“I’m going to buy an iPhone. I finally get to have an iPhone.” … This was my internal monologue as I left my job of many years at the back end of last year.
An occupational hazard of working for a luxury Android phone maker is that while I have used almost every Android product under the sun, the ownership of an Apple handset had eluded me. Of course I interact with them on a daily basis. We have a family iPad; plus nearly everybody I know has an iPhone.
I wanted an iPhone 7 Plus for two reasons. One, I wanted the phone with the best camera. General consensus is that this has been an Apple KSP for many years. And two, I wanted to experience the fabled Apple user experience and its ‘superior’ app ecosystem.
Then a fly was put firmly in the ointment. The fly in question was Google’s new flagship device, the Pixel.
The press launch came with claims of the best smartphone camera ever created. A typically hollow statement to be taken with the necessary large pinch of salt I thought… but then tech journalists I respect greatly began to endorse this claim.
Then came a niggle of doubt over the ecosystem. Years of Android usage have baked me firmly into Google’s. The first thing I’d be doing with my shiny new iPhone is downloading Google Drive, Google Keep, Google Photos etc. etc. Seems a little counter-intuitive.
So the decision was made… my iPhone itch will have to remain unscratched. The next challenge was getting hold of a Pixel, specifically the model I deemed to be the correct one – XL 128GB. Before Christmas they were as scarce as hen’s teeth. Fortunately Carphone Warehouse didn’t let me down!
The unboxing was a real treat. Clean, elegant and doing the job of shouting from the roof tops, “Inside here is a premium product”. Packaging design is a lot more difficult than it looks. In its own way it’s as equally difficult as the design of the product… and just as important. As important because it’s typically the first physical interaction your customer will have with your brand.
So to the phone itself, in an odd way the biggest compliment I can pay to the Pixel is that there isn’t a lot to say. It does its job in a perfectly understated way, with no fuss, and with no issues. This is such an impressive feat to pull off in a smartphone – the product you interact with more than any other every day. There are usually niggles, glitches, areas that cause frustration. With the Pixel I have really struggled to find any – the hardware and software work together in perfect harmony. I would akin it to a sporting official – the ones at the very top of their profession go almost unnoticed during a game.
The camera has lived up to my ludicrously high expectations. It’s simply spectacular. Physics shouldn’t allow such good quality pictures to be delivered from something so small. It’s hard to know where future improvements will be found. I’ve included a selection of examples at the end of this article (no like-for-like comparisons to other devices I’m afraid).
The hardware is a treat to hold in your hand. It’s definitely got HTC’s DNA running through it in terms of build quality – a very smart selection of manufacturing partner by Google. I’ve yet to buy a case (a decision I hope not to regret), because I’m enjoying the industrial design as it was intended, especially the precision chamfers and facets on the sides.
I’ve been hugely sceptical of rear keys since LG introduced them in 2014, however the Pixel’s rear fingerprint sensor has won me over. It is very ergonomic – possibly more so than the typical location under the front display.
There are some other delights. The Live Earth wallpapers are super. I can imagine how proud the Product Manager will have been of those.
Flaws? I have one minor one. That’s it! I’d have switched the volume keys and screen lock key positions around for better ergonomics. The screen lock is quite a reach for your thumb on the XL model.
To conclude, my thoughts return to my previous blog. In that article I presented a theory that Pixel is part of a much larger strategic shake-up by Google.
The more likely scenario is that Google simply want to set the bar higher for their partners in the quest to compete with Apple.
If that was the intent they have succeeded. Pixel is a triumph on so many levels.
(Sample photography – as shot / no edits)