While the smaller-sized Pixel 2’s 5-inch AMOLED panel appears to be perfectly serviceable as far as flagship smartphone displays go, it’s surprisingly the more expensive model’s 6-inch POLED screen that is presenting problems. Critics have complained of washed out colors, poor white balance, an unavoidable color shift at certain angles, and a slight graniness to solid hues.
I took my first look at the Pixel 2 XL’s display this morning, and immediately noticed it wasn’t quite right. To know for sure, I slotted it between a few of its competitors, and the results were telling.
The iPhone 8 Plus has the finest LCD screen you’ll find in a smartphone, and the same can be said of the Galaxy S8’s curved AMOLED panel. Looking at the Pixel 2 XL sandwiched between them, Google’s flagship clearly demonstrates an overall warmer tint, almost like the phone’s Night Light mode has been switched on. But the problems unfortunately run even deeper than that.
Viewing ESPN.com on all three devices, the colors simply don’t pop with the same intensity on the Pixel 2 XL. That’s not terribly surprising compared to Samsung’s handset — the Galaxy S8’s screen is as perfect as they come. But I was shocked to find the iPhone 8 Plus also deliver a more vibrant picture. One of the primary advantages of OLED versus LCD is wider color gamut, and yet the Pixel 2 XL is so blatantly off the mark, it could nearly pass for a vintage Instagram filter.
Off-center perspectives produce even more damning results. The Pixel 2 XL’s screen goes almost teal peering at it from above or below, something you simply don’t encounter on the iPhone 8 Plus or Galaxy S8. And the film grain complaints are also true; the Pixel 2 XL shows solid colors with a roughness that almost looks like the artifacting you get on overly compressed JPEGs.
It should be noted that Google offers a Vivid color mode on both Pixel 2 devices that is activated by default. While it helps bring a little punch back to the larger phone’s screen, it can’t remedy the graininess or viewing angle dilemmas. All phones in this comparison have been placed in their respective normal color modes.
Looking at both of Google’s flagships side-by-side, we see the smaller model seems to have been spared of these problems. The 5-inch Pixel 2 doesn’t achieve the same brightness as the 2 XL, but it does win out in terms of white balance and color representation, and doesn’t produce the same kind of spottiness with solid colors.
Both comparisons demonstrate the Pixel 2 XL’s weaknesses, but we wanted to conduct one more. The LG V30, which also debuted last week, utilizes a POLED panel that is the same size and resolution as the Pixel 2 XL’s. Because of this, some critics, like The Verge’s Vlad Savov, have theorized that the V30 and Pixel 2 XL share the same displays and thus, the same shortcomings.
As the image above demonstrates, the V30 definitely presents an even worse blue tint at off angles. But in other respects, I don’t see many similarities between the two. The LG’s colors are still better, the whites are more in line with those of the Galaxy S8 at the left, and, although you can’t see it in this image, the V30 misses the artificating that is especially noticeable when looking at bright colors.
So what’s the verdict? The Pixel 2 XL does have a display problem, and its not that Google’s approach is “more natural” than the competition, as the company has described. The less vivid color palette is but one of several issues — it’s completely irrelevant in terms of viewing angles and artifacting. Unfortunately, it's a real con for an otherwise brilliant smartphone.