If you were impressed with last year’s Pixels, prepare to be blown away by this year’s Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL.
The new flagship handsets build on everything that was great about the original Pixels and then some. After a few short demos following Google’s event today, it’s already clear the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are more than capable of competing with the best Android phones and, yes, the iPhone 8.
Both HTC-made handsets have a similar design to their predecessors, with a few notable exceptions. First, neither has a headphone jack, which was maybe inevitable but is still somewhat of a bummer. Both phones also have noticeably smaller bezels than the first generation Pixel and Pixel XL.
The original Pixel had a significant bottom bezel that always felt a little bit like wasted space. The latest phones, though, have trimmed down a lot of that extra space, which makes the phones feel more compact even though they’ve maintained the same display size as last year’s models.
The back of the phones are largely unchanged with nearly identical placement for the fingerprint sensor (still in the middle of the back side) and the rear-facing camera, which has moved slightly but is still exactly where you’d expect.
Google has, however, changed up its color schemes this year. The Pixel 2 is now available in a “Kinda Blue” color in addition to the standard black and white versions. The Pixel 2 XL comes in a (rather aptly named) “Just Black” color as well as a “Black and White” model.
A phone you can squeeze
One of the biggest rumors leading up to today’s launch was that Google would be adding a new hardware-based gesture for Google Assistant with a new “squeezable frame.” Similar to HTC’s U11, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL have built-in sensors to enable this gesture, which calls up the Assistant.
Squeeze the sides of the phone, and you’ll feel a bit of haptic feedback to let you know the gesture was successful (along with the Google Assistant dialog popping up.)
I was initially worried that the sides could be too sensitive, so that sliding your phone into your pocket could accidentally trigger the assistant. But in practice, the gesture actually requires a surprising amount of pressure. It’s still definitely possible to trigger it by accident, but it doesn’t seem like it will happen as often as I had thought.
Of course, the idea of “squeezing” your phone may seem a bit odd, but it really doesn’t feel any less natural than pushing a button or swiping on your screen. And I much prefer it to Samsung’s infuriating Bixby button, which I constantly press by accident.
About the camera
The camera was one of the most hyped features on the original Pixels, so it’s no surprise that Google dedicated significant time in today’s launch event to discuss the many, many new camera features in the Pixel 2.
The crowded demo rooms of launch events are pretty far from the ideal place to test a camera, so we’ll have to wait for our full review to really put the cameras to the test, but I walked away impressed from my first look.
For starters, Google has added a new portrait mode to the Pixel 2 camera. While Apple and other manufacturers rely on dual camera to achieve the depth effect, Google instead used software to achieve it. This is also why portrait mode works on the selfie camera, as well as the rear shooter.
The company also added its own version of Apple’s Live Photos with a feature it calls “motion photos.”
Again, I wasn’t able to fully test these features, but my first impression was that they’re easily as good as what I have on my iPhone 7 Plus.
In fact, Google seems to have made a concerted effort to not just make its phones more competitive with Apple in every way that it counts, but to also showcase exactly why you should buy into their ecosystem. The phones are lightning fast, have the best camera Google has ever made, and make using Google Assistant way more intuitive.