Google recently unveiled the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL Android smartphones. The search engine giant is clearly gunning for its competition with this release, making pointed digs at both Apple and Samsung throughout the official announcement and undercutting competitor prices just enough to inspire even the most die-hard Galaxy or iPhone user to consider the black sheep of the smartphone world.
New Google phones revealed
Google invited users to adopt either the 5-inch Pixel 2 (starting at $649) or the 6-inch Pixel 2 (starting at $849) according to their preferences, noting that better features are not reserved only for the more expensive models – a comment which was received with laughter from the crowd, who had no doubt followed Apple's announcement of the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X.
Google also claimed that new users can switch to a Pixel phone from an existing smartphone in as little as 10 minutes, making the adoption process even more enticing. Additionally, for a limited time (though Google neglected to say when), people ordering the Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL will also receive a Google Home Mini (a speaker with Google Assistant baked in) for free.
You can order a Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL now. The former comes in "kinda blue," "just black" and "clearly white," while the 6-inch Pixel 2 has an aluminum body and glass visor and comes in just black or black and white.
Peeking under the hood
Of course, every announcement from any tech giant is trumpeted as a revolution and surrounded by enticing add-ons, but even when you get down to the raw specs, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are impressive. Both phones run on Android Oreo (which other Pixel users have already been upgraded to), use Snapdragon 835 processors, have 4GB RAM (with the option of 64GB or 128GB total storage), have 538 ppi displays (a huge improvement from the first generation), and sport a dust- and water-resistant chassis. Following in Apple's footsteps, Google surprisingly decided to abandon a classic headphone jack on the latest Pixel series, so old-school headphone users will have to use the 3.5 mm USB-C adapter, which at least comes with the phone.
For the first time ever, Google phones will feature Google Lens, which uses machine learning to allow users to interact with the world around them and automatically access Google Assistant within the context of the image being viewed. For example, you might use Google Lens, via your camera, to look at a poster for an upcoming event, at which point your Google Assistant would (ideally) automatically bring up information about the event and even offer you a link from which to purchase tickets, then add that event to your Google calendar. Essentially, the aim of Google Lens is to connect your AI assistant to your camera and allow it to interpret visual images. It should be noted that this is new technology, so we can't vouch for its real-world usability yet, but the concept is appealing for both business and personal use.
The new Pixel 2 also features an Always-On Display, which allows users to see the time and view notifications without using the fingerprint sensor or swiping an unlock pattern. Once users are logged in, they'll notice that the Google quick-search box is at the bottom of the live wallpaper home screen and stays there no matter which way you swipe. Google promises that Routines is coming to Pixel 2 soon, and Active Edge is already available on the new devices. Active Edge will allow Pixel 2 users to physically squeeze their phones (even in the case) and instantly access the Google Assistant.
Speaking of selfies and photos, the Pixel 2 received a score of 98 from DxOMark (an independent organization that judges image quality on phones and stand-alone cameras), which is the highest score of any smartphone camera ever. Surprisingly, the Pixel 2 does not have dual rear cameras, but Google claims it doesn't need them. The Pixel 2 works around the dual camera feature with Portrait Mode on the front and back cameras (12.2MP at f/1.8 aperture). Portrait Mode, which uses machine learning to apply a bokeh effect to portraits of people and things, is an impressive workaround, but Google certainly underplays the utility lost by sticking to one lens. Even if the blurred faux bokeh effect is convincing, there's still no telephoto or wide-angle option, and that's not something that can currently be compensated for with software.Credit: Google
On the plus side, the phones have optical image stabilization and fused video stabilization for super-smooth shooting, even in low lighting, and the Pixel 2 allows users to take Motion Photos, where noisy movement is removed and only certain movements are captured. Automatic tagging and photo categorization along with unlimited storage aim to make image management easier as well.
Google also announced innovation in AR, which for now is mostly being used for interactive games, and showcased its new AR stickers, which allow users to interact with animated graphics and send them to other people.
The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are exciting phones with some serious business usability. The competitive price and feature-rich design combined with Google's AI assistant may well make for a powerhouse of a work machine. However, the jury is still out on hands-on usability; once we test the Pixel 2 in person, we'll have more details available for business users.
So far, the second generation of Pixel phones looks promising, if not perfect.