When great software makes up for deficient hardware. By Koh Wanzi

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

When great software makes up for deficient hardware.

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This past month, I received a Google Pixel 2 XL in the mail, from the Google Store in the US. I had decided to make the Pixel 2 XL my next phone, in place of excellent, and arguably better, alternatives like the Apple iPhone X or Samsung Galaxy Note8.

You’ve probably heard of the litany of issues plaguing Google’s latest flagship; the screen displays a pesky blue cast whenever you’re not looking head-on, it’s grainy, it exhibits noticeable “black smear” issues with low brightness, and Oh, some units have been known to have flashing screens.

I knew about all these problems when I added the phone to my cart. That probably sounds stupid to you. I was also shelling out even more for the 128GB model, because Singapore’s Singtel only carries the 64GB version.

Was I simply a diehard Google fan who refused to see the phone’s many flaws? Well, yes and no. I owned the original Pixel XL and loved it, so I had my eye set on its successor way ahead of its release.

But I’m also a tech reviewer, so I’m well aware that the Pixel 2 XL is hardly the best phone you can buy in 2017. In fact, there’s no one more disappointed than I am about how close Google came to making the perfect phone.

The Pixel 2 XL fixes many of the complaints I had about the original Pixel. It now has an IP67 rating, relatively slim bezels, and a wide 18:9 screen. And in a time where so many manufacturers are opting for all-glass backs on their phones, the Pixel 2 XL is one of the rare ones with a mostly metal body.

That said, what really prompted me to persist in my decision to buy the Pixel 2 XL was the blissful experience of stock Android that only Google delivers. If you’re wondering why I didn’t simply get the smaller 5-inch Pixel 2, that’s because I wanted the larger screen real estate offered by the new crop of 18:9 phones, so that narrowed my options considerably.

There are other flagship phones that run on stock Android, such as the new Razer Phone and the Essential Phone. The latter is beautiful to look at, but both it and the Razer Phone end up being dragged down by middling cameras. There’s also the Nokia 8, which is a solid phone that, unfortunately, feels boring when set beside the other flagships of the year.

Why do I care so much about getting a phone that runs pure Android? That’s partly because I have quite a strong aversion to any skinned version of Google’s operating system. Yes, this is purely a matter of personal preference, and I’m aware that not every thirdparty skin is horrible.

Samsung’s TouchWiz interface has made huge improvements over the years and it’s actually pretty slick now. Similarly, third-party skins can bring useful features. Huawei allows you to swap the positions of the back and menu button, which is super convenient.

But Google’s version of Android still looks and feels the best. It’s also the fastest, and remains uncluttered by any sort of manufacturer bloatware. When you set up a Google phone for the first time, it truly feels mint, with no unwanted apps to distract you.

And then there’s the issue of updates. No other manufacturer gives you prompt, monthly Android updates with the latest bug fixes and security patches. When you hear about an exploit like KRACK that affects all Android phones running Marshmallow and up, you definitely want to be the first in line to get a fix. Google does this the best, and you don’t have to waste time waiting for a third-party to push it out.

It’s an Apple-like experience, but on Android, and even the other phones that run stock Android aren’t as quick in getting updates.

At the end of the day, getting the latest and best Android experience matters more to me than having the best possible hardware.

In the meantime, I’ve updated to Android 8.1 and am having fun with Google’s AR Stickers on day one. Oh, and the Pixel 2 XL’s camera is to die for.

"It’s an Apple-like experience, but on Android, and even the other phones that run stock Android aren’t as quick in getting updates."

Oh, and the Pixel 2 XL’s camera is to die for.
Oh, and the Pixel 2 XL’s camera is to die for.