Body and Design

The Pixel 2 doesn't feature any sort of revolutionary design breakthroughs, there's no edge to edge screen or fancy glass panel on the back of the handset. But what it lacks in elegance it makes up for by being sensible.

The aluminum unibody/monocoque design is weather-sealed and easy to grip. In our real world testing we had no real issues with scratches or scuffs on either the aluminum or the front screen. However the glass panel near the main camera is a bit more prone to scratching and chipping, especially around the corners.

The edges of the phone are rounded, making the Pixel 2 quite comfortable to hold. And the fingerprint scanner, visible above, is well-placed for an index finger.

Overall, the device has a solid feel to it.

The phone itself is 146mm (5.7") tall, 70mm (2.7") wide and just 8mm (0.3") thick, with a 5" 1920 x 1080 AMOLED display. Obviously, phone size is a subjective matter, but I found the Pixel 2, though taller than my current phone, perfectly sized for pockets and one-handed use. The Pixel 2 XL is quite manageable as well, and despite its larger size it's an ounce lighter than its iPhone 8 Plus counterpart.

The entire front of the Pixel 2 is glass, however the phone's bezel hogs a good bit of space that otherwise could have been additional screen real estate. An angled metal edge wraps around the glass front, but provides no lip to protect it from scratching when placed face down.

The only connection point is a single USB-C port, bottom center. The Pixel 2 has no headphone jack and also does not offer wireless charging. It does, however, have a pretty cool feature in its 'squeezable sides.' By gripping the bottom of the phone in one hand and giving it a little squeeze, Google Assistant can be activated. This is a handy way to access Google's excellent virtual helper, though it can be accidentally activated (for example by car dash-mounted phone holders).

Display

The Pixel 2 has a 5" AMOLED 1920x1080 (441 ppi) display with a claimed 95% DCI-P3 color gamut coverage, while the Pixel 2 XL has a 6" P-OLED 2880x1440 (538 ppi) display with a claimed 100% DCI-P3 coverage. Since they're OLED displays they have very high contrast, deep blacks, and are at least capable of a wide color gamut. In fact these displays can be dubbed 'HDR', but the actual implementation left us disappointed. While brightness and sharpness are great, color saturation and accuracy, as well as viewing angles, leave much to be desired. There's also very little HDR content available for Android at the time of writing.

We had high hopes for the Pixel 2 displays because the version of Android (Oreo) they ship with have full color management under the hood on Pixel devices. That means the ability to understand embedded color profiles in images and convert them to a proper display profile (much like Apple introduced with iOS 9.3 and the iPad Pro launch).

This is what allows Apple's wide gamut (P3-capable) devices to display smaller-gamut sRGB images accurately without stretching colors to gaudy saturation levels, something that many Android users are (unfortunately) used to due to wide gamut OLED displays paired with a complete lack of color management. But it also allows wider gamut images - say in Adobe RGB or P3 - to take advantage of the extended color capabilities of the P3 display of the iPhone X for more vivid, more real-world colors without sacrificing color accuracy.

Pixel 2 XL (top) vs original Pixel XL. Viewing angles are markedly worse on the Pixel 2 XL, even compared to the Pixel 2. This is not likely fixable in firmware. If this bugs you, we'd recommend the smaller Pixel 2, though it has a slightly smaller color gamut.

The Pixel 2 phones understand embedded ICC profiles in images, but oddly everything is displayed within the sRGB space (images are either converted to sRGB, or the display is run in sRGB mode). This lead to many complaints of a dull display that didn't advantage of OLED's wide color gamut. Google's decision to roll out a 'Saturated' mode was an unfortunate response likely meant to appease the Android phone crowd that have come to expect saturated (but inaccurate) colors: it bypasses Android Oreo's entire color management system and simply sends uncorrected colors to the screen, which stretches them out to the wide color gamut of OLED. Saturation, at the cost of accuracy.

Oversaturated inaccurate colors are not what a photographer wants

Adding to the color inaccuracy of these devices is a blue hue-shift when the screen is viewed off-angle. While the viewing angle of the Pixel 2 display (made by Samsung) is acceptable, the 2 XL's display (made by LG) shifts to a cool blue, losing the ability to reproduce reds and oranges, when held even slightly off-axis. It can be so extreme that you'll find yourself checking if you're holding the phone at the perfect angle when showing a friend your photo, and can lead to ugly greenish skintones and generally uninspiring color when you're trying to frame your subject while holding the camera at any angle but straight-on. We've also noted burn-in on our XL unit.

Our hope is that future updates to apps will allow them to directly convert to an embedded display profile - or that the OS by default adopts this behavior - to ensure accuracy but also to allow for wider gamut images and apps to take advantage of the OLED displays. Wide color gamuts are being quickly adopted by both video and stills industry, and photographers - typically with their discerning tastes in color - will particularly want colors to look consistent across devices and print.

Handling

There are no surprises in the default camera app. The simplicity of one button-press to take a well exposed photo, thanks to HDR+, under all sorts of lighting conditions cannot be over-stressed. I suspect Google purposely kept it as simple and straightforward as possible knowing well that's what most users want, and that hardcore photo enthusiasts have ample camera apps to choose from if they want full manual control. The same goes for Raw: there's no option to shoot DNGs in the default app but others, such as Lightroom CC, allow for it.

The camera app picks the exposure based on a complex metering algorithm that, frankly, we wish traditional camera manufacturers used. While it assigns some weight to the subject it's chosen to be in focus (either a detected face or the center), metering is weighted toward heavily protecting non-specular highlights. A rapid succession of images is shot and then merged to decrease noise in darker regions thanks to image averaging. Tapping the screen overrides this and selects a new point to meter from - but at this point it effectively becomes spot metering, very heavily biasing exposure for the portion of the image tapped. Tapping also brings up the exposure compensation slider on the right of the screen - slide your finger to bias the exposure plus or minus two stops. Lock exposure by tapping on the lock at the top of the exposure compensation slider, then adjust exposure compensation as desired.

Other settings available from within the default app include control over the flash, a white balance selector, choice of grid overlay and a self timer. There's also an option to toggle 'Motion Photo' on or off. When switched on, the Pixel 2 creates a low-resolution video, several seconds in length when a still is taken. What's unique about these little videos is they are actually captured moments before and after the shutter is pressed (because the camera is always buffering).

Either side of the volume rocker (left) will fire the shutter. Users can also use the on screen shutter button. There is no perceptible shutter lag.

It important to be able to access your smartphone's camera the instant a cool photo presents itself. With the Pixel 2, you can open the camera app by simply double tapping the power button. You can also twist your wrist twice, while holding the phone, to switch between the front and rear cameras - this takes a little practice. These functions aren't new on the Pixel 2, but they sure are handy.

Battery

The Pixel 2 uses a 2750 mAh battery, compared to the significantly higher capacity 3,520 mAh used by the Pixel 2 XL (which is, of course, a larger phone). Still, battery life from the Pixel 2 proved adequate during our testing. Though to be fair, I stuck to Wi-Fi networks around town (no cell service) and primarily used the Pixel 2 to shoot stills, work in Lightroom CC and browse the Internet. This left me charging every other day, though with average use I'd expect most people to get around a day out of a charge.

It also has rapid charging. According to Google, the Pixel 2 can store, "7 hours of battery on 15 minutes of charging." I was skeptical of this claim but indeed, as long as you use the supplied charger, the Pixel 2 can juice up to about 50% battery in 15-20 mins. This proved exceptionally handy on the couple of occasions I wanted to go out for the day shooting with it, but found the battery close to 10%.

Waterproofing

*No Pixel 2s were hurt making this photo.

The Pixel 2 and XL have waterproof ratings of IP67 which means they should be able survive in up to one meter (3.3 feet) of water for up to thirty minutes. We still recommend avoiding run-ins with water whenever possible, though. That said, if you do drop it in the toilet, you should be ok - just as long as you sterilize it before use.