Google today announced the latest generation of its Pixel smartphones, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. The little one has a five-inch display and costs £629 for the 64GB version and £729 for the 128GB, while the bigger boy has a six-inch display and will cost £799 and £899.
It’s the XL that’s seen the most radical aesthetic change since the original Pixel, with a larger OLED display that now covers most of the face of the phone and a slightly curved screen edge that partially hides the side bezels. The rear of both phones will be familiar to existing Pixel users: a metallic case with an upper glass panel housing a (slightly larger, and poking out) camera.
In what’s become a fun habit for Google, the company took a few cheeky shots at arch-rival Apple during the presentation. It indirectly claims superior screen quality over the iPhone with a 100,000:1 contrast ratio, and boasts that users won’t have to make a tradeoff between phone size and features, as both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are identical, specifications-wise, apart from their displays. And Pixel users – who Google says upload enough photos to fill an iCloud account in three months – will continue to receive free unlimited storage on Google Photos with the Pixel 2.
That said, Google has happily followed Apple down the path of ditching the 3.5mm jack, which means the phone requires wireless headphones or a USB Type-C dongle. And their camera now snaps short, three-second videos alongside each photograph you take – albeit gussied up with some fancy machine learning algorithms that promise only to save the decent animations. Some ideas, it seems, are too good not to swipe.
That machine learning makes the Pixel 2 camera pop too. Rather than using a set of dual-cameras to achieve a portrait-mode effect (the effect that blurs backgrounds to mimic the depth-of-field effect seen in SLR cameras) the phone has a single sensor that uses a mix of hardware and artificial intelligence to detect and isolate subjects. The benefit of being able to do this in a single lens means the effect is available on the front-facing camera too.
Otherwise, general photo quality is sharp in the brief play I had with the handset. In the low-light conditions of the grungy Oxford Street event space it produced clear images. This is the first phone with Google Lens built in too. Point your camera at something and Google Assistant will tell you what, who or where it is, extracting URLs and email addresses from business cards or reeling off information about the landmark you’re in front of.
Another machine-learning trick: the Pixel 2’s microphones automatically identify music and show the name of the track on the always on display, even when offline. How? Something approximating magic, I’d guess.
These kinds of software tricks are what will set the Pixel 2 apart from other phones, or so Google hopes. Certainly, it’s not a totally remarkable looking device – it feels premium, new, and occupies the same high-but-level playing field as its rivals – but its a phone backed up by Google’s rapidly advancing software prowess.
Google’s unique strength, and what sets it apart, is its Googleness. And the Pixel 2 looks to be the most Googley piece of hardware they’ve made.
Full review to follow.