Tuesday , June 5 2018

After using Google’s Pixel 2 XL, I don’t want to use another phone. Here’s why.

I suppose you might think I’ve been kind of spoiled; I’ve been able to use the Pixel 2 XL for the last couple of weeks before most of them have even arrived in Australia. I had initial reservations about some of the flaws with the screen, but after a couple of weeks’ use, and now staring down the barrel of going back to another phone … I think the Pixel 2 XL has ruined me.

You see, for all the quibbling (which we’ve participated in) about blue shift, about screen burn-in, and about muted colours, the Pixel 2 XL screen is delicious, and it’s part of a package that ultimately is very satisfying to use. Switching back to the Samsung Galaxy S8 last night — as the Pixel 2 XL is off to Alex Choros for a while — was a sobering experience. Not only is the software treacle-slow by comparison, but the screen is so vivid, the colours so overwhelming, that I found switching back positively painful.

Some people have pointed out that you can turn off Samsung’s vivid colours, and you can. But even turned off, they’re still well over-saturated, and if you use the blue light filter to use your phone at night without straining your eyes, those vivid colours come right back (and then you can’t turn them off).

There’s a bit more to the story. I hadn’t used the Galaxy S8 for a couple of weeks, and so it had a hundred software updates to download. Fair enough, but it slowed the phone to a crawl and chewed through battery like it was candy. Samsung’s own proprietary apps decided to update, too, and you can’t easily stop them. As readers have pointed out, you can turn off Samsung’s Galaxy Apps auto-update feature, too, but it isn’t as easily found for the novice user as it is for Google Play’s automatic updates.

All these software updates turned a slow experience to an even slower one. In fact, the whole experience nearly killed the phone — it lost 20% battery within half an hour running these updates. Even after it had finished, and allowing the phone the luxury of a reboot to clear out the cobwebs after so many updates, the phone still felt slow. It felt like I was doing battle with Samsung’s operating system. Screen touches didn’t feel as responsive. Apps were not as quick to launch. All in all, I wasn’t happy.

To be clear, this isn’t a criticism of Samsung’s Galaxy S8, one of the better phones released in recent years. It’s more a commentary on the state of Android as interpreted by the various OEMs — it simply isn’t as good as it could, or should be.

There’s areas where criticism of the Pixel 2 XL is due; the screen isn’t perfect, and that’s about it. Some of these issues can be fixed over time, and Google has already taken steps to minimise the incidence of burn-in. Other flaws can’t be fixed, but equally, aren’t terminal.

Where the Pixel 2 XL excels (ha-ha), conclusively, is the battery life (seven hours screen-on time is insane), the camera quality (it makes Samsung’s look childish), and the lightning speed of the software. App updates are handled quickly and don’t slow the phone to a crawl. The software remains ultra-responsive.
It’s simply a joy to use.

I know, you might think it an unfair comparison, a phone from March 2017 vs one from October 2017. Let’s be honest, though. Samsung had ahead-of-the-game internals in March, and there’s no reason in hardware why the Galaxy S8 should be significantly different an experience to the Pixel 2 range. In fact, in many markets, the Galaxy S8 is sold with the exact same processor – a Snapdragon 835 – so Samsung’s phone being a few months older is a red herring.

It comes down to software, and if you want the best experience you can have on Android, the Pixel 2 line is where it’s found, flaws and all.

And no, the screen ‘flaws’ don’t affect your ongoing use. At all.

Chris Rowland   Editor and Publisher

Chris has been at the forefront of smartphone reporting in Australia since smartphones were a thing, and has used mobile phones since they came with giant lead-acid batteries that were "transportable" and were carried in a shoulder bag. He saw the transition from AMPS to GSM, loved the Motorola StarTac, and got into Palm technologies in a big way. The arrival some years later of the original iPhone, and then the early Androids, awoke a new interest in mobile technology, and Chris has been writing about it since.

Today, Chris publishes one of Australia's most popular technology websites, Ausdroid. His interests include mobile (of course), as well as connected technology and how it can make all our lives easier.

33 comments

  1. Loving my new Pixel 2. My old Pixel is still fast and my old GS7 coughs and gasps like an aged person with the flu. Google’s lean, frequent updates keep things humming along nicely. So, yeah, I feel the same as you do Chris.

    On a related subject, I would encourage anyone looking for a cheaper phone to see if they can find a way to spread the cost of a Pixel 2 over 3 years. I know we’re all different and for some the cost is too much but if someone can stretch to the more expensive Pixel they are getting an industry best 2 year warranty and 3 years of software updates.

  2. I totally agree with him. I have a Note 8 and pixel 2 XL. As ppl know, Pixel screen is not good, however I feel very comfortable of its quick response and battery life, camera quality.

    • interested to see if that’s still the case in 2 months time. I had the pixel for a couple months and initially impressed with some aspects but as time went on it got slower and slower. It wasn’t until i moved it on for another phone that i realised a fresh install of apps and data on almost any phone makes that phone feel fast and responsive.

  3. Well let me know if you want to find a new home for the S8. I’ll be happy to deal with the cobwebs lol

  4. Surely the better comparison would have been the note 8 at least they were released around the same time for the same money. Comparing a phone a year old and a third cheaper is not really a comparison…imho

  5. I hear you. I waited a week before grabbing the Pixel 2 XL, nervous about the “screen issues” – all for nothing. The blue shift, due to what appears to be due to a circular polarisation treatment, is rarely noticeable when using the phone normally. It also means i can finally see a phone screen in my car with polarised lenses on. Google’s recent update has “enhanced ” the vivid display for those who prefer a brighter display too.

    In all other ways, the phone is excellent. I gave away my S8+, aside from the slowness compared to an AOSP build, the screen is just way too bright and over done.

  6. Samsung make nice hardware but they do Android badly & load up pointless bloat. Sony, Motorola, LG etc all do the software side much better.

    • Have to agree there. Samsung’s primary issue is the software. It contributes to the slow experience and rapidly draining battery.

      • I’ve had a Nexus, Pixel every year but the very first Nexus. I love stock Android and Google updates and first to get OS updates. For the last three years I have seriously considered moving away from Google to a Samsung Note but keep declining after reading about the software. Bring on a play edition! 🙂

  7. Have the same opinion as Chris. Been using a S8 prior to the Pixel XL2.
    S8 starts off as a good phone. Fantastic design/ screen but as usual the software lets you down. Tends to get very buggy and the lag is very evident. Adding to that is the delay in getting a software update.
    In reference to the Pixel XL2, the screen issue isn’t a big deal for me and with yesterday’s update, it seems to have addressed it pretty well. Pixel stands out for its software execution and support. It’s the feeling that you didn’t know what you are missing until you have it. Absolutely no looking back towards the glitz and glam of Samsung.
    Google Fabric Case – The best I have ever used. Fits perfectly and doesn’t make the phone feel bulky. Fabric gives it a great touch.

  8. Chris, do you guys have any word on when the australian stocks for the pixel2 will get updated? kinda blue, and white are sold out with nary a mention of when they’ll be replenished.

    Based on my 6p bootloader issues ill stick to buying from google this time, as optus / huawei could not give a rats, once the warranty had expired. i read somewhere that some lucky guys had replacements issued by google atleast.

    • Yeah I got my original 6P replaced about 5 months ago (which gave me a nice new phone that I can give to partner when I get my 2XL). They even replaced it with a better model (probably what was available in NOS). Looking forward to getting my new pixel though am a bit miffed that I can get it from JB now but have to wait to the end of the month via the store (I’m guessing, signing up for pre-order and already having purchased 4 other phones (nexus’s) from the store doesn’t mean anything but after how well Google treated me with my 6P not going to buy from anywhere else.

  9. The article fell flat on it’s face with this comment:

    “Not only is the software treacle-slow by comparison, but the screen is so vivid, the colours so overwhelming, that I found switching back positively pain”.

    The screen can be parred back and software can be updated and improved over time – poor execution in design and hardware are there for the ownership of the device – Just saying.

  10. Settings > display > screen mode > basic

    Vividness fixed!

    Galaxy apps > settings > auto update apps > turn off

    Samsung proprietary apps dont auto update.

    While I dont have a problem with you enjoying the pixel 2 xl Chris its not a good luck when you claim misleading things about the competition to justify your decision.

    • The problem with that is the screen is still rather more vivid than the Pixel. Further, if you use the blue light filter as many people do, that vivid colour comes right back even in basic mode.

      As for the auto updating Samsung apps, you have to know to switch that setting off. By default, it’s on and when an app is updating it isn’t easy to stop the process.

      These are, though, but two issues. Even in ongoing use, the S8 feels significantly more clunky and that’s in software that simple toggles can’t fix.

  11. I’m sorry, but I have really no issues with my S8. Time to time I wipe cache partition and the galaxy S8 works really great as the first day of usage… It is very fast. The only issue with Samsung is to get the monthly Security Updates. Today I have the Aug-17 Security Patch and still waiting for the Sep, Oct or even Nov ones.

  12. I would love one but the price is the biggest killer.

  13. Hi Chris, thanks for your review.

    Also would you review your Google fabric Pixel case? Also I am considering our local brand Bellroy, however the review is not quite good on Reddit.

    Thanks

  14. Do you have any graininess on your screen? I love the phone. Blue tint is not a big deal in normal use. Saturation is a non-issue, especially as it’s something that can be fixed via software. But mine has grain over the screen that I can’t get passed. Everything looks like it has noise.

  15. Yea, have the Pixel 2 and o what a feeling, so fast! It’s what all android phones should aim to be

    • Have you used the oneplus 5 with 8gb of RAM.. that’s fast.

      • If you need 8gb of RAM for your phone to be fast, the operator is the problem, not the phone (unless the phone is rubbish which I don’t think is the point you are trying to make).

        • It is fast with the 6gb version as well. So why try and insult me ? What was the point ?
          Having 8gb is nice and the OS is as close to you are going to get on a Pixel phone with some great improvements. None of the bloat of Samsung.
          So please your comment, not needed and not appreciated.

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