Google’s new Pixel phones are finally shipping to consumers, and almost all the reviews agree the phones are fantastic. However, there’s one substantial point of contention: the display. Some say this new OLED panel is fine, and other say it’s terrible. When a phone costs $ 850, you certainly should not tolerate a bad screen, but is that what Google is offering? I’ve been using the new Pixels for a week, and the truth is people are arguing over incredibly minor issues.
The Pixel 2 XL represents a major design departure from the first-generation Pixels. The smaller Pixel 2 looks mostly the same, with a 5-inch 1080p OLED panel and rather large bezels. The XL gets a bigger 6-inch OLED with an 18:9 aspect ratio (2880×1440). It’s the same thing LG, Samsung, and others have been doing, because a taller screen fills up a device frame more effectively.
OLED panels are in increasingly short supply, so Google planned ahead by investing in LG’s new mobile OLED manufacturing operation. Thus, the Pixel 2 XL and the new LG V30 use similar panels. There are three issues people point to with the Pixel 2 XL’s display: dull colors, viewing angles, and distortion at low brightness.
The color issue is real, but calling it a problem is misleading. The Pixel 2 XL is calibrated to sRGB for more realistic colors. However, other OLEDs have cranked up the saturation. Google’s decision to use sRGB and offer only modest tuning options is noble, but people don’t like accurate colors on phones as much as they like super-vibrant colors. I’ve looked at the Pixel 2 XL next to the Note 8 in “Basic” sRGB mode, and they look virtually identical. This part of the argument might be moot. Google can (and probably will) update the Pixel with a more vibrant color profile option.
The viewing angle complaint is tougher to hash out. All OLED panels shift colors a bit when viewed off-axis. Even Samsung’s panels do this. The Pixel 2 XL colors lean a bit colder when you get off to the side, whereas Samsung’s recent panels look a bit warmer under the same circumstances. The effect is slightly stronger and happens slightly faster on the Pixel.
As for the distortion, described as a grainy appearance, that’s real but very minor. The “grain” on the V30’s panel is absolutely noticeable during daily use. The Pixel’s is much more even and smooth. If you turn the brightness all the way down and look at a solid background, you can see a light texture like a piece of paper. I sincerely doubt anyone will notice this while using the phone normally.
The Pixel 2 XL’s OLED is not the best I’ve ever seen. Samsung’s panels are better without a doubt. This LG-made OLED is a good enough panel–it’s definitely not a deal breaker. There’s a bit of hysteria right now, but it’ll pass. Remember when Samsung launched the Galaxy S8 and everyone was upset about the red tint? Probably not, because buyers realized the issue was extremely mild when they got their phones, and Samsung pushed a profile update to make it even less noticeable. It’ll probably be the same with the Pixel.