MANILA - When the iPhone debuted a decade ago, Apple was the disruptor that would eventually slay Nokia and the host of touchscreens running a shrunken down version of Windows.
Now, the iPhone is a ubiquitous device. You cannot walk down the street without passing by someone who is tapping on Apple's most profitable device.
Google, whose Android software is in more phones than Apple's iOS, has for years tried to translate that dominance into iPhone turf with not much success, no thanks to compromises and issues that come with every release.
This year's Pixel 2XL is no different, with a screen that looked bland and dreary until a software update made the colors pop, though not as vivid as Samsung's best.
For the flagship price that Google is asking for the LG-made Pixel 2XL, a sub-par screen is unforgivable, but the device makes up for it with a fantastic camera, a solid build and an unpolluted version of Android Oreo.
Like the iPhone challenged its bigger rivals by being different in 2007, this year's Pixels are contrarian but in ways you would notice only when you use the device.
The Pixel 2 and the larger 2XL offer almost exactly the same experience except for the size. The smaller iPhone 8 is deprived of the dual lens shooter of the iPhone 8 Plus and only the iPhone X packs an OLED or better quality screen and facial recognition to unlock.
Google's phones also have metal backs, unlike Apple and Samsung whose flagships are covered almost entirely in glass. The Pixels are also water-resistant.
The phone's body is also coated with a paint-like substance that makes it less slippery and less cold to the touch, which makes it comfortable to hold unlike the series 5, 5s, 6, 6s, and 7 of the iPhone.
The design is distinct but not particularly beautiful. Unless you put it in a case or cover it with a skin, the glass shade on the back that has become the Google phone trademark since 2015's Huawei-made Nexus 6P is bound to pick up scratches.
The top and bottom have bezels that are larger than those on the Samsung S8 series and Note 8, but they're big because they house front-facing speakers that are really loud and don't get muffled when you grip the phone on its sides.
The camera is where the Pixel 2XL shines, proving that with the right software, a single lens is enough to take good pictures.
Google's camera app is fast and the controls that matter, the shutter, video switcher and selfie or front facing camera switcher are all within a thumb's reach on the bottom of the screen.
The camera takes bright, detailed shots even in low light and the colors are somewhere between realistic Apple and oversaturated Samsung.
Pixel users get unlimited storage at full resolution on Google Photos and are the first to try Google Lens, an image-based search that is built into the Photos app.
Google uses machine learning or artificial intelligence to create a "bokeh" effect in portrait pictures, and the results are comparable if not better than the ones in Apple and Samsung phones.
See sample photos below:
SOFTWARE AND PERFORMANCE
Oreo is a refinement of Nougat and a leap from Marshmallow that came 2 years before.
Notifications are customizable and the settings menu is less cluttered.
The search bar was moved to the bottom of the screen and the notification shade switches color from white to black depending on the color of the wallpaper.
Google Assistant can now be summoned by a squeeze of the phone's bottom frame, a convenient touch though I mostly forget that the AI-powered helper is there.
Battery life is enough to get you through a day of moderate to heavy use, comparable to the Galaxy S8 Plus and the Note 8 but not even close to the endurance of the iPhone 7 Plus and 8 Plus.
Google nearly squandered glowing first impressions for Pixel 2 XL with a screen that shortchanges consumers for the asking price.
For that compromise, however, you get one of the best cameras on a mobile device and speedy software with guaranteed first rights to new versions of Android.
A utilitarian build that stands out in a sea of iPhones in colorful cases is a plus.
The Pixel 2 XL, and by extension the Pixel 2, pack almost enough hardware and software goodness to go from fan favorite to mainstream hit.
What Google needs to do, before smartphones go the way of the typewriter, is to wrap Android in a gorgeous frame that doesn't feel like a compromise.