May 19

Google pixel phone

Over the past 3 months I have been trialling a Google Pixel Phone. I’m not sure why.  I started getting attracted to the Google apps on my iPhone which were easier to use than the Apple apps.  I found myself using Google Inbox for my email, Google Play for my music,  and the Google calendar app instead of Apple’s calendar app.  So when Google released their pixel phone I took the plunge and purchased one to see how nicely it would play with Apple. It’s been a challenging a few months because I can’t get myself back onto my iPhone.  I’ve tried three times and  I simply cannot go back to the iPhone. The Pixel is a great phone and it plays very nicely with OS X. Google have really nailed the cross-platform syncing.  In fact,  when it comes to music and photos it syncs more easily with OS X than the iPhone does.  So this article is not really a review of the pixel phone –  there are plenty of websites doing that. This my experience transitioning from iPhone to the Goode Pixel phone.

Day 1 –  initial thoughts on the Pixel phone.

The initial transition from iPhone to Google Pixel was incredibly easy.   The Google pixel phone ships with an adapter that allows you to plug your iPhone directly into the Google phone and Google sucks all your information from the iPhone. It copied all the settings of my iPhone,  all the music,  all the photos,  and it even copied 80% of the apps across. It automatically downloaded all the Apps that were on my iPhone onto the Google phone – even though they come from a different store!

I mean, check out this video. Google have been working hard on this one and they seem to be targeting iPhone users.

Day 1 – What I like

 

The soft home button on the Pixel is much easier to use that the hard home button on the iPhone.

Google Assistant speech recognition is more accurate than Siri.

Google Assistant can do offline speech recognition. (Siri needs the internet.)

Applications seem to be more integrated and the user interface is more consistent across apps.

Another nice touch, if you are in a banking app where it requests an SMS code to your phone for verification, the Pixel phone automatically detects the SMS coming in, grabs the code without leaving the banking app, then pastes it in the appropriate text box within the app that was waiting for the code. Very nice Google.

Settings are easier to access and more customisable. You can make the home screen exactly how you want it.

Syncing photos is done at full quality, it’s automatic, and it’s free forever.

You can copy text easily out of an SMS and copy it elsewhere. ( you can’t do this on an iPhone anymore)

 

Day 1 – What I don’t like

 

The size. The Pixel is too big.  I have an iPhone SE  and I love the small size of the phone. Even the smallest Google pixel phone is too big and awkward for me to get my hands around.  I know this is a matter of personal preference but I certainly prefer the size of the small iPhone SE over the Google pixel.

Saying ‘OK Google’ is  a tongue twister compared to ‘hey Siri’

The Google Assistant is much less responsive to being woken up with ‘OK Google’ than Siri was.

It’s a lot harder to make voice-activated calls. Google assistant claims to be intelligent but the more options actually makes it harder to do simple tasks like ‘ring home.’

The fingerprint on the back is way worse than you think it would be. A big mistake.  Don’t get me wrong, it is very handy having a fingerprint on the back of the case so that when you pull the phone out of your pocket your finger touches the sensor effortlessly. But when you are in the car, or the phone is sitting on the table it is impossible to press the fingerprint sensor without actually lifting the phone up. And when you are  in the middle of using an app on the screen that requires a fingerprint for authentication,  like a banking app,  it requires more effort to move around to the back of the phone to press it. If Google want too keep the fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone they need to put  a second one on the front as well.

I can’t stream to Apple TV. :-(

Can’t open Pages documents.  Google pixel phone can open PDF files and Word documents and Excel files but it won’t open Pages or Numbers documents. So if you have a Pages document in dropbox or email you cannot even preview it.

Apple won’t let you log into iCloud from an Android phone.  Apple allow you to log into iCloud from your iPhone, from a Windows PC, and from OS X, but they detect the browser on an Android phone and will not let you log into iCloud which means you can’t even access pages documents from iCloud.

The icons on the home screen of the Google phone do not show numbers as notification.  For example the email app does not have a number on the icon showing you how many unread emails you have

 

Day 2 –  warming to the Google notification system.

I now prefer the Google notification system over the Apple one. The Google notification system is very customisable so that you can choose what alerts you get on an application basis. It also feels less intrusive. I feel more in control of what I want to interrupt me.

 

Day 3 – group texts and emails.

The Pixel phone can do group emails and texts using my address book. Open Contacts. Select a group (eg friends, work etc). Select ‘send message’  or ‘send email’  and I can send a message to multiple contacts at once. Say no more – this is a win.

 

Day 4 – pocket woes.

The Google Pixel keeps on waking up in my pocket and making phone calls.  I have talked to other Android users about this and they tell me that they always turned their phone off after they use it.  I have looked on the Android store and there are thousands of applications trying to overcome this problem. They turned the phone off when they sense that it has been turned upside down and put in your pocket.  But these apps are not integrated well into to OS. I am trialling one now called ‘pocket lock’ and it seems to be working.

This is another difference between the iPhone and the Pixel.  If there something you don’t like about the iPhone you are probably stuck with it. If there is something you don’t like about the pixel phone chances are someone else has written a hack ao fix it and uploaded it to the Android store.

 

Day 7 – appreciating a software ringer switch.

The iPhone has a switch that you can flip to toggle silent mode on and off. To start with I I missed this ring/silent switch. I mean I really missed it. What a hassle to actually have to look at the screen and swipe down and press a button to enable silent mode. On the iPhone you can just reach into your pocket and flip the switch.  But after a week  I’m beginning to see the advantage of the Pixel approach.  On the Pixel phone when you switch on silent mode it gives you an option for how long you want silent mode to stay on for.   This is a great feature because I have lost count of the number of times when I have forgotten to turn my phones ring on and missed a whole day worth of calls!

On an android phone the do not disturb mode can be automatically turned off after a set period of time.

3 weeks – the surprise.

After 3 weeks on the Google phone it was time to end my trail and write a review. So I took the SIM card out of the Google phone and powered up my trusty iPhone again.  I lasted about 1 hour. I found the iPhone harder to use and more clunky and less intuitive than the Pixel phone. It’s harder to wake up. Apps are less consistent. The  Home button requires way too much force to press it down.

This to me was a shock.  I noticed a difference when I went from an iPhone to the Google Pixel phone.  There were certainly a lot of small differences. In some areas I prefer the way Apple do it and in some areas I prefer the way Google do it.  But when I went from the Pixel phone back to the iPhone I was definitely disappointed. So much so that I decided to stick with the Google phone a little longer.

 

3 months later – no more iPhone.

After 3 months I’ve retired my iPhone, and purchased a Google Nexus 5X. And I’ll be sticking with a Google phone from here on in.

And I’ll be buying my wife a Google phone! I tried one last time to transition back to the iPhone and it was too painful. The home button is horrible. You won’t realise this if you are an iPhone user unless you try another phone for a few weeks.  That’s right. The Google Nexus 5X is the model prior to the Pixel, and you can still pick them up for approx $350 new. I don’t like carrying around a $1000 phone in my pocket. The $600 iPhone SE I purchased second hand was about my limit. But I’ve had a Google Nexus 5X about a week and it’s as fast and as easy to use as the Pixel phone. It’s a little more plastic, but for the $350 price tag I can handle a plastic phone.

I tried one last transition back to the iPhone last week and it was too painful. The home button is horrible. You won’t realise this if you are an iPhone user unless you try another phone for a few weeks.

The Google Nexus 5X is the model prior to the Pixel, and you can still pick them up for approx $350 new. I don’t like carrying around a $1000 phone in my pocket. The $600 iPhone SE I purchased second hand was about my limit. But I’ve had a Google Nexus 5X about a week and it’s as fast and as easy to use as the Pixel phone. It’s a little more plastic, but with the $350 price tag I can handle a plastic phone.

 

Main Observations

Consistency of User Interface across Apps

Apple have a pretty rigorous process of accepting software into the app store so I thought the Apps on the iPhone would have a more consistent user interface.  But it turned out to be the opposite.  The applications on the Google phone have a more consistent interface and on the whole are easier to use. They all have a drop down help and settings menu with the same icon. And they have consistent buttons at the bottom of the screen across apps. For example look at the bottom of these three completely different apps.

The first app is an Internet speed test app, the second app is a banking app from Westpac, and the third app is a music app but they all have the same 3 buttons along the bottom.  The left button is the back button. The middle button takes you back to the home screen, and the right button allows you to switch between apps. On the iPhone the back button can be anywhere.  on some apps it is in the bottom left, on some apps it is in the top left.

Finding and purchasing Apps

It’s also easier to find good apps on the Google app store because it seems to have a better rating system. Every app has a star rating and more people seem to take the time to write a review than on the Apple store. I would say android has a more involved base of users and so this makes the rating system and reviews on the store more useful.

Google’s Apps are nicer than Apple’s equivalent

I find the Google apps better than the corresponding Apple software. I’ve already written about this elsewhere but Google’s Inbox is nicer than Apple’s mail app, Google calendar is nicer than Apple’s calendar, and so on.

Apps are familiar across platforms

The third-party iPhone apps and the Android store apps are pretty much identical.  For example with my banking apps,the tile app, the Bible, my guitar tuner, Slack, wunderlist, inbox etc  I would not know which phone I am on. The apps are almost identical to use.  (The only difference is that the Android phone has the 3  buttons along the bottom of the screen and the drop-down settings menu at the top.) The main difference between the Android phone and the iPhone comes in the switching between apps, the turning the phone on and off, the assistant, and the phone itself. The experience within the apps is similar.  The one exception I have found is the high end ‘Allen and Heath’ mixer app which is very buggy on Android compared to the iPhone.

Making Phone calls

The iPhone is better as a phone. If you don’t want a smart phone and you just want a phone to make phone calls on the iPhone is easier to use as just a phone and has clearer audio on phone calls.  On the Google phone even after three months I sometimes find myself wanting to end a phone call and my phone is not on the phone screen anymore and it’s hard to work out how to get back to the phone screen. On the iPhone there is always the bar along the top that allows me to return to the call in progress.  Apple have prioritised the phone app over other apps and this to me was a useful thing which the Pixel does not do.  The phone app on the Pixel is no different to any other app.

Home Screen

The Google home screen is much better than the iPhone. You can add widgets to the phone screen. ( For example I have a widget that always  displays my current phone data usage.) You don’t need to have every app on a screen either.  On the iPhone all your apps appear as icons on the screen and if you don’t want to see them you have to hide them away in subfolders which is quite tedious.

Conclusions.

Three decades ago the war was between Microsoft and Apple and Apple won because they controlled the entire user experience, hardware and software.  They mastered the syncing problems.

In 1998 it was the iMac – with it’s software suit that could surf the web, make movies and burn DVDs.

Then Apple stunned us again in 2001 with the iPod – music syncing from the web to computer to portable device.

In 2007 Apple turned the iPod into the gamechanging iPhone. It synced contacts, notes and music seamlessly. We threw out our Palm pilots and Blueberries and the iPhone won the day. These were major milestones and life changing technologies.

It’s now been 10 years and from Apple it’s been evolution not revolution.  iPhone 2.  iPhone 3.  iPhone 4.  iPhone 5.  iPhone 6.  iPhone 7.

And in that time Google have been evolving too. The threat to Apple is not IBM or even Microsoft. It’s Google. Google are good at software. Their foray into the phone market is genius. Google bring their experience in maps, speech recognition, syncing, browser development and search engine experience to the Pixel.

Back in 2011 Steve Jobs recognised that Apple’s biggest threat would come from Google.  You may want to check out this very interesting Forbes Magazine article from 2011.

“I think that while Steve Jobs wanted Apple to be mindful of all of its primary competitors, he wanted his company to be acutely aware of the one company that he believed would pose the greatest long-term danger to Apple.

He wanted Apple to have an enemy, a public enemy #1. And he wanted that enemy to be Google.”

The Microsoft Surface Pro is becoming the laptop of choice for professionals in IT circles. And my guess is that Google software will play more nicely with the Microsoft Surface Pro than Apple software will.   If we diversify to a Google phone, an Apple iMac,  a Microsoft laptop and a Samsung tablet, Google may be the glue that holds it all together.   What software works seamlessly across all those platforms?  Google have already solved the problem.  Google Sheets.  Google Docs.  Google Photos. Google Keep.

Apple needs to think this one through. I’ve been seduced by the Pixel phone. (Or in my case, the Nexus 5X.)  But it won’t stop there.  I’m already thinking of getting a Google chrome cast because now my major place for purchases is the Google play store, not iTunes. We are no longer tied to a hardware platform because of the software.

And I don’t think this is a bad thing.

I’m really enjoying my Google phone.

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