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Bye Bye Pixel

I bought a new iPhone last week. An iPhone 13 Mini, to be exact. It had nothing to do with the camera, nor the operating system, nor the call quality, nor the data access, nor the 5G capability. It was all about long-term hardware viability of the phone overall.

I really had liked the Pixels. Both of them. And, I’d fully intended to keep the Pixel 4XL for at least another several months, and maybe longer, and then upgrade to a Pixel 6 (or maybe a Pixel 7). Then, not two months after the phone was paid off, this happened:

It may be a little hard to see, but if you look closely, you’ll notice that the battery is beginning to bulge and deform the back of the case and the screen — it’s actually pushing the back off the phone! Check out the close-up if you’re not able to see the bulge. Right now, the bulge is about 1.5mm, but it will only get worse, as the battery continues to deteriorate. My previous phone, the Pixel 2, did the same thing. So, my just-over-two-year-old Google phone has a bulging battery. And, my just-over-four-year-old Google phone has had a bulging battery for a couple of years. But my nearly-six-and-a-half-year-old iPhone 6s does not have a bulging battery, nor does my 8-and-a-half-year-old iPhone 5s, nor do my old iPhone 4S, iPhone 3Gs or original iPhone. Donna’s don’t either. And, yes, we do still have every iPhone we’ve owned. Don’t ask me why. In fact, the iPhone 6s is still an almost-usable phone (I say almost, because the battery life has, after all these years, deteriorated to the point that I’d have to charge it every 3-4 hours were I to reactivate it).

The pattern I see emerging here is that Apple, quite simply, uses better-quality components than whomever Google contracts with to build Pixels. I could have performed surgery on the phone and replaced the battery, but I’ve seen more than a few stories about 3rd-party replacement batteries not properly reporting remaining charge data — or not reporting it at all. And, Google support for repair has become notoriously slow and sloppy, with some people waiting weeks or months for simple repairs like battery swaps. It’s a real shame, because a “pure” Android experience is really quite something. It is, in a number of ways, better than Apple’s iOS. Unfortunately, most other Android phone manufacturers load the phone down with a crappy UI overlay and are forced to load crappy carrier-required apps onto the phone.

Since my only interest is in using a phone where the carriers can’t force the manufacturers to load their bloatware onto it, I have basically two choices: Google or Apple. And, since Google phones are priced similarly to iPhones, but don’t seem to last as long, the obvious choice is an Apple product.

The iPhone 13 Mini is not particularly fancy as smartphones go, but it’s well-featured with a quite decent two-camera setup. I got the base-model with 128GB storage, which I’ve found is a pretty good number for me, even with almost 3000 pictures and a thousand or so song files and a bunch of various apps. There’s still plenty of storage available. It’s quick enough, and when I’m able to get on 5G, I get internet that’s as fast as I have at home. The face and voice recognition are excellent — both are better and faster than the Pixel 4XL.

What I won’t miss

One thing that I’d come to dislike about the Pixel 4XL was the bulk. It’s a pretty big phone that doesn’t fit well in my pocket and is a bit of a stretch to use one-handed. I really liked the size of the Pixel 2 and my iPhone 6s. The Pixel 2 and the iPhone 6s were big enough to be easy to see, and small enough to be easily pocketed and used with one hand. The new Pixel 6, as well as the regular and “Pro” iPhone 13s, are pretty near the same size as the Pixel 4XL, so in order to get back to the size of phones that I had liked, the remaining choice was the iPhone 13 mini.

I also won’t miss the voice recognition. The “Google Lady” was really not all that good at understanding what I was saying, even after two years of training. And, the “Assistant” was not exactly consistent in the way it dealt with voice control or sending text messages using voice-to-text. For example, sometimes it would confirm a message before sending, and other times, it would just send it on its way.

What I’ll miss

I mentioned that there are a few aspects of the Pixels that I really liked a lot and will definitely miss with the iPhone. The screen is beautiful, for one thing, and the camera is outstanding. The screen on the iPhone 13 Mini is very good, but at only a 60Hz refresh rate, it’s not always as smooth as with the Pixel’s with its 90Hz refresh. The camera on the iPhone is excellent, too, and I’m sure that I’ll be just as happy with it once I get used to it again. But the Pixel cameras, coupled with Google’s computational photography chops is pretty amazing, especially for night photos or when using the digital zoom at better than 2x.

Another small thing that I really liked about the Pixels is their ability to identify songs they hear, without having to “phone home.” That’s actually rather handy for a musician in a cover band — if I was out and about and heard a song that I would be good to play in the band, I could just note the time and go back and look at the list of songs the phone heard (except that it didn’t listen when Android Auto was running, and I’m not sure why).

I really prefer Android Auto over Apple CarPlay. I think Google’s maps are better, and there are more options for customization. It’s also easier to revise routes on the fly in Android Auto. I’m also noticing that the maps don’t always present in a “forward facing” orientation in navigation — sometimes they randomly display “north up.” And, I got very used to Google Maps’ excellent traffic info. So far, I’ve seen none in Car Play, even though the traffic layer is supposedly turned on.

Text messaging is another area where Apple falls far short of Android, or at least Android on Pixel phones. Using the Google text messaging app, when using group MMS, I could apply a name to the group. For instance, I had a message group called 7Souls that included all the members of my band. You can’t do that on an iPhone, unless everyone in the group also has an iPhone. On the Pixel, I could text from any device — phone, tablet, PC, Mac — using a fairly consistent interface. With the iPhone, I’m limited to the phone and iPads, and a Mac if I used one. There’s no way that I can use a Windows PC to read or compose texts. Come on, Apple. This is 2022. This should be easy for you. You’ve been doing smartphones longer than anyone else!

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