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Google Pixel 2 review: Pixel 2 still has an amazing camera, but its followup is expected later this year

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The Good Google's Pixel 2 has a superb camera with OIS and excellent low-light shooting. It's water-resistant and Google Lens calls up a trove of information to help you explore your surroundings.

The Bad The phone's battery doesn't keep pace with the Pixel's competitors and its Portrait Mode isn't as smooth on dual-camera phones. Its design feels dated and it doesn't have wireless charging or a headphone jack.

The Bottom Line Buy the Pixel 2 for one of the best cameras on any Android phone and fast Google updates, but be aware that an upgrade is likely coming in a few months.

8.6 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 9
  • Camera 9
  • Battery 8

Update, June 5, 2018

The Google Pixel 2 reviewed here launched in October 2017 to positive reviews, cementing Google's place as a serious smartphone competitor. In addition to impressing Android users, the Pixel 2 also managed to entice iPhone users away from the iPhone X.

Eight months down the line, we still think the Pixel 2 and larger Pixel 2 XL has one of the best cameras on Android phones. While we wait for the rumored Pixel 3 and 3 XL in October, the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus are becoming the new Android frontrunners with their dual rear-facing cameras and coveted headphone jacks. And the Galaxy Note 9 is expected to hit in August, weeks before the new iPhones are likely to hit.

Check out CNET's best smartphones for more information on competitive products.

The review of the Pixel 2 -- originally published Oct. 17, 2017 and last updated Oct. 26, 2017, and otherwise is mostly unchanged -- follows.

Last year's inaugural Pixel was such a slam dunk, I expected this year's Google Pixel 2 -- and larger Pixel 2 XL -- to carry Google's phone even further.

In the most important ways, it has. The Pixel 2 has the best camera quality of any Android phone, and updates like water resistance and a best-in-class processor make it a top pick. The Android Oreo software will get regular updates, and Google's Lens feature taps into Google's vast search database so you can immediately learn more about the world around you.

In other ways, the Pixel 2 bucks big trends, foregoing the dual cameras seen in most of its competitors. Bokeh-effect pictures don't look quite as elegant as those on the Apple iPhone 8 Plus ($750 at Best Buy) and the Pixel 2's battery is so-so compared to its top-tier rivals. The Pixel also doesn't flaunt super-thin bezels, so it looks less sexy than the Samsung Galaxy S8 ($400 at B&H Photo-Video) and Note 8. And lastly, I really do miss that headphone jack.

But the Pixel 2 is a fantastic phone for Android purists and casual fans alike. Putting aside Portrait Mode, it still has an impressive camera that can handle all sorts of tricky environments like low light, shadows and brightly lit backgrounds. In the end, the Pixel 2 mostly holds its own against the iPhone 8 Plus and Galaxy Note 8 ($455 at Amazon), with a few omissions (like Portrait Mode and battery life, respectively). And while the Pixel 2 isn't exciting or particularly beautiful, its whole outweighs the sum of its parts.

If you prefer a bigger display and have the budget, however, you may be interested in the 6-inch Pixel 2 XL. But be aware that there have been reported issues with its display in early review models, which I detail later.

See a full specs comparison at the end of this review.

Pixel 2 pricing and sale date

The phone is available through Verizon, the Google Store, Project Fi and Best Buy. The Pixel 2 comes in three colors: Kinda Blue, Just Black and Clearly White, and costs $649 (64GB) and $749 (128GB).

Google Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL pricing

Pixel 2 (64GB) $649 £629 AU$1,079
Pixel 2 (128GB) $749 £729 AU$1,229
Pixel 2 XL (64GB) $849 £799 AU$1,399
Pixel 2 XL (128GB) $949 £899 AU$1,549

Pixel 2 vs. Pixel 2 XL: What's the difference?

The differences between the two phones come down to price (obviously), size, bezel width and screen technology. The Pixel 2 XL has a bigger 6-inch display and a higher resolution than the 5-inch Pixel 2. It also uses a plastic-OLED (POLED) display, while the Pixel 2 has a more traditional AMOLED screen. Other than this, the phones are the same including their hardware and software features.

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The 6-inch Pixel 2 XL (left) and the 5-inch Pixel 2 (right).

Josh Miller/CNET

There have been reported issues about the display on the Pixel 2 XL though. One is screen burn-in, wherein remnants of images remain on the screen despite not being actively displayed. Screen burn-in does happen on different types of displays, but usually after some time. The fact that it's happening on such a premium and expensive phone so soon is a red flag. Google issued a statement saying that the Pixel 2 XL's burn-in issue was "in line with that of other premium smartphones and should not affect the normal, day-to-day user experience" (despite the fact that we didn't see evidence of burn-in on the Pixel 2, LG V30 or Galaxy S8). The company promises ongoing software updates starting in the next few weeks that will optimize the phone against burn-in and extended both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL's warranty to two years.

Right now, we don't know how serious or how widespread the burn-in issue is (are these anecdotal issues with an early batch of screens, or are they symptomatic of an endemic problem with the product?), or how well Google's upcoming software updates will help ameliorate the problem. In the meantime, we're keeping an eye on our other Pixel 2 XLs to see how they fare over time with normal use.

Another, more minor issue is that the Pixel 2 XL's display looks more muted and washed-out compared to others like the Galaxy S8 and LG V30 ($750 at Walmart), the latter of which has the same POLED screen with the same resolution. There's also a bluish hue that's visible when tilting the phone at different angles (this is known as blue shift). Google stated that based on user feedback about this issue, it will add a new mode for saturated colors through a software update in the coming weeks. While the Pixel 2 XL's screen isn't indeed as vibrant as its competitors, I don't view the first problem as a deal breaker. As for the blue shift, this is a hardware issue you'll find on most phones if you tilt the screen far enough. How wide you want this tilting window to be depends on your tolerance.

Google Pixel 2 vs. Pixel 2 XL

Google Pixel 2 Google Pixel 2 XL
Display size, resolution 5-inch AMOLED; 1,920x1080 pixels 6-inch POLED; 2,880x1x440 pixels
Pixel density 441 ppi 538 ppi
Aspect ratio 16:9 18:9
Dimensions (inches) 5.7x2.7x0.3 in 6.2x3.0x0.3 in
Dimensions (millimeters) 145.7x69.7x7.8 mm 157.9x76.7x7.9 mm
Weight (ounces, grams) 5.04 oz; 143g 6.17 oz; 175g
Colors Just Black, Cleary White, Kinda Blue Just Black, Black and White

Squeezable sides and water resistance, but no headphone jack

Compared to the super-slim bezels of the Galaxy Note 8, LG V30 and iPhone X ($630 at Walmart), the Pixel 2 looks thick and frankly, a little boring. The design does allow for front-facing speakers, which create an even, robust sound, and the glass shade on the back looks tidier and cleaner. Still, the Pixel 2's thicker bezels make it look dated compared to other top phones.

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In the box, you'll get a USB-C to headphone jack dongle.

Josh Miller/CNET

There's also the disappointing matter of the headset jack, which goes the way of the iPhone and Motorola Moto phones. Even if the design change made the Pixel 2 thinner and leaves space for a bigger battery, the omission is kind of a drag for people who have a pair of great wired headphones or earbuds they'd rather keep using without an adaptor dongle (which comes included in the box).

But it's not all bad -- the Pixel 2 is water-resistant. I submerged both the Pixel 2 and 2 XL twice in a bucket filled with a foot of water (that's well under their IP67 standard rating, which dictates a maximum depth of 1 meter, or about 3 feet) for a little over 28 minutes. They both worked fine immediately after each dunk.

Lastly, Google borrowed the HTC U11's pressure-sensitive sides. Squeeze the phone to open Google Assistant and tell it what to do. (This is in addition to launching Assistant by saying "OK, Google" or long-pressing the home button.) You can also squeeze the Pixel 2's sides to silence your ringing phone, but that's it. In general, I didn't use the squeeze feature all that much, and it would be better if you could program the squeeze to launch an app of your choice. Out of habit, I mostly launched Assistant through the Home button.

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