So today is the day that the Google Pixel 2 XL finally launches in Singapore.
Last month, we were in San Francisco for its launch at the #MadeByGoogle event alongside a whole host of cool stuff which unfortunately won’t be coming to Singapore – well, except the Pixel Buds.
We’re a little late to the review party but we actually did get to try out the phone the week after we got back from the US.
While much has been said about the phone on the internet since we got the phone, I’m just going to talk about the unit that I had – the good, the bad, and the ugly
The Pixel 2 XL Is Truly Made By Google
To put it bluntly, in terms of hardware, Google didn’t introduce anything that any of their Android partners didn’t already have.
Everything felt familiar.
A large and near bezel-less display in a compact body, Snapdragon 835 with 4GB of RAM, with the kicker this year being the removal of its headphone jack.
Google has never gotten themselves into the specifications arms race with any of their devices, but what they do best is in the software.
The untouched, unadulterated Android experience is the star of the show here, backed by Google Assistant as your personal voice assistant for your everyday tasks.
Android 8.0 Oreo was a joy to use.
The subtle improvements to the user interface, while not immediately noticeable, made using the phone the smoothest of any Android device.
Everything just felt right.
The squeezable sides of the phone which Google calls the Active Edge actually made me use the Assistant more than before. Saying “Ok/Hey Google” still feels awkward for me.
Best thing is, Google Assistant is now available in Singapore English.
Google is big on localisation, and with this update, you can now use Assistant with a higher degree of accuracy when searching for uniquely Singaporean results – like navigating to the nearest POSB branch or NTUC Fairprice.
Google Lens is another feature that will come in useful when you need it.
I popped in some old photos from Europe, and it can handily show me the exact location and landmark where it was taken.
Personal favourites also include the Pixel 2 XL’s default live wallpapers, which I could stare at all day. And speaking of staring at something all day, I could do that with the Now Playing function as well.
There’s just something magical about being in the back of a noisy Uber ride with the music turned way down and yet the phone is still able to know what song is playing.
Finally, more than just giving you unlimited storage for full resolution photos and videos, Google Photos actually does genuinely cool stuff with you photos.
The AI behind the app is actually able to generate animated gif files from sequential photos and short videos, or even turn suitable photos into monochrome if it looks better.
The Legendary Camera Returns
When it was announced, the Pixel 2 XL was the highest rated camera on DXOMark with a score of 98, and until today still holds that crown despite the release of newer competitors.
While their testing methodologies remain debatable, you cannot deny that the Pixel 2 XL continues the precedent set by the first Pixel as the phone to beat where mobile photography is concerned.
As I’ve found out while documenting a Taoist festival in Singapore, the camera doesn’t skip a beat in the most testing of situations.
The stabilisation in the camera smooths out the video, even in low light, making it seem like it was not taken handheld (it was).
It was no DSLR, but for what it could muster, the camera performed admirably and was undoubtedly the best out of any smartphone I’ve used this year.
Even though it dominates in low-light, its portrait mode still needs work.
Unlike its contemporaries, Google has opted for a single lens approach and instead using software to simulate background blur from the camera’s depth information.
Addressing The Concerns On The Internet
You might have heard and read that for all the good things about the Pixel 2 XL, people have found that there is one glaring problem with it – its display.
The screen didn’t quite bother me when I first used it, but that was until I started to extensively take and edit photos.
The end photos weren’t bad, but what caught me off guard was how different it looked when viewed from a computer monitor as compared to viewing on the phone itself.
But I’m a photography enthusiast, so I tend to notice these things immediately.
If you’re the type who uploads the hypebeast, dark, grungy kind of photos on Instagram, just know that your edits might seem brighter than usual when your followers view them.
Why You Should Still Get It
This is the only phone sold in Singapore that gives you the Android experience as Google meant it to be.
That said, the bare necessities that this phone possesses may not suit the tastes of those of you accustomed to skinned Android UI like those by Samsung, which offers added features.
Screen-wise, the issues raised might not be that big of a deal breaker.
While you can’t exactly change the hardware, Google is at least trying to alleviate the issues by pushing out software updates.
Those of you who did pre-order and received yours today, welcome to #teampixel!
For everyone else, check where your priorities lie before committing.
If mobile photography is your jam, you can’t do better than the Google Pixel 2 XL.