Peak Smartphone – Reviewing My Pixel 2 XL

Pixel 2 XL

One of the downsides of using Project Fi is that your phone choices are pretty limited. But the phones you can buy are the best that Android has to offer, and once you’ve used pure Android it’s really hard to go back.

In October I pre-ordered a Google Pixel 2 XL on the day it was announced. My Nexus 5X was showing its age. In particular, the battery life was horrible and the camera was slow. The latter has suddenly become more important now that I’m a dad – nothing like missing the moment because your camera is slow to load!

What followed, however, was tech misery. I proceeded to regret my decision as it was delayed past delivery and reports of the poor screen surfaced almost daily. I played that “should I cancel or should I not?” game right up until the day it shipped.

And then I received it and…it is wonderful. It’s absolutely everything I could want in a smartphone. Phew.

The Good

  • Pure Android – honestly, Samsung makes great hardware but I’m not sure I could handle their bloated software experience. Pure Android is fast, has no clutter, has the most Google Assistant features, and gets OS and security updates the second Google releases them.
  • Battery life – I can go all day without worrying about charging! I don’t even have to plug it in while I’m using it as a GPS around town.
  • The camera – many reviewers seem to think it’s the best camera out there. I don’t have the expertise to say. All I know is it’s fast and takes good photos every time…plus it has portrait mode and it will soon be getting even better.
  • The screen! – I haven’t experienced any of the issues the reviewers did. I wonder if my delay meant Google was quality checking screens? The true black on an OLED screen is glorious for nighttime reading.
  • The case – I picked up the Carbon Fabric case. It’s worth every bit of the $40 I paid. The fabric has the perfect amount of grip, and the look is a lot nicer than the typical plastic case.
  • The fingerprint reader – it’s sooooo fast.

The Bad

  • No headphone jack – good grief this annoys me. I’ve already tried to plug a pair of headphones in a few times out of habit. They only include one dongle. The dongle is proprietary. No USB-C headphones are included. Thumbs down.
  • Broken Gmail notifications – my system for using varying Gmail label notifications (some with sound, some without) is no longer possible in Oreo. A lot of people are pissed. This is kind of unacceptable, especially because it’s a Google app. It’s been a known bug since September and still hasn’t been fixed.

For a full review and demo check out Marques Brownlee’s review on YouTube.

Have We Hit “Peak Smartphone”?

I think that this is the year that we’ve finally hit peak smartphone. The iPhone 8, iPhone X, Galaxy S8, Galaxy Note 8, and Pixel 2 all feel like they’ve reached a point where you can pick one up now and not regret your purchase when next year’s model comes out. That’s essentially the bet I made when I paid almost $1,000 for a phone. It’s not to keep it a year or even two, it’s to keep it for a while. Just like how I’m still using my 2013 Asus Zenbook and it still stands up remarkably well to today’s top of the line notebooks.

The useful innovation in computers has slowed in the past five years, and I think that will also be the case for smart phones in the coming five years. I might miss out on some AR or VR or gaming feature that I probably wouldn’t use anyway, but other than that the core things that are important to phones (battery life, screen, speed, connectivity) have reached a point where there isn’t a ton of innovation on the immediate horizon, nor is there a need for it because for most people (myself included) those things are now good enough.

4 comments on Peak Smartphone – Reviewing My Pixel 2 XL

  1. Tim says:

    Appreciate the perspective, the timing couldn’t be better. I’m a long time Apple fan boy, and don’t see myself abandoning the eco-system entirely but for a number of reasons I’m likely replacing my iPhone with an Android phone in the next few months and he Pixel 2 has been at the top of the list for most of the reasons you’ve now validated.

    As for peak smartphone, I agree on the hardware front, I think the changes from here on out will be far smaller, other than battery life. I’d really like to see a phone that can go all day (or longer) with heavy usage without a charge, that would be ideal. Next up is durability, making devices that are more forward thinking and can be competitive 3-5 years later. Presently, it seems more than 2-3 years is pushing it, which is ridiculously wasteful and short-sighted when you think about it.

    Glad to hear you’re so happy with the Pixel 2, I may be joining you in that camp soon!

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Thanks Tim, glad to hear the review helped.

      The battery life is surprisingly good, we’ll see how it is 6 months from now, but I’m able to have heavy use days (lots of reading, podcasts for hours, bluetooth devices connected, GPS in the car) and it’s usually in the 50% – 75% range at the end of the day when I plug it in.

      I should have also mentioned in the post that it’s waterproof. That takes away one way I’ve always worried about ruining my phone. You’re right on the overall durability though, still a ways to go. I purchased the $5/mo insurance through Google Fi. With a bill that’s typically under $30 I don’t mind paying for the convenience if I do break my phone.

      I can’t emphasize enough how important stock Android is. If nothing else, the security updates alone make it worth it.

  2. Rob says:

    The Pixel 2 looks like a great phone. I like the premium direction Google are going in, I think it really forces other manufacturers to up their game…

    Samsungs touchwiz interface is an abomination, and its a shame that’s what lots of apple users think of as the android experience. I have a Oneplus-3 myself, which is almost stock. Dash charging on it is insane too, it’s 4 Amps and frankly superior to qualcomm’s system. I take for granted now being able to charge enough for a whole day in 30 minutes. The 3 has also got me used to larger phones. Using anything else feels like a toy now. I would definitely choose an XL style in future.

    However I’m really disappointed in their decision to take out the 3.5mm jack. That alone makes the phone a miss for me, as I see zero benefit to what they’ve done. I could rant on this for days… Instead, I’ll leave this here. Well worth the time to watch: https://youtu.be/utfbE3_uAMA

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Whoa, that video is great. Can’t believe he got it to work.

      I didn’t think not having the 3.5mm jack would bother me that much, but it really does. It’s so damn inconvenient, like when you go to plug it into an aux port in the car, or use a headset to make a phone call. I just want to plug something in, not worry about a connector or charging a bluetooth device.

      The OnePlus phones are really good. I wish Project Fi would add a few more options to the mix so I’d have a few more choices.

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