It's 2017, and just like last year, Google has launched two new Pixel smartphones. At its hardware announcement in October, one term stood out and that was 'machine learning'. The other buzzword after the Pixel 2 was revealed was "bezels". That's because the Pixel 2, unlike its elder sibling the XL, has plenty of them.
While the feature set sounded interesting and impressive on stage we had yet to experience the purpose of all that 'machine learning' and software that make every Google product so special.
Well, after the India launch, the Pixel 2 is finally here in the tech2 office. But right off the bat, it seems that there are a few problems.
Build and Design
I unboxed the device and the first line out of my mouth was, "This does not look like a smartphone that costs Rs 61,000". And this is what is going to be the Pixel's biggest problem. While the Pixel smartphone launched last year felt at home with the rest of the smartphone competition, this year's smartphone looks even more understated, and to make things worse, costs more. We've given Apple its fair share of grief for the iPhone 8, but Google is not doing the Android camp any favours.
The phone feels light in the hand. While that may sound like a good thing when it goes in your pocket, a little bit of heft does give buyers the impression that something's actually in there.
The unit we received was the Just Black model and it comes with a finely textured matte finish all over the smartphone. The matte finish continues around the unibody frame and is even present on the buttons. The only area that does not sport this finish is the part where the frame meets the display. It's a fine line and it gives off the buffed look of the aluminum that lies below the paint.
Despite feeling grippy, it also feels plasticy (Dare I say 'cheap'?) and this, combined with the light weight of the device, gave some the impression that it is made of polycarbonate. The cold feeling metal below the paint however, gives it away. Being a coating over metal, let's hope it sticks and does not deteriorate over time.
There are only two shiny surfaces and they are made of glass. There's that screen covering the display on the front, and the window around the camera at the rear. The window at the back which is present to facilitate wireless connectivity has grown smaller since the last model.
At the front, there are two strips near the top and bottom area of those thick bezels that house the speakers. Oh yes, and the device is IP67 dust and water resistant, which means you can use it in the rain, but not underwater.
Did I mention those thick bezels?
Overall, the design does look a bit like HMD's Nokia 6 from the front, but looks distinctly Pixel once you flip the device over to the back, because of that glass window. It may not look special (especially with those thick bezels), but it sure feels solid. Think more Volvo, than a snazzy Lamborghini. Let's just hope, that it somehow grows on me by the time I begin to pen down the full review.
So I boot the phone and considering that there's an AMOLED display inside, you expect colours to pop, but they did not. Everything looked just right, which was almost bordering dull. After using the saturated Super AMOLED unit on the Galaxy Note 8 and then the Mi Mix 2 (which was also vibrant) the Google Pixel 2's display does feel a bit dull. It is however, quite sharp and bright enough.
While many will find it lacking, the saturation and vibrance we have come to expect from smartphone displays, I am of the opinion that these accurate displays help tell you what your photographs actually look like. At least with my initial hands-on, the display seems to do justice to the camera, which in my opinion is pretty good.
Chipset, RAM and Storage
This time around, Google did not bring along anything special in terms of hardware (may be it decided to let software drive the experience entirely). Still, you get a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 inside (instead of the rumoured 836) paired with 4 GB RAM and 64 GB of internal storage, which cannot be expanded. Indeed, this is pretty much the standard fare in the premium smartphone segment today so it will not attract buyers on a spec hunt. So those looking for 6 GB or even 8 GB of RAM can look elsewhere.
But while the specifications may not sound as exciting as last year's Pixel, the Pixel smartphones are all about software. And with that in mind, I can conclude from my limited usage of the device that it's pretty slick.
Indeed, this section needs no introduction because the Pixel 2 comes from Google. In fact, this is one of the few smartphones out there that Google will provide the software for. There's no waiting for months like with other manufacturers, because, well, this is Google's baby. With that said, the Pixel 2 features Android 8.0.0 Oreo in its purest form possible, with the latest security patch that was last updated on 5 September.
It all boils down to this. While Google won our hearts over the iPhone 7 Plus and even the Samsung Galaxy S7 last year, Google's back with some software magic this year. While HDR+ was a thing on the old Pixel, the Pixel 2 brings machine learning to the camera that lets it not just click, but even find stuff for you.
The camera on the rear is a 12.2 MP, f/1.8 aperture unit that packs in OIS, phase detection and laser autofocus. The camera setup on the front, includes an 8 MP sensor, with an f/2.4 aperture. There's no no flash on the front.
While the hardware is indeed nothing to talk about, Pixels are about software and, if the iPhone hadn't made the case already, the Pixel 2 could very well be a lesson to manufacturers on how software is as important as the hardware.
The images, thanks to the display, looked really accurate in terms of colour. Noise was under control and the the Portrait mode, using the front and the rear cameras, is quite impressive given that there's no dual-camera setup in sight. There's also Google Lens that lets you find stuff after your have clicked a picture of it. While the demo looked great on stage, this is still a beta so it's hard to conclude how useful the Lens feature really is at the moment.
For now, I'm impressed, but I'll be putting it through its paces in all types of conditions, before I come to a conclusion. Is it better than iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and the iPhone X? Come back for my full review.
Battery and Connectivity
The Pixel 2 features a 2,700 mAh battery and includes your usual connectivity options including Bluetooth 5.0 (A2DP and aptX HD), Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, A-GPS, GLONASS a single nano SIM card slot and even an eSIM, something that has yet to be put into practice by operators in India.
As for the battery it should do well considering that there is just a 5-inch Full HD AMOLED display to run, add the 10 nm chipset to the mix and the battery saving should be pretty good. More on this in my full review.
As you can see both from my first impressions above and the product photos, the Google Pixel 2 has its strong points in its software offering. While the hardware is just half the story, machine learning in the camera has not failed to impress me. But it does look a bit too average, and this could be a problem, when a buyer stands in a store with snazzy handsets like the curvy Galaxy S8, the bezel-less Note 8, the colorful HTC U11 and the full-screen iPhone X sit right next to it on the store shelf. At this moment, given its price tag of Rs 61,000, buyers will be confused whether it's worth the money.
Has the market matured to the point where design doesn't matter anymore? Would you be willing to sacrifice the S8's gorgeous design for the Pixel 2's phenomenal camera? Find out more in my upcoming review!