Since the Pixel 2 was unveiled in October, I have spent a lot of time playing with demo units in shops and show floors. However, you can’t get a true feel for a device until you have it in your hands unencumbered by a security harness, without a retail assistant breathing down your neck and knowing that the device is yours. Now that I (finally!) have my own Pixel 2 XL, I have some observations I’d like to share.
I’d normally save all of this for the full review, but already there is just something about the way this device feels which I want to discuss. Especially when you reflect on previous Google devices.
Look at the flagship lines which other companies produce and you can (usually) see a clear direction. A design that’s refined upon year by year but carries through details so that it bares signs of resemblance to its predecessors. Then you look at Google’s phones. Historically, it’s been quite a mess. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a long-time fan of Google hardware. I love the Pixels and the Nexus line is something I will forever hold dear.
But here’s the kicker: If you removed the logos from all the Galaxy S phones and showed them to someone who isn’t that interested in tech, the similarities make it clear that they’re iterations of the same product. Do the same with say a Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 4 and Nexus 6? Or any Nexus phone really, and can you really say the same? They don’t even look like cousins.
To the hardcore Google fan, that never mattered. The Nexus line was fan service for those of us that love pure Android. But, the Pixels are far more than that. They are consumer-facing products designed to be a real alternative to the offerings from Samsung, LG, Apple and the like.
They need a brand identity of their own to stand out. Last year, Google tried starting afresh. In terms of design, the 2016 Pixels share almost nothing with their Nexus ancestors. They were sturdy and well-made, but they lacked character. I’m not hating, I loved my Pixel XL. It was undoubtedly the best phone Google had ever made before this year in terms of performance and software. But here we’re talking purely about aesthetics and the way hardware feels.
Google had a choice in 2017. They could push forward with the design of the original Pixel, or they could look to the past and embrace the fan-favourites. They took the third option. “Why not both?” The Pixel 2XL feels like a Google phone. It takes traits and characteristics from both sides of the family and wraps them all together in a neat package.
Although the construction is mostly metal, the coating lends a tactile and soft texture to the body. It’s similar to the frost 6P with added grip. The large round camera in the corner bears a striking resemblance to the Nexus 5. The glass pane clearly identifies the phone as a Pixel, while blending into the body seamlessly. If you get the white model, the white frame wraps around the sides and outlines the black front. Remember the white Galaxy Nexus?
I’ve said repeatedly that I’d love a modern take on the original Nexus 6. I loved its small bezels, large display and front-facing speakers. The 2XL offers that same package, right down to the sublimely curved glass that spills over the edges.
I could carry on, but you see what I’m trying to say. The 2XL borrows from Google phones of the past and combines their best elements into one package. Although the smaller Pixel 2 doesn’t follow the same design as the XL, I’d argue that my points extend to that device as well. It doesn’t have the fancy bezel-less display, but everything else still stands out as a Google phone. This generation isn’t perfect by any means, but one thing’s for sure: Google has finally found their direction.