I’ve had the privilege of testing out most flagship and mid-range Android phones over the last couple of years. While in the past I have always been partial to Nexus devices because of its “stock” Android, I always preferred other OEM’s hardware and features.
This all changed with the Google Pixel, the first phone which, at least for me, was the most ideal package of software and hardware Android has seen to date…
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I first started thinking more about this while reviewing the HTC U11. It’s a great phone, has spectacular performance, and the hardware build is one of the best that I’ve used for some time. The biggest issue I have with the handset is its annoying gimmicks and added features on top of Android. Most notably: those squeezable sides and the Home Panel that replaces the Google Feed.
Now before you rush down to the comments section, I know that the latest rumors suggest that the next generation Pixel XL will also come with a squeezable body. Hopefully Google can make this feature more simple, reliable, and user-friendly than HTC did. And I know HTC’s software skin can be relatively easily covered up with a third-party launcher.
But the point remains, and it’s one that has been preached since the phone launched last year: With the original Google Pixel, I don’t have to worry about any of this. The Google Pixel has been my daily driver since it came out late last year despite the other smartphones — even some really great ones — that have come across my desk since. My reasoning for this is the same for those who love the iPhone: it just works.
Those in the iOS fan base say that the iPhone “just works” because of its simplicity, fluidity, and reliability, and the Pixel certainly shares those qualities moreso than any Android phone, ever. The Pixel just does the basics well. Instead of loading a bunch of third-party and proprietary software, the Pixel takes advantages of all the best qualities of Android and refined some basic smartphone functionality.
Obviously, the team behind the Pixel has a distinct advantage as they work for the same company, Google, as the team that creates Android. (The advantages are obvious despite Google claiming that the two sides are mostly siloed.) The Pixel devices receive updates and Google-made features before any other OEMs get access, and Google can tweak different aspects of the hardware and software to make the experience as great as possible.
The big thing here is that for the most part, the Pixel isn’t trying to go above and beyond with things that it offers. It embraces simplicity, and it does a lot of things right without feeling the need to pack features to sell itself. It doesn’t (currently) have a squeezable frame as an input method, it doesn’t have different tricks for turning on the flash like Motorola, and they don’t have unreliable iris scanning like Samsung.
Rather, the Google Pixel has features like one of the best cameras on the market. The stock Google Camera app doesn’t have even half the feature-cram of those from other OEMs, and it doesn’t need it. The camera captures some of the best shots of any phone. That speaks for itself, and it’s really the only thing the average consumer cares about at the end of the day.
Everything that makes up the Pixel is simple and straightforward, making it a phone that works for almost anyone who picks it up including those who are and aren’t Android enthusiasts. Hopefully, the next generation Pixel will not only follow in this device’s footsteps but also improve in areas where the device is lacking.
With all of this said, if I were to recommend OEMs do one thing, it would be to be more simplistic. So many love stock Android because it’s clean and functional without the annoyances found on phones with all of the “bells and whistles.” Plus, without all of the added bulk that most users don’t even use on some smartphones, the devices themselves have better performance and are less likely to have something break.