Google Pixel 2 XL's display has another problem

Your eyes don't deceive you -- some Pixel 2 XL screens have a burn-in issue.

Lynn La Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones
Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.
Lynn La
4 min read
Josh Miller/CNET

Editors' Note: Updated on Oct. 25, 2017, with further observations of the Pixel 2 XL's screen burn-in problem and Google's initial remarks on the issue, as well as Oct. 26, with the company's followup statement detailing a software fix and extended two-year warranty.

Once again, the Pixel 2 XL is catching flak over its screen.

As first reported Monday by Android Central, some Google Pixel 2 XL phones are suffering from screen burn-in, meaning remnants of images linger on the screen despite not being actively displayed.

In two of the five Pixel 2 XL phones CNET received, we saw evidence of screen burn-in. In my review unit, I saw it while viewing a gray color swatch at 2,880x1,440-pixel resolution (Android Central suggests a black or red color swatch, but we found gray highlighted the problem more easily). I saw noticeable 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, suggesting that this issue is more persistent than image retention (a temporary form of screen burn-in). 

However, when we ran the same test on three other Pixel 2 XLs, we didn't see any burn-in effects on them. When we checked the bottom and top of the display for signs of the hotkeys or the time, it was all a monotone gray. 

Watch this: Why are people talking about the Pixel 2 XL screen?

Though screen burn-in does happen on different types of displays, OLED screens (which the Pixel 2 XL has) are more prone to it. The Nexus 6 reportedly had similar issues in the past. But it usually happens after some time, and the fact that it's happening on such a premium and expensive phone so soon is a red flag. With my review unit, I've only had it for a week and since that time, its screen has been on for no more than a couple of hours at a time per day.

Google Pixel 2 XL screen burn-in
Enlarge Image
Google Pixel 2 XL screen burn-in

Faint remnants of the onscreen navigational buttons are seen in the Pixel 2 XL display.

Josh Miller/CNET

We also didn't notice this problem when we displayed the same gray swatch (adjusted for the phones' respective resolution) on the displays of the smaller Pixel 2  and Galaxy S8 , and on the LG V30 , which has a POLED (a plastic variant of OLED) screen like the Pixel 2 XL's and with the same resolution.

This comes hot on the heels of last week's development, in which the Pixel 2 XL's screen got grief for its muted colors and the bluish hue that was viewable when tilting the phone at different angles (this is known as blue shift). Though these concerns were noticeable, we concluded that the issue wasn't a deal breaker since you could only see the differences when compared side by side with the Galaxy S8 and LG V30, and on its own, the Pixel 2 XL still had a sharp and vibrant screen.

With the screen burn-in issue however, you don't need to compare it with anything to see the problem staring back at you.

Pixel 2 and 2 XL photos: Feast your eyes

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Google told CNET that it was "actively investigating" the problem and issued this statement:

The Pixel 2 XL screen has been designed with an advanced POLED technology, including QHD+ resolution, wide color gamut, and high contrast ratio for natural and beautiful colors and renderings. We put all of our products through extensive quality testing before launch and in the manufacturing of every unit. We are actively investigating this report.

The problem shouldn't affect your day-to-day experience with the Pixel 2 XL, and when we tested to see its effect on YouTube, an app that uses the entirety of the Pixel 2 XL's display, I generally didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. (Though I could see ghostly outlines of the hotkeys when I went looking for it; that is, right when a video happened to show light colors at the right side of the screen for more than a few seconds.) 

For pixel peepers whose phones have this issue, this will be irksome to the eye -- especially when you consider you coughed up at least $849, £799 or AU$1,399 for the phone. If you see the problem on your Pixel 2 XL, you can return it to the Google Store within 15 days after you received it, and you're entitled to a limited warranty that lasts one year from the date you bought the phone. As for returns specifically due to screen burn-in, Google said that the warranty covers a number of areas, but it will evaluate claims on a case-by-case basis to find the most relevant solution.

If you deem that these display problems aren't enough reason to avoid the phone altogether, we think the Pixel 2 XL is still an excellent phone. Again, we saw the issue in two of the five review units that we had on hand, and we're just generally impressed with the phone's superior camera prowess and useful Google Lens feature.

We're continuing to keep an eye on this screen issue in the coming days, to see if it pops up in other Pixel 2 XLs over time with normal use. In the meantime, if having a superlative screen is a priority for you (and that's totally fine if it is), you may want to consider another premium phone such as the smaller Pixel 2, Galaxy S8 or LG V30 as your top choice instead.