Living with an Android

At the end of October, I took plunge and pre-ordered a Google Pixel 3. Prior to November 1st, I’d never owned a smart phone other an iPhone. On July 11, 2009 I traded in my Motorola flip phone for an iPhone 3G and have never looked back.

So this switch to Android is definitely a huge, momentous occasion worthy of a lengthy blog post.

My primary reason for switching was price. Immediately after its release, Rogers was listing the iPhone XS for an insanely high $699 on 2-year contract! Thought it looks like they have drop that to a slightly more reasonable but still expensive $459. Conversely, the brand new Google Pixel 3 had a pre-release price of only $99 and came with a free Pixel Stand (a $109 value).

Combined with the generally stellar early reviews of the Pixel 3 and Android Pie, I thought now would be as good of a time as ever to give it a shot.

Stand Out Features

Cameras

The cameras are really great! I don’t really know all the photo lingo to describe how and why the photos are great. Suffice to say, my wife who has a BFA in photograph is insanely jealous. The wide angled camera on the front is especially cool – it makes big group selfies so much easier, what a smart idea. For some examples of photos take a look at my instagram. I generally don’t use filters and everything since November 1st has been taken on a Pixel.

Google Services

Google is great at web services. Apple is not. End of story.

The core Google apps (photos, maps, gmail, etc) are all essentially web apps, which means UI/UX on my phone is identical to what I see in a browser, on any device, on any desktop OS. It’s 2018, this is the way all things should be. (I know Apple is trying, but icloud.com still has tonnes of skeuomorphic and Safari-centric design baggage.)

Google Photos was especially impressive. I was concerned about exactly how I’d access 9 years of iPhone photos backed up in iCloud from my Pixel. Turns out, it was as simple as installing the Google Photos app on my iPhone 7 and enable syncing. It was able to suck in all my photos, including the thousands offloaded iCloud that were not even present on my iPhone’s storage.

Notifications

The way in which android handles notification is just so much more sane and better for my digital health. Prior to switching to Android, I’d disabled most notifications for most apps, I found them distracting and stressful. I have not done the same on my new phone.

It’s just so much more sane on Android and warrants some dissection:

  • Notifications do not pop up as frequently. There is some sort of “AI” (or something) the determines when to interrupt your current app with a notification. For whatever reason, I’m rarely interrupted by a notification popup.
  • Android does not have notification count badges. You’ll never see an “666” unread email badge. It’s not an option anywhere.
  • Pending notifications don’t linger around in the same way they do on iOS. When a notification is pending, the app gets a little icon in the tray next to the clock with the other background apps.
  • A side effect of notifications being treated the same as background apps is that they actually seem less urgent. For example, Spotify playing music in the background gets the same weight as a new text message, it’s somehow psychologically easier to dismiss the text message.
  • A “clear all” button exists and it actually clears all notifications. I don’t know why iOS doesn’t have this.

Quality of life

The Pixel has a number of little nice-to-haves. None of these features will get any press and I’m sure most Android users take them for granted by now. But add up all these features and you’ve got a phone OS that is objectively more useful. These are things that are completely impossible on reproduce on an iPhone, either natively or with an app. I am beginning to see why Android users dislike iOS.

Here are just a few I found especially cool:

  • Always on screen
    Time, date, weather and notifications are always visible on the screen. Without interacting with the phone. Without draining the battery. It’s magical.
  • “Now Playing”
    Whenever the phone detects background music playing the song/artist is shown on the always on screen and gets logged away in the “now playing” app for future reference. Google promises this happens on device without sending recordings or any other data to the cloud. Shazam was one of the first mobile apps that really blew my mind, the fact that this feature is built in to the OS without need for cloud processing is totally awesome!

  • Weather. Everywhere.
    An icon displaying the current condition and current temperature appear on the always on screen as well as the home screen. It’s great to be able to see this at a glance when checking the time.
  • Battery lasts until.
    When you tap the battery icon, it takes you to settings screen that shows you the exact time the OS expects your battery to run out. So much more useful than just a percentage.
  • Trusted bluetooth connection. Trusted locations.
    The OS allows you to configure trusted bluetooth connections, as well as trusted physical locations where your phone will always be unlocked. My phone is unlocked whenever it’s connected to the car, this way passengers can interact with navigation or music without having to ask for my finger print (or worse, faceID!). So much safer.
  • Back-side fingerprint reader.
    The back-side fingerprint is much more convenient and well positioned that I would have guessed. The ability to swipe down on it to get the settings/notifications menu is super handy.
  • Dynamic multi-screen wallpapers.
    Android supports cinemagraphs and wallpapers that span multiple home screens. This one is super minor but I’m just really not sure why Apple doesn’t allow this. Especially considering the Apple TV has cinemagraph screensavers. It just adds a little touch of life to the phone.

Misses

After a month of living with Android there are only a few minor things that I miss for the iOS ecosystem:

  • NFC Payment.
    Google Pay has extremely poor support in Canada. Neither my debit or credit card (from different institutions) is usable on the Pixel. The only Canadian banks that seem to have go support for Google Pay are CIBC and Scotia.

    Prior to switching, Apple Pay was the primary way I paid for things in-person, so this one is fairly big.

  • Car integration.
    Both my current car and my previous car (Toyota’s) support Siri Handsfree, which is a way to interact with Siri via a steering wheel button. I used this almost daily, mainly to read/send text messages. I’ve searched and searched but there doesn’t seem to be any way to enable something like this with Google Assistant.
  • Vibration Engine.
    iPhones seem to have multiple different vibration levels, you can tell the difference between a phone call, text message and generic notification. On the Pixel, they all feel the same.

That’s it. I am really pleasantly surprised at how simple and pain free the transition has been. It’s astonishing.

Privacy

I can’t write this review without mentioning privacy. I am a strong believer in privacy as a human right. I truly believe that a loss of individual privacy is a loss of freedom.

Google is a company that not generally super well regarded as privacy minded, so using Google hardware goes against my own moral code to some degree.

Apple on the other hand does seem to be making great effort to completely secure their customer’s data, in ways that I just don’t think Google could justify while maintaining a business model based on surveillance capitalism.

Here’s the thing though. As far as I can tell (conspiracy theories aside), if you install any Google apps on iPhone you are subject to the same level of privacy as you would be while using a Pixel.

For example, I can tell that Google apps track your physical location with the same frequency and accuracy on an iPhone as they do Android. I can tell because my Google Maps timeline is full of years and years of location data (correlated with photos) gathered from iPhones. However since Google apps are just web apps, they share settings across devices. So the same settings that you’d toggle to disable (and/or delete) this data collection affects your entire Google account on every device.

If you really want secure your own data privacy, simply using an iPhone is far from enough. Despite what Apple’s marketing would have you believe.

Conclusion

The Google Pixel 3 is an amazing device! I’ve experienced very little downside and a whole lot of upside by switching to Android.

It pains me to say this but… Android might actually be the better mobile operating system, at least as it’s implemented on the Pixel 3.


Note: I’ve used “Android,” “Android Pie” and “Pixel” somewhat interchangeably throughout this post. I’m not too sure which of the features I’ve written about are exclusive to Android Pie or the Google Pixel and which are generic to all Android.

Canadian Tech News Round-Up

I listen to a fair few tech podcasts every week, I often find myself quite frustrated by the US-centric nature of the stories they cover. While most of the major tech stories have global implications, just as many – if not more – are about US companies and issues. In an attempt to keep myself up to date onĀ  clearly Canadian tech stories I’ve decided to seek out 5 or so important tech stories from North of the 49th every week.

Ontario Parents Try To Ban Wi-fi in School: Parents group blames wi-fi for headache and nausea reported by their children. Health Canada rejects their claims, citing science. Teacher’s federation rejects proposal. Chalk one up for science.

iPhone Competition, Galaxy S Comes to Canada: To my knowledge this is the only phone in available on a Canadian carrier capable of running Android 2.2. Bell launched the Vibrant August 6th. Rogers, SaskTel and (possibly) Virgin are following suit…soon.

CRTC Requires ISP’s Financial Data: I’m totally sure exactly what this is about, it almost sounds like the CRTC is trying to get a handle on just how much profit the telecommunication industry is making. In any case, the industry seems ticked and I can get behind legislation that’s going to make those money-grubbing grubber’s lives harder.

Digital Lock Rules “Fundamentally Flawed”: Canadian Library Association is sticking it to the man, well, as much as they can without raising their voice.

Police “Body Cameras” Becoming Common-Place: cameras worn by police officers directly on their person (on an ear clips or helmet) are making there way into forces across the country. Good move, imho.