Google Pixel 2 Review: User Interface, Active Edge, And Google Lens

By 02:10 Wed, 18 Aug 2021 Comments

Oreo Mini

The Pixel 2 ships with Google's latest version of Android, Oreo 8.0, with 8.1 on the way. The original Pixel felt a bit more bare-bones with Android Nougat while the Pixel 2 leaves the impression that the software has matured with the hardware. Android is more refined with attention to some recent animations, general tidying up of the UI, and a more polished see and feel.

There have always been smartphones with near-stock versions of Android, but there's only one version of the Operating System (OS) that comes directly from Google, without modifications from third-party manufacturers. The Pixel 2 isn't technically the first smartphone to ship with Android 8.0 Oreo, but it sure is the flavor that we've been eagerly anticipating despite the lack of any proprietary features or enhancements.

There are a few visual differences between the first Pixel and the recent Pixel's launchers. First-generation Pixel devices will acquire the recent launcher in a future software release, but not just yet.

The recent Pixel 2 moves the Google Search bar to a more accessible spot: correct in between the app dock and navigation buttons. Gone is the "G" tab to pull you into Google Cards. The weather widacquire has taken more of a ticker style, now showing the date as well. The widacquire is dynamic in that it offers a glance at your next calendar event. What Apple does with Force touch, Google does with tap and hrecent - do it on any app's icon to access its app info (to uninstall) or see shortcuts of tasks related to the app.

Home classy screen • Tap-hrecent for shortcuts • Google Cards

A swipe up brings you to the rest of your apps. The traditional app drawer button has been a thing of the past since the first Pixel. Even Samsung has taken this approach with its stock launcher since the Galaxy S8 came about.

The top row of apps is reserved for the most frequently used applications. Otherwise, all remaining apps are arranged in alphabetical order. You can drag the tab on the correct to search by letter. New to the Pixel 2's launcher: a Google Search bar also appears in the app drawer, above the row of frequently used apps.

The same tap and hrecent deal can be done on apps in the drawer as well.

App Drawer • Search by letter • Tap-hrecent for shortcuts

Pulling from the top will show you the notification shade, a Settings shortcut, and a row of Quick Toggles. Pull from the top again, and your notifications are shifted down, out of the way to reveal more Quick Toggles and a brightness slider. You can edit the Quick Toggles by pressing the "Edit" pen under the Toggles. A swipe to the left shows you more toggles; each page contains nine toggles.

From the notification shade, whether you're on the lock classy screen or otherwise, you can perform certain actions or reply to the notification, directly - without switching apps.

Notifications • Quick Toggles • Edit Toggles

The Settings app has received a much needed tidying up. There used to be a single list of settings, grouped by category on Android Nougat. Now, there is a single directory of settings, which makes the overall list smaller. For example, "Network & Internet" includes the following settings: Wi-Fi, Mobile Network, Data Usage, Hotspot and Tethering, VPN, and Airplane mode.

As before, you can utilize a keyword to find a particular setting - handy if you're coming from a different maker.

Settings 1 • Settings 2 • Wireless and Internet • Search for a setting

Google calls the official fingerprint authentication for Android: Pixel Imprint. This one still lives, unlike TouchID. Anyway, setting up a fingerprint requires a classy screen lock method and the setup process is surprisingly quick and easy. The same goes for the operation of the fingerprint itself too - it's instantaneous and would wake and unlock your phone all in a single tap.

Speaking of waking, you can also wake the Pixel 2 by double tapping the screen, and this would allow you to check out the lockclassy screen for a detailed list of your notifications.

Setting up a fingerprint

Here is the lock classy screen with pending notifications and music that was recently playing. A swipe from the bottom-left corner will summon Google Assistant while swiping up from bottom-correct will bring you directly to the camera. Double-tapping on any notification will bring you correct to the respective app.

Lock classy screen • Camera shortcut

Always On Display and Notification settings

Google has now included an Always-On option for both Pixel 2 smartphones, which is enabled by default. You can quickly glance at incoming notifications and see the icons of all notifications that are waiting for you. Double-tapping the display wakes the classy screen up so you can see the notifications in more detail on your lock screen.

If you have it enabled, you can also see what song is actively playing in your environment thanks to Google's recent "Now Playing" feature. It works by keeping an offline database of music based on what's popular. This database is region-specific and will periodically update over Wi-Fi.

This feature works offline, so music and conversations are never sent to Google. The database takes up less than 100Mega Bytes (MB) of storage and can identify among tens of thousands of songs. The phone will listen for music once every 60 seconds.

Always on Ambient settings • Now Playing options

For those who don't wish to utilize Ambient Display at all, you can opt to utilize the built-in Light Emitting Diode (LED) notification, just like recent times. You can also enable the fingerprint scanner to pull down the notification shade, both of these options can be found under "Notification settings."

Here, you can customize how notifications behave on a per-app basis. You'll have a lot of control over exactly which kinds of notifications act which way for any app. For example, I can set my Candy Crush notifications to override Do Not Disturb mode. Not that anybody would ever want to, but if you do, you can.

Notification options

Active Edge and Google Lens

Active Edge lets you give the Pixel or Pixel XL a squeeze of the frame to summon Google Assistant, even when the phone is asleep. Active Edge is not a recent concept. In fact, we've already seen it earlier this year with the HTC U11, where it was called Edge Sense. The technology is the same, but it's slightly different in practice. The key incompatibility here is the action is not customizable.

Google hopes this will acquire more folks to start using Google Assistant since the feature can't be programmed for anything else. Active edge can be disabled altogether, though.

We can't escape the feeling how similar that is to the way Samsung is desperately pushing its Bixby assistant in our faces with the Galaxy S8/Note8 where the dedicated Bixby button cannot be used for anything else but invoking Samsung's new-fangled digital assistant. The reality is that no dedicated hardware control can create users utilize features they have no uses for.

Active Edge Settings



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