Google Pixel 2 And Pixel 2 XL Review: Perfecting Android

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Android 8.0 Oreo Features And Performance, Pixel 2 User Experience And Day Dream View

From a User Interface standpoint, Android 8.0, Oreo has only slight visual tweaks versus its predecessor that offer a cleaner setup and easier access to app updates and notifications. The search bar is now on the bottom of the display, in easier reach for one handed use. You also have notification dots visible by app now, that let you see incoming updates quickly without diving in, and you can just swipe them away. We're also treated to a new set of Emoji, that are a little cleaner as well, and perhaps more descriptive in some ways.
 
Home Screen App Tray
Settings Shortcuts Oreo Emoji Update

However, what's under the hood of Oreo is most impressive. Google claims Android Oreo is now 2x faster than the previous generation Android OS (presumably 7.0 Nougat), and also has a background task activity limiter to monitor the tasks you use least and keep power and resource consumption in check. There's little question both the Pixel 2 and the Pixel 2 XL boot up dramatically faster than any other Android phone we've tested to date. Both phones boot amazingly fast, actually, and that's a superlative we don't often use here. Furthermore loading apps and switching between them is also lightning-fast, visibly more nimble than what we're used to in previous generation Android devices. Indeed, in addition to a couple of interesting bells and whistles, Oreo is the real deal and a great operating system update for the Android ecosystem. If performance is near and dear to your heart like it is ours, Oreo delivers. 

Squeeze Assistant Maps On Phone Dialer PiP
Another features that Oreo delivers is the new side squeeze (oh my, no pun intended) for Google Assistant. Dubbed "Active Edge," once set up, giving the Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL a squeeze fires up Google Assistant in a jiffy. Another nice addition is Android PiP or Picture-in-Picture. Just like it sounds, PiP allows you to fire up certain apps and leave them running in a background window, just by hitting the Home button. You can then fire up any other application and have the PiP app running in an overlay. Above, you can see Google Maps on top of the phone dialer, a common usage model. The current Android PiP app list consists of Chrome, Duo video calling, Google Play Movies and TV, Maps and YouTube. We will say, however, that it was hit or miss for some of these apps firing up in PiP mode. 

Google Now Playing
Google Now Playing

Another not necessarily new feature to smartphones, but new to the Pixel line-up in Android Oreo, is something Google calls Now Playing. It's like an always-on Shazam (if you enable it) and it doesn't even need network connectivity since it is all processed directly on the Pixel 2 handset itself. Those of you in the tinfoil hat set need fear not, however, as Google is quick to point out that Now Playing is only listening for music. You also have to manually enable the feature in the Settings>Sound>Advanced>Now Playing menu. Regardless, once a song is recognized, it's displayed on the lock screen. You can then double tap the song and it will fire up Google Assistant for more information, including any YouTube videos and the ability to save the song for later to Google Play Music Or Spotify, if you have those apps setup. There's no Pandora support, but it's still, pretty cool. 

Google Pixel 2 Kit
Google Day Dream VR Viewer
Ace Fishing VR
Gunship Battle 2

Google is rolling out a number of new devices and peripherals with the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, most prominently a new Google Daydream VR headset that now has bigger lenses with a wider field of view. Image quality driven by the two Pixel 2 devices is excellent and Google has also built in a sort of heat sink to the front of the headset door that closes over the Pixel 2 when mounted it's in the display area. This wicks heat away nicely and keeps phones from heating up as VR definitely tends to push heavier workloads. Gaming apps like VR Ace Fishing and Gunship Battle 2 are obvious fun little escapes. Gunship Battle 2 especially, where you pilot a military helicopter on various missions, really lends itself to the technology as you gaze out the windshield over the terrain and mission theater. There are lots of other VR apps supported in the Daydream ecosystem now, from YouTube to Discovery Channel and Netflix, there's a fair amount of content to immerse yourself in, games to play, and experiences to explore. Ultimately, the experience isn't quite at the level of a VR system like an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive but among mobile VR setups, Daydream is coming along nicely and on par with competitive solutions like Samsung Gear VR.

Libratone Headphones

One final item that came bundled with our press kit from Google were these excellent Libratone Q Adapt wireless on-ear headphones. Seen here with their travel case and tether for charging or if you want to physically plug them in, though they typically are paired via Bluetooth. These elegant cans, if you can call them that, come with four adjustable noise cancelling levels and integrated volume, play, pause, and skip forward and back controls on the ear cup. They sound fantastic and pair with the Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL in a snap via their Fast Pair feature over Bluetooth 4.1 AptX (Pixel 2s support Bluetooth 5 as well). BT 4.1 AptX also offers smarter paring and reconnection characteristics, as well as a claimed better compression algorithm for wireless sound. We can't make any A/B comparisons just yet, but we will say again that sound quality was impressive with these with a natural, open sound and solid, rich low-end response. 

Time to peer at the Pixel 2's captured pixels...

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