Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Pixel 2 review from an iPhone tragic

Our family is very much in the Apple eco-system. We iMessage, FaceTime, iPhoto, and watch AppleTV. The family uses Find my Friends and we even have an iCloud cache set up in the house. All said and done, the eco-system mostly “just works”.

But Apple doesn’t meet all our needs and the gaps have always been filled by Google services. We all use gmail and appreciate the huge storage, great search and lack of spam. Photos are backed up to Google Photos and videos are shared on YouTube (I also pay for YouTube Red to avoid those annoying pre-roll and floating ads).

In recent years, Google’s ecosystem has expanded in our world. A Google Home device has become a valued part of our lives in the kitchen, mostly for little things like cooking timers, temperature and weather predictions, some background music and the answers to questions about when a store is open.

Aside from the proprietary Apple iPhone apps, the most used apps are identical on iOS and Android. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tripview, Fitbit and Whatsapp. Transitioning from Apple’s Contacts, Calendar and Photos shouldn’t be too hard...

Physical impressions

The Pixel 2 is a well manufactured device with a feeling of quality about it. It’s just slightly wider and taller than an iPhone 6s but feels lighter in the hand. It turns out to be the same weight as the iPhone at 143g so the lightness is an illusion.

The head and chin are large and the top and bottom speaker slots make it rather hard to pick which way is up - you have to look for the selfie camera or USB-C socket to figure it out.

The screen is super clear although note that it’s set to “Vivid colours” in the settings by default so I wonder about colour accuracy.

The fingerprint reader on the back feels odd at first but I’m getting used to it. When used with a case the reader is rather deeply in a hole which makes it a little hard to poke. There is space for a reader on the “chin” area below the screen so it’s strange that they’ve kept it on the back. Perhaps edge to edge is on the way.

Fingerprint reading is very fast but sometimes fails to read whereas my impression is that the iPhone keeps trying longer. One drawback of the reader being on the back is that you can’t unlock the phone by fingerprint when it’s lying on a desk and must revert to PIN unlock like an animal.

The camera bump on the back is wider than on an iPhone but about the same depth, overall it seems less dramatic because of that width. Given that most people put the phone in a case the bump doesn’t end up being much of an issue.

The review unit came with one of the fabric style cases which is nice and grippy in a top pocket although rather thick.

USB-C is a big win, great to share chargers with laptops, despite some criticism about the varying capability of USB-C sockets and cables it’s a pity Apple won’t be able to move from Lightning cables for fear of a mass uprising for at least a decade.

Apple took the initial heat for dropping the headphone jack but now Google has followed suit. There’s a dongle supplied but the success of today’s wireless headphones show that the era of getting tangled in earphone cables is happily coming to an end.

Migrating from iPhone

In the box there’s a USB-A to USB-C adapter and if you elect to transfer from an iPhone you are instructed to plug your unlocked iPhone in via its lightning cable. When connected, the iPhone believes it’s been connected to a computer presumably running iTunes and asks you to “trust the computer”.

Taking this path of migration ended quickly for me as I have backup encryption enabled on the iPhone so the migration software informed me that only photos, music & videos would be migrated and as I already sync photos to Google this seemed redundant so I skipped it and just logged in with my Google account.

Downloading my apps took about ten minutes followed by 14 updates to pre-installed apps that took another ten or so.

The default screen sleep time was set to 30 seconds, rather fast during initial setup.

What I’ll miss leaving the iPhone for Android

While my email, contacts and photos are already synced to Google, I’m a heavy user of Apple Notes and Messages. Google has Keep for notes and messages is fragmented across Facebook messenger, WhatsApp, Google Allo (they hope), Google Duo, Microsoft Skype and various others. SMS feels like an archaic mode these days but it will do.

Thinking about my iPhone use in recent years, there’s a lot of Google services which have become the daily “go tos”, even Apple recently switched back to Google search from Microsoft Bing and I’m a big fan of Google Photos with its ability to find images by description is second to none.

The main day to day annoyance will be other iPhone users who try to send me an iMessage only to have it mysteriously fail.

Battery life

With only one day with the phone it’s a little hard to tell but so far it looks excellent. I first gave the phone a charge for about 20 minutes then started the install process. During that time it reported battery at 80% with about 13h 17m remaining at current usage (which would be high due to all the updates).

Later, after heavy use, battery was at 65% with 10h 47m remaining.

2h 48m after the charge, it’s at 60%, about 10h 0m remaining, which indicates to me that this phone will have excellent battery life in normal operation.

The GPS seems particularly sensitive and could use 14 satellites quickly on the ground floor of a two story house.

Camera

If software is eating the world, then smartphones are eating our gadgets. Car GPSs, music players, games machines and most of all cameras have been taken over by smartphones.

The camera in the Pixel 2 is stunning. It’s helped by the bright high resolution screen but really it’s the machine intelligence that focuses on the right thing, adjusts the light and has portrait enhancing tricks built right in.

Best of all it’s very fast.

Android Oreo

There’s no doubt that Android has come a long way. Oreo is slick with pleasing animations and loads of useful gestures and usage tips as you go. The Google Play store has misleading app titles and the fact that Android scans apps for malware, rather than making me feel safe, makes me a bit nervous.

Observations

Speaker audio is not as good as Apple phones which is strange as they have huge slots top and bottom.

The squeeze to trigger Google Assistant seems rather stiff to use, although it’s configurable, and note that you need to squeeze the lower half of the phone - a fact that’s not too clear in the setup animation. I’d like to be able to squeeze to launch the camera instead.

The always-on display of time, notifications and currently playing song is nice but its presence in the battery settings where it’s called “Ambient display” makes it clear that there is a power impact.

Conclusion

Our smartphones are the most used devices in our daily lives and the price should be amortised over the two to three years of heavy use they get. The 64GB Pixel 2 will sell in Australia for $1,079 which is exactly the same price as a 64GB iPhone 8.

The Pixel 2 has more RAM than iPhones but for reasons that aren’t totally clear Android needs more memory than iOS to perform as well.

Despite Google’s stated view that the Pixel 2 is the equal or better than equivalent iPhones it’s clear from Geekbench 4 measurements that they are no match for Apple’s custom A11 CPU.

iPhone 8 single-core: 4252 multi-core: 10201
Pixel 2 single-core: 1914, multi-core 6297
(Higher is better)

Of course, it’s not just about MHz and GB, the machine learning intelligence that Google builds in to both devices and the cloud that backs them makes all the difference in daily use. Being able to search your photos for “betty hugging a dog” is not affected by CPU speed but rather by cloud smarts.

If you live in the Google ecosystem then this is a terrific phone and, coming direct from Google, is sure to get security and software updates faster than third party Android hardware makers. If you’re an Apple tragic then you might be best to stay put.

Pixel 2, and the larger Pixel 2 XL model, will be available in Australia late in October.

1 comment:

PE4BAS, Bas said...

Well, I've had a android phone for years and recently went to iphone. After reading this I think I'll still stick to iphone. Including your WSPRwatch which is doing fine. 73, Bas