Google held a product launch event today, announcing a new range of its own cell phones, a new type of AI search assistant, and other assorted bits and pieces.
The phones held the most interest for me. I had wanted to buy a new iPhone 7, but just couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for the overpriced and lacking-in-any-exciting-new-features device that it is. In addition, the new iOS 10 not only drains my present iPhone 6+ battery much faster but introduces some ultra-annoying new ‘features’ that I’ve not worked out how to turn off. It is time to update the old adage ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’. These days, the road to hell is definitely paved with ‘helpful new features’.
So, while I’ve had iPhones nonstop since the first ever iPhone, never has the time felt more right to abandon iOS for Android than now. Sure, I’ve experimented with Android several times in the past, getting one of the first Android phones (the HTC Dream/T-Mobile G1 in 2008), and subsequently several Nexus phones, but Android has always suffered one fatal weakness for me – the lack of an email app with several unusual features that I need, use, and rely on with my iPhone.
Happily, these days, the free K-9 email app on Android does everything I need, so I’m no longer tied to Apple’s eco-system. So the prospect of a new Google phone was of great interest.
So what is special about this phone? Well, ummm, errr – instead of being called a Nexus phone, it is now called a Pixel phone. And it has a fancy camera that takes quality images. Sort of like any other high end phone these days. And – hmmm – that’s about it. It is made for Google by HTC, but Google is obscuring the original manufacturer more than with the Nexus range of phones (which might possibly now be slated for phasing out) and pushing their own branding on the phone more strongly. Not that this really matters at all.
The phone is much more ‘cloud based’ than before. The good news – an unlimited number of high (but not highest) quality pictures can be automatically stored in the cloud for free, so you’ll never run out of space on the phone. This sounds great, but isn’t. What is the use of boasting about a new state of the art camera in the phone, if you then cripple it by only storing ‘high’ rather than ‘highest’ quality images? Google’s promise of unlimited storage is limited to images that are stored at less than full best quality.
Isn’t the entire race to offer more pixels and better image quality in cellphone cameras rather invalidated if you then store the pictures at a lower quality setting?
So, as appealing as ‘unlimited free photo storage’ sounds, we call ‘bs’ on this feature. Plus – oh yes. The storage might be unlimited, but is your monthly data plan also unlimited? Especially if you’re traveling in another country and taking lots of awful tacky ‘selfies’! You still have to pay your wireless carrier for the cost of sending the photos to the cloud, and if you subsequently want to look at them, of retrieving them back from the cloud again, too. So the ‘unlimited free storage in the cloud’ is a non-solution to a non-problem for most of us.
The phones have reasonably good battery life – 13 or 14 hours of use either on the internet or watching video, which is essentially the same as the iPhone 7. They support fast charging with an 18 watt charger (3.5A) – just 15 minutes connected to a charger gets you another seven hours of battery life (but is that standby hours or ‘watching video on the internet’ hours?).
The phone comes with a fingerprint sensor, which is something I do like – you can unlock your phone in front of someone else without either having them see your unlock password or being forced to look paranoid by hiding your password entry.
It also has the latest and greatest type of USB connector – the new USB-C connector, which is the new interface of the future, as opposed to the earlier micro-USB connector. It also has a good old-fashioned headphone jack, unlike the latest diktat imposed on us by Apple which mandates ‘though shalt not have headphone jacks’ in future iPhones.
It is offered with 5″ and 5.5″ screen sizes, which are pretty much the standard sizes offered by most phones (and the iPhone too) these days. The 5″ screen has a 1920×1080 (“FHD”) resolution and a pixel density of 441ppi. The 5.5″ screen has a resolution of 2560×1440 (“QHD”) resolution and a pixel density of 534ppi. Both are significantly better than the iPhone 7/7+ (1334×750 and 1920×1080 resolutions).
Like most Google phones, Google has turned their back on a Micro-SD card capability. The thought of us keeping any data off-line and outside of the Google ‘cloud’ is of course anathema to Google – they want to own all our data.
The phones come in three colors with cute names – Quite Black, Very Silver, and Really Blue. I’d like to comment at the infantile vomit inducing nature of making the names of the colors one of the selling features of the phone, but to my horror, it seems that appreciable sectors of the community buy and upgrade their phones based on colors rather than features or any other reason. So, if you’re one of those people, you’ll be anxiously excited to learn that the Really Blue edition of the phone is a limited edition. Google doubtless hopes you’ll rush out to buy one really soon now.
And talking about cute, the phone has its own version of Apple’s Siri, called the Google Assistant. This is a concept that is spreading over some of Google’s other new devices announced today and is a response both to Siri and also Amazon’s Alexa service and Echo products, and seems to be the new point of focus for these companies – trying to offer more ‘helpful’ AI type voice-recognizing services. Read my comment above about the road to hell being paved with ‘helpful’ new features!
Now for price and distribution. Google blows hot and cold on price. In the past, sometimes it has released products at extraordinary value price points, and most recently, it has been selling an unlocked Nexus 5X phone to use with its own rebranded ‘Fi’ wireless service (or most other services) for only $199.
But the new Pixel phone is priced at the top of the high end, rather than at the bargain level. The basic phone starts at $650, the same as an iPhone, and will be available initially only through Verizon. Ugh. If the price wasn’t a deal breaker, the only-Verizon surely is.
One wonders why the other three major carriers aren’t also supporting the Pixel. There seems no benefit to Google at all in limiting the phone’s distribution; what do the other carriers know that we don’t know?
Oh yes, the phone is also compatible with Google’s new Daydream ‘virtual reality’ adapter – a bit like an old fashioned Viewmaster that you strap to your head and insert the phone into the front end of, allowing the phone to then display 3D images. This can also be used to watch regular video, it seems, and gives you the impression of watching a movie not on a tiny phone screen, but on a giant screen suspended in the air directly in front of you. That can be an impressive experience. The Daydream adapter will go on sale in November and will cost only $79 – making it a great Christmas present, perhaps for the younger people on your Christmas list, but depending on how Daydream evolves, perhaps for everyone else, too.
We’ll be interested to see how many other phones are also compatible with the Daydream adapter, and how much content can be viewed on it. Google said it is working on bringing Netflix and Hulu to Daydream, if/when that happens, it will become much more appealing.
Apparently if you preorder a phone and the Daydream adapter, you can currently get the Daydream adapter for free.
Google’s latest dalliance in the phone hardware market reveals the Pixel to be a good high-end phone, but with nothing outstanding. The phone itself is far from a ‘must have’ new phone, with nothing other than ‘me too’ features and nothing special about its pricing either ($650 and up for the 5″ model, $770 and up for the 5.5″).
It is a good generic high end phone, and the manufacturer, HTC, is a respected supplier of phone hardware, but there’s nothing compelling to encourage any of us to junk our current perfectly good phone in favor of a new Pixel phone.