the United States was with the Axon 7 in the summer of 2016, and while that handset was all about offering a traditional flagship smartphone experience on a budget, the Axon M is anything but traditional.

Without a doubt, the biggest draw to the Axon M is its dual-display design. The last time we saw a phone like this was with the Kyocera Echo back in 2011, and while dual-screens didn't catch on then, ZTE is hoping it'll be able to change that this time around. The Axon M comes equipped with two 5.2-inch displays – each with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 and covered with Corning Gorilla Glass 5. However, when the Axon M is unfolded, you'll get a canvas that measures at 6.75-inches on the diagonal.

While having two displays is a neat enough party trick on its own, ZTE is ensuring that it makes of much use of the Axon M's two displays as possible. Dual mode will allow you to run two entirely different apps on either screen, extended mode stretches out the UI across both displays so you have a large area for watching movies or playing games, and mirror mode allows you to mirror the content of one screen to the other so you can prop up the Axon M on a table and allow people on either end to watch a movie, TV show, etc.

However, if you don't need to utilize both displays and just want to use the Axon M like a regular phone, you can fold it up and only use one screen like you would with any other device.

In regards to specifications, the Axom M comes equipped with last year's Snapdragon 821 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of expandable storage, a single 21MP camera, and a 3,180 mAh battery. Oh, and the phone's also shipping with Android 7.1.2 Nougat with no exact release date for 8.0 Oreo.

The ZTE Axon M will be available for purchase exclusively on AT&T in November for $24.17/month for 30 months, and that works out to a total cost of $725.10. The Axon M is undoubtedly a unique phone, but for that much money, AT&T sales reps will probably be looking at a tough sell.

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1 month ago

ZTE Axon M hands-on: The clamshell is back

8

The ZTE Axon M is a specimen not seen in the world of the smartphone in some time: it's a clamshell. No, not a flip-top communicator of the Starfleet variety, but a side-folding design previously reserved for fancy wallets, pocket maps, and "little black books." Some, like MrMobile's esteemed thumbnail designer, might go so far as to call the ZTE Axon M a "folding phone." But MrMobile himself would never be so bold.

For real though: in a sea of single-sided slabs, ZTE's Axon M is a legitimately interesting design. Featuring two 5.2" displays bonded by a solid-feeling hinge and a thick aluminum midplate, the Axon M has the kind of heft that makes you take a smartphone seriously ... and the double-wide screen real estate that'll conjure memories of Best Buy's big-TV section. But for all its interesting points, the Axon M isn't what you'd call unique; it's a design we've seen before, on a phone that sold about as poorly as a phone can sell. Will this time be different? Tune in for MrMobile's first look, and stay tuned to the YouTube Channel for the Axon M review, coming soon!

Stay social, my friends

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1 month ago

Now Playing on Pixel 2 can already identify tens of thousands of songs

15

A list that'll keep on growing.

Google's Pixel 2 is bringing a lot of cool new features to the table, but one of the most interesting is one called "Now Playing." Now Playing uses Pixel Ambient Services to identify songs that are playing in the background around you, and once it knows what title it is, it'll automatically display the name of the song and artist on your lock screen so you can see what's playing without having to lift a finger.

The feature sounds wildly cool in theory, but its usefulness will ultimately come down to how well it actually works. A developer by the name of Kieron Quinn recently used a program to determine just how many songs Now Playing is able to identify, and during his test, he created a list of 17,300 songs that the Pixel 2 was able to ID.

That's not a small number any means, and even though Quinn was already of the mindset that there could be even more songs he just wasn't able to pick up with the software he used, Google was quick to reach out to the folks at 9to5Google to state that Now Playing on the Pixel 2 can identify tens of thousands of different songs – much more than the 17,300 initially discovered by Quinn.

Now Playing will undoubtedly get smarter and be able to identify even more tracks as time goes on, so the fact that it can already recognize that many titles is seriously impressive.

Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL review: The new standard for Android

Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL

Google Store Project Fi Verizon Best Buy

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1 month ago

First-gen Pixel phones aren't receiving SMS messages

28

Google is aware of the issue and working on a fix.

Google's Pixel 2 is finally here, and while it's a worthy upgrade from last year's model, we don't blame those that want to hold onto their 2016 Pixel for a bit longer. The first-generation Pixel and Pixel XL are still great phones, but a bug has popped up that's preventing some users of the devices from receiving SMS text messages.

This is an issue that's apparently been going on for some time now, and our own Daniel Bader has been affected by it as well. Basically, if you have a Pixel or Pixel XL, there's a chance you won't receive text messages that are sent to you.

That's a bug that could prove to be extremely annoying, and unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any specific reason for it happening. A lot of users on Google's product forums report that they're having the issue with Pixels on Verizon, but others are using the phone on Big Red without any issues at all. Others also claim that the bug first popped up after updating to Android 8.0 Oreo, but then again, another person says that they had the issue prior to the Oreo update.

Thankfully, a manager from the Pixel User Community responded to these complaints with the following message:

Hey all,

Thanks for all of the reports. The team is aware of the issue and working towards a fix. Some of you have mentioned that rebooting or factory resetting the device resolved the issues. Definitely try to reboot, and if you factory reset, make sure all of your data/info is backed up.

I'll keep you all posted!

Some people report that they started to receive texts once again after a simple reboot, but for the majority of people (including Daniel), a full factory reset is required. It's good to know that Google is aware of the problem at hand and working on a proper fix, but we can only hope that that resolution comes sooner rather than later with a problem as serious as this.

Google Pixel + Pixel XL

Google Store Verizon

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1 month ago

The Pixel 2 camera's secret weapon: A Google-designed SoC, the 'Pixel Visual Core'

33

A custom built eight-core processing unit that can run three trillion operations each second powers Google's camera — and it has even more planned.

We've been using the Pixel 2 and it's bigger sibling the Pixel 2 XL for a bit. While getting things ready for a review and testing all the things there was one consistent discussion, and it centered around the photos the Pixel 2's cameras were churning out. What we were seeing from both the 12.2MP rear camera and 8MP front-facing was just so much better than any other phone we've ever used. And we've used a lot of them.

Read the Pixel 2 review

And that's before Google enables its secret weapon. Google has designed and is using a custom imaging-focused SoC (system on chip) in the Pixel 2, and it's called Pixel Visual Core.

We don't have all the details; Google isn't ready to share them and maybe isn't even aware of just what this custom chip is capable of yet. What we do know is that the Pixel Visual Core is built around a Google-designed eight-core Image Processing Unit. This IPU can run three trillion operations each second while running from the tiny battery inside a mobile phone.

Google says the chip isn't currently enabled — that will happen in a future software update. When it does happen, Google's HDR+ routines will be processed using this IPU, and it runs fives times faster while using less than one-tenth of the energy than it would if it ran through the standard image processor in the Snapdragon 835.

Google says this is possible because of how well the software and hardware have been matched with each other. The software on the Pixel 2 controls "many more" details of the hardware than you would find in a typical processor to software arrangement. By handing off control to software, the hardware can become a lot more simple and efficient.

Google is a software company first and foremost. It's no wonder that its first custom mobile SoC leverages software the way other companies use hardware.

Of course, this means the software then becomes more and more complex. Rather than use standard methods of writing code, building it into a finished product and then trying to manage everything after all the work is finished, Google has turned to machine learning coding languages. Using Halide for the actual image processing and TensorFlow for the machine learning components themselves, Google has built its own software compiler that can optimize the finished production code into software built specifically for the hardware involved.

Even when's it's turned on later this year, the only part of the camera experience using the Pixel Visual Core will be the camera's HDR+ feature. It's already very good; this is what comes next.

HDR+ is only the beginning.

Google says we should expect to see the Android 8.1 developer preview in the coming weeks and Pixel Visual Core will be opened up as a developer option. The goal is to give all third-party apps access through the Android Camera API. This will give every developer a way to use Google's HDR+ and the Pixel Visual Core, and we expect to see some really big things.

For the one last thing we always love to hear about, Google says that we should remember the Pixel Visual Core is programmable and they are already building the next set of applications that can harness its power. As Google adds more abilities to its new SoC, the Pixel 2 and 2 XL will continue to get better and be able to do more. New imaging and machine learning applications are coming throughout the life of the Pixel 2, and we're ready for them.

Update: An earlier version of this article said that Google's Visual Core is already turned on and working in the Pixel 2. That isn't the case, as it will be enabled in a future software update. We regret the error.

Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL

Google Store Project Fi Verizon Best Buy

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1 month ago

Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL review: The new standard for Android

300
Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL

This is no longer a hobby or a half-assed project — Google hardware is getting serious.

Google's smartphone division is in a very interesting, even precarious, position. At once, it's trying to appeal to two disparate ends of the market: the design and experience-focused high-end phone buyer who is typically drawn to the iPhone; and the Google-loving Android enthusiast that wants a very different set of features and desires the "purest" Google experience. The latter comes from years of selling Google-sanctioned Nexus phones that were so often the dream devices of Android diehards, while the former comes from Google's goal to capture the most lucrative and sought-after group of consumers in the market.

Android Central Choice Award

The solution, as was the case last year with the canonical Pixels, comes in the form of "one" phone that's actually two — this year, it's the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. Starting at $649 for the base model Pixel 2 and going up to $949 for the top Pixel 2 XL, these things are costly — and Google thinks it has both the hardware and software chops to make them worth it. A refined emphasis on in-house hardware design and a compelling story about deep integration with Google's bevy of services make the Pixel 2 and 2 XL rather unique among Android phones — and, of course, quite similar to Apple's playbook with the iPhone.

Google's hardware division isn't a project or a hobby anymore. It's the real deal. Let's see if the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL live up to that standard in our full review.

See at Verizon See at Best Buy See at Google Store

About this review

I am writing this review after six days using the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. They were used on both the Project Fi and Verizon networks in the greater Seattle, WA area. The software was not updated during the course of our review.

For our video review, Alex Dobie has also been using both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL for a total of five days in Manchester, UK, and Munich, Germany on the EE and Vodafone networks (roaming on Telekom.de and Vodafone DE while in Germany.) The phones were provided to Android Central for review by Google.

Because of their considerable similarities, we're grouping together both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL into a single review. The opinions and observations expressed in this review are applicable to both phones, except in specific places where one model is mentioned in particular.

In video form

Pixel 2 and 2 XL Video review

For the full visual take on these new phones from Google, be sure to watch our complete video review put together by our very own Alex Dobie. For the specific details on the pair, you'll want to read our entire written review here.

Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL

Keep it simple

Pixel 2 and 2 XL Hardware

2016's HTC-built Pixel and Pixel XL were identical phones simply built at two different scales. This year, despite Google's insistence on branding of the "Pixel 2" as a single phone, things aren't so simple. Sure, from a glance, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL look like the same phone in two different sizes. But pick them up, and each is clearly unique.

The larger Pixel 2 XL is getting a majority of the attention, and rightfully so.

The Pixel 2 XL is getting a majority of the attention, and I'd say rightfully so. The big 18:9 display, rounded corners and smaller bezels just feel more modern, looking very similar to the LG V30 (wonder why) and Galaxy S8+. In stark contrast to the smaller Pixel 2, the 2 XL's front glass is steeply curved on all sides to flow over the edges and meet the metal sides further down. It feels and looks absolutely fantastic, and the lack of any sharp edges or right angles on the entire front just feels "right."

The problem, from my perspective, is its overall size that will be too big for some to manage. It's basically the same size as the Galaxy S8+ — just under 2 mm shorter, but also over 3 mm wider and the same weight. For another comparison, the Pixel 2 XL is larger (and not just a little bit) in every dimension than the LG V30. It teeters on the edge of being too big to reach across, and is definitely too big to comfortably reach the top quarter of the display when holding it in one hand. Thankfully, the Pixel 2 XL has a flat display that doesn't have accidental palm touch issues, and a fingerprint sensor in a perfect position to reach in any case.

The Pixel 2, on the other hand, harkens back in so many ways to the Nexus 5X — the proportions, the curves, the overall look from the front. Its metal sides come up further and to a sharper beveled edge where they meet front glass, and the glass itself is nearly flat with only a minor amount of "2.5D" curving at the edges. The 16:9 display obviously isn't as tall as the 2 XL, but the bezels on the top and bottom add enough height that the overall proportions are very similar to its larger sibling.

Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL specs

Once you get past the front and how the glass curves, the phones are almost identical.

For all of this typing focused on the differences between the two, there is so much shared in the hardware of the Pixel 2 and 2 XL. Once you get past the front and how the glass curves into the sides, things are as close to identical as possible. The aluminum frame feels thick and finely constructed, with a textured coating that gives you far more grip — albeit at the expense of feeling a bit less like metal than the 2016 Pixels, a compromise I feel is worthwhile. The glass insert at the top of the phones is smaller now and inset perfectly, but now marred by a small camera bump that makes the taller 2 XL wobble on the table a bit when you're tapping the screen.

There isn't much else to say about the design of these phones, particularly when you have them both in black as I do. Like their predecessors, and even more so this time around, the Pixel 2 and 2 XL are monolithic, near-featureless and quite basic in their overall hardware. They don't have the stunning curves, flashy polished metal or distinctive lines of many other phones out there. The best you get here are the offset colored power buttons on "kinda blue" Pixel 2 and "black & white" Pixel 2 XL.

The hardware is clean, efficient and beautiful — but not flashy.

Mercifully, Google has added IP67 water- and dust-resistance to the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, which is downright table stakes at this point (and some would argue it was last year). Whether directly related or not, this has also coincided with the loss of the headphone jack — which was something Google specifically mentioned as a benefit on the original Pixels. (Ugh. C'mon.) It includes a USB-C to 3.5 mm headphone adapter in the box, and sells extras in the Google Store for $20 $9, but frustratingly doesn't put USB-C headphones in the box. The industry is leaving the 3.5 mm headphone jack behind, I get that — but I really wish Google didn't cheap out here, particularly on the $849 Pixel 2 XL, and chose to include some headphones considering how few people have USB-C headphones right now.

Adding to the frustration is attempting to navigate the world of USB-C adapters and headphones. At this point there's no clear or consistent way to know if when you buy them that they'll actually work with your phone. For example HTC's headphones don't work with the Pixel 2, but its headphone adapter does. And Motorola's adapter doesn't work with Google's phones at all.

Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL

A tale of two displays

Alright, back to the differences again — let's talk about displays. Google's biggest selling point on the Pixel 2 XL's display was its color accuracy and the fact that it could reproduce 100% of the DCI-P3 color space. And to my eyes, that's clearly where all of the tuning time went: accuracy above all else. Because this screen, I hate to say, looks a bit dull and washed out. Being used to Samsung's vibrant and colorful displays — which by default exhibit punchier, more saturated colors — the 2 XL is kind of disappointing when you first look at it. No matter how you feel about the colors you'll notice an apparent color shifting when viewing the phone off-axis at all, to the point where holding the phone at an angle the colors at the top of the display (further from you) are more blue/green than what's at the bottom.

The Pixel 2 XL's display is actually disappointing, but the standard Pixel 2 surprises.

The 2880x1440 resolution is plenty high, but the Pixel 2 XL exhibits the same sort of soft grain and grit as the V30 on white backgrounds when scrolling — one of those things you can't un-see once it's been pointed out. It's something we expect to see on super low-end phones, but not anything remotely high-end in the past few years — and it's surely not a problem that Samsung has with its OLED displays nowadays.

Thankfully over time your eyes get used to its calibration, as they do with any other phone, and you start to see some of the benefits compared to last year. The Pixel 2 XL gets much dimmer in low-light situations where you want it to, peak brightness is higher — though it is, of course, not as bright as a Galaxy Note 8 — and daylight visibility improved because of it.

Funny enough, it's the smaller, lower resolution, less-accurate and ostensibly lower-end Pixel 2 display that actually looks better to my eyes. Its brightness (both high and low) is very similar to the 2 XL, but it doesn't exhibit the grain on white backgrounds or the color shifting at angles that are annoying on the larger phone. At the same time, its colors have a bit more punch and depth to them — mostly due to the display just being a tad warmer overall.

I don't think the display quality differences are so big that they alone should make you want to choose one phone over the other. There are other factors like the actual physical size of the screen and the design of the phone that are likely bigger purchase drivers. But it's certainly worth noting that just because the Pixel 2 XL is bigger and more expensive doesn't mean it has the better display.

Google Pixel 2 XL

The best around

Pixel 2 and 2 XL Software and experience

For the vast majority of people out there, the best Android experience comes directly from Google on a Pixel phone. If there's one thing we've seen play out consistently over the years, it's new high-end phones coming out with piles of bells and whistles to appeal to as many people as possible, only to eventually hurt the daily experience because of how they were saddled with all of this superfluous crap. Google's Pixel phones are the exact opposite: in having fewer features and options for customization, they offer a superior daily experience for almost every kind of smartphone user today.

Google has gotten really good at this whole user experience and interface design thing.

Loading up your Pixel 2 or 2 XL for the first time, you won't be greeted by a super-long setup process, duplicate apps, extra account permissions or clunky backup and restore settings. Google's default apps are some of the best in the business — many of which you'd likely install on any Android phone — so for many people, they won't feel like they have to go hunting for anything from the Play Store from the start. As it turns out, Google has gotten really good at this user experience and interface design stuff — everything just flows and makes sense. Android 8.0 Oreo has a lot of nice features that will be great for any Android user, but it's absolutely fantastic to see it all working as intended by its creators with no additional changes.

Pixel 2 XL softwarePixel 2 XL softwarePixel 2 XL softwarePixel 2 XL softwarelightboxlightboxPixel 2 XL softwarePixel 2 XL softwarePixel 2 XL software

That's not to say that the Pixel 2 and 2 XL give you the same type of empty, spartan experience of old Nexuses. Google has consistently added little features and changes to its software in the last year, but for the most part they are both simple and noninvasive. Just look at the new feature that passively identifies any ambient music and displays it on your lock screen — that isn't something that gets in your way, but it's a neat bit of magic to see when you glance down at your phone on the table. The same goes for Google Assistant being available with a squeeze of the phone, or being able to back up as many photos as you want in their original quality (for three years) to Google Photos. It's all of these "small" things that are both out of your way and hugely impactful to the overall experience of the phone when you add them up.

And of course Google's core competency of having guaranteed update windows for these phones is something that will always differentiate it. With the Pixel 2 and 2 XL it has promised three years of platform and security updates, meaning if you buy one of these you just won't have to worry about having up-to-date software — that's important if you care about that sort of thing, but really important if you're someone who doesn't.

Performance

This is what people who are "in the know" buy a Pixel for: the performance. And not just in terms of synthetic benchmarks, but in real-world "live with this every day" speed that you just don't get in any other Android phone. With the new processor and another year of optimization, Google picks up right where it left off with last year's Pixels. Both of these phones are ridiculously fast, smooth and consistent in everything you do.

People who are 'in the know' buy a Pixel for the performance.

It's something I've obviously come to expect from Google's own phones, but after using other phones that are fast but still have hiccups now and then, it's just so refreshing to have something this consistently good in your hands. The thing about speed like this is that you don't have to be a smartphone nerd to appreciate it. Everyday people who are used to their slightly old and stuttery phone will be blown away by the Pixel 2 and 2 XL.

I figured this is as good a place as any to mention audio performance — namely, how both of these phones come with front-facing stereo speakers. I'm never going to say that the addition of stereo speakers is a fine trade-off for not having a headphone jack, but these speakers are really good. I'd put them right up next to the HTC U11's in terms of quality and volume, which means they both totally blow away the single speaker on phones like the Galaxy S8. The phones obviously aren't big enough for real stereo separation, but having audio coming right at you when watching video is far better than blowing out one end.

Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL

Battery life

With a 3520mAh battery and super-efficient Snapdragon 835 processor, the Pixel 2 XL is poised to have really good battery life. And indeed it lives up to expectations. In my first full day out of the gate with the 2 XL it made it through a 16-hour day with 5 hours of "screen on" time when I tossed it on the charger at 5% battery before bed, which was surprisingly good considering how much I used it throughout the day. This was with everything turned on, syncing and notifying me, with the default "living" wallpaper (a clear increase in power drain), auto screen brightness, plenty of podcast listening over Bluetooth, and time spent in the camera. In subsequent days things were even better as I went easier on the phone.

The Pixel 2 XL's battery life is exceptional, and the Pixel 2 is actually a full-day phone as well.

There's plenty of rational concern that the Pixel 2's 2700mAh battery, being 23% smaller, isn't large enough considering it has the same overall specs and capabilities, with the only change being a smaller 1080p display. Thankfully things seem much better than last year's Pixel with its 2770mAh battery. With a more efficient processor, the Pixel 2's battery is actually really solid. Using the Pixel 2 the same way as the 2 XL, It's good for a full day of use — at least 16 or 17 hours, albeit with less than the 5 hours of "screen on" time ... more like 3 to 4 hours instead. But that's just fine for me — it means I don't really have to worry about battery life, even with what is admittedly a really small battery for a 2017 flagship.

Google Pixel 2

New benchmark

Pixel 2 and 2 XL Cameras

Even a year after their release, the Pixel and Pixel XL were easily still some of the best available smartphone cameras. That was due in no small part to Google's excellent photo processing, which paired with camera hardware that lacked the typical assistance of OIS (optical image stabilization) and produced fantastic photos regardless. This year, Google has added OIS, widened the aperture to f/1.8 and improved its processing, with the only downside (if you could call it that) being slightly smaller pixel size on the 12.2MP sensor.

The results are utterly fantastic. Google hasn't strayed from its core philosophy on photography, which is to give you a mostly accurate photo but also crank up the colors and use HDR techniques to give you a beautiful shot. To that point, HDR+ is now on permanently by default, leaving you to jump into the advanced settings to give yourself a toggle to turn it off. But I'm not sure why you would — HDR+ processing is great, and even faster than before.

So this is what happens when you take Google's great photo processing and add it to even better hardware fundamentals. Shots are crisp with great detail, and some close-up shots have just unreal levels of fine detail in lines. In situations where the smartphone-sized sensor simply can't work out a scene you get some high ISO noise that looks totally normal and expected — not over-processed and gross. Colors are just punchy enough to grab your eye without being crazy. And best of all, shot-to-shot consistency is fantastic. I don't think I took a single photo that was "bad" — I either took "good" or "great" photos.

Portrait Mode

The perfect example of Google flexing its software processing muscle is the inclusion of a Portrait Mode even though it only has a single camera. The camera uses the distance between individual pixels on the sensor to determine depth, then defines the foreground and background in software and applies a background blur in the final photo. Like all of these modes from other companies Google's isn't perfect, but shockingly it's just as good as the rest — and in many cases I found it to even be better.

Portrait Mode still struggles with stray hairs on people's heads, and sometimes with extra accouterments like glasses or big over-ear headphones. But I didn't find that it had issues with inanimate objects that have solid, straight lines on their sides like I sometimes saw on the Galaxy Note 8. Portrait Mode simply won't activate if the software thinks that it can't apply the effect properly on the subject, and in any case gives you a "standard" photo alongside your portrait shot.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Google's Portrait Mode system is that it also works extremely well on the front-facing 8MP f/2.4 camera. The effect can sometimes feel a bit overboard, but its edge detection is still top notch on the front-facer. The extra processing leads to really stand-out selfies — some of the best I've taken with a phone.

Video

Alex does a fantastic job actually illustrating how well the new Pixel 2 and 2 XL do with their video mode in our video review. In short, the addition of OIS to Google's already fantastic EIS (electronic image stabilization) produces great results. The video is so stable it seems impossible that it's coming from a phone with no extra stabilizing hardware assistance.

This year's Pixels seem to be a bit better about letting some of the natural movement of your hand come across in the video, though, which is particularly noticeable when walking and panning the camera. It means that the video remains stable, but doesn't look so artificially stabilized that it bothers your eyes. The Pixel 2 and 2 XL may not have all of the crazy video capabilities of the LG V30 when it comes to tweaking and utilizing specific effects, but for simple "point and shoot" videography it's amazing.

Google Pixel 2

Google does it again

Pixel 2 and 2 XL Bottom line

Google has, once again, made the best pair of Android phones you can buy today. If someone has at least $649 to spend, knowing nothing else about what they want from a phone, I will be able to recommend they buy a Pixel 2 and have no worries about them enjoying the experience.

In either phone, you get hardware that's well-built and beautiful with all of the requisite specs and base hardware features, paired with an unrivaled software and user experience that you'll enjoy every day. You're also getting a smartphone that's likely to produce the best photos you've ever seen come out of a phone, in just about any situation you put it in. Then you get the smaller things you only notice over time — very strong battery life, loud stereo speakers, IP67 water resistance, software that's well hedged against slowdowns over time, and three years of guaranteed updates.

Google has, once again, made the best pair of Android phones you can buy today.

The Pixel 2 XL's display quality is objectively not good enough to match its $849 starting price, but the smaller Pixel 2's is more than good enough for $649. The lack of a headphone jack is troubling for many, myself included. And the software doesn't have the massive number of specialized features you'll find on other phones.

But those few cons are washed away in just a couple of hours of actually using either phone; and that excellent experience will stay strong for months — and even years — to come. Google has outdone itself this year. It has made the phones that everyone should be considering, even if its sales will end up being tiny in comparison to the big names.

The only question, really, is which size you should buy. The Pixel 2 XL is probably too expensive for many people, and its 6-inch display may actually be too big as well. The Pixel 2, with a very attainable price, offers excellent value for the money — it also has a better display and more manageable size. Unless you feel like you need the extra screen size or battery of the 2 XL, pick the Pixel 2. You'll love it.

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1 month ago

What do you consider to be a 'premium' smartphone?

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A matter of personal preference.

Earlier this month, a discussion broke out in our forums over the use of metal vs. plastic in regards to smartphone design. Some people were of the mindset that metal was preferable to cheaper plastics, whereas others preferred the function and utilitarian nature of the latter. During this debate, the phrase "premium feel" popped up quite a bit when users were discussing their preferred material of choice.

However, just what does "premium feel" actually mean? Is it a way of describing a phone that feels solid and durable, or one that has a more luxurious construction?

Here's what some of our forum users had to say on the matter.

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I Can Be Your Hero 10-15-2017 08:06 PM “

Just means that it feels like an expensive piece of hardware, because it is an expensive piece of hardware. The materials the exterior of the body is made of, the heft of the device etc. Basically if you're buying a $650-$900 phone, you don't want it to feel like a cheap Fisher Price toy. What feels premium is subjective, but generally, phones with a build of metal or glass generally are...

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Zendroid1 10-16-2017 09:24 AM “

Premium is very subjective so I think that's the issue some people have with calling devices premium and saying so and so phone is more premium than the other guy. If it's subject you can't make statements like this. Yes people will say things like well aluminum and glass IS more premium than cheap plastic, but again, it's all subjective. I have no problem with people saying what they like and...

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sulla1965 10-15-2017 10:54 PM “

Basically metal or glass backs. Off course the downside to "premium feeling" phones is the loss of removable backs and batteries. Do you recall when Samsung made plastic phones and lots of people swore off Samsung if they didn't do like Apple and make a "premium feeling" phone. Well Samsung and HTC saw the writing on the wall and switched to glass and metal. Of course even budget and mid range...

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Jeremy8000 10-15-2017 11:02 PM “

To me, premium feel simply means that it feels exceptionally well constructed. Buttons have good tactile response with no loose 'wiggle,' phone body is solid with no creaking it forcing under moderate pressure, and seams are tight. I've held metal, glass, and plastic body phones that feel premium, and held devices of each that don't, so don't rule out a material based on prejudice.

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dov1978 10-17-2017 08:22 AM “

People think that premium has to mean Metal or Glass. Some of the most premium and robust phones I even owned or held were Nokia Lumia's. Polycarbonate phones were gorgeous, solid and felt indestructible. But then there were Samsung's like the S3 that were plastic with painted sides to look like metal that just felt cheap for their price tag. I really wish a manufacturer would take a risk and try...

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There's no "right" answer to this question, but we're interested in knowing what you think – what do you consider to be a "premium" phone?

Join the conversation in the forums!

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