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.