Google Pixel: thoughts from a long-time iPhone user

I’ve been a diehard iPhone user since 2012, when I got my first iPhone: the iPhone 5. The phone I had prior to that was a pretty horrible, free-on-2-year-contract Android phone, which shipped with Android 2.2 “Froyo” and didn’t get any official updates past that. I wanted the latest OS, so I shoehorned 2.3 (and eventually 4.0) on it by means of custom ROMs… but it got pretty unbearably slow at some point. I knew that Android in general had a mass of version fragmentation, which is why I chose iPhone: I wanted to stay up to date, all the time.

My iPhone 5 stayed in active daily use until 2014, when I picked up an iPhone 6 Plus, my first-ever “phablet”-sized phone. And my iPhone 6 Plus stayed in daily use until April 2016, when I picked up an iPhone 6s Plus, mainly so that my phone would support Australian LTE bands. Between 2012 and 2016, I went from having zero Apple products to having… quite a number more than zero, including a MacBook Pro, Apple Watch, and Apple TV.

I’m quite convinced that I’ll never give up the Mac (I’ve tried it many times before; having the underlying Unix subsystem natively helps a lot with development/testing). But as for the iPhone? Well… my iPhone 6s Plus is now physically in a box, and virtually listed on eBay.

I bought a Google Pixel (“Quite Black”, 128GB, non-XL) on Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend, as Verizon had quite the steal of a deal going on ($15/mo for a 128GB Pixel, compared to the $32/mo normal, or $45/mo for my iPhone under Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program). And I can say that I don’t think I’ve really regretted it, even though part of me has wanted to regret it. I’ve tried swapping SIMs with my iPhone for a day several times, but something has always kept me coming back to the Pixel. Why?

As far as the OS goes, the Pixel runs a nearly vanilla Android 7.1.1 “Nougat”, getting updates directly from Google (which resolves my fear of version fragmentation). There’s a few other niceties, such as double-tap to wake/raise to wake and Google Assistant, but for the most part, it’s vanilla AOSP. Android has seriously matured since I used it last back in the KitKat days (when I briefly had a Nexus 5), and it feels like an extremely capable mobile operating system in 2017 – in some aspects (namely customization), even more so than iOS.

I think I can say that I’m fairly OS-agnostic at this point, both on desktop and mobile. Whereas I used to only ever use macOS and iOS, I now also use Windows 10 and Android on a regular basis:

  • macOS on my desktop/Hackintosh: used mainly for productivity and general use
  • Windows 10 on my desktop: used mainly for Overwatch. Lots and lots of Overwatch.
  • macOS on my MacBook Pro: used mainly for, well, everything mobile
  • Windows 10 on my MacBook Pro: used mainly for emergency/LAN party Overwatch sessions
  • Android on my Pixel: my primary mobile device, of course
  • iOS on my iPhone: used to be my primary mobile device

Google Drive keeps everything in sync across all my devices and OSes, meaning that if I need to cross over some tasks (i.e. get a little bit of work done while playing Overwatch on Windows), I can.

But what truly keeps me coming back to the Pixel is probably its build quality. Despite people complaining about DAT CHIN DOE, I think the Pixel is a remarkably well-built device. Moreover, the thickness actually makes it quite pleasant to hold and use in the hand. My iPhone feels too thin for how much surface area it covers, and this probably contributes to the amount of times I’ve dropped it. As for my Pixel? I don’t think I’ve had it accidentally fall out of my hands while using it once. And the fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone? Surprisingly intuitive.

Screen size is also probably a factor. I used “phablets” with 5.5″ screens for two years, so I had gotten used to it. When I picked up the Pixel for the first time, it seemed like a midget. It felt extremely unnatural to be holding a phone with a 5″ screen. But I got used to it over time, and even have come to prefer it in certain scenarios (i.e. Redditing in bed – my hands aren’t big enough to hold a plus-sized phone fully in one hand without stretching).

Now, there’s some areas I really think the Pixel could have done better on. I don’t really mind the “chin” too much, but it would be nice if it were smaller. The back glass scratches super easily – I was practically babying the phone the first day, since I didn’t have a case yet, and there were still micro-scratches on the back glass by the end of the day. (I’ve resolved that now with a Spigen Liquid Crystal clear case, and I love it. I like still being able to see the design of the phone, which is most often why I never put a case on my phones. A clear case gives me the best of both worlds.)

The speakers are kinda meh, but that’s alright – about the only time I ever listen to music with my phone’s speakers are while I’m taking a shower, and I can barely hear the music over the rushing water in that case anyways. But no waterproofing? In 2016? (Yes, I know it’s 2017 now, but the Pixel was released in 2016, so we’ll go with that.) Come on, Google.

For the most part, though, the Pixel is what I expected from an iPhone-priced Android device. The camera quality is on par with my iPhone, and even somewhat better, I’d say (no comparison pics since I don’t live anywhere interesting, sorry). Auto-focus is lightning fast, thanks to the laser-assisted auto-focus on the Pixel; my iPhone has always been characteristically slow at auto-focusing. The entire experience is buttery smooth. App open times, compared with my iPhone, range from on par, to several seconds faster (i.e. opening Twitter for the first time since a reboot taking 1-2 seconds, as opposed to 4-5 on my iPhone). I can’t speak for gaming since I don’t really do any mobile gaming, but I’m sure that works quite well.

Battery life is a non-concern – I’ve made it through days of fairly heavy usage, skipped the overnight charge, and still had 20% or so to spare. Even if the battery life were “below average”, the Pixel’s quick charge functionality would probably make up for it.

What I’m really missing from Android is an Android-compatible smartwatch that’s as intuitive as the Apple Watch. Apple really seemed to have nailed it with the Apple Watch UI/UX, and I have yet to find anything as smooth as that on the dark side. Android Wear just seems clunky software-wise, and many of the watches seem to not “get it” hardware wise (i.e. Huawei Watch doesn’t have an ambient light sensor, so you have to manually adjust brightness… why?). Of course, there’s rumors of a “Google Pixel Watch”, which I’m paying attention to… hopefully Google delivers.

Overall, the Pixel is the best Android experience that I’ve ever had, and is certainly worthy of the “flagship” title it’s been given. I’m excited to see what the “Pixel 2” delivers in terms of improvements.

Anyways, this post is a bit rambly, but that’s kinda what my blog is about, no? I just like to ramble about things sometimes to get my thoughts out, and if anyone reads it, that’s just a bonus. This was also a bit of an excuse for me to procrastinate on homework… I should probably get to doing that now. Hope you enjoyed the read (if you actually read it all)!