Quest for a New Phone – Google Pixel 2 vs Pixel 2XL vs Samsung Galaxy

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A couple months ago, as my Samsung Galaxy S7 really started to show its age via slowdowns and battery degradation, I started surveying the current smartphone landscape to see what was available. My wife and I both use Galaxy S7 phones, and we each decided it was time to upgrade. I have very specific tastes when it comes to my little all-screen personal computer; I am in favor of Android over Apple’s iPhone, prefer Google’s baseline/stock version, and don’t really like huge phones. The last leg of my smartphone stool is the need for a great camera; I’ve heard it said elsewhere that these are really smartcameras rather than smartphones, since that’s often more important to users. Prior to the Galaxy S7, I had a Blu Studio Energy (great size, huge battery, terrible camera), a Nexus 5 (probably my favorite phone of all time), and some version of an iPhone (3S? 4? I can’t remember).

I dream of a stock Android device with an incredible low light camera, huge battery (4,000-5,000 mAh), and a handset size no bigger than the Galaxy S7. Unfortunately, such a phone doesn’t exist! The Galaxy S7 has been a good phone, but Samsung’s Android skin is still inferior and the battery life has always been somewhat poor. But it’s certainly a great size, with a beautiful screen and top notch camera. Fortunately, a new contender recently joined the discussion – the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2XL.

These Pixel 2 phones represent the closest option I’ve found to what I’m seeking. The camera is peerless (only the Note 8 and latest iPhones are close), the Operating System is clean and smooth, and the battery life is apparently solid. Plus, a nice little bonus is that it has front facing stereo speakers, which would get a lot of use from me. The phones are almost identical spec wise, which is nice because small phones are often handicapped by manufacturers. The only catch? The smaller Pixel 2 has a much smaller battery, and massive bezels that make it look like an old iPhone. I was concerned the Pixel 2XL’s 6 inch screen would be too large for my liking.

I have actually now spent time with both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. I started with the 2XL, thinking I could get used to a larger phone in exchange for that huge battery. It’s a really impressive smartphone, and if I preferred huge devices, this would be amazing. The battery life was phenomenal; I was getting like 6-7 hours Screen On Time (SOT) by the time I returned it. The phone was smooth, camera was great. The screen quality itself though, despite being QHD, was not great. The colors were very muted, and there was a severe “blue shift” when tilting the phone even slightly in any direction. Also, the clincher; it was just too big. The Pixel 2XL constantly slid out of my pockets, and I was always worried I was going to drop it. I also couldn’t comfortably reach the power button or the far left side of the screen one-handed. I’ve included some comparisons to help illustrate screen size and quality.

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So, back the Pixel 2 XL went, and now I’m taking the Pixel 2 for a test run. So far, it’s pretty great overall. The battery life is good – about 5.5 hours SOT on the first charge cycle. The screen definitely looks better than the 2XL despite only being FHD, and there’s no blue shift at all. I’m only 24 hours in on this test run, but so far the only glitch/possible defect is that occasionally it seems like the screen isn’t registering a finger swipe. I haven’t read about that happening to anyone else, but I’m going to keep an eye on it…I’m always wary about defects, however minor.

The biggest negative I am seeing with the Pixel 2 so far simply has to do with its size. I used a giant phone for almost two weeks (the 2XL), and now I’ve dropped down to a screen even smaller than my Galaxy S7. And something I didn’t even consider before; the navigation buttons on the Pixel 2 take up part of the screen real estate, which isn’t the case for the Galaxy S7’s capacitive navigation buttons on the bottom. That is a surprisingly big deal, because it makes the S7’s 5.1 inch screen seem significantly bigger than the Pixel 2’s 5 inch screen. I’ve provided some images below to show what I mean, by lining up both the notification bar at the top and the navigation buttons on the bottom.

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From Left to Right: Pixel 2XL, Pixel 2, Galaxy S7.  Status/notification bar at the top is aligned on all three phones to show true screen height and available reading space.

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From Left to Right: Pixel 2XL, Pixel 2, Galaxy S7.  Navigation buttons on the bottom are aligned on all three phones to provide another view (capacitive buttons on the S7 have dimmed, but are within the black area by the home button).

I’m probably going to give this Pixel 2 test the full two weeks of my return period to make sure I can get used to the lost screen space. I think as long as no real technical or quality control issues surface (like the finger swipe thing I mentioned), I will probably decide to go with this one. It’s got almost everything after all…or at least more of what I want that seemingly any other smartphone.

5 comments

  • Two months later status report: this Pixel 2 (the smaller one) is the best phone I’ve ever owned. The camera is insanely good, especially in low light. Everything in the OS is so smooth. The fingerprint unlock is instant and almost never fails. There are quite a few little things I never considered, too. For example, if you downswipe on the fingerprint sensor while the phone is unlocked, it pulls down the notification tray…it’s so awesome. A small thing, but I use it constantly.

    My original concern was the lost screen real estate compared to the Galaxy S7 (due to missing capacitive buttons), but after the last two months, I’ve completely forgotten about it. It’s become a total non-issue. I do have two issues now though, but they are more software related than specific to this phone (I think). One is Google Now; they changed the style/interface and moved appointment/travel stuff to a sub-menu, which is truly awful. There’s a ton of wasted real estate, too…definitely changes for the worse. The second thing is that I never get Google Opinion Rewards surveys anymore, and I have no clue why. My wife still gets them all the time.

  • Thanks for this write up i have a nexus 6 and haven’t decided which phone to upgrade to, until this article. The nexus is huge at 6 inch screen size but still a powerful phone thats everything but 64 bit. And the low light camera is terrible. I want a smaller phone and better camera so I believe the pixel 2 has my name all over it.

    • Excellent! I’m glad you found the post helpful

      I’ve been using the Pixel 2 for a couple months now, and I absolutely love it. If you want a good low light camera, this thing has you covered

  • Jon – I’ve been reading countless reviews, going back and forth between these 3 phones. Your review with the side by side pics is awesome. I’ve not seen that done before – we’ll done! It helped me rule out the xl due to my small hands and fear of dropping! Had an S7 before, now using IPhone 8. I miss Android, so probably heading back to the S7. Thanks!

    • Hey Bob, it’s good to hear that it helped! I actually spent quite a bit of time with the Pixel XL; I held onto it until the refund period was almost over. It’s a great phone, but I just couldn’t make it work ergonomically. The Pixel 2 phones actually have a cool feature where you can swipe down on the fingerprint sensor to bring down the notification tray, which could have helped me deal with the increased size. But, I actually didn’t learn about that until I had returned the XL and gone with the regular Pixel!

      The S7 is a great phone too, but I really couldn’t handle the Samsung bloatware. If you don’t mind the Samsung additions, you might consider the Galaxy S9 which is coming out in about a month I think. The S8 made a ton of improvements over the S7, but had a really terrible fingerprint sensor placement (right next to the camera lens for some reason). The S9 takes all that great hardware, and adjusts the fingerprint sensor to a better location, close to where the Pixel 2’s sensor is. And the same awesome edge-to-edge screen from the S8 is coming to the S8, which gives you a small phone size with maximum screen real estate.

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