It must be fall again. We’re in that all-important time of year where the big companies trot out their brightest and best, hoping to steal your attention and money. The Google Pixel 2 and its larger counterpart, the Google Pixel XL 2, are now available.

The question du jour is, “What’s your opinion of the Pixel 2?” Well, it’s either that or a variation wondering whether it’s worth upgrading from an existing flagship phone. It’s a highly coveted device that promises to build on its successor. The easy answer should be yes, right? Let’s dig in a bit and talk about the Pixel 2 and Pixel XL 2.

A Qualifying Statement

Before going further, I’d like to qualify my statements and perspective. I’ve had the two phones in my possession for around twelve days, including two busy weekends. In other words, I am in no way saying that these words are final. I’m reserving the right to make adjustments in the coming days and weeks as I spend more time with the phones.

As much as I would have liked to put one or both of these phones through their paces in time for the press embargo, I simply couldn’t. Keep in mind as you read other reviews that most outlets have spent roughly the same amount of time.

Assuming some of the largest outlets out there got the phone on the day of introduction, that means they still spent less than two weeks with it. With that said, there are some sites who have done a good job diving deep into a particular area including benchmarks, performance, and more.

The review units provided to us by Google were both Just Black in color. As someone who used the Google Pixel as his main device over the last year, I’ve become quite familiar with it. Also worth noting is that my personal phone is also black.

First Impressions

Taking the phones out of the box and giving it a quick once-over, I was hit with mixed feelings. I really like the subtle changes in design; the glossy top section looks gorgeous in my opinion. However, both were a little too close to last year’s model for me to get too excited.

Let’s be honest: the Pixel is not the sexiest device on the planet. Google never really sold it on its looks or sleek lines and there are plenty of phones that beat it the cosmetic department. The Pixel 2 and Pixel XL 2 are slight modifications on the existing models but don’t stray very far for 2017.

I’m reminded of how Google’s early Chromebooks, the CR-48, were unfinished and basic looking. Further, it also calls to mind when we see devices with fake shells or cases that hide the final product.

This is not to say, though, that the other colors wouldn’t be a completely different experience. There’s something about the way Google mixes the black and white (with a hint of red on power button) that signals “modern Google”.

If you look at the new line of products as a whole, they all seem to fit. Even though they have different materials and do vastly different things, they feel cohesive and like they’re all part of a family. To me, though, the all black phones look like beta versions or unfinished takes on the more appealing counterparts.

This is all personal opinion, of course, and has nothing to do with a “review”. That is, unless you are like me and want to know if the new stuff is better looking or much more advanced than the old stuff.

If you are using a Google Pixel or Pixel XL now, there’s not enough here to outright suggest the upgrade. Find the right discount or incentive, such as switching carriers, and it’s easier to make the recommendation.

Jump back a generation to the Nexus 5X or 6P and it’s much more obvious. The hardware performance alone is worth the upgrade. Plus you’re dealing with much a smoother, and cohesive operating system in Android 8.0 Oreo. It’s Android as it is supposed to be done.

As for the actual build quality, I find no issues with the Pixel 2 or Pixel XL 2. The phones feel solid in hand, if not a little bit utilitarian. Looking the phone over and getting a feel for it, the Pixel 2 is more my style and fits my hand size. Last year’s Pixel XL was always just a little bit too big for me to fall in love with it, especially with a case on it.

This year’s Pixel XL 2 also verges on the edge of being too cumbersome to me. The Pixel 2 feels much more in line with what I like for reaching in the pocket, waking up, and using with one hand.

To be fair, the larger screen is great for just about all practical purposes. Reading text, watching video, and playing games all benefit from the extra space. Even the weight is almost negligible, too. The preference between the two is going to be a personal choice.

About that Pixel XL 2 Display

Before moving on, though, I definitely have to touch base on the difference in the tech behind the two displays. If you’ve been looking into pre-ordering the Pixel XL 2, you likely already know about the issues plaguing some users. Indeed, even pre-launch review units are experiencing burn-in and less than desirable image quality. Yes, after only a few days and weeks, there’s chatter about poor images and what figures to be burned in navigation bars.

For what it’s worth, I review unit does not have any of the problems. This is not, however,  to suggest it’s perfect. In fact, after powering both on and placing them next to each other, the first thing I noticed about the larger phone was that the picture was more blue-ish and more drab.

Dig around and you’ll find that this comes down to LG manufacturing the screen in the Pixel XL 2 and Samsung creating the one for the Pixel 2. On paper, the larger phone has the same screen size and tech as the V30. And, depending on how deep of a rabbit hole you climb into, you’ll find that the LG phone is not without its own issues.

Mileage will vary per user. Some of the loudest complaints come from the smallest crowds. You’ll find plenty of angry mob types on forums and threads but it could be a simple case of angry few making noise loud enough for all.

To be fair, some of the images I’ve seen online look downright nasty. Google definitely has its hands full right now as it tries to look into the issue and/or fix it. I have no doubt that Google will do its part to replace or repair the problem devices. Given the flagship nature of the phone, it doesn’t want this to last long.

Build Quality

The Pixel 2 is more squared off and slab-like than its predecessor. I happen to like the slight changes from the first generation, even if they’re minimal. There’s less glass than in last year’s phone, but it also give us less to scratch or scuff. As for the other material, the texture is more rough and gives a better grip.

A welcome change in this year’s line, water resistance, is one of the only gripes I had with last year’s model. Given that so many other phones come with the feature I come to expect it in any handset commanding flagship pricing. Really, it should be standard for all mobile devices.

You might go an entire year without needing water resistance, but the one time your phone catches a sudden rain or poolside cannonball splash, you’ll be glad it’s there. I appreciate that both the Pixel 2 and Pixel XL 2 have water resistance.

Flip the phones over and you’ll find that there’s a slight lip that encircles the rear camera. It’s a minimal protrusion but it’s worth pointing out. It doesn’t make them feel uneven when lying on the back, but there’s just enough here to catch on a surface or to potentially scuff. Put the handsets in a case and you won’t have any problems.

Ask your snobby friends to speak on the build of the Pixel phones and a common argument is that they have too big of a bezel. By ways of comparison, they sure do. Last year’s models we more prominent than the new phones; the Pixel 2 has more “wasted space” than its larger counterpart. There’s a justifiable reason.

Queue up some music or a YouTube video and give it a listen. Google moved the bottom speaker from below the handset into a position directly under the screen. The front-facing stereo setup is excellent and offers up an incredible sound. I suppose there could be just a little bit trimmed from the top and bottom bezels but I can’t imagine Google leaving extra space for no reason at all. Plus, it looks symmetrical when turned on its side.

Camera

Phone makers almost always brag about the camera experience on their devices, especially the bigger names who deliver flagships on a regular basis. Yes, they have gotten much better over the years, and the software experience always improves, too.

Google, for its part, made a very big deal out of its camera and the highest DxOMark score to date. After spending just a few days with the Pixel and Pixel XL it was very obvious that this was more than lip service and indistinguishable benchmarks. The Pixel camera was the real deal and its 90 score was incredible and well worth the praise.

For this year we find that Google has managed to up the ante even more, pulling in a commanding 98 DxOMark score. Beating all others again, I couldn’t wait to test the Pixel 2 and Pixel XL 2. Would it be incremental and something that matters only on paper?

Flickr Gallery of Camera Samples

Pixel 2 & Pixel XL 2 Camera Samples

I’ve already captured some incredible photos with excellent detail and very accurate color. The shutter is super fast, mowing through pictures at a rapid rate. Things will get even better over the next few months as Google enables the Pixel Visual Core. Suffice it to say, the out of box experience now is already a winner.

I look forward to testing out the optical image stabilization and electronic stabilization. The demo at Google’s unveiling tells us it should be almost revolutionary and change video captured on smartphones.

Performance

Man, I miss the headphone jack. My office is only a couple of miles from home, and I don’t travel too far around town, but I almost always have my phone plugged directly into my stereo. I wish I could tell you that I had Bluetooth in my truck but I don’t. In truth, pretty much all modern cars do have the technology, including my wife’s. Nevertheless, I love plugging in for Audible or Google Play Music because terrestrial radio sucks.

If you rely on an auxiliary cord on a regular basis, you’re going to take issue with the Pixel 2 and Pixel XL 2. Indeed, after mocking Apple and others for removing the plug only one year earlier, Google removed the 3.5mm jack from both phones.

I would have loved a pair of inexpensive Bluetooth earbuds in the box. Or, perhaps maybe a discount code for the new Pixel Buds. If the industry is going to evolve, Google and others should help make the changes easier.

Given the hardware that powers the Pixel 2 and Pixel XL 2, you’d expect a snappy experience. You get that here; there’s nothing I’ve thrown at the phones yet that’s caused them to stutter or slow. Android 8.0 Oreo is as smooth as ever, building slightly on the great foundation that was 7.0 Nougat.

If there’s one word that I can use to sum up the Pixel line of devices it’s “cohesive”. For good reason, it’s the full Android experience as intended by Google. While they’re not yet a hardware manufacturer, Google does an excellent job in working with the platform and phone makers.

I’m a huge fan of how Google integrates its apps and services. The list of pre-loaded titles has evolved over the years but today’s suite feels appropriate. It skews a little more toward new smartphone adopters with Allo, Duo, and Messages, but longtime Google users can easily install Hangouts, Google+, or other apps.

As much as I like the idea of squeezing the phones to trigger Google Assistant, I don’t think I will be using it that often. There are already a number of ways to pull it up, some of which feel just as intuitive. I would really like a setting in the phone that lets me trigger an app or function. I’d use it much more if I could squeeze to launch email.

Conclusion

It’s really hard to throw shade at the Pixel 2 or Pixel XL 2, at least on paper. Display issues aside for the select few users of the Pixel XL 2, the general consensus seems to be that these phones are winners.

I love the fact that Google Photos lets me upload my pictures and videos at original resolution. Really, I’d enjoy that with any quality of camera, but it’s extra good when you have the top-rated smartphone camera on the market.

The Pixel 2 and Pixel XL 2 are nice steps forward in the family of devices; the changes are in the right areas and are appreciated. To me, it’s not worth the $200 difference to go for the larger model. That’s a personal preference, though, and a call you’ll have to make. For now, if you can wait until the display problems are cleared up by Google, I would suggest holding on just to be safe.

I would like to see wireless charging added to the Pixel line. To be honest, I was surprised that Google didn’t add it this time around. It’s not as if we’re still waiting on an industry standard to emerge.

Should you upgrade?

If you own an existing Pixel or Pixel XL, I am going to suggest sitting tight for now. There’s enough changed from last year to qualify as an upgrade, but it’s certainly evolutionary and not revolutionary. Given that your current model already has or is in the midst of receiving Android 8.0, you’re not missing out on much.

For everyone else, though… If you’re sitting on something older from another phone maker, the Pixel 2 is certainly worth a look.  There’s something to be said about a stripped down, lean version of Android, particularly if you’ve never experienced it. I encourage long time Samsung, LG, or HTC users to give it a try.

On a related note, I’ve always tried to sway friends and family away from buying phones through carriers. In addition to OEMs baking in the extra software and apps we often find things loaded by the service provider. You might not realize it, but all that junk matters.

Spend some time with a Nexus or Pixel phone and you’ll be tempted to stay with Google’s hardware. The total package gets better with each iteration and the 2017 bundle is a tough one to beat.

For $650 the Pixel 2 is definitely worth the price. It was the right cost for last year’s model and the updates for this just gives you more for the same cost. What’s more, it keeps you from wandering into that area of $800+ devices that look sexier but really just do the same stuff. You’ll have to figure out for yourself if it’s worth the cost difference to go with the XL 2.

She’s not the most beautiful girl in school, but she is super smart and really understands your needs. You won’t go broke dating her for awhile, you’ll have a lot of fun together, and you may come to appreciate that the important stuff is below the surface.