According to the blogs, I’m a fool for buying Google’s flagship Pixel 2 XL phone. To hear the tech sites tell it, the phone’s screen is a disaster. Its colors are muted and dull, its has a strange blue hue from certain angles, and the navigation bar will probably burn in. This was more than just touchy phone bloggers, but a disaster set to undermine Google’s credibility as a phone manufacturer.
Mine’s fine though and I think the screen is amazing. In fact, it’s the best screen of any smartphone I’ve ever owned. I could be an outlier, but I’m willing to bet money that I’m not. No, I think the coverage of the Pixel 2 XL’s supposed flaws says more about our relationship to technology than it does about Google’s newest smartphone.
It’s possible I just got lucky, but my Pixel 2 XL is the greatest and best phone I’ve ever owned. That’s not because the phone is particularly fancy or special. It’s just a phone. No, the thing is I only buy phones every few years. The Pixel 2 XL is replacing my three year old Nexus 6 and when you wait that long to upgrade, every new phone feels magical and special.
But I was worried. I pre-purchased the phone after Google announced it in early October, not because I wanted a new phone but because after three years and constant updates my reliable Nexus 6 needed to retire. I went with the larger model because of its battery and screen size. I heard you could squeeze it. That sounded fun.
Then the blogs started to get hold of the the phones and it seemed as if Google had screwed up in a major way. According to reports from people who got the phone early, tilting the Pixel 2 XL to the side cast a strange blue color across the entire screen. Worse, leaving the phone on too long caused its navigation bar to burn in and permanently mar the screen.
As the days progressed and I waited on Google to ship my new phone, the problems kept coming. Videos on YouTube described a phone with washed out and terrible colors. Some users reported click and hissing noises when making phone calls. Now, people are saying the screens oleophobic coating—a thin layer that repels oils such as those found on human hands—is failing after just a few weeks.
I dreaded getting my new phone, assumed it would look and feel like garbage. I was getting into the headspace of having spent $850 on a phone I’d immediately send back to the manufacturer. I was a fool, duped into adopting an untested piece of hardware early. Then, late in October, I received my Pixel 2 XL in the mail.
And it’s fine. Well. More than fine, it’s beautiful. The screen is great, actually. During the initial setup process, when Google is transferring files and setting up cell service, the screen is blistering white. And, yes, from side angles the screen had a strange blue tint. I haven’t noticed it since then.
Smudges, dust and oil seem to slide right off the screen. I’ve got the thing in a case, but—like a primitive madman—I’m not using a screen protector. The rounded bezels make putting one on a nightmare and I honestly don’t want to cover the gorgeous glass with a flimsy piece of plastic. I feel it would diminish the luster of the Pixel 2 XL’s glorious screen.
As for the muted colors, beauty is in the eye of the beholder but I’ve never beheld a glassy vision as vivid as that on the Pixel 2 XL. Again, my previous smartphone is three years old and everyone’s experience will differ, but I love this damn thing. Well, I like it. It’s just a phone.
And that’s the problem, I think, with our breathless coverage of smartphones. We love them when we should like them. I’m not talking about human’s well documented addiction to the constant flow of information coming through our devices, but our addiction and fetishaztion of the devices themselves.
When Google announces a new Pixel or Apple a new iPhone, throngs of fans and bloggers rush to pick the device apart and explore its every nook and cranny. New features are a source of awe and small defects become a source of shame and ridicule. These things are extensions of our bodies and minds now. We carry them with us everywhere, use them to communicate, travel, and organize our lives.
For many of us, they’re the last thing we look at when we go to bed and the first thing we look at when we wake up. It makes sense that we’d turn the phones themselves into objects of worship and that adherents will blow any small fault or flaw completely out of proportion. I think that this is a bad way to behave. These devices are important, yes, but we have to keep our distance from them.
I’ve only had the Pixel 2 XL for a few weeks and I like it a lot, but at the end of the night, I leave it in another room. When I take a walk, sometimes I take it with me. Sometimes I don’t. I try to keep this relationship we’ve got healthy.
Maybe the screen will go bad, maybe it won’t. Either way, I’ll live and at least it won’t shatter to pieces if it falls out of my lap.
Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.