What do we want from the Google Pixel 2?
A new, delicious version of Android will soon be upon us and if history is any indicator, not long after that we'll have some brand new Google Pixel phones to look forward to.
Up until recently, we thought this year's crop was to be a fairly predictable update to last year's — two devices built by HTC with improved specs and a newer version of Android. But things change.
Here's what we know so far about Google's 2017 Pixel phones.
Google Pixel (2017) - HTC 'walleye'
The first rumors around next-gen Pixels suggested that HTC would once again be the manufacturer of two Pixel 2 models in 2017, and that perhaps the company had signed a multi-year contract with Google for the privilege.
Previous Nexus and Pixel devices have been named after various kinds of aquatic life, and so when references to devices named "walleye" and "muskie", appeared, they fitted the bill. Both "walleye" and "muskie" were expected to be HTC-built devices, with updated designs similar to that of the original Pixels.
Specs, according to rumors, would unsurprisingly include Qualcomm's very latest processor — either a Snapdragon 835 or 836. Recently those rumors have been corroborated by a report on XDA suggesting the smaller 2017 Pixel would feature 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. The screen size would purportedly stay around 5 inches, with a 1080p display resolution.
In June 2017 the news broke that "muskie," the larger of the two HTC phones, had been cancelled by Google in favor of a new, even larger Pixel -- this time produced by LG.
Google Pixel XL (2017) - LG 'taimen'
In March, it emerged that a third potential Pixel device was being produced, codenamed "taimen", likely bigger than both "walleye" and "muskie". Now we know that "muskie" is no more, leaving us with just one big-screened Pixel -- "taimen."
Leaked specs for the device from benchmarking sites include a Snapdragon 835 processor and 4GB of RAM, like the HTC Pixel 2. (It's possible benchmarking apps may not be able to distinguish between the 835 and a potential Snapdragon 836 — we saw similar confusion around the Snapdragon 821 and 820 last year.) Multiple reports later confirmed that LG would be the manufacturer of the new, larger phone.
In July, we got our first look at the 2017 Google Pixel XL in all its glory, thanks to the render above, produced in-house by Android Police based on information seen by them. As well as revealing many key design features, like a curved glass front (though with a flat OLED screen, apparently), the render shows just one rear camera, and the return of the fingerprint scanner around the back. It bears more than a passing resemblance to LG's own V30 handset.
According to AP's report, "taimen" would have a 6-inch, 18:9 aspect ratio display, along with a feature akin to HTC's Edge Sense, where users can squeeze the bezel to make certain things happen. (Google Assistant was suggested as one likely contender for squeeze-activated functionality.) It's unclear whether the 18:9 display or the squeeze functionality will make it over to the smaller HTC-made Pixel.
Google, LG Electronics and LG Display
Earlier this year, it was revealed that Google wants to spend nearly a billion dollars with LG Display to secure OLED panels for its upcoming Pixel phones.
LG Display is a separate company from LG Electronics, which creates phones, but the two are connected (LGE is the largest shareholder in LG Display), and it stands to reason that Google would give the latter a manufacturing contract to ensure the success of the former.
OLED displays are the future of screens, and Google wants a piece of the market.
OLED displays are the future of mobile optics, and LG is ramping up production for its own devices and to compete with Samsung Display, which largely has the market cornered. The first Pixel phones were affected by enormous and frustrating manufacturing delays, and though Google never specifically pointed to a shortage in OLED displays, experts believe that may have been a factor. With its sequels, Google wants to ensure it has a reliable supply of panels, and giving LG the rights to manufacture one of its Pixels goes a long way to making sure that happens.
It's also worth noting that Google and LG have a long history of partnerships on Nexus, Android Wear and Google Play edition devices. LG has historically been keen to team up with its major partner in the mobile space.
Design and hardware features
Much of what we know about the upcoming Pixels' design comes from the Android Police render linked earlier in this article. Google (and LG) is clearly moving towards the "bezelless" ideal of smartphones in 2017, even if the new phone isn't quite as borderless as Samsung's "Infinity Display."
Nevertheless, that larger screen should address the main design criticism of the original Pixels: their large bezels, which look even sillier now that the Galaxy S8 and LG G6 are on the market.
The LG Pixel XL will feature much smaller bezels, but the same might not be true of the smaller HTC model.
As we noted earlier, though, it's less clear whether the smaller Pixel, "walleye," will get such a major design overhaul. XDA's sources describe the HTC Pixel as being "almost identical" to its 2016 predecessor, "with similarly large bezels." That could be disappointing for fans of smaller phones.
XDA also suggests that the smaller Pixel at least will forego the 3.5mm headphone jack in favor of front-facing speakers, although other reports have not corroborated this claim.
A more recent XDA report suggests that the Pixel XL 2 will have a few more hardware goodies to look forward to, including an HTC U11-like "squeezable" frame that would launch Google Assistant whether the screen is on or off. An all-new ambient display could make the Pixel series a bit more like Moto Display, allowing users to interact with what they see of their notifications without turning the screen on — a direct benefit of having an OLED panel. And that OLED panel could allow Google to offer a true sRGB color option in its display settings, something that has until now been relegated to the little-visited (for most people) Developer Options.
Whether the new Pixels will be waterproof remains to be seen, but it would not be too off-base to assume that waterproofing would be on the table this year, given that both the HTC U11 and LG G6 are at least nominally water-resistant. Water resistance is an expectation at the high-end this year.
Google Pixel 2 Specs
We've already dropped a few hints around specs, based on numerous reports, earlier in this piece. But for the sake of completeness, here are the details we have so far in a handy spec table:
|Category||Pixel 2||Pixel XL 2|
|Operating System||Android 8.x||Android 8.x|
|Processor||Snapdragon 835 or 836||Snapdragon 835 or 836|
|Storage||64GB + ???||128GB + ???|
|Display||5-inch 1080p||6-inch Quad HD (18:9)|
|Camera||???||Single rear shooter, single front-facer|
|Other features||Rear fingerprint scanner||Rear fingerprint scanner|
So there's still a lot we don't know, but the picture is slowly coming into focus.
Similar to last year, the Pixel 2 series may launch with Android 8.1, a version that may remain exclusive to the phones for a couple of months. The final release of Android 8.0 is expected in August, so it'd make sense for the first maintenance release, version 8.1, to ship with the new Pixels.
That strategy allowed Google to roll out some great new features for all phones running Android 7.0 Nougat while keeping some exclusive features for the Pixels, which ran Android 7.1 when they launched a few months later. At the same time, Google's excellent Pixel Launcher remains unique to the lineup, as does Project Fi support, which should fall over to the phones, too.
We don't know anything specific about what we'll see in Android 8.1 right now, but we're keeping our ear to the ground and will update this as we know more.
Pricing and availability
Another piece of the puzzle for which we're waiting to hear more is pricing and availability. It wouldn't be out of order to think that the Pixel 2 lineup will debut towards the end of October or the beginning of November, and will maintain a $649 / $749 price point for the smaller and larger phones, respectively. (It's possible that, due to the greater differences between the 2017 Pixel and Pixel XL, the price delta may also be broader. But we'll have to wait and see)
We're hoping that Google ups the default storage to 64GB and that all of our spec wishes come true, but we only have a few more months to wait before we find it all out.
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