Google is tryharding at phones right now, and I love it in World: At my high school, it wasn’t “cool” to make an effort during PE. I distinctly remember being told this during a basketball game where I out-hustled a kid six inches taller than me for a rebound. I paused for a moment, and then went back to hustling. “Nah,” I thought to myself. “I’d rather win.” Ever since then, I’ve always considered myself on the side of the tryhards. If you can win with seemingly zero effort, good for you. But in my opinion, it’s better to break a sweat than to lose the game.
The part of this blog post where I talk about playing sports is now complete. Thank you for your patience.
It’s hard to think of Google as a scrappy underdog, but in the hardware business that’s absolutely the case. And, more importantly, in the Paul-buys-phones-sometimes business, Google is almost a non-player.
I’ve been an iPhone user since the day the first model came out in 2007. I’ve used a bunch of Android devices for work, and even bought a couple for my personal use over the years, but I always come back to iOS’s welcoming arms. But something about Google’s hardware event this week really spoke to me, in a way that Apple’s recent iPhone X event didn’t.
Google looks like a bunch of tryhards right now, and it’s great.
It sounds like a stupid distinction, but it matters to me that the Pixel 2 is $649, while the iPhone 8 is $699. Is $50 a lot of money? Not really. But by undercutting Apple on price (even just a little), Google looks hungry to compete, while Apple looks like it just needed a way to get more cash out of its regular customers.
According to Apple, people like me who enjoy small phone form factors don’t deserve the best cameras the company has to offer. Google begs to differ, and managed to put its version of Apple’s Portrait Mode in both the Pixel 2 XL and the regular-human-sized Pixel 2, using the exact same sensors in both phones. Thanks, Google!
In Apple land, if you take too many photos and video you basically brick your phone, and even if you pay for extra iCloud storage beyond the sad default of 5GB, it’s a chore to keep your local storage clean. My solution? Don’t take too many pictures. In Google’s world, cloud storage is cheap enough to offer as a carrot, and with the Pixel 2 you can upload unlimited original-quality video and photos to Google’s cloud. As a company desperate to contend with Apple and Samsung as a hardware brand, it makes sense that Google is willing to spend a few extra 2017 dollars on data centers to win converts who might stick around into the future.
Google sadly missed an opportunity to dunk all over Apple by keeping the headphone jack. But I do prefer the neckbud form factor of Google’s Pixel Buds to Apple’s imminently losable AirPods. I’m not going to put this in the “Google wants it more than Apple” column, but at least Google’s tastes here line up with mine.
I like that Google moved the search bar down to the bottom of the phone where it’s easier to reach with my thumb. I like that Google is going with OLED on phones that aren’t $999. I like that Google is doing a low-key Shazam on the phone 24/7, and can show me information when the screen is “off.” I like that the Pixel 2 does quick charging with the charger that comes in the box. I think the Pixel 2 is beautiful. And the Pixel 2 XL with that orange side button and tastefully sized top and bottom bezels is perhaps the best-looking phone since the iPhone 5, if it wasn’t a big phone which I hate.
It’s like Google really gets me right now, in a way Apple just doesn’t.
In fact, Apple is increasingly getting on my nerves. The number one app I use on my phone is Audible, but Apple’s draconian app policies mean I can’t actually purchase new books from within the Audible app. Apple’s FaceTime doesn’t support multi-person video calls, so I’ve been transitioning to Facebook Messenger for those purposes. iOS has always had the best and highest-quality third-party apps, and I feel like that’s still true, but I’m seeing more small upstarts and experimental apps show up as Android exclusives.
Many of the things that make Android appealing right now aren’t new to Android users, but as an Apple user who has trusted deeply in one company to manage a large portion of my digital life for me, it’s much more appealing to see Google offer an alternative to the iPhone than another hardware player like Samsung or LG.
Google, now more than ever, has a clear vision for what phones should be like, how they should be used, and how they should integrate with Google services. I already use Google’s Inbox, YouTube, and Docs on my iPhone all the time. Now that Google’s hardware looks mature and in sync with its services, it’s finally made me take Android seriously in a way I never have before.
I think I can tolerate my iPhone 7’s cracked screen for a few more months (maybe a little bit longer). But when the time comes to upgrade, I’m going to have a really hard decision to make. The iPhone 8 seems boring and lazy, the iPhone X is big and expensive, and Google’s got a $649 phone now that’s almost made exactly to my tastes.
The hardest part of leaving the iPhone would be becoming a green bubble to my friends and family. iMessage has a powerful hold over me. But if I switch, it won’t be me leaving iMessage. It will be the platform that runs iMessage leaving me.