It’s G-Day: Do You Know Where Your Next Phone Is?

Posted on October 4, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Mobile, iOS, Android with 39 Comments

It's G-Day: Do You Know Where Your Next Phone Is?

There’s never been a better time to buy a great smartphone. Which is part of the problem, when you think about it.

Just this year alone, we’ve been swamped with great choices, each of which offers some part of an emerging matrix of modern features such as curved and bezel-less displays, high-end cameras, and tall new form factors. From the Samsung Galaxy S8+ and Note 8 to the OnePlus 5 to the Apple iPhone X and, soon, Google’s new Pixels, and probably several others that simply aren’t on my radar, we are practically drowning in choice.

But when it comes to actually making that choice, we all have our own criteria. You may—or may not—agree with all three of attributes I cited above. You may place one over the other. You may have concerns, as I do, that phone prices are rising uncontrollably, and uncertainties about whether you can even afford these devices. Sometimes the best choice is sticking with what you’re already using.

Personally, 2017 has been a struggle. The iPhone 7 Plus I purchased last fall has been an ongoing disappointment, and it marks the first time an iPhone’s camera—a key attribute in my own internal smartphone ratings system—has performed more poorly than its predecessor. The photos it takes are uniformly hazy and lackluster, and they lack the HDR-like “pop” I get from many Android handsets, like the Nexus 6P/5X, Galaxy S8+, and Pixel XL. And the Portrait mode that Apple and its fans so routinely tout is terrible, with poor edge detection. I can’t recall ever being this disappointed in an iPhone camera.

That the iPhone is generally superior to Android is so many other ways shows the struggle of the choice we have. Apple’s iOS is stable, reliable, and, after a few messy years of transition, starting to become more consistent again too. The iPhone just works, which is a tired phrase, I know, but one that really does apply to the iPhone in the real world in a way that it cannot with almost any other product or service.

But you don’t need to be paying much attention to know that I’ve been teetering on the edge of abandoning the safe world of iOS and iPhone all year.

You could see it in my excitement about the expensive new Samsung Galaxy S8+, which I ultimately decided was just too costly. In my examination of low-end and mid-range Android devices that provided much better value but fell short from a camera perspective. In my belief that the Note 8 could offer all of the advantages of the S8+ combined with a bigger screen and an even higher cost. And my crushing disappointment with Apple’s lackluster new iPhone 8 and its terribly-notched and too-expensive iPhone X.

But it is Google’s coming second generation of Pixel handsets that has me the most excited. And, if I’m being honest, worried. What if Google screws this up?

I did eventually decided to switch to Android, of course, did, in fact, reveal this change on the eve of Apple’s new iPhone announcements, knowing that these devices would be uninteresting and uninspiring. (And boy did I nail that one.) And while it took longer than expected to make that shift, thanks in part to a bad decision on my part and some terrible customer support from Google, it did eventually happen. Yesterday, for the first time in several years, I only brought one smartphone, the Pixel XL, on a work trip. I know, that sounds unimpressive. But I’ve had two—sometimes three—phones with me every time I’ve traveled for work since I don’t know when. Many years.

I’m OK with Android. Am particularly OK with the pure Android that Google provides on its Pixel devices.

But that’s not really the point, though it does factor into my own decision-making process. That is, Android has improved enough that it’s no longer a point in the “Cons” column. It’s kind of a wash. It works fine. I understand it.

What this decision has made me realize is that my own smartphone choices are being driven by a number of things. And that it’s not as simple as camera, display, and form factor. In that order.

The real reason I am using a Pixel XL right now and will almost certainly be using a Pixel 2 XL going forward is that the combination of a superior camera and Project Fi cellular networking, with its inexpensive and transparent pricing and superb international capabilities, is what puts it over the top for me.

That is, I could have used the Pixel XL on AT&T and retained my phone number, which dates back to 2007. It would have been easy. But I went through the stress and pain of converting that number to Project Fi so that I could use that phone with the service that really matters to me. It’s the best of both worlds.

Looked at a different way, it is possible—remotely, but possible—that some phone—the iPhone X, the Note 8, whatever–has a camera that is superior to that of the Pixel XL or the coming Pixel 2 XL. But even if those cameras are rated a bit higher than that on the Pixel handsets, I wouldn’t switch. Because of Project Fi? Sort of: In many ways, Google’s network has emerged, for me, as the most important attribute. But that is also reliant on a compatible phone—like the Pixel—have an excellent camera. They go together.

That I can save money each month using Project Fi and not AT&T helps with the decision. That I will save tons of money each time I use Project Fi in Europe (or elsewhere) instead of AT&T really helps.

So, for me, the deck is stacked for the new Pixels. Which will almost certainly have a nearly bezel-less design, with that tall form factor that seems so modern and forward-leaning. That’s great.

The new Pixels will also most likely drop the headphone jack, will almost certainly not include expandable storage, and will absolutely certainly be super, super expensive. All of which is bad.

But that’s how the decision gets made. There is no perfect choice. You just weigh the pros and the cons and you pick according to what matters most to you. What’s goofy about this year, and the various things I looked at as it progressed, is that I really didn’t know what was most important to me. That it was, in fact, the combination of camera and network service.

Anyway, it’s G-Day. Today at noon ET, Google will announce those new Pixels alongside a new Chromebook, new Google Home devices, and more. And I’ll watch, rapt, and will likely skewer them a bit on Twitter because that’s what I do. But unless they drop the ball completely—and I’m trying to imagine what form that could take—I will almost certainly rush to beat the crowds and order an expensive new Pixel 2 XL that I can use for the next year or so.

Until it’s time to make a choice again.


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Comments (39)

39 responses to “It’s G-Day: Do You Know Where Your Next Phone Is?”

  1. glenn8878

    I just bought another iPhone 7 Plus 128 GB for a family member due to iPhone 8 Plus’ ridiculous price increase for the 256 GB. I saved $180. I won’t go Android. It’s not like they really need another customer.

  2. Poor Richard

    I agree with Paul on this. I have a nice DSLR camera (Sony A77), but my phone (Microsoft 950XL) takes such great pictures, I find myself rarely using my real camera anymore. As stated previously, "The best camera is the one you have with you." For those that aren't into photography, I can understand the camera not being important, but for me, it's at the top of the priority list.

    As I'm about to jump ship on my Microsoft phone, I noticed that the Motorola Moto X4 is capable of using Project Fi at a fraction of the cost of the Pixel. By switching to Project Fi from AT&T for my phone and my wife's phone, the potential savings in my phone plan could pay for 2 new Moto X4 phones over 2 years. Not bad. That, and the Moto X4 gets immediate Android updates as well.

    I'm waiting for reviews to come-out on the Moto X4's camera quality. If it's remotely close to my beloved Microsoft 950XL, I think I'm going to make the switch.

  3. melinau

    Just prior to "Launch" the Pixel 2 looks pretty dull stuff, lacking any obvious advance on the original ( faster CPU etc. excepted)

    Google Fi isn't available in UK, so that's no added attraction here. Google's 'phones have also become expensive, so despite the attractions of "pure" Android, I'm going for a "cheap" premium like OnePlus when I eventually ditch my S7.

    I'm also becoming a bit alarmed by Paul's apparently excessive enthusiasm for Google products. I have tried both Home & WiFi and for my money, neither offers me any benefits over alternative often better, often cheaper competing products.

  4. Chris_Kez

    Project Fi always looks tempting, but I cannot get past the $10/GB when I'm going through more than 8GB every month.

  5. Tony Barrett

    What *is* the big deal with smartphone camera's. Sure, they fine for a quick snap if you're out and about, but anyone who expects SLR type quality from *any* mobile smartphone is delusional. If you like photography, get a descent SLR, and take your time choosing one. For the majority, a smartphone camera is just fine, but it's not a deal breaker decision. There are many reasons I chose my current handset, but the camera wasn't one of the main ones.

    • Pargon

      In reply to ghostrider:

      The best camera is the one you have with you. And for most people these days don't want to always take a DSLR with them, either it gets stolen if you're in a touristy place or in rugged terrain has possibility of damage. A lot of people aren't blowing up their adventures in 70"x29" canvas prints like I do on hikes with my Nikon D5100....I bought a Nexus 6p because the camera is phenomenal for the times I want to record my adventures on a Caribbean cruise with lots of water activity/hiking around, or a weekend getaway walking around Dallas or Austin and I'd have the phone on me anyways. Even if just posting photos to Facebook for friends to see, why not make them look as great as they can?

      And to be fair, the in-phone HDR shots are getting seriously impressive lately. The only real benefit of my Nikon is I can put the super telephoto lens on it 55-300mm, digital zoom can't compete.

      Also, editing photos....I have thousands backlogged from the Nikon that need editing. The camera doesn't do HDR automatically, have to setup a batch process after I edit one and hope the lighting treats them equally as well. Whereas the smartphone does it all for me, quick and easy to post massive amounts of photos. They each have their own use! :-)

  6. ABT

    Paul, with such a high priority on camera, how come you don't mention forthcoming products from the "new" Nokia (HMD Global) that boast zeiss optics? With the right software, could that type of offering make a statement like the lumia 1020. If I recall, the original nexus and pixel devices had some early camera issues while the software was getting "calibrated".

    Maybe undeserved, but I'll attribute the excellent (relative to specs) pictures I was able to take with my low end Lumias (520, 635, & 640) to the Lumia camera app, which I thought was a contribution of Nokia's software team. If HMD picked up some of these guys (or ladies) after MS's slash and burn spree, why wouldn't they be able to bring a comparable offering to the Android platform?

    I'll quit rambling. I'm not trying to resurrect WP discussions (although, I will say my Lumia handsets performed as a phone, music player, and gps device, in a manner far superior to their mid-range Android counterparts).

    Anyway, I'll again ask my original question. What's keeping you from even mentioning the Nokia 8? Is it just the incompatibility with Project Fi?

  7. nerdile

    We had Project Fi for a year, but the voice quality was terrible, which I could mostly deal with. But that led to spousal nagging, which I was less able to deal with, so we went back to AT&T.

  8. sgtaylor5

    i've had three Windows Phones (925, 928 and ICON), two Android phones (Droid Turbo, rooted and Samsung Galaxy S6). I want my phones to be fast, and the Samsung really disappointed me. If I had a large screen Samsung TV and perhaps an ANT bike accessory, I would have used more of the unremovable stuff on that phone, but, as I didn't... it was far too slow to respond - just a beat or so, and that was enough.

    Liking my iPhone 6S very much. I need a real headphone jack for my PayPal card swiper, and I didn't want to use dongles, so the iPhone 7 was not a contender from the outset.

  9. ardentra

    I don't get the love for Project Fi. I priced it out for my family plan vs AT&T.

    Right now I get 17gb data plus 4 phone lines for ~140 a month after taxes. On project Fi that same plan is $230. That's a terrible deal and value. We consistently eat at least 15gb a month and have sometimes gone over with the 17 but the rollover saved us there. Maybe the European travel deal makes sense but Project Fi for me is a complete non starter. I am wondering what AT&T plan you have that is so terrible that Fi comes out ahead there.

    • ChesterChihuahua

      In reply to ardentra:

      For people who use a small amount of data, Google Fi is massively cheaper. I use less than 0.5 GB of data per month, and therefore pay less than $30/month ($25 + taxes) for Google Fi. This is much cheaper than anything I can get from AT&T, T-mobile, etc.

  10. Delmont

    I don't get the constant nailing of the camera.... I bet 99.99% of iPhone owners think their photos are great and they never blow them up past a 5x8. I think we get spoiled with current technology.

  11. TraderGary

    I just ordered the Google Pixel 2 XL 128 GB in Just Black. I also added the Google Preferred Care insurance for drops and spills. I work from home and do almost everything everywhere with WiFi. My non-WiFi data usage averages less than 0.3 GB per month.

    When my new Pixel arrives in a couple of weeks I will change to Project Fi. My phone bill will drop dramatically with Project Fi and will quickly pay for the new Pixel phone. I've had a Nexus 6 for the past several years and I'm sure I will love the new Pixel 2 XL even more.

  12. Mike Spooner

    Project Fi sounds great, but for those of us living outside the USA, there can be some very severe limitations.

    Quote from Google Project Fi page: "All 135+ countries in Project Fi’s network include the same great benefits. Such as same rate pricing, high speed data at the same $10/GB, unlimited SMS, and calls for 20¢ / minute."

    Followed immediately by "Data, calls, and texts over cellular networks are not available."


  13. JerryH

    iOS has gotten more consistent? I think I will refer you to an article by this insightful guy named Thurrott that goes into great detail about how iOS has gotten less consistent and is now completely different between different Apple devices.

  14. kjb434

    Still waiting for a release date for the LG V30. Hall all the new pixel and iPhone features, but still includes the headphone jack.

    Close to unmodified Android OS that I can use MS services. My Lumia 1520 is hanging one until the V30 is available.

  15. edboyhan

    I'm about ready to move off of my 950XL. My criteria are quite different than yours. Price is not a consideration for me, nor is having the absolute best camera (although I do want a "good" camera on a high end phone). My biggest criterion is native Amazon Alexa support. Currently that devolves to two phones: Huawei Mate 9, or HTC U11. Both have gotten good reviews although the Huawei is a bit older than the HTC. I was about to pull the trigger on the HTC U11 when I learned that VoLTE, and Wi-Fi calling are not supported on ATT on the U11. I'm not too concerned about Wi-Fi calling, but VoLTE seems like a must. I'm under the impression this is something to do with ATT not HTC and that the issue is not technical as some users have gotten VoLTE to work on ATT by using a U10 IME instead of the U11 one :-(.

  16. Chris_Kez

    I'm almost two years into a dual-carry lifestyle (Nexus 5X and iPhone SE) and I would agree that Android is generally no longer a "negative" in and of itself. Oreo looks great and has brought refinements to nearly everything from top to bottom. That said, I still have nagging issues that just don't seem to come up on the iPhone. There are few things that might pop up once or twice a week: It will just completely miss a text message. My wife or a friend will call and say "Didn't you see my text?". We exchange screen shots and sure enough I just never got the message. Sometimes the mobile data connection will just turn off. I'll be surfing the web or whatever and a page or app won't load or update properly; I jump into Settings and sure enough mobile data is off. Do Not Disturb sometimes turns on by itself. I'll pick up my phone after a few hours and see I've missed some calls or messages. It has trouble switching between my BT headset and BT in my car; I'll have to turn on/turn off, tap Connect/Disconnect a few times. They're tiny inconveniences, but it means that a few times a week I'm just like  ¯_(ツ)_/¯ .

    The bigger annoyance is that the phone will definitely slow down at times, and over the course of two years I've just resorted to blowing it away and setting it up as new on three occasions when it started to get full and laggy. Two of those times I was able to live with it for a few weeks until a new version of Android was available and it made sense to just have a clean start. All of that said, if I could afford a Pixel 2 this month I would probably buy one. But I'll probably have to wait another year, at which point I will definitely be tempted by the next version of the iPhone X.

  17. valisystem

    Barring any surprises in the next couple of hours, I've come to the same conclusion about the Pixel 2 XL. It's nothing special, in the best way - it's just reasonably elegant and simple and reflects smart choices throughout and is built with high quality components and screens. The fingerprint reader is in the right place. There are no unnecessary Samsung apps and no useless Bixby button. It brings Google Assistant front and center (which I suspect will be important going forward). It will get security updates immediately. And it can be used with Project Fi. That's a really appealing combination.

  18. brian_c

    I'm on my second post Windows Phone android now, and shock horror I'm starting to like it.

    • timothyhuber

      In reply to brian_c:

      I'm a former Windows Mobile user (from the very first PocketPC with Phone Edition) who switched to iPhone for a model before switching back to Windows Phone. I too made the leap to Android with a move from AT&T to Project Fi. I just replaced my first Android device, a Nexus 6p with a Note 8, switching away from Fi to T-Mobile. As Paul says, it was crazy expensive, but T-Mobile had a BOGO promo so it made the price much more reasonable.

      I loved Windows Phone, but with Android I'm never faced with the app problem. For all its flaws and inconsistencies, I can do almost anything I need to on the Android platform.

  19. Aaron Arruda

    I have used every generation iPhone and Galaxy for years as well as most other major realeases (I work in the industry). I currently am using an iPhone 8+ and a Galaxy Note 8.

    I belive the iPhone 8+ is being undersold by tech journalists. It’s boring, yes, and I HATE the bezels, but it’s much faster and the camera is much better than the 7+ and it has 90%+ of the iPhone X for $200 cheaper.

    That being said, the Note 8 and Galaxy S8+ are great, but the best phone for your money in the high tier is the regular S8. For the cost, you are getting so much.

    I think the Pixel 2 will probably be great, but till it’s available on all 4 major carriers to buy in store, it will continue to live in obscurity mostly catering to Android purists (especially at these higher and higher price points).

  20. Pargon

    With all this repeat talk about how people should be happy with the lower end phones, laptops, etc and complaining when they don't send you something to review why do you feel the need to upgrade from Pixel to pixel 2? It also like Apple's event feels like it'll be totally underwhelming. Slight camera upgrade, slightly faster, no headphone jack and price raise.

    The Nexus 6p on project fi is still great. Android since I've switched from Windows phone to this has "just worked" too btw, no need to upgrade....yet, maybe pixel XL 3 or 4. :-)

  21. Jim Priestley

    I switched from an iPhone6S+ on ATT to a Pixel on Fi, and have been very happy with the modern Android experience, and Fi's international plan.

    I'm anxious to see if the Pixel Ultra rumors pan out, but a Pixel2XL that looks like an LGV30 would not be a dissapointment.

  22. Mark Pfeifer

    I bought a Pixel last year and run it on AT&T (the only carrier that works in the building where I work). One reason I bought it was because it gets regular OS updates and will remain usable for several years.

    I realize that at some level Paul needs to buy new devices so that he can write about them, but many of us expect our phones to not be disposable and to last for a while before they have to be replaced. I expect that the Pixel 4 will be the next phone I consider buying.

    We've reached a point in the cell phone market where year-to-year gains are incremental, so I don't see the point in upgrading every year.

    I'll watch the event, but hold onto my almost $1000 it would cost to upgrade. And keep using my wired headphones, too!

    • Waethorn

      In reply to Mark_Pfeifer:

      "One reason I bought it was because it gets regular OS updates and will remain usable for several years."

      2 years of feature updates, 1 more year of security updates. So "3" = "several"? I don't get it.

    • Stooks

      In reply to Mark_Pfeifer:

      I could not agree more. I was on a fishing trip last year with a group of friends out of state. One of my friends dropped his S7 into the lake. We went to Walmart and he picked up some mid range Motorola android phone, that cost $60 on sale? Then went and got a sim from a Verizon store to get his number on that phone.

      He still has that phone today. He said that event taught him what he really needs his phone for and that an expensive phone did nothing but cost him more money without any real advantage.

  23. RobertJasiek

    If it were only a decision about getting a want-to-have chassis design, I could chose among two dozen smartphones. However, my essential criteria are others: a) security without compromise (Android drops out), b) file management that just works (iOS 11 drops out), c) an operating system with a long future (Windows Mobile and various specialised OSs drop out), d) matte display (but I don't want it heavy, thick, ruggedised so all phones drop out; I just want a mobile device to be suitable for mobile use), e) several years lifetime (and not the all too common "breaks the day after the two years warranty"). There is no such smartphone so I do not buy one. I need not even go into ordinary specifications, such as price limit, battery duration, LTE bands and WLAN reliability.

    I am willing to compromise and buy a Windows or Linux tablet with phone functionality but such are still immature. Today is as bad for buying a smartphone as 7 years ago. Design and technology are ripe but the manufacturers fail at the essential criteria. And I do not follow the pack just because 2 billion people compromise on them.

  24. Polycrastinator

    I'm trying to decide where to go next. I've been using an iPhone 6S+ for the last 2 years - just paid it off - and because I have to support both phone types I try to switch back and forth, but honestly nothing is really grabbing me this year. First time I've looked at the phones that are coming and thought "meh."

  25. Winner

    I'm totally with you Paul. My Nexus 5x camera has been so awesome that it has emerged as the overrriding important feature.

    I'm not a Project Fi user but the nearly instant OS updates and pure Android are also excellent.

    I'm not going to support Apple's leadership on glueing-in batteries and removing headphone jack, even if Google follows that. Apple started it. And I don't like buying super expensive dongles, either.

  26. wright_is

    I'm still wondering where I'll go next.

    I have a Nexus 5x and will replace it in the next 12 months... I need a reasonably priced phone that is guaranteed to get the latest security updates for the next 3 years... PROMPTLY!

  27. Bats

    A couple of things:

    1. The Pixel XL camera is so great already, that unless the camera that comes with the Pixel 2 XL is far and vastly superior than it's predecessor, how can anyone who cash-strapped like Paul Thurrott need to upgrade to it. IMO, Paul's reason to upgrade to the Pixel 2 XL is (with all due respect) cr*p. I am sure that the camera of the Pixel 2 XL will technically and technologically better, but to the HUMAN EYE it won't be noticeable.

    2. Everything, I just said in #1, applies to Google's fantastic Project Fi. LOL...I used Project Fi, myself earlier this year. However, I did so using my Nexus 6P and not my Pixel XL and .... I don't see the difference. My bet is, I won't experience any difference between my future Pixel 2 XL and my Pixel XL. For Paul to say that i am getting the Pixel 2 XL partly because of Project FI is a head-scratcher.

    So Paul is going to bite the bullet and buy Google's Premium phone that LG made, huh? I say this, after days Paul's ridiculous open letter to Google. Dude, i swear...I read that and became embarrassed for Paul. He might not have felt that way, but I did.

    Paul has to realize that Google didn't create a subdivision in their Mountain View campus strictly for smart phone development. Rather, they used the expertise of the LG Engineers, and HTC to create a smartphone to their specifications and theirs alone. Is that actually hard to understand? LOL...I think Paul actually thought that. There is clearly a market for a Google Pixel phone. In the smartphone market, there are clearly (crystal clearly) three leaders: Apple, Samsung, and Google. Paul said that Samsung can charge $1,000 for a phone and Google can't? The Galaxy phones are, where they are today, because of Google's Android OS. Despite all the great features the Samsung Galaxy and Note lines offer, everyone knows that their Touchwiz UI can be a problem. That's why the production of the Pixel phones are so important. Not just to compete against Samsung, but to set standards. LOL...this is basic Android stuff, if you are tech person. This is why I am shocked people like Paul and Andrew (Zarian) don't get it. These guys are like swiss army knives, "jack of all trades, master of none." Well, Paul is supposedly a "master of Microsoft" (except, for the business aspect), but Microsoft is fading away into the enterprise night. In the words of (Timothy Dalton) James Bond to General Pushkin in the movie The Living Daylights, I say this to Paul, "You better find yourself a new lover."

    Anyway, I am excited for my new phone, as well as my rumored new headset. LOL.

  28. Stooks

    I think you put WAY too much importance on the camera.

    If I want to take a good-great photo I am not going to use any smartphone to do that. Yes many of my photos are taken with a smartphone. 99% of those are throw away pic's that I take quick, maybe look at once or twice and maybe share with a few people and then they are forgotten. Most are stupid stuff like model/serial number of something so I can use the pic to get that number and type it in someplace. A smartphone is perfect for that.

    A $400 dedicated camera is going to out perform any smartphone on the market today.

  29. cheetahdriver

    I am still carrying 2, and while I will be getting a Pixel2XL to replace my Nexus6p (which has worked admirably well) the main thing that is keeping me from moving completely to Pixel and Google Fi is the availability of a decent watch. The Apple watch is a force multiplier to me, and a similar watch functionality is a requirement to me.