First look at the Google Pixel 2 and 2 XL

For a majority of the 10 years smartphones have been mainstream, phone makers have been copying each other’s designs. It's not easy to differentiate when all you really have is a slab of glass and a handful of variables like materials, camera, ports, and bezels to work with. It's only recently that we've been able to suss out some genuine schools of design thought, and genuinely competing philosophies of phone design are only beginning to emerge.

trickdump google pixek

That’s why the designs for the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are remarkable: in its second year of making phone hardware, Google is establishing an aesthetic that isn't just consistent, but is distinct from what both Apple and Samsung are doing. Google hardware is all about pragmatism and approachability.

Google also layers on a new iteration to the oldest of tech clichés: the integration of hardware and software. For Google, the future isn’t in the merger of hardware and software; it’s in the merger of hardware and machine learning.

The new Pixels also seem like pretty good phones.

Shared specs

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
  • Memory: 4GB RAM
  • Storage: 64GB or 128GB
  • Rear camera: 12.2MP, 1.4μm pixels, Autofocus with laser and dual-pixel phase detection, Optical and electronic image stabilization, f/1.8 aperture lens
  • Front camera: 8MP, 1.4μm pixels, f/2.4 aperture lens, fixed focus
  • Video: 1080p at 30, 60, or 120 fps on rear camera
  • "Active Edge" squeezable sides
  • USB-C, no wireless charging
  • No headphone jack
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • 18W power adapter and USB-C headphone dongle in box

Pixel 2 XL specs

  • Battery: 3520mAh
  • Screen: 6-inch, 2880 x 1440 pOLED, 100 percent DCI-P3 coverage, 100,000:1 contrast ratio
  • Size: 6.2 x 3.0 x 0.3 inches
  • Weight: 175 grams

Pixel 2 specs

  • Battery: 2700mAh
  • Screen: 5-inch, 1920 x 1080 AMOLED, 95 percent DCI-P3 coverage, 100,000:1 contrast ratio
  • Size: 5.7 x 2.7 x 0.3 inches
  • Weight: 143 grams
Let's get the basics out of the way. The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are Google-made phones coming out on October 19th. The less-expensive model is the 5-inch Pixel 2 with 64GB of storage, at $649. The Pixel 2 XL starts at $849. You can spend $100 more on either model to get 128GB of storage.

The phones are identical except for a few key things: the size and type of screen, the size of the battery, and the basic hardware design. Otherwise, they have the same cameras, same processors, same dual-speakers — the works.

You may have heard that the Pixel 2 is manufactured by HTC and the 2 XL is manufactured by LG. That's true, but Google is again insisting that it made these phones, and that it isn't just tweaking around the edges of existing phones like it did with the old Nexus line. Having used these phones a little bit over the course of a couple days, I saw a lot more Google here than I did LG or HTC.

Google is quite proud of the screens on these phones, both of which are OLED (though they're produced by different manufacturers). The company claims they have a contrast ratio of 100,000:1, which compares to 1,400:1 on the iPhone 8. When I asked Google's hardware chief Rick Osterloh about them, he was confident. "Screens have so many dimensions: brightness, color gamut, quality, contrast ratio,” he said. “We'll be strong in every dimension — certainly competitive in every dimension — and leading in many." The screens can be set to always-on, showing time and notification icons on a black background. They look nice, but I'll need to do a lot more looking and testing before I can say anything definitive.

The speakers on both phones got plenty loud without too much distortion. I'm sure it was a priority to get those speakers in there, but I'm also sure I would rather have smaller bezels. The overall audio story on Pixel 2 is a big deal: it does away with the headphone jack, but it also supports a bunch of new audio codecs over Bluetooth 5. I can also tell you that the Pixel 2 is a thousand percent better at recognizing when I say "OK Google" than last year's phone.

There is a lot about these phones that is not very surprising: the standard Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM, OLED screens, 12-megapixel rear cameras and 8-megapixel selfie cameras. When people say phones are boring now, what they often mean is that you can't really differentiate them by looking at a spec sheet. That's mostly true of the Pixel 2.


When you hold a Samsung Galaxy phone (or, for the very brief time I got to try it, the iPhone X), you're hit in the face with the flashiness: curved screens, notches for face-detecting cameras, the chrome and the glitz.

google pixwl

Google's not going for all that. These phones aren't homely, but they're also not flashy. They have glass "shades" on the back for the antennas to work, and they have bezels to house the speakers. You might not get people at a bar oohing and aahing over the design, but you will get the practical benefits of a simpler design.

The screen doesn't curve around the sides like the S8, but you don't have to worry about rogue touches. There's no notch on the screen enabling truly edge-to-edge design, but there's also… no notch on the screen. There's no shiny glass, but the finish on the aluminum makes it easier to grip. Every time it faced a design trade-off, Google chose the more pragmatic option.

That's not to say there aren't impressive design elements to point out. There are no visible antenna lines anywhere on the XL’s aluminum unibody. Even though the 6-inch screen on the XL might not technically count as edge-to-edge, it still fits a much larger screen in a body that's just a little bigger than last year's Pixel XL, which had a 5.5-inch screen. On both, you'll see that there is no camera bump beyond a slight raised ridge around the lens.

One of the most telling things about holding the phones is the finish on the aluminum. They almost feel more like plastic than metal; I literally had to double-check by holding the phone to my wrist like a baby bottle to see if it was cool like metal should be. That finish plus the bezels make the phone more grippable; on the XL, it hides the antenna lines. The aluminum does mean that there’s no wireless charging, however.

They're also kind of fun. Many of the color choices (three on the Pixel 2, two on the XL) have a power button that stands out. The white Pixel 2 XL, in particular, has a black glass shade on the back, a white body, and a neon power button. It's like a Stormtrooper who secretly wears crazy underpants.

I like practicality, but I still think the bezels on the smaller Pixel 2 are too big, and I wish the XL was a little smaller.


Let's talk about cameras. It will be nerdy.

If there's any single thing that makes a great phone great, it’s the camera. Last year's Pixel was the best camera you could get on a phone for nearly a year, so the Pixel 2 has a lot to live up to. And if there's any place where Google is going out on a limb with the Pixel 2, it's with the choices it made on the camera.

Rather than go with dual lenses and a camera bump like Apple, Google is sticking to a single lens on the back and pairing it to a pile of innovations that — like the phones themselves — seem iterative when taken individually. But taken together and put through the filter of Google's machine learning, I think they have a chance to be something really special.

Here are some of the hardware changes Google is cramming into its camera stack:

  • It's switching to a dual-pixel sensor on the back, which means that every single pixel is made of two smaller ones.
  • It's adding optical image stabilization for photos and videos, in addition to electronic image stabilization.
  • The dual-pixel setup means that the pixels in the sensor are slightly smaller than last year's Pixel: 1.4μm vs. 1.55μm.
  • To compensate for the smaller pixels, the aperture on the lens is opening up to let in more light: f/1.8 compared to last year's f/2.0.
  • Although it gets more advanced phase detection for focus with the dual pixels, it's keeping laser autofocus, too.
  • It's individually calibrating each phone in the factory to account for the tiny distortions that are inevitable on every camera lens.
To be very, very clear: I have only taken a few dozen photos with these phones, and I was using preproduction software, so it is way too early for me to render any kind of judgement. That said, I am impressed with the results I've seen so far.

It's dangerous to judge based on so few shots, but: if Google can consistently produce similar results to what I've already seen, it has made a big leap over last year's Pixel camera, and stands a strong chance of contending with the dual-lens / camera bump system on the iPhone 8 (and presumably the iPhone X). Note: the images you're seeing in this article are Google's own sample images, so of course you should take them with a grain of salt.


As it does every year, Google is playing around with how you Google on the Google phone.

The biggest change — and the biggest gimmick — is that you can squeeze the sides of the Pixel 2 to launch the Google Assistant. Mario Queiroz, VP of product management for Google's consumer hardware division, says, "What we tried to do with Active Edge was not make it a gimmick, [but instead ask] how could it perform a useful function." One of those functions is also silencing the phone when it's ringing.

The squeeze works, but you have to get used to it a little. It took me a minute to figure out that a quick squeeze works better than a death grip.