Google Pixel 2 review
In good lighting, the Pixel 2 captures excellently detailed photos, with a very natural rendition of textures and fine detail.
That said, when pixel-peeping into the Pixel's shots you can spot a little more noise than what we've come to expect, and that's with HDR+ enabled. Turn it off, and things get noisier, but you're not really supposed to be shooting without HDR+ anyway.
HDR+ is what gives the Pixel 2 an edge in dynamic range over the competition, if only just. The processing is tuned for highlight preservation and you can typically count on the Pixel to deliver marginally more detail in clouds, for example, where other phones would clip to white.
Of course, we shot with all three settings of HDR+ - off, on and enhanced. Leaving it on simply produced clearer samples, with more detail and less noise consistently across the board.
It's no surprise the HDR+ on/off toggle is not even available in the viewfinder. To bring it back you would have to dig into the camera's advanced options. But if you ask us, there is no point in doing that. Just leave it on and let it do its magic.
We've therefore only uploaded the HDR+ auto samples in our Photo compare tool. You can check out how the Pixel 2 stacks up against the competition - we've pre-selected the iPhone 8 and the Galaxy S8, but a different set of phones is just a click away.
We're not really liking the panoramas that the Pixel 2 produces. A mere 1,800px tall, the images are soft and not very detailed. It's of little consolation that there are no obvious stitching issues.
The Pixel 2's excellent performance continues in In low light. Just like in daylight, where the phone tends to preserve detail in the highlights, the night shots from the Pixel 2 have noticeably toned down bright light sources. That means floodlights won't be all burnt up, like on other phones, but it's still a little odd because clipped is exactly how we've come to expect them to be.
Still, the Pixel 2 does a splendid job with the most demanding of scenarios where there are both brightly lit portions of the frame and deep shadows and manages to extract detail in both extremes. Shadows are very well developed and even if there's noticeable noise, there's actual texture in there that more heavy-handed noise reduction on some competitors tends to wipe out.
This holds true for well lit areas as well - where Samsung's noise suppression algorithms would render stucco noiselessly smooth, the Pixel's shots will be noisier, but more detailed. On the flipside, areas of solid color will be closer to that solid color when coming out of the Note, and grainier if you're looking at Pixel photos - it's particularly irritating in the night sky.
Still, the Pixel 2 holds on well to colors in the dark - one of the key advantages of HDR+ Google advertised at the launch of the original Pixel last year.
The Pixel 2 has a single camera but it can take portraits with artificial background defocusing blur nonetheless. Thanks to a combination of dual pixel phase detection and machine learning, as detailed by Google engineers, the Pixel draws an outline of what it determines to be the subject, and keeps it in sharp focus. It then figures out what's behind and in front of it and applies varying amounts of blur depending on the varying distance from the subject. So, technically, one better than the dual-camera phones that mostly apply a fixed amount of blur.
In reality, the Pixel does indeed produce convincing portraits with mostly accurate subject isolation. The usual caveats apply - stray strands of hair could confuse it, and you're always better off if you have more distance between your subject and your background.
The subject doesn't need to be a person either. Google's algorithms can typically recognize everyday objects too and blur (and not blur) accordingly. For objects that aren't in the database it still works, just the depth map only relies on the data collected from the dual pixels.
The one issue we have with with the Pixel's portraits is that at no point does the phone give you a live preview, so you can't really be sure what's going to come out in the end.
The selfie camera is excellent too. It benefits from the HDR+ algorithms for noise reduction as well, and has a portrait mode of its own, albeit without the benefit of the depth-sensing dual pixels - just the machine learning for subject recognition.
Selfies are detailed, skin tones are pleasing, and the Pixel goes out of its way to keep your face properly exposed. In short, it's probably the best selfie camera right now.
The Google Pixel 2 can record 2160p videos at 30fps, as well as the usual 1080p at 60fps and 30fps. There is no 2160p/60fps like on a certain iRival, and the Pixel's 1080p slo-mo is limited to 120fps, half the iRival's max framerate.
The 2160p videos are encoded with a 41Mbps bitrate, 1080p/60fps footage gets a little less than 33MBps, while plain old 1080p/30fps weighs in at around 21.5Mbps. Audio is single-channel mono and is encoded at 96Kbps - if Apple can get away with mono audio, Google can too, right? Not really, both companies are charging quite a lot for their products and we really think they should step up their game in this department.
The Pixel 2's videos contain a lot of detail, while also having a very nice natural rendition - there's no sign of overprocessing (Galaxies tend to do that) or the slight softness of iPhones' videos. We also have nothing but praise for the Pixel's white balance and color reproduction.
1080p/30fps is looks more or less the same - aside from a inevitable drop in fine detail when compared to the 4K footage. That's said, it's got plenty of detail for FullHD, and is in fact as good or better overall than the competitors.
Not so with 1080p/60fps where the Pixel 2's footage is much too soft - the Galaxies and iPhones of the day are noticeably better.
On top of the optical stabilization, the Pixel 2 also has EIS all the way up to 2160p. It deals very well with ironing out global motion when walking and recording and there aren't any abrupt movements when doing panning shots.
There isn't much panning in our studio test scenes, none actually, but you can use our Video compare tool to see how the Pixel 2's videos compare in resolution and color rendition to any of the numerous phones we've tested.