I’ve been on iOS since March of 2012 when my HTC Evo died at SXSW and Radio Shack only had an iPhone 4S in stock. For years it was great. It all worked together so well that by October of this year my wife and I had, collectively, 3 Macs, 2 iPads, 2 Apple Watches, 2 iPhones, a couple of Airport Expresses, an Apple TV and a Time Capsule. This includes my 2016 15″ MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, my 9.7″ iPad Pro, my Series 2 Apple Watch and my iPhone 8+ on AT&T’s network and for the most part it has all worked for us. This past week however I finally took the step of ordering a Pixel 2 XL on Google Fi. I’m not sure I’ll ever look back.
This Wasn’t a Quick Decision
Before I get into my experience with the devices I need to point out that this wasn’t a quick decision for me. I’ve been eyeing a change to Google Fi since it was announced and the Nexus/Pixel line has been something I’ve thought of switching to with the last few phones I bought. Until recently though the annoyances of switching in a family that is all Apple and shares a cell plan (my parents and other family all have their iPhones on our plan) combined with Google Fi not being available for G Suite accounts just didn’t make it worth it for me. Even when Google Fi became available a few months ago I still stuck with the iPhone for my last phone upgrade simply because it was easy. After all, with an iCloud family plan, Apple Music family plan and everything else shared why rock the boat right?
The catch is while it has all been easy it hasn’t all really worked well for me for a long time and as I’ve tried simplifying much of my tech life over the last few years it seemed like now was the best time to finally give Fi and Pixel a chance. So finally, with the holiday sales at Google, I took the plunge and ordered my new phone and service which I’ve now been running alongside my iPhone for the last week.
What I’m Hoping to Accomplish
So what is the whole point of this second phone anyway? There are a few goals I’m shooting for as well as problems I’m trying to solve with a new service. Here’s the bulk of them:
- AT&T sucks in my neighborhood
This is a big one for me. While AT&T works almost flawlessly in my travels at home it’s a different story. I simply have no service at all in many of the stores and restaurants we walk to regularly and even being outside with it can be problematic. For example, if I start a call at home (which is over Wi-Fi as the single is rarely more than 1 bar at home) that call will drop as soon as I get more than a few feet from the house every time.
- Where AT&T is good it is still expensive for my family
We pay roughly $42/person/month for AT&T + international (I spent around an extra $100 this year on international roaming and we hope to travel more next year). With that $42 each person on the plan uses, on average, about 0.5 GB of data. On a busy month I hold the record for data usage at 3 GBs for the whole month while I was in London. Given this Project Fi is simply cheaper as the same data usage would average about $30/month for me (considering the busy months) and about $25/month for everyone else. That really adds up over time.
- I am tired of being so connected with all my devices
Believe it or not, other than the service, my main goal for having a second phone is to simplify. I have an iPad pro that is literally used for nothing but a browser and and Apple Watch that has not only disappointed me as a fitness tracker but also serves only to interrupt me with useless notifications. Both are gone (although I did get a FitBit Charge 2 to replace the Apple Watch but that’s for another post). I don’t need or want every device to notify me of everything. One of the greatest strengths of the Apple ecosystem is everything follows you everywhere. On the other side I’ve realized one of my greatest weaknesses both personally and professionally is that I’m so connected that every notification, every distraction, every reason to not be in the moment also follows me everywhere. I’ll be writing a lot more on this but for now splitting ecosystems helps me compartmentalize the distractions and remove them from where they don’t belong. I can close Chrome and my OS won’t tell me of new text messages. I can close Todoist and I won’t be notified of every little task… until I open it again. Apple’s notifications and interactions are great but there is no escape when you get too deep into the ecosystem.
- I want to try something else
Google has some pretty awesome services. They’re simply not as easy to use on Mac and, especially, iOS. As I also consider looking at a Windows or Linux computer again trying to even have access to data where I need it gets even harder if I’m all in with Apple. In addition Android has come a long way since a last tried it. Google’s services are simply more useful (even when not always better looking) than many of Apple’s counterparts. Photos and Maps are great products and even the OS itself is just lightyears better than it was almost 6 years ago. As such I simply want to get out of my bubble and give it a fresh try. Now that I have some real reasons to do so I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
So Which Phone is Better
So here’s the important question. After a week which phone is the better phone?
Where My iPhone Wins
Starting off with what I know better there are a few places where the iPhone comes out ahead.
- It feels more solid
While dimensions are the same the phone itself just feels more solid, probably because of it’s slightly heavier weight as I’m pretty sure, with it’s all glass case, it would break a bit easier than the Pixel. It’s also a bit wider than the pixel which I think is just a more familiar feel to me than the Pixel which feels a little more toy-like in my hands.
- iOS looks better
The screen on the Pixel might be technically better but the icons on Android as well as the squared-off corners on so many UI elements just don’t look as good as iOS. The keyboard is a perfect example of this (I’ve been using GBoard so far). As a developer it reminds me of something we would have made as a homework assignment for an undergraduate class whereas the iOS keyboard simply looks more polished and refined.
- Photos backup is easier
While Apple’s photos app has plenty of weaknesses it is completely transparent in its backup and sharing functions. On Android if you want to select a picture to share or send you have to make sure it’s downloaded from Google Photos first, then you can share it. The local photos are found in the “Downloads” app which is a completely separate system from Google Photos which can be quite annoying.
- One Messaging app is far less confusing
I’ve got all my messages from my Android syncing across different devices (even my iPhone) but getting there sure was confusing. It took 6 different messaging apps to settle on one I like rather than just going to messages on my iPhone.
Honestly, that’s about it for my use so far. My iPhone simply looks and feels better (both at least in part due to familiarity) on many of the details and is easier to get setup. These differences were enough to keep me here for a long time but not anymore
Where My Pixel Wins
- I can use the apps I want how I want to use them
I had given up on using many non-Apple apps for a long time simply because iOS wouldn’t give them the access they needed. Notifications wouldn’t work right, links wouldn’t work right and all sorts of other little nuances would arise simply because Apple doesn’t give apps the access that makes them truly useful. With my Pixel I’ve played with different browsers, mail apps, and all sorts of other details and they work just as well as the native apps (and in many cases much better).
- It is more stable
This is a big one (and frankly one I didn’t really expect). Particularly since iOS 11 apps crash on my iPhone more than they ever have. FitBit, Feedly, Calendar, Mail, the list goes on. Simply clicking anything in just about any app seems to give a 50/50 chance of crashing it on iPhone. In a week, so far, with the Pixel not a single app has crashed in such a manor. It’s so refreshing and iOS hasn’t been there in a while. Yes, I’ve tried factory resets and all the other tricks on iPhone but it’s stability still can’t match what I’ve seen so far in my Pixel.
- Google’s services > Apple’s
iCloud is solid but Google’s offerings are simply more complete. I’m loving Maps and Photos and have even been able to remove my sports and weather apps as the built-in Google apps do a great job of the functionality without the overhead. I haven’t gotten into Google Assistant much, yet (probably because Siri never really did anything useful for me) but I feel like there’s a lot of potential for me to work it into my workflow as well.
Notifications in iOS 11 are a mess. On my Pixel they make sense again and are easier to both access and clear.
- The phone’s overall design
Although I still reach for the home button a lot and my iPhone feels better the Pixel does have a better design. The finger print sensor on the back has turned out to be far more useful and the back/home/switch app buttons are far more useful. Granted that might have come with an iPhone X too but over the 8+ I have it sure is a win.
- The camera is excellent
I can’t tell the difference between the two cameras in bright light but the Pixel is definitely winning in low-light situations. The few pictures I’ve taken with it so far just look great!
- The service
It’s early yet but Google Fi actually works around here and that alone is enough of a win for me to switch permanently if it wasn’t for the family. We’ll see how it matches up over time.
- The home screen
Being able to put what I want where I want it on the home screen was something I already missed from Android and it’s great having it back. Whereas the iOS home screen is something of a junk bin on Android it instantly becomes a useful piece of software that the Today screen simply can’t match.
- I can “turn off” the integration
Just like iMessage I can still get my calls and messages on any device (even my iPhone) thanks to Google Fi’s integration with Hangouts but now it’s a lot easier to turn it off than it used to be. I can simply close an app rather than having to put everything in do-not-disturb if I want to simply tune something out. This has, so far, been great for my workflow both on my phone and my computer.
So while the iPhone looks better the Pixel seems to just work better (at least for me). From the phone design to the OS and the apps I’ve installed it offers more functionality that helps make my phone a bigger part of my workflow.
So which phone will I keep?
Honestly, after one week the jury is still out. While I love the Pixel the iPhone is still a great phone and the changes to my workflow lately have been major as I’m trying to move away from Apple services as well as their hardware. Fortunately I have plenty of time to decide as I promised the family I would give them both a good run together for a while to get everyone on board for where they want to be. In the end they’re both still a tool that has to work well for everyone it impacts which, at least in my case, is more than just me so we’ll see what happens.