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Google's latest effort to show off its vision for "Pure Android" hardware costs more than Apple's iPhone 8 Plus but is half as fast, lacks a telephoto lens, offers no support for Qi wireless charging, isn't capable of recording smooth 60fps 4K video and— like Windows 10 Mobile— offers no potential of an installed base for building new, compelling AR apps.
Pixel 2 and 2 XL are premium priced but poorly equipped
Perhaps even more remarkably, the latest "Phone by Google" lacks support for SD Cards and removable batteries and lacks the extra RAM and processing power needed to run Android, as well lacking the legacy headphone jack that Google itself promoted as valuable and necessary just last year. It also features proprietary dongles that cost significantly more than Apple's, and doesn't even bundle in a pair of headphones.
Priced more than the much faster iPhone 8 Plus
In a departure from its earlier Nexus phones that aimed to deliver Android on a budget— as well as Google's mantra about seeking to deliver $100 phones for people in developing countries— the company's LG-built Pixel 2 XL demands a premium price, starting at $849 for the 64-gigabyte version. iPhone 8 Plus with the same storage is $799.
Pixel 2 XL demands a premium price, starting at $849 for the 64-gigabyte version. iPhone 8 Plus with the same storage is $799
Pixel 2 XL offers a 128GB option for $100 more, but for that price you can buy an iPhone 8 Plus with 256GB (twice the storage), an option that's not even available on Pixel phones.
That puts you at $949. Buy a pair of headphones and you're awfully close to that $1000 price of Apple's future forward iPhone X that got everyone so upset just thinking about it.
That's the prices Google has set for its pedestrian Pixel 2 XL, a phone that lacks the sophisticated hardware, the serious software, the enterprise credibility and the attractive design of an iPhone 8 Plus. Pixel 2 XL, along with its mismatched Pixel 2 built by HTC, look like a couple of plastic, abandoned refrigerators, not sleek smartphones.
If nobody cares that its broke, don't fix it!
Google's Pixel 2 XL has 4GB of system RAM, vs 3GB in Apple's iPhone 8 Plus. That's an issue because Android does a far worse job at managing memory. In fact, third-party testing has shown that Android software, particularly games, routinely use up four times the RAM as the same software running on iOS.
Over the last several years, Apple's A-series Application Processors running at slower clock speeds have trounced leading Android flagship phones in performance benchmarks despite those phones having higher clock speeds and being packed with much more RAM.
Google's Android OS is so bad at memory management that even simple tasks such as opening apps and multitasking between apps open in the background takes two to four times as long compared to Apple's iOS
Additional RAM generally makes a computing system more efficient, up to point. How much it helps is constrained by the ability of the operating system to effectively manage how the system uses available memory.
Google's Android OS is so bad at memory management that even simple tasks such as opening apps and multitasking between apps open in the background takes two to four times as long compared to Apple's iOS, even when those Androids are packed with more RAM.
The fastest multitasker among a group of Android flagships tested this spring was a phone made by China's BBK, the OnePlus 3T. It packs an incredible 6GB of RAM, but was still just half as fast in working between apps as an iPhone 7 Plus with 3GB. The worst performer? Google's Pixel, with the same 4GB as this year's Pixel 2.
Yet this year, Google thought it was more important to raise the price of its phone than to add more RAM, or overhaul the incredibly sloppy architecture of its Android OS. Despite its last-place performance, there's been no shortage of pundit praise for Google's Pixel brand, which was neither cost-effective nor impressively equipped in hardware.
David Pierce of Wired, Napier Lopez of TheNextWeb, Ron Amadeo of Ars Technica, Andrew Griffin of The Independent UK, Alex Dobie of Android Central, the staff of The Wirecutter, Steve Kovach of Business Insider, and— of course— Dan Seifert of the Verge and Dieter Bohn the Verge and Walt Mossberg of the Verge all declared the Google Pixel to be the very best Android available.
In this bizarro world of starry-eyed Google-fandom, it appears that nobody cares about snappy performance, premium phone prices, inadequate hardware specs or having a phone that looks like a cheaper copy of last year's iPhone.
Vlad Savov even wrote of the original Pixel that "the Google phone is almost as good as the iPhone," again for the Verge— calling the whole point of Google's years of failed Android attempts with Nexus, Motorola and Pixel into question.
However, despite all the glowing accolades from the Android press (and tons of web advertising from the world's top web ad network), Google's Pixel has seen very limited actual sales. Even in its peak launch quarter, Pixel only sold about as many units as Apple Watch (estimates for both are around 4-5 million), but Apple Watch is a premium iPhone accessory, not a must-have smartphone that everyone carries.
Stuck on the slow Qualcomm path
Minimal RAM and Android memory management aside, there's another reason why Google's premium-priced Pixel 2 XL is slower than iPhone 8 Plus: it's stuck using the only premium processor family still available to higher-end Android flagships: Qualcomm Snapdragon.
Other performance-oriented mobile processor architectures (including Nvidia's Tegra and TI's OMAP) have abandoned the smartphone business, largely because neither Android nor Microsoft's Windows 10 Mobile could maintain sustaining sales of high-end phones.
After years of racing to the bargain-bottom with products like the $299 Nexus 4 and working to facilitate the $100 Android One for developing nations, there are simply few options left for fast, premium chips at any price.
Google's Pixel 2 XL (along with the standard Pixel 2) are forced to use a significantly weaker Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor. Apple's A11 Bionic chip used in iPhone 8 Plus (as well as iPhone 8 and iPhone X) is a remarkable 118 percent faster at typical single core tasks, and ramps up to reach multiple core scores more than 64 percent faster than Qualcomm's 835.
Note that those scores are based on testing of Xiaomi's Mi 6, which pairs the same processor as Pixel 2 XL but with 6GB of RAM, 50 percent more than Google installs.
Further, Geekbench is just measuring basic CPU functions crunching math algorithms. Apple notes that the A11 Bionic includes not just additional cores, but a new performance controller that's 70 percent faster at managing multithreaded workloads than last year's A10 Fusion.
A11 Bionic is also faster in GPU performance and has high-performance silicon dedicated to machine learning, media compression and an advanced SSD storage controller (Pixel 2 models use the basic UFS 2.0 interface, compared to iPhone 8 with NVMe). All this adds up to a phone that's faster at real-world operations from opening files to editing videos.
Not only is the Pixel 2 XL's brain slower, but it's tasked with managing 3.6 million pixels, an invisible-to-the-eye "advantage" in resolution that inherently contributes to slower performance in graphics given that iPhone 8 Plus only has to manage 2 million.
In the scores above, the Xiaomi Mi 6 with more RAM also drives a 1920x1080 display, the same as the smaller Pixel 2 and iPhone 8 Plus. Google's Pixel 2 XL is tasked with a 2560x1440 display, so it has multiple reasons to reach scores even lower than the Mi 6 (despite being priced much higher).
Google's Pixel 2 lineup is not just slower than Apple's iPhone 8 Plus, it's slow and poorly equipped for an Android. It's also absurdly priced for being an Android, given that Mi 6 costs about $420 for the 6GB version with 128GB of storage. Of course, that model is only sold in China. It doesn't run Google Play services, and likely doesn't work on LTE networks outside of China, despite using the same integrated Qualcomm modem as Pixel 2.
That comparison does however highlight the absurdity of the contempt for Apple shown by Android fans, who point to prices and market share numbers of "Android" in China to denigrate Apple's "expensive and boring" iPhone, then turn around and suggest a willingness to pay more than iPhone prices for a Google phone that's less exciting than last year's iPhone, while having a slower processor and anemic memory.
Tasked with collecting data
While literally less powerful at its core, Google's Pixel 2 lineup has strategically decided to activate an always-listening microphone, ostensibly so users can identify ambient tunes faster than one could think to ask Siri what's playing.
The reality is that this serves as a full time listening bug so Google can analyze everything it hears all the time, just like Google Home. It listens to what shows you have playing, what music you hear, what advertising you're exposed to, and what you say in personal conversations. You pay for Google's data collection with taxed performance and lower battery life. You also pay a premium price for the hardware, which is even slow by Android standards.
Along with its spy mic in Pixel 2 models, Google also introduced a $250 Clips camera that serves as a home security system without any security: it just records candid moments all the time, generating tons of images that it hopes you'll sync up to your free Google cloud storage for analysis. Google wants to be Amazon, and wants you to pay for this.
At Google IO this summer, the company also showed off a brainstorm of Android camera sharing features to automatically send images to people who it thinks are your friends appearing in the images you capture.
Pixel 2 is Google's woefully inferior, uglier yet more expensive version of last year's iPhone, with less security and more shamelessly overt spyware to track your behavior and then profile you for to anyone that might pay for targeted messages, regardless of how awful they might be.
Pixel 2 has more expensive dongles, lacks modern new features and dumps several ideas that Google paraded as important last year. It fully reflects its maker as a greed machine without a shred of shame or humanity; a company that sees no value in honesty or integrity. Unsurprisingly, it gets top marks from phony reviewers.
Pay all attention to the DxOMark behind the curtain
Google touted the new Pixel 2 and 2 XL phones as being awarded the highest mobile camera scores by DxOMark, numbers it conveniently obtained before even publicly releasing the phone. Last year it did the same thing.
DxOMark never got around to scoring Apple's iPhone 7 Plus, determining that it didn't have the setup to rank its new hardware features. Even worse, DxOMark's scores last year did not accompany evidence of superior results from the Pixel. In fact, its report portrayed Pixel photos as performing worse in low light than its peers.
What is DxOMark scoring? Certainly not just the ability of a camera to take photos. The firm is a for-profit consultancy that licenses its internal DxO Analyzer tool for rating image quality, offering "installation, training and consulting services."
That means its rankings share some of the problems of benchmark tools that can be used to "optimize for benchmark scores" rather than for performance. But there are other issues with DxO's numbers voiced by everyone from professional photographers to mobile device bloggers of all persuasions.
Notably, Android Police stated last year that "DxO has an open conflict of interest (they certainly don't hide it) in judging such things given their financial interest in the whole ordeal, and should probably not be blindly trusted as a source of objective performance data on smartphone cameras."
Google appears to be using DxO as a distraction away from the actual details of Pixel 2 photos and its camera features
That observation was made after DxO awarded high scores to a Samsung Android phone.
Conversely, after DxO awarded high scores to iPhone 8, it was an Apple-aligned writer (John Gruber of Daring Fireball) who wrote that "DXO ratings are horseshit," in a piece that noted DxO ratings "assign precise numbers like 96 for photos,' 89 for video,' and 55 for bokeh' — but these numbers just give a false illusion of scientific rigor."
"Particularly with their overall' score," he stated, "DXO is pretending to assign an objective scientific-looking measurement to something that is inherently subjective."
Google appears to be using DxO as a distraction away from the actual details of Pixel 2 photos and its camera features, focusing attention instead on a precise number offering a "false illusion of scientific rigor."
Missing features: camera
There's a lot for Google to distract attention away from. Pixel 2 XL lacks the dual cameras introduced on last year's iPhone 7 Plus, including its support for 2x optical telephoto, and it uses a two element flash as opposed to the brighter, more accurate illumination of the four LED flash on Apple's iPhone 7 models.
This year's iPhone 8 Plus further enhances its camera features, using dual lens differential depth processing to apply not just shallow depth of field Portrait capture, but also foreground Portrait Lighting processing of the subject, allowing you to select AR lighting effects that fully exploit the advantage of having two lenses.
Google's Pixel 2 XL creates a blurred background effect through edge detection, making it possible to fake Portrait mode for a still shot, but failing to replicate what dual lenses can do in video using iOS 11's new Depth API.
Apple's new Slow Sync flash on iPhone 8 turns the LED flash from a device that ruins most photos into a very useful tool, allowing you to capture foreground subjects with natural, flattering light that isn't overpowering while also picking up details in the background. Google's Pixel 2 XL still has a basic flash.
Barely mentioned anywhere is the fact that Pixel 2 models can still only record 4K video at 30fps, which results in jittery video pans. Apple's newest phones can capture 4K in 60fps, as well 1080p Slomo at 240fps. Pixel 2 phones can only capture half that frame rate, putting them a solid year behind iPhone 8 models.
iPhone 8 also saves its videos in High Efficiency HEVC format, the newest compression technology. Google has bet on its own compression technology, which is inferior in both size and capability, again leaving Pixel 2 a year behind Apple in codec technology (which incidentally, enables the ability to perform high frame rate video). Neither can be addressed in a software update.
Despite all of this, Pixel 2 XL demands a higher price. Google (and most everyone covering its event) brushed all the facts aside to instead repeat an arbitrary DxO score delivered as proof the Pixel 2 camera is automatically better than everything else— even phones that don't have a score— despite lacking the hardware to capture great photos and take creative shots.
It's noteworthy that last year, Google waved around DxO scores to distract from its Pixel lineup lacking OIS, dual cameras and zoom. Take a dimly lit skyline panorama with a Pixel phone and it appears to be capturing amazing amounts of light. However, the finished capture is blown out with no detail, and rather useless as a photo. Never mind, here's a high score!
Hype and Hypocrisy
At the same time, Google also bragged last year that its Pixel phones didn't have a "camera bump," as if less capable optics were an aesthetic feature.
The problem of the "camera bump" was suddenly invented at the release of iPhone 6s, the first iPhone with a ring around its camera lens. It was commonly vilified as ugly and soul destroying because the device wouldn't lay flat on a table unless it was in a case. Never mind that most other Android phones already had "camera bumps" of some sort, often larger.
After Google promoted Pixel XL's single piece of glass covering the top of its back and the camera lens as a superior design, actual users began reporting that any damage to the rear glass was not only difficult to fix on the niche phone, but also spread cracks across the camera lens, making it really bad at taking pictures at all.
This year, Pixel 2 XL introduces a camera bump, and suddenly camera bumps are fine. Meanwhile, both Phone 7 Plus and 8 Plus have celebrated the camera bump, leveraging the additional bump to allow the phones to take better, more versatile photos as well as using their 2x zoom lens in video, slo-mo, time-lapse and panoramas.
A similar double standard applied in Apple's elimination of headphone jacks, a subject vilified on last year's iPhone 7 despite making it possible to deliver the water resistance that last year's Pixel phones lacked. Now that Google has given up its own marketing and fallen in line behind Apple, the outrage and castigation of headphone jack removal has shriveled up into barely a mention by sites including the Verge, which inflamed the issue last year as "user hostile" and "stupid."
Now that Google has given up its own marketing and fallen in line behind Apple, the outrage and castigation of headphone jack removal has shriveled up into barely a mention
Unlike the Lighting port on iPhone 7 and later models that lack a headphone jack, Pixel 2 phones supply a USB-C connector, which remains new and more difficult to obtain. Apple moved to its proprietary Lightning connector in 2012, and now all modern iOS devices use it— an installed base nearing a billion devices. That makes it relatively easy to find digital Lightning headphones and Lightning power adapters.
USB-C is so new only a few new Android phones use it. Even Samsung's Galaxy S7 flagship used micro-USB, the common "Android phone" standard. The result is that it's far less common to find a USB-C cable charger among friends or when trying to recharge at a pub or other establishment. Google's adapter also costs twice as much as Apple's.
The Pixel 2 XL does pack a larger battery, and features the same USB-PD fast charging mode as iPhone 8. But unlike many Android flagships, the Pixel's battery is not removable, another feature Android buyers commonly complain about. One advantage Google has over iPhone models is that Pixel bundles an 18watt charger, while Apple includes only a slow 5watt adapter, meaning that to take advantage of fast charging, you'll need to buy a separate cable and adapter (or use the one that ships with modern MacBooks).
Another power-related feature that relates to the removal audio jack is that last year, iPhone 7 models were criticized for not being easy to power while listening to headphones. Today's Pixel 2 has the same issue, and Google's solution is to buy an expensive $40 adapter that splits out a headphone jack from USB-C.
Apple offers a couple of less expensive wired solutions, but also now supports Qi wireless charging, so you can listen while charging without any secondary adapters, whether at home or at a Starbucks or airport lounge. Pixel 2 models offer no support for wireless charging.
Apple also introduced wireless AirPods as an alternative to the wired EarPods in bundles with new iPhones. Google doesn't bundle headphones, and offers "wireless" headphones that are connected by a wire, Pixel Buds. These were promoted as performing rapid translation, but the headphones don't actually do translation. The phone does the translation, just as Siri would on an iPhone.
Pixel Buds don't have the same auto-detection of when they're in your ear, as AirPods do, and don't actually fit into your ear canal. Instead, they wedge their neck-cord loop in your ear and hang on the edge of your ear canal.
There's no ability to use their touch sensors to control song playback, and they don't automatically shut off when removed. But they cost the same price as AirPods, despite looking like cheap branded things Google would give away at a conference.
More missing features: Haptic feedback, 3D Touch, TrueTone
Despite rumors that Android would catch up to 2015's iPhone 6s and its support for depth sensitive 3D Touch, Google's Pixel 2 XL doesn't offer anything similar.
It also lacks the precise Taptic Engine of iPhone 7 and 8 that's designed to provide haptic feedback in conjunction with 3D Touch, its solid state Home button, system-wide haptic feedback and custom haptic ringtones. Like older phones, Pixel only supports basic vibration.
Additionally, Pixel 2 phones don't support anything like iPhone 8's TrueTone, which uses ambient light temperature sensors to adjust the display to appear natural in different lighting scenarios.
Because 3D Touch, haptic feedback and TrueTone are all hardware features, there's no way that future Android releases can add that functionality to Google's current generation of Pixel phones.
Every Google Phone is forgotten after it flops
The more expensive, feature-challenged Pixel 2 XL undercuts Google's promotion of Android as being affordable and designed for the billions of people of Earth. It doesn't match the latest features of iOS, and continues to promote sending data to Google rather than protecting users' privacy as a desirable security. Who would buy it in volumes that might matter? That remains a mystery.
Google has now been building and designing phones for a decade without ever creating a significant installed base or making any money from its vanity hardware busywork. That's a long time to be looking for your first hit in the hardware world.
Google has now been building and designing phones for a decade without ever creating a significant installed base or making any money from its vanity hardware busywork. That's a long time to be looking for your first hit in the hardware world
A major reason why Google keeps hauling out inferior products that fail in the marketplace is that reviewers in the media fawn over them as the emperor's new clothes, only to clap delightedly again the next year, Soviet-style, ignoring the cycle of failure that has kept Google from ever making any actual progress. Real feedback might prod Google to be competitive, or to give up on businesses it clearly isn't any good at to focus on what it actually can do.
Google's first Android partnership to "take on" Apple's iPhone arrived in 2008, built by HTC: the Tmobile G1 (aka Magic). It was the first phone Google shipped with Android, and was specifically customized by Google to deliver a trackball and physical keyboard rather than relying on multitouch input.
The G1 also lacked a headphone jack, instead supplying a proprietary ExtUSB port with an external adapter for plugging in headphones. All of those design decisions were terrible.
Despite insisting at the time that the G1 keyboard was important and the headphone jack was not, Google and HTC later replaced the G1 with myTouch (Dream), a similar phone lacking a physical keyboard but adding a headphone jack on some versions.
One year later, Google released a successor with HTC named Nexus One (Passion), which was launched in conjunction with Android 2.0 in 2009. It also retained the trackball unique to Google's original pure vision for Android phones, but lacked a physical keyboard and standardized on including a headphone jack.
Writing for Engadget, Joshua Topolsky declared "the genuine-article Google Phone is finally here," and wrote that "while it's unmistakably HTC, there are plenty of design cues that feel authentically Google as well," a continuation of the earlier G1 that "Google worked tightly with HTC to create."
Later in 2010, however, Google launched Android 2.3 alongside a new partner: Samsung. The Nexus S was mostly just a rebadged version of Samsung's Galaxy S, which so closely copied the iPhone that it launched the initial lawsuit between Apple and Samsung.
"The genuine-article Google Phone is finally here" - Engadget 2010
Samsung wrestled for control over the Nexus partnership, resulting in the successor being named Galaxy Nexus rather than Google's rumored choice of "Nexus Prime."
In 2011, Google initiated efforts to take over Motorola Mobility in a bid to become a hardware maker itself. After purging most of Motorola's existing product designs it began work on new phone hardware more in line with its own vision for what Android hardware should be.
In 2012, Google introduced a stopgap rebadging of an LG phone, sold as the Nexus 4— as tensions mounted between the search giant and Samsung, Android's largest licensee. The phone was given an entry price of $299 to attract buyers. Google continued working with LG to deliver the Nexus 5 and 5X in 2014 and 2015.
The late-2013 Moto X was created entirely within Google's new Motorola subsidiary. Like previous Nexus partnerships it was hailed as being custom-created by Google, but it was also built under Google's direction.
Moto X failed to sell as expected, resulting in a price slashing from $550 to $399 within its first few months. Motorola lost over $700 million for Google over just six months of Moto X sales, leaving Google ready to get rid of Motorola in 2014.
Despite gestating under Google's ownership, Dieter Bohn of the Verge called Moto X "the first phone that truly reflects the new company's post-Google philosophies, it's thoroughly a Motorola phone, not a Google phone."
Somewhat confusingly, some in tech media decided that phones designed and built directly by Google were not "Google phones," but phones built by other companies with input from Google were— at least before they failed in the market. Then suddenly the next Google-branded phone became the First Ever Real Google Phone.
Every Nexus phone had failed commercially, to the point where in retrospect, Google's fans are forced to say that the company was simply doing a creative exercise and never intended to actually sell the products it so closely worked with its partners to develop, so fully hyped as innovative, and priced so attractively that it ended up losing hundreds of millions of dollars trying to sell them.
That bizarre reality distortion was evident in a high production ad brochure posing as a Wired news article entitled "The Inside Story of the Moto X."
In it, Steven Levy wrote of Google's Motorola acquisition, "What was Google thinking? Finally, we have the answer. The Moto X, announced today, marks the arrival, finally, of the Google Phone. The Moto X is the first in a series of hardware products that Google hopes will supercharge the mother company's software and services."
After ridding itself of Motorola and a full series of Moto-branded phones ranging from flagships to economy phones, Google delivered a final Nexus 6 with Lenovo— which had acquired Motorola from it— toward the end of 2014.
"Moto X, announced today, marks the arrival, finally, of the Google Phone" - Wired, 2013
A year later, in parallel with 2015's LG-built Nexus 5X, Google also partnered with China's Huawei to produce the Nexus 6P. But Google's relationship with both companies were going in the same sour direction as Samsung. Google was demanding more control over the platform, and its partners were increasingly resisting.
A report by Android Police noted that Huawei was supposed to deliver a successor to the Nexus 6P, but Google demanded that the new model would be fully branded by Google with scant acknowledgment of Huawei as anything other than its manufacturer.
Huawei had failed to make any significant inroads into the U.S. market on its own, and its Nexus 6P effort with Google had flopped just the same as every other Nexus launch. Huawei backed out of any participation with the Pixel rebranding, leaving HTC as the remaining company willing to build phones for Google to put its name on.
Stuck with HTC, which has only been floundering in its own smartphone efforts recently, Google ended up with little more than a copy of an iPhone 6, lacking many of the premium features it once offered in its money-losing experiments with Motorola.
Yet despite introducing one of the least innovative or competitive "Google phones" ever, the price of last year's Pixel lineup was the same as the faster, smarter, more powerful, better integrated and weather resistant iPhone 7 with a better display and better sound.
Despite crowing that Pixel was created entirely by Google and merely assembled by HTC, the search giant recently found it necessary to spend $1.1 billion to acquihire 2,000 HTC employees who had worked on Pixel. The credulity needed to swallow this obvious contradiction was on full display from the same people who applaud Pixel as the best Android thing ever.
Writing for the Verge Chris Welch wrote that "HTC basically served as a silent contractor" for the original Pixel phones, in the same article where he also introduced those 2,000 HTC workers as "the people responsible for creating it." Well, which is it?
It's not sexy for Google to admit that its Pixel phones are built by LG and HTC, two of Android's largest commercial failures, companies that can't manage to sustainably, profitably sell phones on their own. Neither Samsung nor the leading Chinese Android makers are interested in building Pixel phones for Google at any price.
Isolated from any criticism and surrounded by fan-journalists who will repeat any message they're fed as gospel, Google has zero connection to reality. The result is that this year, Google is raising the price of its HTC-built Pixel 2 as well as the LG-built Pixel 2 XL, again excusing its camera deficiencies while hiding behind a dubious DxO score, and offering very little that's new— setting up Pixel 2 for the same sort of failure that will win it applause from reviewers who don't even care if it sells or not, because commercial success has no impact on whether Google will give them free hardware to play with next year.