So I am, according to a close friend, and forgive me but I’m quoting here “a total tech slut”. I prefer to think of it as “manufacturer agnostic”; I will go wherever the wind blows strongest. If a company offers the best that’s who I’ll spin to, I have no brand loyalty and I refuse to stick with something that isn’t good, just because of its reputation (*cough*Apple*cough*).
So I did have a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, then I tried to move to the Note 7. Well, we know how that ended up (not explosively for me, fortunately) so I was reduced back to my S6. I say reduced but let’s face it, it is still a great phone. Great camera, great build, and of course the best Operating System (OS), which is currently Android. However I had my eyes on the latest and greatest, the Pixel Phone by Google.
The Pixel is a phone you should’ve heard of, even if you’ve been living under a rock. Google has run a pretty aggressive advertising campaign to push sales, using the fact that most ‘non-enthusiasts’ are not aware that Google has been running it’s own branded stuff for a while now under the ‘Nexus’ monicker. Well. No longer, and additionally this Pixel Phone is Google through and through; HTC make it, but they’re there just to provide manufacturing muscle. Make no mistake, the phone that you see is something designed entirely as Google wanted it.
I’ve had mine for months now, and it’s grown on me. So I’ll deal with the bad bits first, the parts I don’t like and the things that will annoy you day to day as you use it. Firstly, a fairly emotive issue in the world of smartphones; the fingerprint sensor:
It’s in the wrong bloody place
Now I’m sure that there are plenty of people who will swear blind that the back of the phone is the best place for the sensor. Well, you’re all wrong. It’s in a good place if you pick up the phone, yes, and it’s comfortable if you have tiny hands but for those of us with normally sized hands and what my grandmother would term ‘pianists fingers’ (to normal modern people, that means someone with long fingers). But on the back its impossible to use when it’s lying flat on the table, or propped up, or anywhere that doesn’t require it to be picked up. Yes yes, I’ve heard people tell me that “but you just double tap the screen and it’ll wake then use the pattern unlock”. Well, that’s not acceptable. When you have something as safe and easy as a biometric fingerprint scanner, placing where it cannot be used in 60% of the circumstances you would use a phone isn’t acceptable in the modern world, not in a tech arms race this close.
Secondly, the design. There have been many plaudits from all kinds of gushing tech writers about this phone but, frankly, they’re wrong. It’s thicker than most smartphones of this power, and the bezel at the bottom is too big; in fact the bezels around the outside are all too damn big. In short the design is poor, at least compared to Apple or Samsung or HTC itself. I’m not sure who signed off on it but it looks like a fat iPhone. An iPhone that’s let itself go a little, maybe.
Finally, coming from a Samsung, the lack of wireless charging is infuriating (yeah, I said it). Now yes, I’m aware that the metallic body precludes this charging method but there’s that glass segment at the top – I assume this is to support the antenna, but I fail to see how it couldn’t (by people much smarter than I) work towards a method for wireless charging. The convenience of the charging method made itself indispensable to me over the years I used the S6 Edge, and I’m very disappointed that Google failed to add it to their phone.
Google Assistant is a terrible disappointment as well. It’s ‘contextual’ abilities leave much to be desired – it’s frankly no better than Google Now. This however, isn’t really an issue because actually Google Now is the best of the ‘AI’ assistants currently.
But that’s about it
Actually, the hardware aside… the rest of the phone is very, very good. If you’re an Apple user then I suspect you are Googles target audience and this phone will suit you very well. It’s similar but better in every way than the Apple equivalent, including in those key areas that appeal – ease of use, and the camera. Aaaah the camera. It’s superb! (Stand by for me to wax lyrical)
The Camera really is amazing. As in, it actually amazes you.
Google has made much song and dance about the camera – how it is rated top of all phone cameras by real camera geeks and you know what, I believe it. I’m an enthusiastic amateur with photography (Olympus user) and in a recent trip to Costa Rica I actually took to using the phone for panoramas and close ups over the camera because it’s that damn good. It’s clear, precise and beautiful. Look at these Instagram feeds for example:
As you can see the quality for a smartphone is really very very good and beyond what is possible with other phones. Even the iPhone 7 can’t match this – and for those of you curious, the reason is the software that Apple insist on adding its own filters to the camera image before the user even gets a chance at it. Even with a single lens, the Pixel beats out the S7 and the iPhone 7 for accuracy and clarity of picture across a range of situations that is an essential factor if you are a keen smartphone photographer, or even a camera enthusiast who wants a secondary lens. What’s the overused but very true phrase? “The best camera is the one you have with you”.
If you are really into photography, with your phone ditch whatever you have and get one of these right away!
The software is also, and I don’t say this lightly, impeccable. Coming from a phone with a hardware makers UI layer draped over it (the Samsung and HT before it) the clean, stock, ‘pure’ Android is superb and powered by the latest processor inside (Snapdragon 821) the easy of use and simple slickness of all the processes that the phone completes has absolutely won me away; even from the better hardware of the Samsungs. Grace UI, TouchWiz UI, Sense-whateverthehellversion is getting better but frankly it’s still crap compared to an Android set free of the heavy dragging weight of a manufacturer trying to put its own ‘look’ and ‘design feel’ onto handset. It’s frankly not required, as Google has now proven.
I have no hesitation to say that currently, the Pixel and Pixel XL (the one I have) is the best Android phone out there. The Samsung S7 edge currently offers more hardware but frankly the day to day daily smoothness of the operating system, which is significantly better than any other phone i’ve used (foolish internet ‘speed tests’ aside), means that Internet browsing, social media, music and messaging (i.e. 99% of what a phone is used for) is handled in a way so superior to handsets with better hardware that I won’t go back.
Samsung S8…. You’d better bring your A game in March….