Google Pixel 2 XL review: Promising phone with new caveats

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The Good The Pixel 2 XL perks up the already excellent Pixel 2 with more screen space. It has a fantastic camera, waterproofing and the Google Lens feature that helps you learn more about the world around you.

The Bad The camera's Portrait Mode doesn't work as smoothly as its competitors' dual camera. Its battery doesn't last as long as others in its caliber and the phone has no headphone jack or wireless charging. The displays on some handsets have irksome screen problems.

The Bottom Line A bigger, sharper screen and thinner bezels make the Pixel 2 XL the more desirable Google phone, but some early units have been dogged by screen issues.

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

Editors' note: This review was originally published Oct. 17, 2017 at 6 a.m. PT. It was updated on Oct. 23 detailing the Pixel 2 XL's screen burn-in issue, on Oct. 25 with further observations and Google's initial remarks, and on Oct. 26 with the company's follow-up statement detailing a software fix and extended two-year warranty.

When it comes to the camera, processor and software, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are both identical and fantastic. The differences between the two come down to price (obviously), size, bezel width and screen technology. We loved our early experience with the Pixel 2 XL, but any potential buyers need to know about some problems with its screen that have come to light since we first reviewed the phone, and the upcoming software fix Google says will address it.

Wait, what's happening?

The Pixel 2 XL has a bigger 6-inch display and a higher resolution than the 5-inch Pixel 2. But it also uses a different technology, a plastic-OLED (POLED) display, while the Pixel 2 has a more traditional AMOLED screen.

Within the first week of its availability, there have been reports of the Pixel 2 XL display exhibiting screen burn-in, wherein remnants of earlier images remain on the screen, despite not being actively displayed. In two of the five Pixel 2 XLs we have, we saw evidence of screen burn-in.

With our review unit, you can see burn-in with the navigational buttons.

Josh Miller/CNET

When I displayed a gray color swatch on my review unit, I saw outlines of the notification bar (which includes the time and battery status) and the navigational hotkeys at the bottom of the display. These faint lines still lingered after the display was turned off overnight and after running a screen burn-in fix video, which suggests that this issue is more persistent than image retention (a temporary form of screen burn-in).

Screen burn-in is a known issue that affects various types of displays where images -- like on-screen navigation buttons -- remain in the same spot for an extended period of time. The Nexus 6, which had an AMOLED screen, reportedly had similar issues. But it usually happens after some time, and the fact that it's happening on a phone as expensive as the Pixel 2 XL so soon is concerning. We haven't seen burn-in issues in the smaller Pixel 2, the LG V30 ($200 at Amazon) (which also has a POLED display) or the Galaxy S8.

Keep in mind, however, that when we ran the same gray swatch test on three other Pixel 2 XLs, we didn't see any burn-in effects on them -- not yet, anyway.

When I tested to see its effect on YouTube videos, an app that uses the entirety of the phone's display, I generally didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. But I could see ghostly outlines of the hotkeys when I went looking for them. They showed up when a video happened to show light colors at the right side of the screen for more than a few seconds.

What can I do if I'm affected?

We don't know how many units are affected. Upon investigating the issue, Google announced on Oct. 26 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, again, we didn't see burn-in on the 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, stating:

We're currently testing a software update that further enhances protections against this issue by adding a new fade-out of the navigation bar buttons at the bottom of the Pixel screen after a short period of inactivity. In addition, we're working with more apps to use a light navigation bar to match their app's color scheme. The update will also reduce the maximum brightness of the Pixel 2 XL by a virtually imperceptible 50 cd/m2 (nits), thereby significantly reducing load on the screen with an almost undetectable change in the observed brightness.

The new saturated color mode mentioned above, the fade-out of icons on the navigation bar, more use of a white as a navigation bar color, and the max brightness curve change will be available as an update to Pixel 2 XL in the next few weeks.

Those who purchased the Pixel 2 XL through the Google Store can return it within 15 calendar days after they received it. Pixel 2 and 2 XL users specifically are entitled to a two-year warranty worldwide (extended from one year, as of Oct. 26) so long as the phone was purchased through an authorized retailer. (For more information, read about how to return your Pixel 2 XL).

Note, however, that the Google Store generally has more liberal return policies than other retailers. That's why it's best to purchase Pixel phones there, rather than through a carrier or other retailer. We've reached out to Verizon about its return policy specifically related to the Pixel 2 XL. In the mean time, inquire with your local Verizon retailer to initiate a return.