I love Android phones. They’re all so unique, so customizable, so adventurous; they come in all sorts of sizes, materials, UI’s, capabilities, price-points, the options are almost endless. The manufacturers have stepped up their hardware game over the last few years. Gone are the crappy plastic Android phone of 5 years ago, most of these phones are straight up slick. They’ve also scaled way back on the oppressive skins we once bemoaned, now offering interfaces that are much cleaner, even sometimes useful. The specs inside these phones are on par with many of the laptops we’re using, the performance tests are off the charts. I’m getting excited just thinking about it. I love Android phones, but here’s the thing, I still use an iPhone.
Despite all of the great things about Android phones they suffer from a fatal flaw, the people who make the phones do not make the software. It’s not only a weakness, the fact that Android is so versatile means that we can have multiple manufacturers making high quality devices using the same basic platform. Choice, competition, diversity, those are all good things. However, when it comes to every day user experience over time, Android phones inevitably don’t measure up to iPhones. Apple controls the processor, the hardware, and the software all together and it gives them a real advantage on the user experience side of things.
The Pixel is Google’s first legitimate attempt to go head to head with the iPhone. They’ve released ‘Nexus’ phones over the years which were sort of pseudo Google phones because they ran pure Android, but we’ve never had a phone directly manufactured by Google until the Pixel. This fact alone makes the Pixel compelling. So how does it stack up?
The Pixel is a beautiful phone, at least the black one is (I’m sure you’ve seen pics, that silver/white version is hideous). It’s all aluminum, which we’ve kind of come to expect these days. It’s got a nice gentle wedge shape, which you might not even notice unless you’re looking for it. It’s also got a huge glass panel on the back, presumably for the antennas to function, although it also has the iPhone plastic lines through the back. Maybe Google just want to be absolutely sure there wouldn’t be connectivity issues? Regardless of what you think of it, that glass is definitely a distinguisher. I don’t have a problem with it. Overall the phone looks nice, nothing special, but nice (kind of like an iPhone).
Google did not outfit this phone with any type of dust or water resistance. Those extra durability features weren’t really a thing until a couple of years ago, but now that the iPhone has them, the fact that the Pixel doesn’t is a little disappointing. It is their first edition of this phone though. I know I know, that’s not a good reason to give them a pass, but that’s just automatically where my mind goes. Hopefully it will be there on the next rendition, if not, we should all definitely be upset.
The Pixel’s display is sharp. It’s actually not as technically sharp as a lot of the newer phones, it’s full HD but not 2k, but I defy you to pick out a pixel on this screen without wincing at it an inch from your face. On a 5 inch screen, full HD is incredibly sharp and 2k is mostly unnecessary. The screen technology in the Pixel is AMOLED, in contrast to the LCD screens the iPhone uses. When I look back at my iPhone 7 screen after gazing at this beauty I get sad. The iPhone screen looks kind of small and washed out in comparison. The colors on the Pixel are so deep and full and saturated, and maybe a just a little overblown (though you’ve always got the option to customize the look). AMOLED is just better. Rumors indicate that Apple may finally be joining the modern smartphone display world and introducing an AMOLED screen on the next iteration of the iPhone. Enough about iPhones though, am I right?
One of the most underrated things about a smartphone is the way it unlocks. I recommend you avoid thinking about how many times you unlock your phone every day, it’s nothing but convicting. But do think about how frustrating it would be to have to type in a password, or even a passcode, every time you wanted to use your phone. I’m infuriated just thinking about it. No such issues with the Pixel. The touch ID is so flawless, even compared to an iPhone, that I was legitimately surprised when I first used it. You don’t have to turn on the screen, you don’t have to hit a button, your finger just has to graze the little circle on the back and it magically unlocks. The iPhone is great, and it was probably the first great touch ID, but I have to be honest, I like the Pixel’s better. The fact that it’s on the back is a possible down side, it means you have to pick the phone up to use the touch ID, but I found it delightful.
I’m not a camera expert but I’ll say this, the Pixel’s camera is right up there with the best you can find in a smartphone. This is top tier. I don’t notice much difference in picture quality between the Pixel, the iPhone 7, and the Galaxy S7, and the difference I do notice is almost entirely contained in the software behind the camera. You can’t go wrong with any of these. I don’t buy a smartphone for the camera, but I definitely want a camera that will take a decent picture without me having to fumble around with the settings. The Pixel easily checks that box.
Quick note, Google’s wallpaper app is sweet. I hadn’t interacted with it before getting my hands on the Pixel, I’m here to say it’s awesome. These pictures on this display are striking.
Android is the glory of the Pixel. This is not a clunky manufacture’s take on Android (not to say that they’re all clunky), this is Google’s vision, and it looks great, even beautiful. It also performs great. One cool little trick Google added is a software optimization to increase the sensitivity and reaction of touch to the screen. I’m not going to claim I notice a huge difference, but the Pixel does feel especially responsive compared to other Android phones. These types of small additions are what set the Pixel apart. Whether or not you like Android is whole different debate, but the Pixel’s execution of Android is undoubtably my favorite. I think most people don’t care, but when Samsung (or others) gives users duplicates in many stock apps (the browser for example) it feels clunky and inefficient. We’re still dealing with a ‘Bixby’ button that doesn’t even work yet! Most Android phones feel like they’re two competing, poorly executed software systems trapped inside one body. The biggest win for the Pixel in my book is the seamlessness, the efficiency. The whole thing is intentionally one well executed machine designed for the best possible user experience, which it delivers over and above the rest of the Android landscape.
Overall the Google Pixel is a compelling set of features set inside a gorgeous frame. Samsung and LG, even HTC, have all released phones that impress this year, but I still would choose last year’s Pixel over any of them. As Steve Jobs would say, Google has gotten serious about software by finally creating their own hardware. The Pixel is impressive, even more so when you remember that this is version 1. Rumors for a coming Pixel update this fall are even more exciting. I’m a fairly invested iPhone user, but if this is the future of Android, color me intrigued.