How Google Should Improve the Pixel 2

Posted on January 30, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android with 47 Comments

How Google Should Improve the Pixel 2

Google’s Pixel lineup is to that company what Surface is to Microsoft. And Google has a lot of work to do to make its next Pixel handsets a more viable alternative to iPhone.

And yes, I’m aware that my opinion here is somewhat controversial. It seems that the entire Android fan base has decided that Google really nailed it with the first Pixel and Pixel XL. But I am comfortable with my position, which is outlined in my review of the Pixel XL. I have tons of experience with this device, and with virtually every iPhone ever made.

And the Pixel is lacking. Here are a few ideas for fixing it.

Offer bigger displays. One of the strangest things about the Pixel XL, in particular, is how small the 5.5-inch display appears next to other phablets, like the iPhone 7 Plus. My recommendation is to bump it up a notch, to 5.7 inches, matching the screen size of the Nexus 6P. Big screens are a premium feature, and a big area of smartphone growth in an otherwise flattening market.

Improve the camera. The Pixel/Pixel XL camera is superior to that in the iPhone 7 Plus is most respects, but there is still room for improvement. Key among these improvements are optical image stabilization—a very curious omission—and optical zoom capabilities of at least 2X-4X. I also recommend allowing for more aggressive HDR+ settings to match how the Nexus 6P worked.

Stereo speakers. Speaking of curious omissions, the Pixel and Pixel XL shipped in 2016 with a single mono speaker when the previous Nexus 6P had stereo speakers (as does the iPhone 7 Plus). Bring back stereo sound, Google.

Wireless charging. The Pixel does support fast charging, but not wireless charging. Surely it’s time for Google to put its backing behind a wireless charging standard and make this a default feature.

Waterproofing. Ever dunk your phone in a toilet? No? Then you’re lucky. But you shouldn’t have to be lucky, as waterproofing is a feature on most other flagship phones already.

Stop forking Android. Fragmentation is arguably Android’s biggest problem, but Google has made this situation even worse by putting a special Android version on Pixel that has unique Pixel-only features. This is a mistake. Like Surface, Pixel should be aspirational, and that means that everything it offers should be available on other Android devices too. And that includes the Android OS itself.

Improve Google Assistant. To make this personal assistant technology more useful and even necessary, it will need to improve a lot. To be fair, Google is doing that by allowing third parties to improve its intelligence with more skills. This can’t happen quickly enough.

Stop copying the iPhone. The Pixel and Pixel XL are among the blandest smartphones ever launched, and that they so closely ape the style of Apple’s iPhone should be an embarrassment to this company. I don’t have any thoughts on how Google should design its phone, but surely there are other ideas out there. Even Samsung, a perennial and pathological copier, has innovated with curved screens and other unique ideas.

Adjust the pricing. Google simply doesn’t have the pedigree to charge iPhone prices, and yet it does so with Pixel. Since I don’t see the firm stepping back from this particular cliff, I advise at least offering a mid-tier model as well so that non-one-percenters can afford a Pixel too. OK, a price cut would be even better.

To be clear, Google did get some aspects of the original Pixel handsets right. The rear-mounted fingerprint reader works quickly and accurately, and is easy to use. The Pixel displays are bright, contrasty and clear. The battery life seems excellent, and performance has been mostly good over time with little of the normal Android rot. It’s a good phone. It’s just not the best phone.

Maybe the next one will be.

 

Tagged with , ,

Join the discussion!

BECOME A THURROTT MEMBER:

Don't have a login but want to join the conversation? Become a Thurrott Premium or Basic User to participate

Register
Comments (48)

48 responses to “How Google Should Improve the Pixel 2”

  1. 7556

    Curious to understand why you think they should adjust their pricing? 
    If that is Google's Surface-like lineup, it would make sense offering 'premium' hardware at a high cost.

    I'd love a price cut, I am very tempted to get a pixel but it would cost me around 12K where I come from, but would just want to hear your point.

    • 5510

      In reply to Youssef:

      LOL...Excellent point. That is a very good point. The Surface Pro 1 with minimal specs and tremendously bad battery was (at least) $900.  That "ultraportable" (Paul's words), didn't have the pedigree of the "Macbook Air," yet he didn't complain about it's over-pricing. 

      OMG....does Paul even think about what he writes before he does so?

    • 10372

      In reply to Youssef:

      Selling at premium prices means they need to provide premium services to go along with their devices. Google has no right charging premium prices and offering next to nothing when it comes to in-person service. The have next to no physical presence, unlike Apple and Samsung, or even Microsoft.

      That's why online stores are cheaper than showrooms. Online retailers don't bother with the huge overhead of directly dealing with customers.

  2. 10152

    For those customers that are fully ensconced in Google's services & ecosystem, the Pixel is still the top choice by far. From Fi, to updates, support and Google's vision of the dominant Android Platform, nothing even comes close. Also as an aspirational platform, the Pixel carries google exclusives that initially differentiate the platform (as a reference), slowly making it in competing devices from 3rd parties.

  3. 10014

    Feature request:  Enable the user to unsubscribe from ALL "marketing" metadata captured by Google or Alphabet.

    • 5577

      In reply to Biff_Henderson:

      You think their search, their calendar, news, Google Now should be free? Or were you wanting to pay for a subscription?

      • 5592

        It's a Google device running a Google branded OS and Google apps at a premium price. You think Google isn't making money on the Pixel without selling the owner's data to advertisers?

        Seriously?

        • 5812

          In reply to MikeGalos:

          Google sells your data. Does it? 

          http://www.androidcentral.com/ask-ac-does-google-sell-your-data

          "The short version — No. It's more valuable to them if they keep it for themselves."

          Man do I get tired of hearing this BS people say because others have told them this.

  4. 5554

    "Google simply doesn’t have the pedigree to charge iPhone prices" 

    Uh, yeah it does. Both Pixel models constantly sold out.  The market has spoken, Paul. 

  5. 10372

    I really don't understand Paul's hate for Samsung.

    I believe they did the right thing in copying Apple's appearance in their first Galaxy S. I believe so because it was the only way for people to understand that their phones do the same thing at the time (apps, touch, and all). It was the most efficient way to get out the message. All companies in all sorts of industry do that, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Message delivery is hard. If anything, the Pixel IS the most blatant copy of the iPhone, in both hardware AND software.

    But after their first Galaxy S (which, again, was a necessary evil), wouldn't you agree that it's been the other way around when it comes to copying? AMOLED, big screen models, thinner phones (they actually introduced thinness obsession before Apple in smartphones with the Galaxy S2, for better or worse), colorful UI (which everyone copied), toggle buttons in the notification shade, wider aperture camera lenses, water resistance (in a phone that sells at least), the Note series. The list goes on and on.

    Everyone criticizes Apple and Microsoft for lagging behind in features. But why does EVERYONE criticize Samsung for bringing the features of their competitors to their customers without delay???? Shouldn't you be commending them for that?

    I seriously don't get it...

  6. 349

    Wait. The iPhone 7 Plus and the Pixel XL have the same screen size.  How can the Pixel XL's screen look small next to it?

  7. 10155

    I recently finally made the jump to Android from Windows Phone, and I agree the price is the biggest problem that prevented me from picking up a Pixel XL, $1,000+ is just too much for a phone. I instead went with a Motorola Nexus because I wanted "vanilla Android" along with the larger screen and wireless charging, but the camera is pretty bad compared to the 950 XL I had previously.

    Hopefully the pricing will take care of itself if Google follows the Apple model of not really having dedicated budget phones, but just continuing to sell the previous model at a lower price point after Pixel 2 comes out.

  8. 5400

    1. The camera is too fast, it's like a video game, which I'm no good at playing.

    2. Another iPHone copy of the rectangular screen, how about one of the jazzier quadrilaterals like a trapezoid or rhombus.

    3. Seriously, just have a built-in case, no-one can hold these slippery and delicate wafers. Even U.S. quarters have some kind of knurling so you can insert them into vending machines more easily.

  9. 5510

    Huh? Pixel doesn't have the pedigree? The quality of the phone is on par with the iPhone. The Google services and apps ecosystem that consists of the #1 browser, #1 email , #1 maps, etc....comes native with this phone. The phone comes with the fabulous Daydream VR. Of course, there is the camera, which is bests the iPhone in so many categories. 

    Pedigree? PEDIGREE?!  LOL.....Has Paul ever heard of the phone called Vertu? Does that phone have the "pedigree?"  LOL....OMG....!    Paul just wishes, he knew how real business run.

    • 5812

      In reply to Bats:

      And the unlimited photo and video storage. That is great value as well. I'd agree dual speakers are nice and official water resistance rating would be great. Many have been able to submerge the pixel for 30 minutes to an hr without issue so it will be ok in most situations but no it's not as good as Samsung S7 or iPhone 7 in that department. The number 1 thing Google has to do is have the phones available. HTC didn't make enough. Design.. My guess is it will be similar to a note 7 but that is a guess. Small bezels and lots of screen.

  10. 5240

    Screw the Surface model of sky-high pricing. What was wrong with the Nexus model of a great phone at a great price? Samsung and the other Android phone makers seemed to do just fine when Google was selling the Nexus phones.

    Maybe when the Pixel 2 phones come out, Google can keep selling the Pixel 1 phones at mid-level prices.

  11. 4964

    How to improve it, sell it in more markets. Rarer than a Windows Phone here!

  12. 217

    Paul, I think it'll be quite difficult to add everything on your list and drop the price, but maybe if they make a larger number of them next time costs can come down? I sold my Nexus 6 whale and waited for October, only to be disappointed by the high price of the Pixel (as I'm on Straight Talk and buy my phones outright).

    I couldn't be happier with my OnePlus 3

    • 442

      In reply to dcdevito: 

      That argument would bear weight if it did have the said features, but it didn't.  Plus, there are plenty of other phones that DO have some of the features and are still quite a bit cheaper...  Google messed up pricing, but lately they seem to do that on all their hardware.  Almost like Microsoft's pricing schemes.  And, Apple's.

  13. 1753

    Price is the biggest problem for me. I bought the Nexus 5x, because it gets regular updates and it had a reasonable price. I don't need the top-end fluff, I need a solid and reliable phone that is reasonably priced.

    As to camera, that doesn't bother me, I take maybe 10 - 20 pictures a year with my phone, the other 4,000 or so are taken with my DSLR.

    Speaker - it doesn't bother me, whether it has stereo or not, the speakers are too close together to give a good stereo effect. I need a loud, clear speaker. I use the speaker when under the shower, the phone is on the window sill and needs to be heard over the running water, or when I am out with the dog, if nobody is around, I will leave the phone in my pocket and listen to an audio book - if there are people around, I use earphones.

  14. 289

    "Google’s Pixel lineup is to that company what Surface is to Microsoft"

    So let's just put the pricing discussion to rest.  The Pixel line is meant to be premium and aspirational (and profitable).  A mid-tier offering is at odds with that positioning.  And given their big new marketing budgets (>$100MM), carrier deals and increased distribution, such a device would also be a mortal threat to most OEMs not named Samsung.  You might as well ask Google to just build a full range of devices to hit every price point and be done with it.  

    And as far as Google not having the "pedigree", you couldn't have expected them to take three or four years to build a reputation for quality devices while slowly ratcheting up the prices.  When you're that big, with that much money, and your target is the premium market you just go for it.  You're premium because you have top-tier specs, materials and pricing- and because you say so.    

  15. 410

    The "aspirational" tag is significant.  It's no coincidence that the iPhone 7  plus is selling so well despite its ludicrous (in UK) price of £799 for the base model. Apple has spent years & billions of dollars creating an aspirational aura around its rather bland products, Google has a way to go before it gets there....

    Personally I'm going to stick with so-called "midrange" 'phones like the OnePlus 3(T) which at £399 (i.e. roughly 1/2 the price of the iPhone 7+) is fast & furious, nicely made and works sufficiently well.  Pixel XL simply doesn't figure for me, and I suspect many other people.

    The rumours surrounding the Galaxy 8 suggest no great innovation style-wise from Samsung, and maybe the bruited "AI" is really Cortana in drag? 

  16. 10383

    Extend o/s support life to match at least Apple. Google say you won't get a Pixel sw update after October 2018 which is pathetic. Apple still support iPhone 5 released back in 2012 !  Google Support Ref and Apple ref

     

  17. 2787

    While I like my Pixel XL, I would like it to have the improvements outlined. And should they happen, I'm sure there will be another improvements list soon after it is released.  I have two years to pay my current one off with Google (no not Verizon - Google and Project Fi), so I'll be more interested in the Pixel 3 than the Pixel 2 - - - well, if the "2" is really good, I might be able to sell the "1" and get it at a reasonable price, maybe, with the 'Adjust the pricing' improvement.  Of course, there is that current availability thing where, at the current price, they are constantly "Out of Stock" so maybe the pricing is okay.

  18. 2532

    The only winning move is not to play.

  19. 427

    Screen Size... I don't think any current gen phones are 5.7".  Wireless Charging is SLOW charging compared to the fast charging option.   If you could get FAST WIRELESS CHARGING, I'd be all about that.  Finger Print Reader should be on the front, like apple's devices.  It seems to me much easier to press your thumb on the bottom than your index finger on the back.  The Moto Z does this correctly, IMO.  I definitely agree with the pricing, but that is all flagship devices.  They are expensive for two reasons.  Subsidies have gone away, and people don't refuse to buy these over priced devices.   Water proofing sounds like a good idea, and the camera's on any phone can always be better.   I definitely agree with the android sentiment. It would be really nice if all current gen phones used the same version and could update at the same time.

  20. 5234

    "Pixel should be aspirational, and that means that everything it offers should be available on other Android devices too"

    Why should it be aspirational when no manufacturer has ever really wanted to use a vanilla version of Android?

    My LG V20's launcher works about the same as the Google Now Launcher (which is essentially what the Nexus uses), but the Google Now Launcher doesn't support the second screen functionality that is unique to LG hardware (I know - I tried, and yes, the Google Now Launcher is available for download on the Play Store).

    The only thing really missing is a separate app for Google Assistant, but then, Google Voice Search/Now pretty much handles the usual voice command functionality.  I bet Google is looking to see if it's necessary to introduce Assistant as a separate app before they make it available to all Android users.  I have no doubt that this will be a staple feature in an upcoming Android release.

    Stereo speakers on a phone don't really make any sense, since you're always rotating the thing to watch videos.  To get proper stereo sound, you'd have to have no less than 3 speakers, and tie them into the axis sensor to realign the left and right speakers to the proper orientation.  Acer does this on some of their convertible touchscreen laptops, but they only have 2 speakers, not 3, so you never get proper stereo sound when using it in portrait mode.  On a tiny phone, the space needed to put in 3 decent-sounding speakers, the battery requirements, and the axis support, are all frivolous features.

  21. 412

    "Improve the camera" - There is room for improvement. While it often can take stunning pictures, I often get the "halo" or a lot of halo/white distortion when using the flash with HDR+ Auto On. My other phone, a Moto Z Force Droid, takes as good or better pictures but it is painfully slower. 

    "Offer bigger displays" - Do I dare say the 5" had, well, grown on me. It was sent to me by accident (told my rep to get me the XL, 128GB but she skipped the 5", 128GB) and I hem hawed for weeks about it, even went to the Moto Z Force Droid for a good while due to the size. When the Z-Force Droid started giving me Camera issues, I went back to my 5" Pixel and it is now my daily driver and It almost feels perfect. But agree, there do need to be some size options.

    Bluetooth - Bluetooth need a lot of work. While some of the pairing and car/bluetooth issues seem to be resolved, it still isn't perfect. Case in point...I'm listening to Windows Weekly via Car Bluetooth and an email comes in. On my Moto Z Force, I could still hear podcast with the Outlook sound...the Pixel blanks out the podcast for 3-4 seconds and then resumes. 

     

  22. 3767

    The only thing I really miss from the 6P is the front-facing stereo speakers.

  23. 3233

    Well there are lots more things.

    1) Take the fingerprint sensor off the back , ever tried to use the pixel in the car when it locks , I have to pull it out the holder and to use my fingerprint. Oh yes your going to mention the trusted places ... see point 2 

    2) The bluetooth doesn't work properly - why it displays Mac addresses for available devices and refuses to connect to my car stereo when every other phone I have ever owned has worked perfectly escapes me.

    3) Improve audio quality through headphones - the output is quieter than the iPhone 7 and the sound quality is not as good and I am no audio snob.

    4) Fix the cell buzzing - can be clearly heard when making a call in the ear piece and as a background buzz in low signal areas when on a call.

    5) Waterproofing yes , stereo speakers yes 

    6) Put the headphone jack at the bottom of the phone , please.

    7) Remove the useless bezel.

    8) And then there is Android, what a laggy mess compared to an iPhone , and this is from somebody who is begging for a decent Android phone so I can leave the Apple ecosystem, the delay when opening the messaging app, the delay when typing - all very subtle , however when your used to nearly instant, quite noticeable. 

    I am selling my Pixel - and it is a real shame because there is a lot to like. The search for the Android device that will take Apples throne continues :) And before you say I am an Apple fanboy - I used Android since the very early versions so I have a fairly balanced view - this is just what would make it a perfect device for me !

    • 722

      In reply to markiehill:

      Please keep fingerprint sensor where it is.   I've got no problems using it in the car in a holder. 

      Agree on improving the speaker and waterproofing. 

      I like the bezels. Gives something to hold when viewing in landscape mode. 

      I get no buzzing ever on the phone

      I've never experienced any lag. 

      Basically this would be a perfect phone if it had a better speaker and waterproofing. 

      And I hope they don't mess with the screen size. 

    • 5543

      In reply to markiehill:

      2) Sounds like the solution is easy. Buy a new car or a better car stereo. HA!

      It displays correctly in my car (2013) and the phone asked to set it up as a trusted device and while it's in proximity it keeps it unlocked, so the holder would not even be an issue.

      **NOTE** I'm kidding by the way. While the above is true with my Bluetooth experience, my son's S7 Edge does show up just MAC and struggles to connect as did the 5x and 6P I tested for a while. It's not just the XL. The above sarcastic suggestion was due to some of the 'advice' I got when I posed the same issues on forums (not on this site) a while ago.

      Say what you will about Apple/iOS, but it does tend to be more predictable/consistent.

      • 3233

        In reply to slartybartmark: It used to work for my car stereo :) but then in the latest software build it got broken - a factory reset would not fix it. If you look at the pixel forums it is the longest thread on there - I am gutted that I cannot stick with it. iPhones just work , so annoying.

         

  24. 5530

    "Stop forking Android" is by far my number one on this list because of how it impacts the ecosystem. I probably wouldn't buy a Pixel in my country due to inferior warranty but if every phone I can get here is going to run an arbitrarily inferior version of Android then that's a needlessly huge problem that Google has created with their Pixel aspirations.

    • 5577

      In reply to FalseAgent:

      Shouldn't the "stop forking Android" message go primarily to Samsung, not Google?

      The Pixel's Android is not very different than from say the Nexus' Android.

      • 5592

        In reply to Winner:

        Nope. They don't create the OS.

      • 5234

        In reply to Winner:

        There is no "stock" Android, other than AOSP, which has pretty bad bundled apps.  It's used as a basis for OEM's to create their own Android version.

        What you buy on a phone is an OEM-customized version of Android.  If the company is a Google partner, they include "Google Mobile Services" which includes the GMS background service, which updates Google Play apps, as well as the Play Store, Gmail, Google Plus, YouTube, Chrome, and a few other apps from Google.  Google doesn't provide a very good phone dialer, SMS/MMS messaging, or contact management app for Android - they recommend OEM's provide their own.  Users can download Google's Messaging app from the Play Store as an alternate for that functionality, but they can't download the Nexus dialer or Google Contacts.  Sometimes utility programs like the clock and alarm functionality, along with Settings is customized by the OEM to provide support for unique functionality that AOSP-bundled apps don't.

        Bottom line is: AOSP is a major drag to use.  Even though each OEM provides customized versions of Android, you're better off trying the software on a piece of hardware you like before you buy it.  All phones will run modern apps from the Google Play store, but apps for phone hardware functionality should be considered unique for each handset, including those for Pixel or Nexus.  This is how Google approaches the ecosystem.  If you prefer Google's software like the integration of Google Assistant, buy one of their phones.  If you prefer the curved-edge glass, compare the software on the phones that offer that.  If you want a modular phone with a removable battery, there are several options there too, and each one is unique.  But they still all run your favourite third-party Android apps.  They're not really that much different from a Windows PC, in that regard - Microsoft has THEIR idea of what a PC should be like, and that's the Surface.  If you don't like their form factor, other options are available with custom software loadouts to support the manufacturers hardware, and offer unique services.

  25. 442

    Offer bigger displays. - I'm not 100% on that, 5.5" is pretty good.  But 5.7" might be OK if they make the bezel small enough.

    Improve camera - YES!  Optical stabilization would be a must have at this point.

    Stereo speakers - I still don't get this over the Nexus having stereo.  This should have been there.

    Wireless charging - YES! again!  The World is waiting!  Apple and Google both goofed this one up.

    Waterproofing - Meh.  Would be OK, but don't sacrifice ports and other features just for this...

    Stop forking Android - That one is getting a bit old, eh?  Google would probably have to tick off a LOT of 3rd party phone makers to achieve that one though.  The change in Android were really not that different than from something Apple would pull, but Apple at least tries to keep a few older phones up to date with software features.

    Improve Google Assistant - I believe this will come.  Most PAs are very lacking these days.

    Stop copying the iPhone - As far as looks?  Who cares any more.  Really, how different can they look?  And besides, I, like most, put a case on it anyway so I could seriously care less about how it looks.  I prefer it work better first.

    Adjust the pricing - This is another thing I'm taken back on.  There is no way this phone required a $200 price hike over the Nexus line.  No way.  Google goofed on this one more than any.

  26. 64

    > Wireless charging. The Pixel does support fast charging, but not wireless charging. Surely it’s time for Google to put its backing behind a wireless charging standard and make this a default feature.

    The theory is that they can't do this with a metal phone. I guess they could go with plastic for the next modal, but personally, I think the tradeoff is worth it. Or, if they can figure out a way to do wireless charging while still keeping the metal, I'm all for that.

    > Stop copying the iPhone. The Pixel and Pixel XL are among the blandest smartphones ever launched, and that they so closely ape the style of Apple’s iPhone should be an embarrassment to this company. I don’t have any thoughts on how Google should design its phone, but surely there are other ideas out there. Even Samsung, a perennial and pathological copier, has innovated with curved screens and other unique ideas.

    I disagree that it's a bland phone. I really like the subtle wedge shape, and I think the back glass panel is somewhat distinct. I think the only reason to compare it to the iPhone is the radius of the corners. I don't understand the praise for Samsung's phones; to me, they're incredibly bland hunks of plastic. My dad has a Galaxy S7, and there's nothing unique or beautiful about it at all. The curved glass of the S7 Edge is interesting, but really it's comparable to the back glass panel on the Pixel; a minor distinction, but nothing hugely noticeable. 

    Other than those two items, I think you're dead on, but there is one more thing I want to point out. Everyone compares the Pixel phones to the Nexus 5X and 6P, but that's not really a fair comparison. LG and Huawei had most of the control in the case of the two latest Nexus devices, while Pixel is Google's first attempt at designing something themselves.

    It's a bit like comparing Microsoft's Signature Edition computers to the Surface line. Sure, Microsoft had a small hand in the Signature PCs, but Surface is all Microsoft. Just like we had to give them a few tries to really get it right (and we're still dealing with software issues galore...), I think we need to give Google a few tries before being too critical.

  27. 591

    dhallman's short takes --

    "How Google Should Improve the Pixel 2" - step one: release it, then we'll talk ;)

     

  28. 1775

    >Ever dunk your phone in a toilet? No? Then you’re lucky.

    Luck has nothing to do with it.  You just have to be careful.   I've had several phones and not one ever took the plunge.  Why are you even using it there?  Seriously, you can't wait a few minutes before making/taking a call or whatever?  Besides, who wants to hear you doing your business on the other end...of the phone.

Leave a Reply