Will Google's latest iPhone-like phone out-iPhone the new iPhone?
The original Pixel was Google's clear response to Apple's success with the iPhone, controlling the entire hardware and software equation for a cohesive Android mobile experience. And in a very Apple-like fashion, the sequel is much the same.
While the larger Pixel 2 XL moves away from the iPhone-esque look, the standard-sized Pixel 2 hasn't done much in that regard. It still looks a bit like an off-brand Apple product, even if Google's tweaks are a tiny bit more stylish this time around.
But what about other aspects of the phone, and what about the overall user experience? We didn't think the Pixel bested the iPhone 7 last year, but with Apple's iPhone 8 not making any major strides of its own, the Pixel 2 might have a better fight this time around. Who will take this battle? Here's our early impression, based on the specs and our brief hands-on time with the Pixel 2.
DESIGN: TWO OF A KIND
At a glance, the Pixel 2 hasn't really changed much from last year's phone. Then again, the iPhone 8 hasn't changed from the last three editions either. Both have a fairly plain design on the front: a rectangular screen surrounded by a bit too much bezel and little else.
When you flip the phones, however, you see where these versions vary from their predecessors, not to mention each other. The Pixel 2 still has the two-tone effect from before, with a glass cutout up top and a back-mounted fingerprint sensor (the iPhone's is up front, of course). The cutout looks a bit sleeker now, and the Pixel 2 has more of a premium edge than before.
Meanwhile, the iPhone 8 has gone back to a full glass backing after years of aluminium, which not only allows for wireless charging but also gives the phone a nice design twist. Both phones offer water resistance now, and yes, both lack a headphone port. Remember when Google made fun of Apple for that? We do.
Neither of these phones is particularly eye-popping in design, but we dig the full-glass backing of the iPhone 8 more – plus the bezel on the Pixel 2 looks a bit fuller than on the iPhone.
Likely winner: Apple iPhone 8
Neither company made any significant strides with their latest smartphone screens. The iPhone 8 still has a 4.7in LCD screen at 750p resolution, while the Pixel 2 sticks with its 5in AMOLED screen at 1080p.
Slam dunk for Google, right? Yes, pretty much. The iPhone 8's screen falls under the resolution bar for even a mid-range smartphone today, let alone a flagship. It's bright, it's colourful, and the new True Tone feature helps provide more natural colour based on your ambient lighting. But you can clearly see that it's running at a lower resolution than most other top phones today.
The Pixel 2, meanwhile, is itself behind the curve when it comes to pricier Android flagships, sporting a 1080p screen instead of a Quad HD panel, but it's a pretty sharp screen with great contrast. And it's visibly better than the iPhone 8's screen, too.
Likely winner: Google Pixel 2
CAMERA: PIXEL PERFECT
Last year's Pixel came out of nowhere with one of the world's best smartphone cameras, and it looks as though Google has done it again with the Pixel 2. Bucking the dual-camera trend, the Pixel 2 sticks with one main sensor on the back: a 12-megapixel, f/1.8 shooter with optical and electronic image stabilisation, and both phase detection and laser autofocus.
Like the Galaxy S8, the Pixel 2 takes multiple shots with each tap and then quickly stitches together the results for one seamless end photo, and Google's algorithm game is on point: even the indoor snaps we shot at our hands-on looked stellar. We fully suspect that the Pixel 2 will wow us even further during extended, everyday usage.
The iPhone 8's camera is likewise pretty strong, keeping a 12MP f/1.8 back camera and finally adding optical image stabilisation, as well as a larger, faster sensor. Our shots mostly impressed, and while the iPhone 8 Plus has more tricks, the standard model is pure point-and-shoot.
We suspect that the Pixel 2 will take the edge when all is said and done, but the iPhone 8 is no slouch for avid shooters.
Likely winner: Google Pixel 2
PERFORMANCE: BIONIC POWER
Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 might be about top-of-the-line when it comes to Android processors, but Apple's A11 Bionic chip has a pretty significant leg up when it comes to benchmark testing.
In fact, it towers above the Snapdragon 835. In the Samsung Galaxy S8, the Snapdragon 835 has Geekbench 4 scores of 1781 for single-core performance and 5983 for multi-core performance – but the Bionic hits 4202 in single-core and 9990 in multi-core. And yes, higher is better, meaning Apple has loads of extra power to work with here.
The Pixel 2 hasn't been benchmarked yet as of this writing, but given that it's the same processor seen in other phones, there shouldn't be a significant difference. And both of those Android handsets have 4GB RAM within, too. The iPhone has just 2GB in play.
Real-world performance is different to benchmark tests, however, and we have every reason to believe that stock Android 8.0 Oreo is just as speedy and responsive as iOS 11. But all that extra power is sure to come in handy at some point, so Apple gets the nod here.
Likely winner: Apple iPhone 8
BATTERY AND PERKS: ODDS AND ENDS
The Pixel 2 has quite a significant advantage over the iPhone 8 when it comes to battery capacity: Google's phone has a 2,700mAh cell within, while the iPhone 8 is at a paltry 1,821mAh. Of course, it's how each phone uses that capacity that really matters.
And to that end, we just don't know how long the Pixel 2 will last. But the original phone offered up a strong day's usage and then some, and the Pixel 2 cell is just 70mAh smaller, presumably because of software and/or hardware optimisations. In our review testing, the iPhone 8 performed admirably, assuming you didn't tax it too hard with games and media. Still, we suspect the Pixel 2 will have a fair advantage here.
But the iPhone 8 is the only one of these two to offer wireless charging. Both can do fast charging, at least.
And as for storage, both start off with 64GB in the base model, while the step-up version hits 256GB on the iPhone 8, but only 128GB on the Pixel 2. Sorry, no expandable storage here.
The Pixel 2 adds the new pressure-sensitive Active Edges, which let you squeeze the sides of the phone to access the Google Assistant. Perk-wise, it seems on par with Apple's 3D Touch on the screen: a useful-enough addition, but unlikely to be critical to many users' everyday experiences.
Lastly, Google has the Daydream VR platform via the Daydream View headset. While lacking in quantity of truly essential experiences, it's a fun, worthwhile addition – albeit one that isn't as immersive or great with just a 1080p display here.
Benefits swing both ways in this category, so for now, we'll call it about even.
Likely winner: Draw
INITIAL VERDICT: REMATCH!
Last year, we thought the iPhone 7 had the slight edge over the Google Pixel. Google's phone felt like an imitation to the real deal.
But now the Pixel 2's had some refinements, and there's a real price variance this time round: the iPhone 8 is pricier than the Pixel 2. And by and large, aside from the key difference of iOS and Android, these phones aren't all that different.
Both are reliable and refined, with impressive stock software and close-enough components in most major categories. Design-wise they're close, the Pixel has the better screen and possibly the better camera, and Apple appears to have more power within.
The end result? Honestly, we don't know yet. It's too close to call. The iPhone 8 disappoints a bit this year by yet again sticking with the old design, plus it pales in comparison to both the iPhone 8 Plus and the upcoming iPhone X. Meanwhile, the Pixel 2 seems a bit lackluster when put next to the Pixel 2 XL.
We'll reserve judgment until we've properly reviewed the Pixel 2, but this could end up being a battle between two very pricey, slightly underwhelming flagships that are both pretty great despite their deficiencies. We know that's true with the iPhone 8, and we'll know pretty soon either way with the Pixel 2 as well.
Likely winner: Too close to call