Google Pixel 2 And Pixel 2 XL Review: Perfecting Android

Google Pixel 2 XL And Pixel 2 Camera Features And Performance

Google's Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL phones have identical all-new camera arrays and the imaging systems themselves have been revamped with new software hooks to exploit the hardware. Google's Pixel camera implementation includes both front and rear shooters, as usual, with the front offering 8MP FHD 1080p capture and the rear delivering 12.2MP. However, the rear is where all the action is, with its f1.8 aperture lens and autofocus with laser and dual pixel phase detection. The rear camera also has combined optical and electronic image stabilization. In short, Google does a more with less cameras and electronics than some other smartphones, so let's dive in.  

Camera App Main
Camera Semi Pro Mode
Camera White Balance

The Android 8 camera app is fairly familiar with simplified controls clearly designed to keep humans from screwing things up. Things like timers and flash settings are exposed on the main Auto mode screen, though you can toggle into what we'd call a "semi-pro" mode where you can dial in a few things like exposure, but not to the level of many Android full manual setups on the market currently. This isn't too much of a concern for the mainstream crowd, especially when you see how great the imaging is on full Auto, where we'd wager 99% of all smartphone shots are taken. You also get the usual effect shot modes like Slow Motion, Panorama, Photo Sphere and a new Motion Photo mode that captures a short video clip before and after the shot, to include with it for sharing. 

Portrait Mode

However, what's perhaps the most interesting new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL camera feature is something called Portrait mode. Here, with a single camera, Google has been able to achieve an effect that Samsung required a pair of cameras to pull off with the Galaxy Note 8. Portrait mode employs the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL’s Dual Pixel phase detection technology, along with an algorithmic assist to capture shots with the primary foreground subject sharp and in focus, while blurring the background for a nice bokeh effect. Take a look…  

Camera Portorait Mode
Google Pixel 2 Portrait Mode Bokeh
Google Pixel 2 Portrait Mode Bokeh Effect With A Single Camera

Google notes that Portrait mode shots are best composed with a foreground subject that is a far enough distance away from a clear background. As you can see above, that distance can vary but in many cases only needs to be a few inches, depending on the subject. Two shots are saved in Portrait mode, a fully crisp standard shot, and a Portrait shot with a pleasing blurred background effect that makes the primary subject pop that much more. This effect is especially great for pictures of family, friends, co-workers etc., as it adds depth and a professional, portrait look to the shot. Hence the name. And selfie aficionados chin-up and smile, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL’s front facing 8MP camera offers Portrait mode as well.

Google Lens, AI-Power Machine Vision In Your Pocket 

Google Lens is new for the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL camera systems with Android Oreo, and it delivers what essentially marks the beginning of personal machine vision and image recognition, but with a level of accuracy and detail that Samsung's recent Bixby Vision roll-out hasn't yet acheived. 

Russel Terrier Lens Canada Dry Google Lens
Google Lens gets it right, down to the breed. Impressive.

On the right side, we gave Google Lens a lay-up of sorts with the Canada Dry Diet Ginger Ale can. Notable brand logos and the like are easy pickins after all. However, in the left hand shot, Yogi, the 7 year old Jack Russel Terrier is much tougher work. His markings could be like other breeds, like maybe a Beagle, and the rest of his features aren’t all that prominent. He’s a smaller dog (a Great Dane in his head, however), but smaller relative to what in that shot? There are a lot of variables here, and though we didn’t perform head-to-head testing per say, Samsung’s Bixby Vision got it wrong, in fact labeling the poor fella a Beagle or a Basset Hound. If he knew, he’d be offended. Google Lens, on the other hand, nailed it on the first try.

Google notes that currently "Lens can recognize places like landmarks and buildings, artwork that you’d find in a museum, media covers such as books, movies, music albums, and video games and help you read and take action on text like emails, phone numbers and urls. It makes it easier to search the things you come across and learn more about what’s in your photos. It’ll come to Google Assistant on Pixel in the coming weeks."

Google Pixel 2 And Pixel 2 XL Vs LG V30 And Samsung Galaxy S8+

Now that we’ve got all that fancy image composition and recognition technology out of the way, let’s look at some straight-up digital photography. First we’ll compare the new Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL to two top Android phone cameras on the market currently, the Samsung Galaxy S8+ and LG’s new V30 with its sensitive f1.7 aperture lens.

Pixel 2 Yogi HDR Pixel 2 Yogi HDR Plus
Google Pixel 2 XL - Auto HDR (Left)  - HDR+ Enchanced (Right)
LG V30 Yogi HDR Auto Galaxy S8 Yogi HDR Auto
LG V30 - Auto HDR (Left) - Samsung Galaxy S8+ - Auto HDR (Right)

Depending on how you see things here, this complex scene with Yogi on the patterned rug stair runner could be a veritable toss-up. We took two shots with the Pixel 2 XL (again the cameras are identical between the two new Pixel 2s), one in Auto mode and one in HDR+ Enhanced, though admittedly HDR+ Enhanced is more for outdoor, variable lighting shots. Regardless, peering at the pixels we can see that the Pixel 2 shots are super sharp and detailed, though slightly more muted in terms of colors, versus the Galaxy S8+ and LG V30. The S8+ shot looks over-saturated with slightly less detail, however, the LG V30 shot looks perhaps the best of both worlds, with slightly better color reproduction and good clarity. It could be argued that the V30 shot is a bit over-sharpened as well. Either way, it’s a fairly close call and the Pixel 2’s camera performance is very competitive.

Pixel 2 Arch Angel Auto HDR LG V30 Arch Angel Auto HDR
Google Pixel 2 XL (Left) - LG V30 (Right)
Galaxy S8 Plus Arch Angel Auto HDR
Samsung Galaxy S8+
Pixel 2 Nick Nacks Auto HDR LG V30 NickNacks Auto HDR
Google Pixel 2 (Left) - LG V30 (Right)
Galaxy S8 Plus Nick Nacks Auto HDR
Samsung Galaxy S8+
In these challenging lighting and low light indoor shots, we see slightly wider separation between these flagship phones. The Pixel 2 and Samsung Galaxy S8+ have more noise in low and mixed light conditions, if you look to the left on the wall in the shot with the clock, for example. And again, the Pixel 2 renders a decidedly more cool hue image than the other two in the shot with the knick-knacks on the white table. This shot is specifically very warm in person since it’s lit with incandescent light and no ambient outdoor light coming in. The V30 and GS8+ are more accurate color-wise but their shots aren’t quite as sharp as the Pixel 2’s capture. And further, the Pixel 2 color-corrected the shot somewhat, so it wasn't as warm, and its capture is probably more true to life in a more balanced, natural lighting setting. 

Google Pixel 2 XL And Pixel 2 Image Gallery

Pinecones flower rail boxes
flower basket fall leaves2
bricks Yogi Auto HDR

Where the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL really stretch their legs, however, is with outdoor shots, where variable or bright lighting can be taken advantage of by the phone’s HDR+ Enhanced mode. All told, we give the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL very high marks in camera performance. We’d like to see a firmware tweak down the road to work on color balancing algorithms, but that’s a subjective opinion and request we suppose.

Google's new Pixel 2s also have something the company is calling "Fused Video Stabilization." This combines optical and electronic image stabilization in video captures. Let's take a look at that with our buddy Yogi, next... 

We should note that you'll want to make sure you're on a fast internet connection as YouTube will automatically down-sample these videos if streaming bandwidth isn't up to par. If you see a video suddenly, magically clean-up existing artifacts in the middle of playback, that's likely a streaming issue. Regardless, image stabilization is solid with these new Google Pixel 2 phones, and color and light balance seems great as well. Auto-focus has a bit of a challenge in spots, because of our shot composition challenges with a fast moving target like Yogi, but all in all video capture is solid with the Pixel 2 and 4K looks nice and crispy, as one would expect.

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