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Google Pixel 2 XL review: Promising phone with new caveats

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Google said it will roll out software updates that will minimize burn-in with the navigational bar and hotkey buttons.

Josh Miller/CNET

Is that all?

There's another, more minor screen concern. Google has deliberately calibrated the Pixel 2 XL display to have a more muted and washed-out appearance than what you'll find on the Galaxy S8 ($305 at Amazon). There's also a bluish hue that's visible when tilting the phone at different angles (this is known as blue shift).

While the Pixel 2 XL's screen isn't as vibrant as some of its competitors, I don't view this problem as a deal-breaker. The display is still sharp and bright, and you can only see differences when comparing these phones side-by-side. It comes down to a matter of personal preference: If you want to see more saturated colors (that aren't necessarily accurate), go with the Galaxy S8. If not, the Pixel 2 XL is completely satisfactory. 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.

Unlike the issue of burn-in, though, software changes could ameliorate the Pixel 2 XL's color palette quickly. Google stated (again, as of Oct. 26) 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.

What's CNET's take?

To pixel peepers -- anyone for whom screen quality and color accuracy is a top priority -- these issues can be irksome, and if having a superlative screen is a priority for you (and that's totally fine if it is), I suggest a few great alternatives below. That includes the smaller Pixel 2, which has the same camera features, software goodies and processing speeds as the Pixel 2 XL, but uses a different AMOLED screen.

In the meantime, we're keeping an eye on our other Pixel 2 XLs to see how they fare over time with normal use. 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.

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If having a phone with the best-of-the-best display is your top priority, skip the Pixel 2 XL.

Josh Miller/CNET

As such, we aren't changing our review rating for now, but we may do so at any point in the future when and if warranted by continued testing or third-party reports.

If these display problems don't deter you from the Pixel 2 XL's roomy size, promptly updated Android software and peak performance, the phone is still otherwise great. It's also entirely possible that your unit will be problem-free.

If you opt for the XL, we'd recommend that you take a look at it in real life to make sure you're happy with the screen's color palette, and compare it side-by-side with the standard Pixel 2 and Samsung Galaxy phones. When purchasing, verify the vendor's return policy -- again, the Google Store is the safest bet -- and pay close attention to the screen while in the 15-day return period.

Pixel 2 XL pricing and sale date

The phone is available through Verizon, the Google Store, Project Fi and Best Buy. The Pixel 2 XL comes in two color variants: Just Black and Black and White (which reminds us of a tuxedo/penguin/panda) and costs $849 (64GB) and $949 (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
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With the Pixel 2 XL's bigger display, comes a more immersive viewing experience.

Josh Miller/CNET

Pixel 2 XL vs. the competitors

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If you love the Google phone, the Pixel 2 is a smaller, less expensive alternative.

Josh Miller/CNET
  • Pixel 2: If the 2 XL is out of your budget, the Pixel 2 has all the same hardware, software goodies and extended warranty in a smaller package. Your eyes will feast on a smaller screen, but you're also likely dodging some of the 2 XL's display issues. Also, while its battery may have a lower capacity, it lasts about the same as the Pixel 2 XL. In our lab test for continuous video playback on Airplane mode, the Pixel 2 lasted 13 hours and 28 minutes while the 2 XL clocked in 13 hours and 50 minutes.
  • Galaxy Note 8: I mostly prefer the Pixel 2 XL's image quality, but the Galaxy Note 8 ($420 at Amazon) is sleeker looking, has a longer-lasting battery and its embedded S Pen stylus puts more productivity tools at your fingerprints. Portrait mode on the main camera works slightly better than the Pixel 2 XL, but I like that Google's phone also applies Portrait Mode to the front-facing camera.
  • LG V30: CNET's final review of the V30 is coming soon, but during our time with it so far, we can see that its cameras on a commercial unit aren't as superb as the Pixel 2 XL, Samsung Galaxy or Apple iPhone ($599 at Amazon). However, get the V30 if you want a high-end phone that has a headphone jack and tons of video-editing tools.
  • OnePlus 5: The OnePlus 5 ($729 at Amazon) won't get the Pixel 2 XL's prompt Android updates. But for about $370 cheaper, the OnePlus 5 saves you serious dough, gets you comparable specs and has a strong camera, too. But, good luck finding one -- it's out of stock in the US, UK and Australia at the time of writing, and its widely rumored sequel, the OnePlus 5T, has already been spotted online.
  • iPhone 8 Plus: If you're in the Apple and iOS ecosystem, or want the best dual-camera setup around, the iPhone 8 Plus ($699 at Amazon) (or the upcoming iPhone X) makes sense. If you're on the fence, the Pixel 2 XL's quick OS updates make it the Android phone most like the iPhone.

Google Pixel 2 XL spec comparison

Google Pixel 2 XL Google Pixel 2 Samsung Galaxy Note 8 LG V30 iPhone 8 Plus
Display size, resolution 6-inch; 2,880x1,440 pixels 5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels 6.3-inch; 2,960x1,440 pixels 6-inch; 2,880x1,440 pixels 5.5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 538 ppi 441 ppi 522 ppi 538 ppi 401 ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.2x3.0x0.3 in 5.7x2.7x0.3 in 6.4x2.9x0.34 in 6x3x0.29 in 6.24x3.07x0.30 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 157.9x76.7x7.9mm 145.7x69.7x7.8mm 162.5x74.8x8.6mm 151.7x75.4x7.3mm 158.4x78.1x7.5mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 6.17 oz; 175g 5.04 oz; 143g 6.9 oz, 195g 5.57 oz; 158g 7.13 oz; 202g
Mobile software Android 8.0 Oreo Android 8.0 Oreo Android 7.1.1 Nougat Android 7.1.2 Nougat iOS 11
Camera 12.2-megapixel 12.2-megapixel Dual 12-megapixel 16-megapixel (standard), 13-megapixel (wide) Dual 12-megapixel
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel 8-megapixel 8-megapixel 5-megapixel 7-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K 4K 4K 4K
Processor Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (2.35GHz+1.9GHz) or Octa-core Samsung Exynos 8895 (2.35GHz+1.7GHz) Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Apple A11 Bionic
Storage 64GB, 128GB 64GB, 128GB 64GB 64GB, 128GB 64GB, 256GB
Expandable storage None None Up to 2TB Up to 2TB None
Battery 3,520mAh 2,700mAh 3,300mAh 3,300mAh 2,675mAh (unconfirmed by Apple)
Fingerprint sensor Back cover Back cover Back cover Back cover Home button (Touch ID)
Connector USB-C USB-C USB-C USB-C Lightning
Headphone jack No No Yes Yes No
Special features Water resistant (IP67); Google Lens; unlimited photo cloud storage Water resistant (IP67); Google Lens; unlimited photo cloud storage Water resistant (IP68); S Pen stylus; wireless charging Water resistant (IP68); wireless charging; wide-angle camera Water resistant (IP67); wireless charging
Price off-contract (USD) $849 (64GB), $949 (128GB) $649 (64GB), $749 (128GB) AT&T: $950; Verizon: $960; T-Mobile: $930; Sprint: $960; U.S. Cellular: $963 AT&T: $810; Verizon: $840: T-Mobile: $800; Sprint: $912 $799 (64GB), $949 (256GB)
Price (GBP) £799 (64GB), £899 (128GB) £629 (64GB), £729 (128GB) £869 TBA £799 (64GB), £949 (256GB)
Price (AUD) AU$1,399 (64GB), AU$1,549 (128GB) AU$1,079 (64GB), AU$1,229 (128GB) AU$1,499 TBA AU$1,229 (64GB), AU$1,479 (256GB)

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