We're sometimes guilty of being a little fickle when it comes to older phones. As new toys arrive, and release cycles grind on, phones from years past are left to collect dust.
The Google Pixel 2 XL is an exception. It has unquestionably aged better than just about any Google phone before it, be it a Nexus or a Pixel. For a phone that had a tumultuous launch, thanks to some concerns around the display, the Pixel 2 XL stood the test of time better than I could've imagined.
We're still a few months away from the next generation of Pixel phones, and with the final version of Android 9.0 dropping very soon, plus price drops on the Google store and elsewhere, this phone is still a tempting proposition. If you care about having the latest Android software and Google features, then the Pixel 2 will be running software in August that other flagships like the Note 9 probably won't get until at least a couple months into 2019.
Of course, there's more to a phone than the version of Android it runs. The Pixel 2 XL is a generation behind the current crop of high-end Androids if you just look at the spec sheets. You get last year's Snapdragon 835 instead of this year's 845. 4GB of RAM versus the increasingly standard six.
Real-world performance, though, is basically on par with many of the Snapdragon 845 phones we've been using over the past few months, with only tiny differences in app load speeds. Even then, it's pretty much a coin toss as to which one feels faster to use. The only downside I've really seen has to do with that four gigabytes of RAM. Compare it to the OnePlus 6, for instance, with its monstrous eight gigs of RAM, and it's clear OnePlus's phone is the superior multitasker.
Having the latest version of Android is all well and good -- the Pixel 2 XL will have Android 9 comfortably before any other phone. And it's guaranteed for platform updates through until Android R in 2020. But the real strengths of the Pixel comes from the extra stuff Google's layered on top. Features like "Now Playing", which identifies music playing when you're out and about, are things that still delight me whenever I switch back to the Pixel. And then there's the legendary Pixel camera, which is so good mostly because of the HDR+ processing that Google's developed over the past few years.
Sure, there are ports of the Pixel camera for other phones, but none work as well as the real deal on a Pixel 2.
This is still a top-three camera. Although it's beaten in one or two areas by the Galaxy S9 and Huawei P20 Pro, the Pixel's camera is absolutely a reason to recommend it over other flagships. It's not quite the best anymore in low light, but it still captures a ton of color detail in the dark. And dynamic range is spectacularly good. Photos from the Pixel 2 have a magical quality that's hard to replicate on any other handset. And it's still the camera, more than anything, that lures me back to a Pixel now and again, even when reviewing newer and shinier things.
Something else that's held up surprisingly well is this phone's battery life. Even after around nine months of use, with hardware that's a generation old, my Pixel 2 XL's longevity compares favorably to the Galaxy S9+, OnePlus 6, LG G7, HTC U12+ and just about any other 2018 flagship you might care to mention. (The only exception being Huawei's Mate 10 and P20 Pro, with their extra-large batteries.)
The Pixel 3 is just around the corner. Nevertheless, if you can find the Pixel 2 XL with a reasonable discount, it's absolutely still worth picking up. The phone was briefly discounted on the Google Store, but most outlets have reverted back to the $849 base price, which you definitely shouldn't pay. If you are buying outright, Amazon has a few refurb options at a more palatable price point.
Other odds and ends for a lazy Sunday:
- Am I the only one having deja vu around the new proactive Google Assistant? This new feature essentially recreates many of the capabilities of Google Now when it debuted back in 2012 with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. We've come full circle.
- Hopefully this is the death knell for the current Google Feed, which as I mentioned here is currently little more than a below-average news aggregator. Surely the new proactive Assistant is poised to replace the Feed on the next round of Pixel phones. The new Google News app leaves little reason for the Feed to continue to exist in its current form.
- Looks like the Samsung Galaxy Watch (probably) won't run Wear OS after all. Makes sense, for the reasons I laid out in this video. Samsung shipping a Wear OS watch could only happen if Google were to essentially buy Samsung's cooperation. Even then, there's the question of what would happen with other Tizen gadgets like the Gear Fit series, which are a poor fit for Wear OS's UI. Either way, in the absence of Google bucks to sweeten the deal, Tizen is the far more likely bet.
- Google got slapped with a $5.1bn fine this week, and Russell Holly has a great explainer of the issues involved. The company has always walked something of a tightrope with "open" Android. AOSP Android is still open-source, but progressively less and less of what you or I might think of as Android on a phone is available without playing by Google's rules. Realistically, you need to cooperate with Mountain View and work within the Google ecosystem to get anywhere with Android in Western markets -- which is the crux of the EU's argument around how Google has competed unfairly. Google will appeal, of course. But if it loses, significant structural changes could be coming to Android, particularly around Google Play Services, which ties app compatibility and device security into reliance on Google services.
- Fuchsia is exciting, and we got a tantalizing look at a potential timeframe for Google's next-gen OS this week. Fuchsia is supposedly an OS for everything from smart speakers to laptops, and on phones it'll allow Google to solve some of the big built-in problems with Android -- fragmentation, security, slow platform updates -- from the get-go. Developers will need a long lead time to prepare for Fuchsia, and even after it arrives, you can bet it'll run "legacy" Android apps just fine. This should be an orderly transition if/when it happens.
- A lot has been made of Android as we know it potentially going away in five years. (Which, amusingly, would make Android U the last version, just before we start to get to the more problematic letters for "sweet treat" nicknames.) But let's remember that Android is ultimately just a brand. When Fuchsia comes to phones, Google can call it whatever it wants. I'm also willing to bet Fuchsia won't be a user-facing brand in the same way Android is today.
- We're still waiting on that HTC U12+ OTA. So far only Taiwan has received the update to "fine-tune" the problematic digital buttons. It's apparently due in the U.S. by the end of the month. I genuinely hope something can be salvaged from this phone, which aside from its crappy buttons is actually pretty good.
- (After a month with the aforementioned crappy buttons, though, does anyone besides me still care about the U12+? Surely, at this point, the damage is already done.)
- Another update that has actually arrived this week: The OxygenOS 5.1.9 OTA for the OnePlus 6, which brings a big, noticeable improvement to dynamic range, sharpness and low-light performance in the camera. I've been impressed with what I've seen so far, and will hopefully have more to share very soon.
- Quick protip for anyone thinking about leaking a photo of an unannounced phone: Blanking out the IMEI is a good start, but if you forget about those barcodes, holograms and other identifiers, you're still likely getting fired:
That's it for now. I'll be back with another Editor's Desk post-Note 9 launch with a number of takes at varying temperatures.
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