What’s the point of Pixel?


Hi all

So, given the awful bugs in Android 12 lately really souring the experience, and given my Pixel 3a will see its final security-update next-month (May) then I’ve been thinking about what phone to get next, with the upcoming Pixel 6a being one obvious consideration. (The Pixel 5a wasn’t released in the UK; and it makes little-sense to buy the Pixel 4a at this-point, given it’s about halfway-through the guaranteed Android update period.)

BUT, take a step-back, and I am wondering a lot lately: what is the point in the Pixel series, these days?

The Pixel 6 phones clearly have some bad-batches during manufacturing, given the clear disparity between people who have endless issues with them, and others who report they’ve never had a single issue since purchase. Yet Google are still pushing adverts for them literally everywhere. And even on all other supported Pixel devices before the 6 models, Android 12 is also wreaking-havoc, with the only-advice ever-offered to go into “About Phone” in the Settings and use the “Send feedback about this device” option, or factory-reset your phone! Quality-control clearly doesn’t seem to be a thing much, it would seem.

I’ve listed below what many people cite as the reasons to get a Pixel, and my thoughts on those:

GREAT CAMERAS. Before the Pixel 6 series, the Pixel line just used Sony-made lenses and sensors, like many-other Android phones (it’s speculated the Pixel 6 now uses ones from Samsung). So nothing other vendors also couldn’t use. What makes the photos great on Pixel devices is the AI performed by the Google Camera app. But you can get “ports” of the Google Camera app (sometimes called GCam) for other makes of phones (except Sony), which will then deliver similar-results.

NIGHT MODE. Now available in other Android devices, and on Apple‘s devices (except I think the iPhone SE models?). As stated above, you could also just find a port of the Google Camera app to then use that feature on phones, too.

FAST ANDROID UPDATES. This is something other brands have got-better-at in recent-years, and you can look for phones in the “Android One” programme, which should guarantee updates quickly. But Google themself have clearly had issues updating their own Pixel 6 phones lately. And given all the bugs and issues in Android 12, staying on a previous version, and only getting security-fixes, might not be a bad-thing anyway!

CLEAN ANDROID EXPERIENCE. Sure, many other devices, especially those from Samsung and Motorola, come littered with pre-installed apps. But it really doesn’t take that-long to simply “disable” or “uninstall” each one. And any phone in the “Android One” programme will also come near-stock, such as virtually any from Nokia. Windows, macOS and iOS all come with extra apps installed, some non-removable, so it’s not an Android-exclusive issue. Linux is about your only way to completely-control which apps you have, and even-then some distros come with more preinstalled stuff than others.

REDUCED SPAM CALLS VIA PHONE BY GOOGLE APP. Similar to my point above, look for a port of the Google Phone app for other devices.

NEW FEATURES BEFORE OTHER MANUFACTURERS. I’m sure on the software-side, there are Android features that Pixel devices see before others. But hardware-wise, it’s difficult to think of anything Pixel devices have done lately before any others. I’m sure they weren’t first to add optical-zoom, nor 90Hz or 120Hz displays, nor fast-charging, nor wireless-charging, nor USB C, nor NFC, nor multiple rear-cameras, nor foldable devices. The only recent thing I can think-of is that “Project Soli” thing from Pixel 4, where you could wave your hand over the phone to switch apps or change song, which most conceded didn’t work well, and I think was dropped in the Pixel 5.

SUPPORT DIRECTLY FROM GOOGLE. What support would this be? You mean the often useless “Pixel Community” forum, where literal self-appointed experts race to answer questions to get their answer marked by the original-poster as “best answer” to earn Play Store credit and other perks? If Google actually did offer some level of direct-support, this might be a selling-point… even if a paid-extra, similar to AppleCare. But as far as I know, they don’t. (And in forums, anyone who has had to send their phone in for repair often say Google takes longer to return the repaired device than the likes of Samsung, Nokia, Motorola or Apple.)

TEST NEW APPS AHEAD OF TIME. You can do this on any Android phone… just find an app in the Play Store and see if a “Join the beta” option exists.

UNLIMITED CLOUD-BACKUP STORAGE FOR GOOGLE PHOTOS. This was dropped as-of the Pixel 6 series; the Pixel 5a series was the last to offer this.

GOOGLE FI. Not really sure what this is (a way to more-easily roam than picking-up local SIMs?), but a cursory search suggests it’s limited to US customers only.

So, at this-point I’d love to know… if you’re still a Pixel fan, then why?

I’m genuinely curious what advantages their devices still offer over other Android makes and models?


Comments (8)

8 responses to “What’s the point of Pixel?”

  1. thejoefin

    Seems to me that Pixel is Google's space to test experiments with Android on a targeted audience. As you mentioned there are several features Google started testing on Pixel devices, which they eventually rolled out to all Android. Google wants to have a direct relationship with their customers and not have to ask Samsung or Oppo when they want to do something.

    For fans of Google, Pixel is billed as a clean 'pure Google' experience, and from what I can tell that angle is compelling for many.

    • dftf

      Surely though they should only do such testing on users who are enrolled into one of the beta-versions, such-as Android 12L or 13? If sales-figures are to be believe, Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are flying-off-the-shelves, and given how buggy Android 12 is, I can't see how that experience is going to make a good-impression -- not-to-mention those whose Pixel 6 devices have hardware issues.

      And if Google want "a direct relationship with their customers", surely that should include some kind of direct-support, not palming people off to a volunteer-led forum?

      • JohnDoglas

        I mostly agree with you about the direct support. This will allow google to have a greater control of the event and will be able to better perfontion what is not working at its level. And it's true, they have to do their tests on registered users who have the beta version.

        • dftf

          You'd expect by buying a Google-branded phone you'd get at-least some sort-of direct contact with Google.

          Yet your only options are the Pixel Community forum, led by volunteers (support.google.com/pixelphone/threads), report it on their public IssueTracker site (issuetracker.google.com/issues?q=status:open), which is way-too complex for most average phone-users to understand, and is clearly aimed at developers or those into debugging their device; or use the "Send feedback about this device" option on your phone, which sends the Android developers your log-files, but clearly says you will never get a reply from that option.

          Doesn't exactly scream "valued customer" to me!

  2. Paul Thurrott

    I feel like the point of Pixel is clear enough, and you list the reasons. But the real question is whether Google is rising to this challenge. And ... it's kind of a mixed bag. Hardware reliability is an ongoing concern, for sure.

    • dftf

      Given you recently moved to iPhone, one would assume your answer to "whether Google is rising to this challenge" would be "no".

      And when you look at many Western markets on StatCounter, such as the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK, Apple holds the dominant-share of smartphone devices. Clearly that won't be driven by the Pixel, as usage-share for that is essentially equivalent to a rounding-error, but by the Android OS. I wonder if non-Google devices with Android 12 are just as buggy?

  3. winner

    What are the "awful Android 12 bugs"?

    • dftf

      If you really want examples just a cursory look on the Pixel Community forum, or one of the relevant Reddit areas would easily provide you many examples. But for ones I've encountered:

      • The task-switcher doesn't now reliably go to the app you're in; sometimes bounces to the previous one, meaning I swipe-off or screenshot the wrong one (not fixed)

      • The "split-view" mode crashes Pixel Launcher if "Remove animations" is disabled in Accessibility settings (not fixed)

      • Apps in the Play Store sometimes have issues updating; a reboot often fixes. Never an issue in Android 11 (not fixed)

      • Can't recall exactly where now, but some screens inside the Settings app did not change the text from black to white when in dark theme, making them hard-to-read (I'd imagine fixed by now)

      • An issue after one of the previous updates where my phone constantly thought I had wired headphones plugged-in, when I didn't; so the built-in speakers were doing nothing (fixed itself a few days later, randomly)

      • Camera app seems to take longer to now process photos, especially when using "night mode" (not fixed, learnt to live-with)

      • Some apps display bits of their UI behind either the top status-bar, or the bottom navigation-bar (before you say, yes, I agree this is up to developers to update their apps, but maybe a compatibility-setting within Android would also help!)

      • The brightness slider would not reliably appear or function when in landscape orientation (seems now fixed)

      • One of the first updates, late last year, deleted all my home-screen web shortcuts, and "in-app" shortcuts (can't fix)

      • Another one also re-enabled all notifications for every app on my phone (now fixed, as I set them all back as I want)

      • The manual screen-rotate icon sometimes has issues appearing (intermittent; can workaround by turning auto-rotate always-on via a Quick Tile, but still...)

      And then for things which are irritating, but intentional:

      • The irritating new "app-minimise" animation, where apps shrink-into their homescreen icon, cannot be disabled (not fixed, and was only added-in in either the January or February update, not there from the launch)

      • The ugly two-line clock on the lock-screen (now fixed: option added in Settings to disable it)

      • Severe lack of customisation compared to Android 11 (cannot change system icons, font, etc.)

      • Preferred having six tiles when you drag-down from the top, not four as-now

      • Preferred having separate "Wi-Fi" and "Mobile data" tiles, not the combined one as-now

      • Annoying "at-a-glance" constantly in the top-left of the primary homescreen (worked-around by moving to the right one)

      Likely more I could think-of if I tried, but seriously... just do a Google search. I'm only glad that compared to people with newer models, like the 4a, 5 or 5a, I'm not getting the more-serious stuff like "no signal since update", "Bluetooth keeps disconnecting now", "battery depleting at insane rate", "notifications not working for any app, so missing calls", "SIM keeps saying it is rejected", "camera keeps crashing", "apps keep crashing", "phone now getting excessively hot", "touchscreen not responding", "fingerprint reader now even worse" and so-on.

      True, some of those will be Pixel 6 specific hardware-issues, but many are software-bugs caused by Android 12. And to make matters worse, some are occurring only-after recent Android 12 updates, which means for some users, Android 12 is actually causing new issues as it goes along, not fixing them.

      Seriously, if I could have had the option to "Keep this device on Android 11, and get security-fixes only" I would have done! I so rarely had any issues at-all back on 11, "it just worked"!