We weren't all that wowed by Google's original Pixel phones, even if the Pixel XL was a pretty sharp Android flagship – but the Pixel 2 XL is legitimately one of the absolute best phones you can buy right about now.
There are prettier phones out there, but the Pixel 2 XL is strong in all the other ways that matter, from its industry-leading camera to its processing grunt, pure Android Oreo experience, and crisp Quad HD display. Only Samsung's Galaxy S8 is a better overall pick, but the margin is pretty small.
But as we get deeper into 2018, new challengers are here to try and shake up the rankings – and Sony is about to fire its latest salvo with the Xperia XZ2. It's the company's latest flagship contender, packing even more powerful innards along with a new look for Sony smartphones. But can it really take down Google in offering a premier Android experience?
Here's a look at this impending battle, now that we've been hands-on with the Sony Xperia XZ2 and surveyed its specs.
The Pixel 2 XL feels a little too large, admittedly, with a bit too much bezel wrapped around that beautiful screen – but we like the curved corners on the screen. And the two-tone approach on the back, with a glass notch sitting above the main aluminum chunk, looks a lot nicer than on the original Pixel phones.
On the other end, we have to give Sony props for finally moving away from the boxy, classic Xperia look of old, which was distinctive but… well, chunky and somewhat awkward. The XZ2 looks a bit anonymous compared to other flagships today, but it's definitely smooth and premium, and can't help but look a little bit like the Pixel 2 XL from the front.
Screen: Pixel pick
Here's the one area where Sony opted to hold back, packing in a 1080p LCD display for its extra-tall (18:9 aspect ratio) 5.7in display. It looked pretty nice during our hands-on testing, and it has the unique feat of upconverting standard HD video into high dynamic range (HDR).
But the Pixel 2 XL packs more of a punch with its 6in Quad HD OLED panel, with impressive contrast and improved clarity. The screen doesn't have quite the same vibrance as Samsung's Galaxy S8/S9 and there can be some discolouration at sharper angles, but this Quad HD OLED should still come out ahead in this comparison.
We'll find out for sure once we have them properly side-by-side, however.
Camera: Google's edge
Now here is where the Xperia XZ2 faces an uphill battle, because for our money, the Pixel 2 XL houses the best smartphone camera on the market today. That's true of the Pixel 2, as well, and in both cases they just produce slightly better shots than anything else out there.
Chalk it up to Google's software algorithms, which take the raw data from the 12-megapixel (f/1.8) back camera and work some serious magic by stitching together several shots. The results pack in an incredible amount of dynamic range, with realistic-looking colours in the end. You'll even get some dual-camera-like depth effects and bokeh blur thanks to the dual-pixel approach.
Sony's smartphone cameras haven't typically been top-tier in recent years, but maybe there's reason to be excited here. The Xperia XZ2 sticks with a single back sensor at 19MP, but it has a Pixel 2 XL-like assist from the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, which should help deliver better overall results than past Sony cameras.
Will that be enough to match up with the actual Pixel 2 XL? We would be surprised, but we'll see how it shakes out. At least Sony wins on slow-motion video recording, hitting a wild 960 frames per second while the Pixel sticks with just 120fps.
Performance: Power play
When it comes to sheer horsepower, newer is better in this comparison. Google stuck with last spring's Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip when the Pixel 2 XL came out in the autumn, while Sony's Xperia XZ2 benefits from picking up the brand new Snapdragon 845 this spring.
The newer revision promises a more efficient, speedier chip that comes ahead in benchmark testing, while both of these are equal with 4GB RAM within.
Will we see any speed advantage in everyday use, however? That remains to be seen. Android 8.1 Oreo is at its best on the Pixel 2 XL, delivering a smooth, speedy, near-stock OS experience that looks and feels great. Sony also has Oreo on the XZ2, but it won't be exactly the same as Google's, and we don't know yet if it'll feel just as swift.
Our hunch is that both phones will ultimately feel very close in terms of speed and capabilities, but the Xperia does have the slightly better hardware in the mix.
Battery and perks: Mixed advantages
The Pixel 2 XL goes for a higher-capacity battery than the Xperia XZ2, packing in 3,520mAh compared to 3,180mAh – but does have the larger, higher-resolution screen to contend with, as well.
And at least you can top off the XZ2 by sticking it on a wireless charging pad – you don't have that ability with the Pixel 2 XL. Both support fast wired charging, though.
When it comes to storage, the Xperia XZ2 notches another victory by offering microSD card support for expanding beyond the 64GB internal cache. The Pixel 2 XL comes in a pricier 128GB model alongside the 64GB base edition, but you can't pop in microSD cards either way.
As far as one-of-a-kind perks, the Pixel 2 XL has squeezable Active Edge sides that let you pull up the Google Assistant just by gripping your phone. It's not our most-used feature of the phone, although we suspect it's a little more worthwhile than the XZ2's vibration functionality, which adds rumble to games and music playback by analyzing the audio output.
Initial verdict: Probably Pixel
Sony's Xperia XZ2 is certainly shooting to be one of the best Android phones around, and it'll have to get through the Pixel 2 XL to get near the top of the list.
We expect that the XZ2 will be a pretty good handset, but our hands-on didn't leave us thinking that it's going to be a world-beater. It could have a little more horsepower, but we'd be surprised if the XZ2 can really take down the Pixel 2 XL on camera quality, and it seems like a step down on the screen as well.
Price will play a big role, and as of this writing, we don't know how much Sony plans to charge for the Xperia XZ2. The XZ1 came in at £599, but with flagship phone prices creeping steadily upward, we woudn't be surprised to see a slightly higher asking price for the sequel.
Meanwhile, the Pixel 2 XL isn't cheap at £799, but it's well worth the cash for serious on-the-go shooters and anyone else craving a top-of-the-line Android experience. We already know it's an excellent handset, while the Xperia XZ2 remains a less-known quantity on the whole.
Given that, the Pixel 2 XL has our initial nod in this battle, but we'll update the comparison once we've had a chance to put Sony's latest through our full review gauntlet.