I buy a new phone every two years. My selection process is fairly straightforward and depends on two factors: the phone must have the best camera as well as bloatware-free software that will receive day-one updates for a handful of years.
For the last three years, I’ve opted for Google’s Pixel lineup. With a camera that has unanimously held the top position and Android straight from Google’s labs, picking up the first-gen Pixel in 2016 and upgrading to the Pixel 3 in 2018 has been a no-brainer for me.
But that’s no longer the case as Apple has finally caught up to Google’s image processing prowess with improvements to Smart HDR, a new Night mode, and Deep Fusion in the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max. More importantly, the Google Pixel still feels like a project even after three generations, as the company continues to overlook a string of fundamental complaints. Based on the leaks for Pixel 4, it’s likely that my next phone will be an iPhone, not another Pixel. Let me explain.
Where’s the third camera?
Apple’s new iPhones produce mostly better photos than the Pixel 3 or competitors like the Huawei Mate 30 Pro, though it’s not a giant leap ahead. What can be said for certain is that the iPhone 11 range has a more versatile camera system.
While the Pixel 4 is confirmed to have a dual-camera rear arrangement, rumors suggest it will be for a telephoto lens, not an ultra-wide-angle lens. The iPhone 11 Pro has all three, allowing you to capture more of a scene, or zoom in all the way for close-ups. Google already does a pretty good job with Super Res Zoom, where machine-learning algorithms improve the Pixel 3’s digitally-zoomed in photos for better quality, so an ultra-wide-angle camera would have been more useful here.
I’ve also grown frustrated with Google’s barebones camera app, which barely offers any manual control. A few weeks ago, Google oddly got rid of the ISO option as well.
I’ve also grown frustrated with Google’s barebones camera app.
iPhones don’t offer many manual controls natively, but there, you at least have access to a diverse ecosystem of third-party camera accessories and apps like Halide Camera. Searching for a third-party camera app on the Play Store will fetch you a mix of unreliable — and sometimes fake — apps and others that are riddled with bugs. There are a few decent alternatives, like Moment’s Pro Camera app, which lets you adjust the shutter speed, ISO, focus point, and more, but even those are limited and don’t function as well as their iOS counterparts.
For reasons unknown, Google also hasn’t yet addressed the mysteriously crummy video-recording capabilities of its Pixel phones either. More often than not, videos (and slow-mo clips) recorded on the Pixel 3 turn out soft, overexposed, and capture awfully inaccurate colors. Apple has taken strides to improve the iPhone’s video capabilities on its latest, making what was already the best even better. It remains to be seen whether that changes with the Pixel 4.
Small batteries, other gripes
Google has been stingy with the battery size too, and endurance has never the Pixel’s strongest suite. The Pixel 3 merely has a 2,915mAh battery capacity that can only last half a day for me with heavy use, and if the leaks are to be believed, the Pixel 4 will have a smaller 2800mAh pack.
What’s more, Google refuses to let go of its dated design and unlike the rest of the smartphone industry, the Pixel phones still wear huge bezels (or notches) on the front — which Google’s Pixel 4 is set to inherit. At least there’ll be some meaningful additions in the bezel this time, with a face unlock system similar to Apple’s Face ID.
There is a range of other shortcomings and decisions which have marred my experience, such as the fact that you can’t wirelessly fast-charge a Pixel on a third-party charger that’s not a part of the Made for Google program. The screen is not bright enough for sunny outdoors, inconsistent performance, the haptic vibrations are poor, and more.
With the Pixel, Google set out to build an iPhone alternative for those on Android. Three years later, it still has a long way to go.
A few of these complaints may seem like nit-picking, but when you’re spending nearly a thousand dollars on a phone, I feel they’re justified.
For a starting price of $699, the iPhone 11 also offers better value, and if history is any indication, it will have a longer shelf life than any Android phone.
Prove me wrong, Google
We’re only days away from Google’s annual hardware event, where the Pixel 4 is expected to be unveiled alongside several other products. Honestly, I’d love to be proved wrong. The Pixel series paved the way for the kind of clever photography we didn’t even know was possible on such pocketable form factors. But in the process, Google ended up neglecting other essentials while setting a high price tag.
With the Pixel, Google set out to build an iPhone alternative for those on Android. Three years later, it still has a long way to go. Apple has managed to match the Pixel’s camera prowess — while also hammering home the rest of the smartphone experience with killer battery life, slick software that’s powerful, as well as hardware that uses higher-quality build materials. At the end of the day, it’s not a tough call to make and I’m glad I don’t have to live with the Pixel 3’s many flaws to just have the best mobile camera anymore.
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