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printed December 16, 2017
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Review: UAG, Speck, and Incipio Cases for the Google Pixel 2 XL

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Nov 15, 2017, 3:00 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   @phonescooper

Need a case for your pricey Google Pixel 2 XL smartphone? Here are three options from UAG, Incipio, and Speck. These will add a dash of style to your handset with varying degrees of protection.

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Background

Google and Verizon are marketing the Pixel 2 XL pretty hard this holiday season, and it's an interesting phone with some exciting features. Maybe you need a case for yours, or perhaps you know someone who might appreciate a case as a holiday gift.

The Google Pixel 2 XL is big enough that I don't relish the idea of increasing its footprint with a bulky case. But this $900 device from Google is not rugged. In fact, a huge chunk of the rear panel is made of glass. That makes it a bit more likely to break when dropped, at least when compared to devices with a full metal jacket.

UAG, Incipio, and Speck have updated some of their iconic cases for the Pixel 2 XL. We put them to the test to see if they're worth wrapping around your precious Google phone.

UAG Plasma

Urban Armor Gear (UAG) has a fine range of semi-rugged cases that focus on function more than form. UAG's hardware is pieced together from multi-layered shells that resemble military ships from the future. The Plasma series is UAG's mid-range case and the one we took for a spin with the Pixel 2 XL. We tested the version for the Samsung Galaxy S8 earlier this year and liked it.

Plasma

Plasma

The main body of the Plasma Series shell is see-through plastic that comes in "ice" or "ash." The former is slightly more opaque than the latter. This shell is patterned with hexagons, which are printed on the inner surface of the case. The outer surface of the shell has six raised beams that stretch out to the four corners and two side edges. They resemble the skeleton of a futuristic building under construction.

UAG cut a simple hole in the rear of the case to expose the fingerprint sensor. It's deep. You have to wiggle your fingertip in to reach the fingerprint reader. The larger hole for the rear camera is protected with a rubber frame to keep the lens safe. UAG's signature plugs are easy to spot. These five black dots are visible on the back of the case. The plugs go all the way through the shell and provide vital shock absorption on both the inside and the outside of the case.

It's a bit of work to wiggle the Pixel 2 XL into the Plasma. You'll really need to stretch the top and bottom edges over the tall shape of the 2 XL.

The phone sits rather deep in the case. The front rim forms a protective lip so you can place the phone face down in flat surfaces without damaging the screen. That's nice. The side edges hug the Pixel 2 XL firmly.

The Plasma does increase the Pixel 2 XL's footprint and weight. The weight increase is negligible, but the size increase is a little rough. The case includes reinforced corners, which I appreciate, but they really put this (already large) phone's size over the edge. It's uncomfortable in a pocket, and difficult to retrieve from a pocket when you need to answer a call, etc.

Plasma  

More importantly, the button situation is pretty bad. UAG put flexible, ridged rubber over the Pixel 2 XL's physical buttons and they don't work well. UAG markets them as "oversized" buttons as if it's a selling point. But the screen lock key is far too long, easily twice as long as the button itself. That makes it easy to press an area of the "button" that doesn't actually touch the button underneath. It caused me to miss multiple presses. It gets old quickly. The exact same problem plagues the volume toggle.

The Plasma doesn't get in the way of the Pixel 2 XL's squeezable sides. You can squeeze for access to Google Assistant any time you want. The case also doesn't impede access to the USB-C charging port on the bottom.

As for actual protection, UAG says the Plasma is rated to handle drops onto most surfaces from about waist height. I tested the Pixel 2 XL on ceramic tile, gravel, thin carpet over concrete, asphalt, and wood surfaces from waist height and the phone came away with no damage whatsoever. These are what I'd call typical accidental drops.

UAG sells the Plasma Series case for $40. It's adequate protection, but the button situation bugs me and it makes an already-big device feel much bigger.

Incipio Carnaby Esquire

Incipio has dozens of case options available for the Google Pixel 2 XL. The coverings range from simple to suffocating. The Carnaby Esquire Series case is easily the most stylish. (You might assume this, given the high-falutin' name.) The Carnaby is thick, tough, and yet still lovable thanks to its attractive finishes. Think of the Carnaby as the bar bouncer who's dressed in Armani. Tough, but sharp nonetheless.

Carnaby

Carnaby

The Carnaby is the most rigid case we tested for the Pixel 2 XL. The core of the shell is formed by a single, solid piece of plastic. It's unforgiving. The material is so rigid there's almost no flexibility in the case at all. It has high side edges to wrap around the Pixel 2 XL. The interior of the case has a thin rubber-like membrane to provide some cushioning for those punishing beatdowns. The exterior is wrapped in cotton that could be fine denim or tweed. It's a deep gray/navy blue combo that's sharp. I generally don't like cloth on phones, but this really works.

It's difficult to get the Pixel 2 XL into and out of the Carnaby. It's so tight. I feared I might crack the screen trying the flex the phone enough so it would loosen from the case. Once it's in there, it's in there.

The case forms a literal wall around the four side edges of the phone. It's a tall wall, meaning you can lay the phone face down on a flat surface and not have to worry about scratching the screen. This wall is not very comfortable when it's in your pocket. It turns the Pixel 2 XL into a thigh-stabbing brick. It's a tall, wide phone made taller and wider when wearing the Carnaby Esquire. (Think how ridiculous a muscle-bound bouncer would look with large shoulder pads in his suit coat.)

I'm happy to report the case doesn't get in the way of the Pixel 2 XL's functionality. The molded coverings that protect the phone's side buttons, for example, are nearly perfect. Not only are the buttons still easy to find, they are easy to use. I appreciate how the Carnaby interacts with the Pixel's buttons much more so than the buttons of the UAG or Speck. The opening for the USB-C cable is perfect. The polymer ridge that surrounds the 2 XL's fingerprint reader is a bit stiff, but I had no trouble accessing the reader. The same type of ridge surrounds the camera module. And of course, the Carnaby accepts your bear hugs around the Pixel 2 XL's waist when you activate the squeeze shortcuts.

Carnaby  

Incipio doesn't make any specific claims about just how tough the Carnaby Esquire is. The case is crazy strong. I dropped the Pixel 2 XL onto a variety of surfaces from waist height while it donned the Carnaby and it had nary a nick to show for it.

At $35, the Incipio is very affordable. If you like the cotton-covered, tough-guy approach, the Carnaby Esquire may be the bloke for you.

Speck Presidio Grip

The Presidio Grip from Speck provides semi-rugged protection. It's not a fully rugged case, but it is significantly stronger than some of the other cases Speck makes.

Grip

Grip

The Presidio Grip is made from hard black plastic, with a series of angled, rubber lines that run along the back and wrap around the sides. These ridges provide lots of — you guessed it — grip! Whether the case is dry or wet, it's easy to hold on to. The black material has a matte finish all the way around. It's more utilitarian than stylish.

The interior walls of the case have rubber ridges that absorb energy and thus provide impact protection. The inner surface has a soft rubber feel, which surely helps protect that glass panel forming the Pixel 2 XL's shoulders.

The four corners of the case have an extra-stretchy material filling the gap between the plastic sides. This helps with fit. It's easy enough to slip onto (and off of) the 2 XL.

The Presidio Grip fully covers the Pixel 2 XL's side edges. The front face of the case provides a raised rim all the way around so you can put the phone down face-first and not scratch the front glass.

Finding and using the screen lock and volume buttons is very easy when the Presidio Grip is wrapped around the phone. The coverings don't impede usability at all.

Grip  

I like that the opening for the rear-placed fingerprint reader is minimal in terms of size. It's not indented too much and doesn't get in the way of finding or reaching the reader. The opening carved out for the camera module is minimal. It hugs the camera lens and flash snugly. The cutout on the bottom of the phone for the USB-C port is perfect. It accepted every plug without complaint.

Speck says the Presidio Grip is rated for drops up to 10 feet (onto… concrete? ...pillows?) There's no question that the firm materials and the Grip's internal sidewalls offer good insurance against impacts on unforgiving surfaces. I dropped the 2 XL with the Grip onto my hardwood floor from shoulder height and the phone came away unbroken. I'm definitely more comfortable dropping it from waist height, from which it handled ceramic tile and concrete just fine.

The Grip does add bulk to the 2 XL, but it's not as much as the UAG Plasma. Importantly, it keeps the four corners smooth and rounded. The grippy rubber edges, however, really make the Pixel 2 XL a chore to retrieve from your pocket.

The Presidio Grip from Speck costs $40. It makes the most sense to me as a protective option when you're at a pool or hot tub, or anywhere you might need a good grip with wet hands.

Our Ratings

3.5
Overall
 

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