Saturday 7 July 2018

Pixel 1 vs. Pixel 2

The Pixel 2 is in the house (at last) as it dropped to sensible-enough prices at under £600 for the 128GB version. So I have the Pixel 1 and Pixel 2 here now, both 128GB, so I thought that would be a good place to pitch my thoughts to begin with. The differences.

The physical is always a good place to start, but before that I'll mention one thing as I gaze down at them both. The 2's screen is (optionally) really always on whereas the 1's needs to be woken, either by incoming notification or at least a tap on the screen, press on the Power button or by lifting it to see the time, date and any previously delivered Notifications. The 2 has the edge here - all the previous, plus, just now, with the Setting on, 'always listening' for what music I'm playing in its vicinity and telling me what it is by text on the screen. Apparently all this happens on the phone itself, and the database of songs is stored there too. How much of a hit on the battery that takes, time will tell!

Before I go on, I must just point out that the Pixel 1 here is white, while the 2, black. (You can get a blue one, but only with 64GB Storage, sadly.) The 2's screen disappears into the chin and forehead, not detectable hardly. Clearly this would be different with a different colour. As it is for the 1's. The side bezels look much the same to me, a mere mm or two. The 2 is slightly more 'boxy', slightly taller, almost identical width and very slightly thinner. They both have a classy feeling aluminium surrounding edge with Gorilla Glass front and part of the back. The 1's back glass panel takes in the fingerprint scanner, the 2's doesn't, making the glass panel on the back for aerials and connectivity smaller on the 2.

Both devices feel about the same weight to me and the spec. sheet confirms that at 143g. They're light but don't feel 'cheap' because of it. The metal and glass make them both feel classy. Looking around the edges most of the stuff's in the same places. The Power button and volume rocker almost exactly the same, metal, size, placing, on the right. Only difference is that the Power button on the 1 has an etching but the 2's is smooth. Can't see it's a problem either way. Antenna breaks in the shell are in the same place and as we head round to the top, the only difference is the 3.5mm earphone socket belonging to the 1 and the microphone for the 2.

On the left, the SIM Card Tray with pokey-hole is slightly higher on the 2, than 1, but both the same size. Whether this has anything to do with the eSIM technology in the 2, I don't know. This is basically an integrated SIM chip which is not removed from the device and put in another one, but rather the user when they want it switched to a new device makes a quick and simple phone call to their cellular operator who assigns it to the new device. Yeah. Right. We can just see that process being quick and simple. Try getting through to Vodafone! Anyway, it's starting with EE here in the UK, so watch this space! We went from credit card sized SIM Cards to Mini, to Micro, to Nano, now to none!

On the bottom of both are the USB-C sockets with fast charging via the supplied chargers although the batteries have changed slightly. The new unit is a 2700mAh one and the old 2770mAh. Sounds pretty similar until you start to realise that they're both really small batteries and my concern is that neither of them will get me through the day. I always carried a small powerbank with the 1 and I'm guessing I'll be doing the same with the 2.

There are promises of optimisations via the newer Snapdragon 835 chipset over the older 821, but I don't buy it! In my first two days of using the new Pixel, I am struggling to get to the end of the day, same as with the 1, and have no confidence in not carrying a charger or powerbank. The specs. say that the 1 has an 'endurance rating' of 64 hours whilst the 2, 75 hours. Incidentally, I can't tell the difference between the two processing chipsets - they both work like lightning with any task or multiple tasks which are thrown at them, both supported by that ample 4GB RAM.

Finishing off the bottom, the 1 has an iPhone-style twin-grille setup with the left one being the speaker and right, microphones. The 2 has none of that, just a microphone hole. And the reason for that is discovered as we head back to the forehead and chin on the newer model. Embedded into these are stereo speakers, somewhat justifying the space taken up on the front, in a world that's gone 18:9 screen-mad and forcing users to have so little bezel that they can't even hold the phone! Certainly not to use one-handed!

Let's pause there and consider the speakers for a moment. I was one of the people who always maintained that the 1st Gen. Pixel and Pixel XL had speakers that were 'good enough', better than average and 'really not too bad' - not the best, but a long way from worst. Until I turned on the Pixel 2, I maintained that position! I have to report that the difference is staggering when you have the two units together playing the exact same track, same encoding, same everything. A stunning difference in volume and quality. That's not to say it's the best. I've been playing with various contenders recently with +Steve Litchfield who are currently challenging the Marshall London crown - and the Pixel 2 is up there with the best, but not quite pinching the crown.

The Pixel 2 XL is louder. Slightly. It's also a tad more qualitative with some tracks and some genres of music, but there's not a huge amount in it. I can confidently take this Pixel 2 out into all but a nightclub noise level and still know that I'm going to be able to hear all but the most quiet tracks. Podcasts/spoken word/radio/vocal just booms out, again, depending on encoding etc. but generally speaking it's a wonderful and enlightening experience. I could never say any of these things about the 1's speaker - even when I was really trying hard to convince myself! Yes, the Razer Phone is louder, the Marshall London has more bass, but this is a really good balance. And stereo too, for those who want to watch a film or TV show, screen 9" from their face!

The 1 has a 3.5mm earphone socket, as I said, and this is a big deal for some. The 2 doesn't, but comes with a USB-C adapter in the box. I think that if you're a phone user with one phone (95% of users, no doubt, with one set of earphones) it's really not going to be a big deal as we move towards Bluetoothland as well. But it's a live issue which, no doubt, you'll have your own opinion about! The 2 has Bluetooth 5.0 which includes multiple-device set up whilst the 1 has 4.2. so doesn't.

Which brings us to the screen and finishing off the front aspect of the devices. Both have a 5 inch 1080p 16:9 AMOLED screen and are bright, colourful and a joy to use. I am able to use these screens indoors at 10-15% brightness quite happily to reserve that precious battery! Clearly the upper speaker on the 2 also doubles as the earpiece for phone calls while the 1 has its own. Front facing camera on both and the usual array of sensors. Returning to the back, above the fingerprint scanner, is the camera and LED flash and underneath all of that is Google's 'G' logo.

The fingerprint scanner on both devices work light lightning, so nothing to choose between them. The setup is fast and efficient (unlike some devices having to 'train' the scanner with 50 presses, these devices only need about 6) and work first time, every time. Being round the back is not my favourite position, but for a pocket-dwelling device I'm not complaining. If it were a bigger-screened table-dwelling device I might moan, having appreciated so much the Moto system of touch/wave, but for me, I'm likely to be using this device very differently. The new Pixel 2 is IP67 certified whereas the old one is splash and dust resistant only.

On the software front, both devices are on Android 8.1 and largely behave the same way as each other. There are some variations on that, but generally based on hardware, not software, it seems. Like the 'always on' screen (and options in Settings) and the Active Edge. So you get pretty much all the same bells and whistles in both versions in use.

Active Edge, introduced by HTC to some of their devices, is an adjustable physical 'squeeze' system whereby at any time, even from sleeping, you can physically squeeze the left and right sides inwards and the Google Assistant will be launched ready to listen to whatever you ask. You can set it to work like that or just not (so no App. choices), allow or not allow when the screen is actually off and finally, independently of other settings, to silence alarms, timers and incoming calls. It seems to work well for me. Having played with the sensitivity I have settled on the default mid-way and it seems to be fine without accidental presses in normal use. After that, it's pretty much just the same as long-pressing the Home button. It would clearly be more useful if you could launch other stuff with it, but Google wants you to use the Assistant. So there!

To the cameras and much praise has been lavished on Google for making their Pixel cameras smart, feature packed, use clever software algorithms integrating machine learning, now including OIS for good measure and really making a difference in low light photographs and fabulous looking photos in good light. The Portrait Mode has arrived on the Pixel 2, replacing Lens Blur on the 1. The latter needs camera arcing, physically, to make a shallow DoF (which actually works pretty well) but the new one just does it for you! It seems to work it out smartly and knows what you're up to!

AR Stickers has just arrived on the 2 (and also on the 1) allowing people to add ludicrous animated figures to photos and videos. Good grief. Who on earth thought that was a good idea! Oh, it was Sony, I think! There's automatic Face Retouching via the front facing camera on both phones, which makes skin tones look smoother and blemishes smoothed out. In theory. Didn't do much with my face. Perhaps mine's beyond the scope of even Google!

Back on the other camera, both units have now got Motion Photo, which, much like Apple's Live Photos, takes a few shots before and after the one you're actually intending to take and makes it into a little animation/gif thing. Very silly.

In the Photos App. you can now invoke Google Lens (at the moment, outside of the Camera App. so not live) which will take a look at your selected picture and try to tell you what it is. Landmarks, books, records, CDs, items to buy, items to just know what they are. I tested this out on a few things at random and it seems to have some idea and provides some links, some of the time. Seems to be very Americanised. I was expecting it to be more Ad. driven, but (at least for now) it doesn't seem to be. The text selection bit seems to work really well. Take a photo of some text, show it to Lens and it turns it into usable text to cut'n'paste.

The rest of the photography stills and video experience, apart from the Portrait and OIS, I think is pretty much the same. I'm not a huge fan of cameras on phones being taken seriously for 'real' photography, but it seems that I'm in a growing minority and, actually, this stuff is getting very smart and results very good.

I would have loved to have seen a wide-angle option somehow, but I guess Google are working on that for Pixel 3, when it also won't need a second lens to do that stuff and will somehow just work along with a telephoto! The main shooter is a 12.2MP f1.8, 27mm lens with a 1/2.6" sensor whilst the Pixel 1 had a 12.3MP f2, 1/2.3" sensored, EIS unit. Front facing camera remains the same at 8 MP f2.4 lens, 27mm, with a 1/3.2" sensor.

The interface on the front-end using Pixel Launcher is the same now on both, with the standard day, date, time and weather taking far too much space at the top and a persistent Search bar at the bottom. These elements can't be moved, so at least for now, you just have to work round them. Swipe right to get to your personalised Google Assistant Feed (or turn it off) and left for any other home pages you've set up with Icons and folders. It's worth mentioning that the Search bar now also searches your device as well as online/cloud/web, much like the BlackBerry Search Device App. does. A true global device assistant search.

Oops. I think I've rambled on a bit there! What I really came to say was that the Pixel 2 sounds great compared to the Pixel 1, I remain concerned about battery life and the Pixel 2 is a gorgeous little device for the pocket to be always with you, as a phone. Just take a small powerbank. For me, it was all about those speakers and I think it's worth it. For the next person, it won't be. Hopefully I can sell the Pixel 1 on to recover some of the cost, but the Pixel 2 is here to stay!

Before I go, I just wanted to mention one of the 'official' Google Pixel 2 cases. See photo. It is rather expensive, but it's lovely. Hard backed, fits perfectly, cut out for the bottom and made with a fibre-cloth finish. It really is very classy, nice in the hand and makes the owner feel like they have something special, rather than a £2.50 TPU from eBay. Recommended. You can get it from Google or elsewhere. I got mine from AmazonUK.

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