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The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. Photo: Google

From the leaked images and rumored specifications, I fully expected Google's Pixel 2 to underwhelm. To be sure, it doesn't have the sexy curves or edge-to-edge screen of the Samsung Galaxy S8, LG V30 or Apple's iPhone X.

But in using the phone, I found it to be one of the most comfortable, powerful and no-hassle Android phones I've used.

Our Take: Google's second Pixel improves on the strengths of the first model by replacing a great camera with an even better one, making the device waterproof and adding several improvements on the software side. It offers a comfortable, if not dazzling design at a price that won't break the bank.

Aimed at switchers: Google has also made it an incredibly easy move for iPhone switchers. An included dongle lets one easily move a range of data from the iPhone, including iMessages. Plus, Google will automatically match as many of your apps as it can and install those.

The camera: Google puts a ton of emphasis on the camera and it shows. The camera on the original Pixel performed well and the new one scored best-ever ratings on a leading industry benchmark. What's more, Google manages to get a pleasant portrait effect with just a single rear camera. (see below for a comparison with Apple's iPhone 8 Plus)

The software: Some of the Pixel 2's key advances aren't visible until you turn it on, including the Google Lens smart camera software and the ability to squeeze the phone's exterior to summon the Google Assistant. The Pixel 2 will also support Pixel Buds, a $159 pair of wireless headphones that can do real-time language translation. As with other Pixel devices, it also guarantees prompt access to the latest Android updates.

Who it's good for: Most people looking for a solid, powerful Android phone.

Who it's not: If you are on a budget or want the flashiest hardware, the Pixel may not be for you.

The practicalities: The Pixel 2 starts at $649, while the XL version starts at $849. Verizon is the only carrier selling it directly, but it is available unlocked from Google and works with all the major carriers.

Since the camera is a key selling point, here is a comparison image of the portrait mode on the Pixel 2 and Apple's iPhone 8 Plus.

Pixel 2:

Ina Fried / Axios

iPhone 8 Plus:

Ina Fried / Axios

Go deeper

Former D.C. Guard alleges Army Generals lied about Jan. 6 response

Members of the National Guard and Capitol police keep a small group of pro-Trump demonstrators away from the Capitol following the insurrection on Jan. 6. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A former D.C. National Guard official has alleged that top Army generals "lied" to Congress in their testimony on the U.S. Capitol riot, Politico first reported Monday.

The big picture: Col. Earl Matthews, who was serving on Jan. 6, alleges in a memo that the official version on the military response is "worthy of the best Stalinist or North Korea propagandist" and that the Pentagon inspector general's November report on it features "myriad inaccuracies, false or misleading statements, or examples of faulty analysis."

Toyota to build $1.3 billion U.S. battery plant in North Carolina

The all-electric Toyota bZ4X, the company's first battery-electric vehicle, at the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California on Nov. 17. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Toyota announced Monday it's investing $1.3 billion to construct an electric vehicle battery "megasite" near Greensboro, North Carolina, set to open in 2025.

Why it matters: Toyota's Prius hybrid won environmental plaudits when it launched in 1997, but it has since lost ground to electric vehicle world leader Tesla, per Axios' Joann Muller. This battery plant will be the first to produce automotive batteries for Toyota in North America.

5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congress hunts for shortcut to pass defense funding, debt limit combo

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer returned to his office Monday. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The scramble in Congress to pass the National Defense Authorization Act is being complicated by an effort to tie it to a needed hike in the federal debt limit.

Why it matters: The House and Senate are rapidly coming up against a series of deadlines they must address before the end of the year — or risk disrupting crucial military funding and upending the economy. Congressional leaders are now hoping they can knock out both "must-pass" priorities in one, complex swoop.