Pixel 2
Pixel 2 Fionna Agomuoh

The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL have been on the market since October as part of Google’s continued effort to break into the high-end smartphone market. Sale figures for the second generations devices are not known, but analysts estimate Google may sell about twice as many units as it did of the original 2016 Pixel models. The devices have maintained a steady buzz as reviews continue to surface. An overwhelming consensus suggests the Pixel 2 smartphones have several well-executed features but lack that extra oomph to make them a real must-have for consumers.

Google’s previous Nexus line was available as hardware to showcase the company’s latest Android operating systems in their purest form. However, the main purpose of the Pixel line has not been clearly defined. Google has stated the intention of having the devices showcase its developments in virtual reality and augmented reality. While there were many announcements pertaining to this market throughout 2017 -- including a second generation Google Daydream headset and the ARCore development kit, there weren’t many details definitively connecting the Pixel 2 as a major player in the VR/AR smartphone market. Updates to Google Daydream in conjunction with the Pixel 2 brought such improvements are faster frame rates and faster controller response within the headset. However, the latest Daydream headset had largely been overshadowed in 2017 by news of standalone headsets from various companies, including Google.

Google has also demonstrated major camera upgrades on the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, releasing the models with Portrait Mode features, similar to those seen on devices made by Samsung and Apple. The Pixel 2 devices stand out by maintaining a single-lens main camera, while other manufacturers have transitioned to the dual-lens camera configuration. The Pixel 2 currently leads the pack among mobile devices for camera quality, according to benchmark experts, such as DxOMark. It stands out with such features as Portrait Mode on the front-facing camera, stellar color and detail accuracy and a shutter speed that can salvage the most candid of shots. The Pixel 2 is definitely the kind of device a photography enthusiast could purchase for the camera alone.

Still, even with several highlight features, the point of the Pixel 2 remains hard to define. At a time when even Apple is shifting back into a super-premium glass design, the look of the Pixel 2 could cause many to question whether the device is worth its $649 starting price ($749 for the Pixel 2 XL). Its similarity to the original Pixel would likely make current owners not see a reason to upgrade. The minimalist feel of its Just Black, Simply White and Very Blue color options is understandable but doesn’t make it any less boring.

Many are especially enamored by the glass top-notch on the back panel of the device. Since trends are going glass -- imagine of the entire panel was made of that material. Google could have had a very interesting esthetics market as Apple retired its glossy Jet Black finish after the iPhone 7.

Google’s last major Android overhaul took place with Android Nougat, making the current Android Oreo a bit more of an incremental shift. Many improvements on the system are not user-facing, which again, takes away from the concept of showcasing the latest and greatest of pure Android when the latest is near identical to the previous iteration. Ever a plus; however, is the lack of bloatware, even on the Verizon version that was provided for review.

Other highlights include the stellar battery life on the Pixel 2 XL being tested, which consistently provided over one day of power to about 15 percent. A day would typically end at about 25 to 30 percent battery life, with enough juice to survive a morning commute before being plugged in. The handset experienced about a 15 percent battery depletion on one and a half days.

The Pixel 2 XL, in particular, is sturdy in the hand, not slippery and easy to hold even while having slightly larger bezels than competitor devices with wide-screen displays. The minimal branding and elusive side buttons are also a plus.​