The Google Pixel and the Pixel XL are good phones. In fact, they are really solid phones. However, that is largely to do with the software experience they offer. This is Android as Google intended, albeit with a few additional tweaks to give the Pixel phones a little more individual character and flavor. Which is great. The issue is however, that in terms of the design and the hardware, the Pixel and the Pixel XL are not the most premium of devices – in spite of both sporting a premium price tag. With the Pixel 2 and the Pixel XL 2 now seemingly only weeks away from being announced. What should we expect? Well at the software level we know what we are getting. As besides any ‘Pixel perks’ that may be included, the Pixel 2 and the Pixel XL 2 will come running Android 8.0 (Oreo) out of the box – at a minimum. At the hardware side though, things are anything but straightforward.
In contrast to last year when there were two Pixel phones ‘discreetly’ manufactured by HTC, the rumors peg this year’s offerings as coming from HTC and LG. With the assumption that “Walleye” the smaller of the two devices will be a HTC-made device and “Taimen” the bigger of the two will be coming from LG. While both of these companies are companies often associated with Google, they do have different design mantras. Which now seems to be manifesting itself in two very different phones – which in itself is an issue as it essentially negates what a phone line should do – define itself. What makes this situation even worse, the Pixel 2 and Pixel XL 2 so far seem to be anything but unique phones, with Google seemingly opting to produce phones which borrow features from other devices.
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Take the Pixel 2 for example. With this largely understood to be a HTC device, it is one which looks set to come sporting ‘Edge Sensors’ – albeit in the form of “Active Edge.” A feature found on the HTC U11 and one which allows the user to squeeze the sides to initiate an assigned feature – for instance, take a selfie or active Google Assistant. This is clearly a HTC feature and one that identifies the HTC U11 as the HTC U11. Now however, it is showing up on a ‘“made by Google” phone as a feature designed to differentiate the Pixel 2 from the rest of this year’s flagship offerings – excluding the HTC U11 of course. On the other hand there is the Pixel XL 2. In contrast, it seems this phone’s selling feature is going to be the display. As rumors not only have this as a QHD display but one which actually boasts a QHD+ resolution. As the Pixel XL 2 is believed to come sporting an 18:9 aspect ratio. Which in turn means this will be a relatively bezel-less phone. One which seemingly will not be that different to the display on offer with the the LG V30. With LG reportedly behind the Pixel XL 2, it would seem the display is another one of those borrowed features.
However, what is less clear is why these features do not transpose to both devices. For example, instead of offering consumers one device (or one device in two sizes) which features an 18:9 aspect ratio, along with Edge Sensor functionality, Google seems intent on offering some consumers one, and other consumers the other. If the rumors pan out then it seems consumers will literally have to make a choice between which feature they want more. Which seems highly counter-intuitive to the rest of the market. While it stands to reason that a more premium (read: more expensive) smartphone comes with more features. When it comes to the Pixel 2 and Pixel XL 2 – it seems likely to be the case that these two phones will come with different features. Surely by definition that makes them different phones?
To be fair, this is not set in stone. Besides the fact that the phones have yet to be announced or the rumors confirmed, there is no clear suggestion that the larger Pixel XL 2 will not come touting ‘Active Edge’ Sensors. As it could. However, it does seem unlikely to be the case. After all, HTC will want its version of the next Pixel to sell well and loading what is essentially a competitor’s product (LG’s Pixel XL 2) with HTC’s feature, in addition to the additional features that it is expected to offer over the Pixel 2, does not seem to be something which would play well for the Pixel 2 in the long-term. And by association, HTC. So it stands to reason that these phones are going to be different phones, sporting different features, and presumably, aimed at different buyers. Especially considering all the rumors do clearly point to the Pixel 2 (HTC’s one) not offering the same display benefits that will be on offer with the Pixel XL 2. In other words, the Pixel 2 will be coming with bezels.
Which brings us to the next point. Whether HTC’s or Google’s (or both) decision, it seems the Pixel 2 is going to be a rather bland phone in general. So far all rumors point to the smaller Pixel 2 as being a bit of a carbon copy of the original Pixel. Sporting an almost identical front panel to last year’s model, including the same bezels. Which again is something that flies in the face of current market standards. Manufacturers, from all levels of the smartphone sphere, are dropping bezels quicker than you can say “what is the difference between all-display, all-screen, edge-to-edge, Infinity Display, and FullVision.” In contrast, the Pixel 2 will just keep on trucking with its dated look and design.
A sentiment that also extrapolates to the general specs – and of both devices. While it seems clear the Pixel 2 and the Pixel XL 2 are not going to be the same phone, inside they are. And by all accounts, they will be bland and basic flagship smartphones. As rumors peg the two devices as both coming with 4GB RAM (while other phones are now reaching 6GB and even 8GB), along with 64GB and 128GB storage, respectively. With no mention of expandable storage – an issue itself with the original Pixel phones. Then there is the SoC. It had long been thought the two Pixels would come sporting a ‘Qualcomm Snapdragon 836’ SoC. In spite of this being a currently unannounced processor (and seemingly one which does not exist), it was still expected to be included in the upcoming Pixels. In the same vein as how the first-gen Pixel phones came sporting the Snapdragon 821 instead of the Snapdragon 820. Instead however, it now looks as though the two Pixel 2 phones will come powered by the Snapdragon 835. While this is the current flagship processor from Qualcomm, it is also one found on just about every flagship Android phone in 2017. So this will be another area that the Pixels follow instead of leading.
Of course, you would expect the Pixel 2 and the Pixel XL 2 to come touting an unrivaled camera experience, right? Considering all other flagship smartphones now include a dual rear camera setup, this would naturally lead to the assumption the Pixel 2 and the Pixel XL 2 will come with an unrivaled dual rear camera setup, right? Maybe even a dual front camera setup too, right? Wrong. It seems the Pixel 2 and the Pixel XL 2 are not jumping aboard the dual rear camera train. Yes, it will have dual cameras, although its dual cameras will consist of one on the front and one on the back. Same as last year. Without a doubt it will be a good camera and good camera experience, but whether it will be a great camera and experience remains to be seen. More to the point, with everyone going the dual rear camera route, the question does have to be asked why Google has chosen not to?
And this is before we even get started on the other issues that Google must have ironed out since the first model(s). Water-resistance being an obvious case in point. While it is presumed guaranteed that the two Pixel phones will be water-resistant, that is based on the expectations of the general market. They just have to be water-proof as it would raise too many questions if they were not. However, as we have seen from Google already, Google is not singing from the same hymn sheet as the rest of the pack. So while it seems obvious the two Pixels will come with what is a standard 2017 flagship feature like water-resistance, they may not. The only positive reinforcement (which is not actually positive if you think about it) is that as the Pixel 2 and the Pixel XL 2 seem to borrowing features from the likes of the HTC U11 and the LG V30, then waterproofing is likely to also be borrowed – as both the U11 and V30 are water-resistant phones (IP67 and IP68, respectively).
Time to wrap up. If Google want to make a real impact, then what it should do is bring to market one solid Pixel phone. One very good phone, inside and out. One which represents the best of Android smartphone hardware, while also packing in the features now associated with Android flagship phones. Not only flagship fundamentals such as water-resistance, but also the sum of those features borrowed from other companies. As it stands with these upcoming and rather different Pixel phones, it is hard to suggest why they are individually worth purchasing and certainly compared to the actual phones they are seemingly using as a reference design. For example, if you’re more interested in the Pixel 2, then surely you would be better off just buying the HTC U11. It comes with the same main feature, a better and higher quality display, a great camera experience, and more. While those more interested in the Pixel XL 2 are likely to be equally better off just buying the LG V30. Which seemingly comes with an almost identical display (including the size and the resolution), as well a dual rear camera setup, a number of camera tweaks, and even audio advancements to boot. Of course, the two Pixels will ship with the latest version of Android, Oreo. Which would be a unique selling point – had the Sony Xperia XZ1 line not already been confirmed as shipping with Oreo out of the box as well.