​Google launches Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL: AI first phones for $649, $849

Google's bet is that smartphone hardware is a commodity and artificial intelligence will win the day. Can Google lead its hardware parade with Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL and compete with iPhone X and Samsung Note 8?
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Google launched the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL phones in a move that shows how it aims to embed its artificial intelligence knowhow, be a serious hardware player, and ultimately compete with Apple's iPhone 8 and iPhone X as well as Samsung's Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note 8.

Toss in smartphones from the likes of Lenovo's Motorola unit and LG and you get a feel for what'll equate one helluva battle. Google's pitch is that it'll win with AI. Google's Pixel will be smarter and more simple in 6-inch and 5-inch versions with three colors: Kinda blue, Black, and Clearly white, according to the company. Pixel 2 will start at $649 and Pixel 2 XL will start at $849.

Read also: Google's new phones take on iPhone X (CNET)

Google CEO Sundar Pichai kicked off the Google Pixel powwow talking about computer vision, machine learning and being AI first. "We deploy machine learning from the ground up," said Pichai.

That AI approach from Google and its second-generation Pixels lands a week after Amazon launched an Alexa barrage with a series of Echo devices. Apple's iPhone event also talked AI, augmented reality, and new features for the next decade.

Read also: 10 best smartphones: Will updated Google Pixel challenge rival flagships? | iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus hands-on: Similar design, upgraded specs, svelte finish | Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review: The epitome of a business-first smartphone

Simply put, Google, Amazon and Apple are increasingly in a face-off between mega vendors. The reality though is that hardware is the vessel for AI and "how computing should work." That reality is why Google bought its way back into hardware via a deal with HTC. "Computing should adapt to how people live their lives," said Pichai.

In that view, Pixel and Pixel 2 are just part of a continuum for Google AI. That lineup includes Google Home gear -- Mini and Max -- as well as virtual reality. What's unclear is whether tech buyers will want devices that can blend AI personalities. Note Sonos will integrate Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri, and Google Assistant.

Pixel 2 first look: Google's launch event scene by scene (pictures)

AI first increasingly means hardware. "We've been working on hardware and software together," said Pichai, who added AI into the mix. "We're confident on our approach."

Google's AI-first goals include being conversational, ambient, contextual, and adaptable. "The rate we are seeing improvements with AI is incredible," said Pichai.

Here's the problem: Google's Pixel and Pixel XL look like other smartphones, so a tech buyer will have to get out of spec mode when making a purchasing decision. Rick Osterloh, head of Google's hardware unit, said components have leveled off. "We're taking a different approach. The next big innovation will happen at the intersection of AI, software and hardware," he said.

The specs of Google's Pixel pair may not wow you, but there's a leap of faith needed to spend money on AI's promises today. Indeed, Google emphasized AI over specs with the Pixel launch. Compared to recent Samsung and Apple flagship smartphone launches, Google barely mentioned specifications.


Key points:

  • Google said both devices have the same specs because the company doesn't save better features for the larger device.
  • Pixel 2 phones don't have a headphone jack.
  • Google Assistant is embedded throughout with features to highlight music and identify musicians when music is playing.
  • Quick search is at the bottom of the home screen. The search bar stays when swiping through apps.
  • Active edge is a feature where you squeeze the phone and can take a picture. Squeezing the phone will trigger Google Assistant. AI will enable Assistant to recognize a contextual squeeze.
  • The UI identifies routines such as commuting home.
  • Pixel customers will get Google Lens first on their devices.

Hardware specs include:

Rear Camera

  • 12.2 megapixel
  • 1.4μm
  • Autofocus with laser + dual pixel phase detection
  • Optical + electronic image stabilization
  • f/1.8 aperture

Rear Camera Video

  • 1080p at 30fps, 60fps, 120fps
  • 720p at 30fps, 60fps, 240fps
  • 4K at 30fps

Front Camera

  • 8MP
  • 1.4μm
  • f/2.4 aperture
  • Fixed focus

Front Camera Video

  • 1080p at 30fps
  • 720p at 30fps
  • 480p at 30fps
  • Pixel 2: 5.7 x 2.7in
  • Pixel 2 XL: 6.2 x 3.0in
  • Pixel 2: 2700mAh
  • Pixel 2 XL: 3520mAh
  • USB-C 3.1 Gen 1

Other specs

  • Pixel 2: 2700mAh
  • Pixel 2 XL: 3520mAh
  • Pixel 2: 5.7 x 2.7in
  • Pixel 2 XL: 6.2 x 3.0in
  • 4GB RAM; 64GB and 128GB storage
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 835

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