Pixel 2 XL: What’s up with that screen?

 In Technology
The Pixel 2 vs. the Pixel 2 XL. The smaller phone uses a 5-inch Samsung AMOLED screen, while the larger has a 6-inch LG P-OLED one.

James Martin/CNET

You might have heard: The Google Pixel 2 XL has a less-than-perfect screen.

Depending on whom you ask — see: Reddit, XDA Developers — the phone’s LG-made P-OLED screen has muted colors, a bluish tint, or a blotchy, grainy texture that’s visible when you scroll down webpages. 

The short answer: It’s basically all true. 

But after a close comparison of five different phones here in the CNET offices — two Pixel 2 XL, two LG V30, and a Samsung Galaxy S8+ for comparison — it’s more of a nuanced issue, and less of an open and closed case. 

Screen nerds may want to steer clear of the Pixel 2 XL for now, but we don’t believe any of the issues we’re seeing are dealbreakers for ordinary users. 

Here’s how things shake out. 

1. Muted colors

There’s no question: the colors on the Pixel 2 XL’s 6-inch, 2,880×1,440-pixel P-OLED screen aren’t quite vibrant as those on the flagship Samsung phone we used for comparison. We created pure red, green, and blue RGB images in Photoshop at each phone’s native resolution for an apples-to-apples test, and the Pixel 2 XL’s colors were consistently muted by comparison. It didn’t matter whether we turned on the phone’s “Vivid” mode, or reduced the Samsung phone’s brightness to better match — the Samsung’s colors always popped in a way the Google’s screen didn’t.

But would you notice in everyday use? We’re tempted to argue you wouldn’t: when we watched movie trailers and CNET videos instead of peeping pixels, we had a tough time noticing a difference in color. (If anything, skin tones seemed slightly better on the Samsung.)

Google’s phone is water-resistant.

James Martin/CNET

You might also argue that the muted colors are intentional; that Google calibrated its screen this way. Google certainly argued that, in a statement to CNET:

“We designed the Pixel display to have a more natural and accurate rendition of colors this year but we know some people prefer more vivid colors so we’ve added an option to boost colors by 10% for a more saturated display. We’re always looking at people’s responses to Pixel and we will look at adding more color options through a software update if we see a lot of feedback.”

But again, the “vivid” mode didn’t make a big difference in our tests — and for whatever reason, the two LG V30 phones we tested, also with identical size and resolution P-OLED screens, didn’t have muted colors. They looked nearly as vibrant as the Samsung.

Besides, colors aren’t the only potential issue with Google’s screen. 

2. Blue shift

The phone looks fine viewed head-on, pointed directly at your face. OK, maybe the colors are a touch muted. (See above.) But tilt it even a little bit, and all those colors get way cooler. Everything you see takes on a blue tint.

It’s not unusual for a screen’s colors to change at off-angles, particularly in phones with curved glass edges like these. Even our reference Samsung Galaxy S8+ takes on a bit of a blue tint if you tilt it far enough. But the Pixel 2 XL’s blue shift is so immediate — the sweet spot so small — that you need to hold it perfectly level with your face to avoid the blue color cast.

Here’s the thing: It’s not nearly as bad on LG’s own phone, the LG V30. We pit two LG V30 phones against two Pixel 2 XL phones, and the V30s didn’t take on nearly as deep a blue tint when tilted the same degree.

3. Noisy/blotchy screen

Of the various concerns with the Pixel 2 XL’s screen, this is the tiniest by far. One of my colleagues said she couldn’t see the issue at all. But if you look very closely, particularly when scrolling down a white webpage, with the phone’s brightness turned down — maybe in a dark room, for good measure — you can see little splotchy rainbows appear on the surface of the screen, or a fine grain like the noise of a photo taken in poor light. 

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