The Pixel 2 XL hasn’t had a smooth launch. The phone’s display has had various problems, including distorted or undersaturated OLED panels (our own Ryan Whitwam argued this was never a problem at all), a “black smear” problem, and a quickly appearing issue with burn-in that surfaced well before it was expected to appear. Some phones also emit high-pitched clicking sounds and poor audio recording quality. Google has promised various fixes for these issues, including:
- An option for more saturated colors (at reduced brightness to offset display loading)
- A bottom bar that fades out to prevent screen burn-in
- An update to fix the problem with NFC that’s causing the high-pitched noises
- A software patch to fix the poor audio recording quality
You can argue that a company that’s been in the business as long as Google has shouldn’t be making these kinds of mistakes (and I certainly would). But so far there doesn’t seem to be anything on the table that isn’t covered by either warranty or Google’s upcoming updates. These are reasons to delay buying a Pixel 2, but not reasons to junk the idea, provided Google makes good on its repair promises. But apparently some users are also receiving Pixel 2 XL’s that either lack an operating system altogether or have cataclysmic storage damage that prevent them from booting properly.
Android Police has rounded up complaints from Reddit, Ars Technica, and Twitter, all with the same issue: Their phone arrived without an operating system. There’s no way to know, just from that message, if the issue is a corrupted bootloader, a literal lack of any OS image, or a NAND storage failure, in much the same way that your PC’s inability to find an operating system on a drive that’s supposed to have one could reflect physical damage, file system corruption, or that the previous image had been accidentally formatted or never installed.
Could the HTC Acquisition Be to Blame?
One obvious explanation for why the Pixel 2 XL seems to be in such rough condition is that it was caused by the inevitable shake-ups and uncertainty that occur when one company buys a major part of another. That’s what happened on September 21, when Google and HTC announced a deal in which Google would acquire HTC’s contract manufacturing business. There are several problems with this argument. Being owned by a company is different than working with one as a partner, but Google would’ve known that the smart thing to do was to finish the Pixel 2 XL (which is had already given to LG), then make major organizational changes associated with its new HTC employees and any future phone development. Second, many of these issues should have been caught long before the Pixel 2 XL shipped to customers. Remember, phones typically go through an extensive qualification process to allow carriers to do their own testing. Phones with these kinds of quality control issues should’ve been stopped dead long before the launch event.
The time frame for this launch wasn’t particularly short; Google launched Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL roughly a year after Pixel. Nevertheless, the issues that keep popping up suggest that someone has fundamentally dropped the quality control ball. It’s not unusual for smartphones to have issues after launch (anyone remember “You’re holding it wrong?”) but it’s fairly rare for a smartphone to have multiple OLED issues, a completely unrelated storage or OS problem, a separate high-pitched whining and squeaking apparently related to its NFC implementation, and an issue with its audio recording quality.
To the best of our knowledge, there’s no causal factor that explain any two of these problems, much less all at once. And that suggests someone at either HTC, Google, or both tried to cut corners and ship devices that simply weren’t ready. Could Google have been worried that the iPhone X would suck all the air out of the high-end market? It’s not a crazy idea. Absent a critical component supplier issue or a highly unusual confluence of factors, it’s about all we’ve got. The rate of incidence on each problem may be quite small, but we still shouldn’t be seeing quite so many different problems.
Food for thought: What do you call a Google phone without an OS? A Nondroid?