Hands-on with Google's new Pixel 2 phone

 05 Oct 2017 - 15:06

Hands-on with Google's new Pixel 2 phone
The new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones are seen at a product launch event on October 4, 2017 at the SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco, California. Google unveiled newly designed versions of its Pixel smartphone, the highlight of a refreshed line of devices which are part of the tech giant's efforts to boost its presence against hardware rivals. / AFP / Elijah Nouvelage

By Hayley Tsukayama / The Washington Post

Google is accelerating its push into making its own devices. The firm on Wednesday introduced two new smartphones, a new laptop called the Pixelbook, a stylus and new wireless earbuds called Pixel Buds. It also debuted "Mini" and "Max" versions of its Google Home hub.

But the stars of the show, really, were the new Pixel 2 smartphones, which come in a 5-inch standard size and a 6-inch XL version. The main difference between the two phones is the size, plus, of course, the price: the Pixel 2 starts at $649 (in US), while the XL will run you at least $849.

I had a few moments to get my hands on both phones - which are almost identical - to get some preliminary thoughts on the heart of the new Google hardware lineup.

With Pixel 2, Google's made some features that are similar to what competitors have - but it's done its magpie impression in a smart way. That's clearest in the improvements Google's made to Google Lens, its visual search tool, which is similar to Samsung's Bixby Vision. Google's applied its search know-how in intriguing ways. Snap a picture of an album cover, and it will offer various useful links, including to YouTube in case you want to hear a track. Taking a picture of a book cover can link you to reviews. That's arguably more useful than the shopping links or place identifications at which Bixby Vision excels.

Google's also made "Motion Photos," which seem like an answer to Apple's moving "Live Photos." In fact, they seem almost identical, but it's a nice feature to move over to Android.

Not that this phone is totally free of gimmicks. Google has added "Active Edge" to the Pixel 2, which lets you squeeze your phone to activate Google's voice assistant. It's not a horrible idea - it works, at least in demos - but I'll be curious to see how often Assistant triggers while sliding into tight pockets on skinny jeans or other tight spots. There is a setting on the phone that lets you set how firm a grip you want to have in order to trigger Assistant, so that may help prevent AI mishaps. Squeezing is also supposed to work through cases, which is another point that will require further testing.

Also, just a year after making fun of Apple for ditching the headphone jack, Google has ditched the headphone jack for the Pixel 2. I overheard a Google demonstrator actually apologize to a member of the press for that - the explanation for getting rid of it is that it gives you more space in the phone for other things. Also, Google will have an adapter. And, presumably, be more careful about what it teases others about in the future.

Both phones feel nice in-hand with good-quality construction. They have all-metal bodies with the exception of a glass "visor" at the back. The back of the phone also houses the fingerprint reader.
Still, added all up, this is an impressive set of phones, even in the absence of anything completely spectacular. The features that Google has added aren't groundbreaking, but they are thoughtful and - at least in the demos - work as advertised. It may not rock your world, but it seems it will make it easier to get through the day.

Based on what I've seen today, the Pixel 2 may set a new standard for Android phones.