I had a lot of thoughts in my 4,000+ word Google Pixel review, but after a few more days using the phone as my primary device I’ve come to realize the significance of something else that’s just different about it. Some have touched on this subject, but I think I need to make it perfectly clear. The Google Pixel is the least frustrating Android phone ever. That’s something the Android community has devalued over the years in an obsession over raw specs, and it’s something that the iPhone — forgive my comparison — has quite frankly dominated in. That is, until now…
It’s just a whole new ball game with the Pixel. I mentioned this somewhat in my review, but at that point I don’t think I had been using the phone long enough to really see how it’s different from phones like the Nexus 6P or the Galaxy S7. I think “stock” Android has always been better in the realm of ease of use and consistency, but the Pixel is a whole other story. It just becomes more and more clear the more I use the phone that Google really did make an attempt to optimize the software for the hardware.
And I touched on this in my review, saying that the UI is one of the best on an Android phone this year, and that the phone is special because it has a great top-to-bottom user experience. What I wasn’t able to see was just how much better it is. So far, I don’t think the Pixel has failed me. I haven’t been frustrated at confusing design decisions. I haven’t needed to restart the phone for any reason. I haven’t noticed any lag when multitasking (at all). I haven’t had any random delays when opening apps. I haven’t needed to force quit apps.
These are all commonplace on Android phones. Today after using my Google Pixel all day, I turned on my Galaxy S7 edge and brought it out to dinner with me. That was when it hit me how much I’ve been just accepting as normal. The phone had been on for 20 minutes, and I unlocked it, cleared a few notifications, and tapped the home button. I scrolled over a page and tapped on the Twitter app, and it hung for a solid 5 seconds before even opening. It eventually opened, yeah, and after I closed it and opened it back up there wasn’t a problem. But it was frustrating.
I don’t know why this happened. I’ve read theories about similar problems suggesting that many Android phones just don’t completely wake up from sleep correctly. Some people have just told me that my problems and performance inconsistencies are just bugs that will eventually be solved with software updates. But if I can’t even type in my password after waking half my Android phones from sleep, I think there’s a bigger problem. Like I said, it’s not every time, but these weird glitches and lags are constant enough that I’ve noticed a difference with the Pixel.
Again, I’ve noticed this kind of thing for years on almost all of my Android phones — even Nexus devices with “pure” Android software. It’s not as obvious when all of your phones do it randomly on occasion, but one good way to understand this isn’t normal is just to pick up a friends iPhone 6S or 7 and tap around and realize how the phone doesn’t feel completely overwhelmed by something as simple as switching between apps. It’s something that iPhone users mostly take for granted, and it’s time for Android users to, as well.
The great thing is that this realization is now happening for me with the Pixel. I feel like I can’t use another Android phone now. I’ve been using it for over a week now, and I can fully say now without a shadow of a doubt — whether it be due to the Snapdragon 821 or software optimizations or both or something else entirely — that the Google Pixel is by far the most consistent and performant Android phone I’ve ever used. Maybe not in raw SoC speed, but in practical use. And while I may not have articulated this perfectly in my review, it seems that others feel the same.
David Pierce over at Wired mentioned it in the opening of his review, and I couldn’t agree with him more:
I love Android. But the phones can be… frustrating. Clever features too often seem overwrought or poorly designed, or they’re buried beneath 15 Verizon apps on the homescreen. The iPhone is the Default Phone, the one you buy when you want a phone, not a project. The Google Pixel changes that.
Another David, the Ruddock one over at Android Police, succinctly expanded on this idea in his review:
But it’s that one time you go to bring up Maps and it’s out of memory on your Galaxy S7 and it takes like 10 seconds to load up but you really need to get directions somewhere because you’re stopped at a light and you have to decide if you’re going left or right ahead. When it’s crunch time, the Pixel always seems to maintain its composure and get you where need to go. In short? It feels a bit more like an iPhone.
Walt Mossberg, writing for The Verge, had similar things to say:
The Pixel is easily the best Android phone I’ve ever tested, and seems to hail from a different planet than the chunky, clumsy and pokey 2008 G1 which introduced Android to the world.
Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not to say that all of the non-Pixel Android phones are all bad. They’re not. The Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, which I just so happened to criticize heavily in this article, was consistently reviewed as one of the best Android phones of this year. And I still think it is. It’s “snappy,” as they say, and it gets the job done. And Samsung’s TouchWiz isn’t the worst Android skin out there. Those phones aren’t bad; they just now have a competitor straight from the maker of Android that makes an Android phone as good as it should be.
I frankly thought the headline I used in my review was going to be too sensationalist. I thought calling the Pixel “one of the best phones ever” would be too generous considering its uninspired and bland hardware design, not-yet-revolutionary software, and really really high price. But I’m realizing more and more that the Pixel doesn’t need to be the best value on paper or have the best specs or beat the iPhone in benchmarks. It’s about whether normal, non-technologically-savvy people would find the product to be a joy to use. And I think the answer with the Pixel is yes.