Let’s just address the big glass slab in the room: the iPhone X will be coming out in about two weeks. It will likely be the best iPhone ever. With ground-breaking face detection technology and processing power on par with full-fledged MacBooks, it could be the most advanced phone that money can buy—and yes, you’ll be shelling out a cool $999 for the privilege. But until that happens, you could argue that the Pixel 2 XL is the best phone on the planet—even if it doesn’t have a headphone jack. Sorry.
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Where Google’s original Pixel, which was released last year, looked very much like an iPhone clone minus the home button—the fingerprint reader is found on the back—the Pixel 2 XL (starting at $849) has adopted more of a bezel-less design like the Samsung S8 and the iPhone X. It’s just playing its part in the race for phones to become glowing rectangles of pure content so we can all reach our Black Mirror destiny. At least the “San Junipero” episode sort of had a happy ending, right?
There are two new Pixels; the smaller Pixel 2 (starting at $649) is fine, but there’s an embarrassing amount of bezel, so: nope. The Pixel 2 XL is by far the better choice if you want the next big thing. (You do.) It’s manageable to hold for a phablet—practically the same size as an iPhone Plus. And this time around, it’s waterproof. Its battery will last you the day, maybe even a day and a half if you’re not checking Facebook every three minutes. Fifteen minutes of charging through the USB-C port can get you a few hours of power though, so feel free to check how that brunch Instagram is doing.
So what really makes the Pixel 2 XL the phone to beat right now? Well, the 12 megapixel camera rocks. As apps and other features have become so similar across devices, the camera has quickly become the main battlefront in the phone wars. The original Pixel, which I’ve carried alongside an iPhone for the past year, killed in low light situations. When it came to taking photos that mattered—basically everything these days, right?—I always made sure I had my Pixel with me instead of my iPhone 7 Plus. So goes for the Pixel 2. It’s one of the most amazing cameras you’ll use, full stop. The software, even more so than hardware, is the not-so-secret sauce that makes the pictures seem like they were taken with a DSLR. And with more updates, the camera will only continue to improve.
It seems to be designed to shoot in a Blade Runner-esque world perpetually in dusk and lit by neon. In low light situations in restaurants and bars or at dusk it worked like magic, where the iPhone 7 or 8 Plus was hit or miss. Sure, colors tend to be amped up and maybe a little less true than the iPhone 8’s at times—by default it shoots in HDR—but more often than not that means getting a photo that’s Instagram-worthy rather than one that sits dormant in the cloud. It’s also narcissist friendly—the 8 megapixel front-facing camera can produce selfies with artfully blurred out backgrounds (known as bokeh), something the iPhone 8 Plus’s front facing camera can’t do. If you’re a fan of the iPhone’s “Live Photos” that take snippets of video along with a picture, the Pixel Two has a version of that as well. And until 2020, Google will offer free cloud storage for full resolution photos and videos.
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What else puts the Pixel 2 XL in the win category? It’s leading in the ambient computing and artificial intelligence game. While Google Assistant—the company’s version of Siri—isn’t perfect, it’s neck and neck with Amazon’s Alexa when it comes to computers you can shout at from across the room. It’s the best way to set up reminders, sign up for price alerts on flights, play songs and videos, set alarms, and, you know, search on Google. (If you have a Google Home, the Pixel 2 is basically that in your pocket.) Google Lens can ID objects like books, cars, and landmarks simply by taking a photo of them—it’s visual search in real life. You can even set the phone to constantly listen and identify songs as they’re playing. When Google’s wireless Pixel Buds roll out in November, they’ll be able to translate spoken foreign language in real time—a feature exclusive to the Pixel 2. The Babel fish is here.
Android fans among us may be asking: What about the Samsung S8 and Note8? Fine phones! The tall and slender S8 may be the most perfectly proportioned phone around, but like most Android devices that don’t come from Google, it’s filled with odd skins and bloatware. The Pixel 2 is also the first to run Oreo, the latest version of Android and will likely get updates before other phones as well. The pure version of Android on the Pixel 2 is as clean and simple as Apple’s iOS. Switching over is easy, literally—Google offers a dongle to port most of your iPhone contents over in the matter of minutes. And if you’re looking to make that move, the Pixel 2 XL is the only Android phone I could honestly recommend to an iPhone user looking for something different.
Your turn, iPhone X. This should be fun.