That Pixel 2 XL screen: Just how bad is it?

There have been a lot of complaints about the display on Google's Pixel 2 XL. Is it annoying? Sure. A showstopper? Certainly not, and here's why.

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On Tuesday, reviews of Google's latest smartphones were published. Overall, the devices are well received and the consensus is that Google's doing a lot right with its push into the smartphone market on its own.

Then, later in the day, another narrative started to overtake all of the positive Pixel 2 coverage. Some reviewers found the display on the Pixel 2 XL to be muted, washed out, and have a weird blue tint to it. The Verge on Wednesday posted an article complaining about the screen, and it was brutal.

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So what's going on? In short, Google opted not to follow the industry norm of tuning the display to use a slightly oversaturated look. Instead, Google made a design decision to have a more natural look and feel to the display.

google-pixel-2-xl-2.jpg
Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Here's the comment Google provided to ZDNet when asked about the display:

"We designed the Pixel 2 to take advantage of multiple facets of the innovative new POLED technology, including QHD+ resolution with 538 pixels per inch as well as a wide color gamut. One of our design intents was to achieve a more natural and accurate rendition of colors. We know that some people prefer more vivid colors, so we've added an option to boost colors by 10% for more saturation. We'll continue to pay close attention to people's responses to Pixel, and we will consider adding more display color options through software if that makes the product better."

Two things here worth pointing out: First, the vivid color option doesn't go far enough. I cannot tell a difference with vivid colors enabled or disabled. The screen looks the same. Maybe if it was 25-percent? I don't know what that threshold is, but right now 10-percent doesn't have an impact.

Second, Google is aware there are users out there that really don't like the way the screen looks. If those complaints are consistent and loud enough, the company could possibly give users control over color options in a future software update.

As Droid Life pointed out, when developer mode is enabled on the Pixel 2 XL and you search the settings app for sRGB. A "Picture color mode" option shows up. However, when you tap on the result, nothing happens. In other words, the tuning options are already present but hidden.

I briefly discussed the display in my review of the Pixel 2 XL, and that's because, frankly, I see no issues with it. Yes, colors are bit more muted than what I'm used to seeing on a Samsung device, but it's not horrible. I'm willing to bet a week from now (which is how long I've had my review device) most will adjust to the display and it will be a non-issue.

As for a blue tint on the display when viewed from an angle, it's definitely there. If you have a Pixel 2 XL and haven't seen the tint yet, open the settings app (or view anything with a predominately white background) and set the phone on your desk or tilt it in either direction. At the right angle, a blue tint can be seen.

I've followed up with Google specifically about this complaint and will update when I hear back.

Again, I don't see this as an issue that's severe enough to suggest you skip the Pixel 2 XL. Is it annoying? Sure. But, again, in a week users will forget it's even there.

I understand why some are upset about all of this. Spending at least $850 on a smartphone only to have the screen look muted and, to some, washed out is surely frustrating. The good news is there are steps Google can take to make things right with everyone, and it's only a software update away.

My advice is to make sure Google hears your complaints about the display, if you have any, and ask for more control over your experience. After all, isn't that what makes Android so attractive?

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