The past year has seen an influx of new smartphones flooding the market – all Android, and almost all of them touting at least three rear cameras.

The Huawei P30 Pro has perhaps shown the most promise – until the U.S. government came along and started their trade war with China – as well as the whole Huawei trustworthiness affair. This resulted in Google allegedly cutting Huawei’s access to Android updates at one point. Even with the recent thawing, it’s enough to have put me off considering Huawei smartphones.

I’ve used Google’s Pixel XL and Pixel 2 XL for a while, but even with a frequently updated OS, there have been substantial problems with the phone that have put me off going back to Android at all. I’ve read all the problems with the Pixel 3/3 XL and have been counting my chickens that I didn’t switch.

I am an iOS man, and I’m not likely to ever switch. Here are some statistics as to why that is the case:

  • 1,642 albums (15,648 songs) totalling 108.95Gb, or 37.5 days worth of music stored in Apple Music
  • 361 purchased iTunes films totalling 1.4Tb in total (if I were to download them all in HD), or 30 days worth of viewing back to back in one sitting
  • 38 purchased iTunes TV programmes totalling 947Gb in total (if I were to download them all in HD), or 24 days worth of viewing back to back in one sitting
  • 10,108 photos, 453 videos totalling around 97Gb (APFS) which are stored both on the Mac, iPad Pro and iPhone XS Max as well as the iCloud Photo Library

Switching between Apple Music and something like Spotify is possible with third party programs, but it’s a substantial pain-in-the-arse process and the music catalogues vary between the services which mean that I’d lose quite a few albums/tracks along the way. I know I’d definitely lose all the Studio Ghibli soundtracks if I were to switch to Spotify.

Moving my movies and TV shows to another service is near impossible unless I break the digital rights management of each title. This is illegal in the UK (even for the purposes of backup). The state of the streaming and physical disc union is a massive pile of poop at this point, but iTunes has almost always been the best experience. And the Apple TV 4K has been the best streamer. Newer TVs from the likes of Samsung and Sony are getting the Apple TV app, so content from iTunes is becoming more widely available across other devices. It’s still not ideal, but it’s something that consumers are having to live with if they want to rewatch their favourite films or TV shows.

I’ve also struggled with Android to try and replicate the sheer ease of use and simplicity of Apple’s Photos app. Google Photos has come very close, but it is substantially behind in some RAW camera formats (particularly earlier Sony RX100 models) and limitations in MP4 sizes has meant that I cannot upload my whole library to Google’s servers. I do use Google Photos to upload what I can, however, and my Google Nest Home Hub shows a series of photos from my travels – a bit like a digital photo frame – when I’m in the kitchen.

Then there is iOS itself. We get a major free version every year, and it’s generally very well supported for around 3-4 (and even in some cases 5) years during the lifetime of a device. And it’s regularly updated by Apple to fix major security flaws whenever they occur. When looking at my work’s policies for BOYD phones, we have had to pretty much rule out most Android phones because of the delay in which the device manufacturer roles out security updates. It’s really only Google’s Pixel phones that pass the grade and that kind of rules out the whole purpose of Android IMHO.

Finally, I have an Apple Watch (series 4) which still requires pairing with an iPhone for many functions. However, with the next release of WatchOS, the watch is going to start to gain a bit more independence from the phone. But it will still take a few more iterations before the Apple Watch is a truly standalone product.

So, this leads me to the iPhone 11. We should find out soon when Apple intends to announce this year’s new line-up. It’s not long to go – they usually announce them sometime in September. Rumours suggest that the current XS and XS Max line-up will be renamed “Pro”.

Rumours also suggest that there will be fairly modest upgrades this year, with the bulk of the good stuff coming in 2020. We’re unlikely to see 5G modems this year, and we’re likely to follow the trend of other smartphone manufacturers by having a third camera on the back of the phone – probably an ultra-wide lens.

My plan with EE should allow me to upgrade sometime at the end of September. Whether I will or not really depends on what Apple’s offering with the iPhone 11. I’d REALLY like to see is USB-C connectivity like the iPad Pro. Given the Macs, I work with all have USB-C ports, and I have multiple USB-C chargers, cutting down on Lightning connectors would be a real bonus. There are some sketchy rumours abound that the Pro range of iPhones will feature Apple Pencil support. Useful, but not essential to me (but I can imagine a trillion uses in my line of work).

As for cameras, I’ve been really happy with the iPhone XS Max. It is by far the best camera that Apple has rolled out in a phone. Some recent images that I took:

And I still have a significant amount of storage left for more films, TV shows, music and photos:

So I’d be perfectly happy to continue using the iPhone XS Max for another year if necessary. If I did upgrade, I’d still be on an upgrade anytime plan, but I’d effectively renew my contract for another 2 years – whereas next year I’d be free to leave EE if necessary. But so far I’ve had no reason whatsoever to do so – they’ve been brilliant.

I recently swapped all my Amazon Alexa devices for Google’s equivalent. I signed up for a family Spotify Premium account for one month just to get a Google Home Mini (RRP £49.99, I got it for £14.99 along with a month’s Spotify Premium).

It’s small, cute and stupid as hell – but I like it!

But I was keen on replacing Amazon’s Echo Show which was about as much good as a donkey parade on the moon. It couldn’t play YouTube videos (in fact it was practically restricted to its own Prime Video service), and I had to remember to ask Alexa to ask Hive if I wanted to perform any Hive related functions. You should NOT have to remember syntax with these devices at all. As I had it in my kitchen, I tried to use it to help me with cooking and recipes. That was a disaster. So Echo Show went away.

With the Nest Home Hub, it’s much smaller than the Echo Show. It’s extremely small and cute, in fact. With the just the power cable trailing at the back, the Home Hub is barely there. But you’ll soon notice it – especially as it can work with Google Photos to display a photo album when the Home Hub isn’t doing anything.

Getting my photos from Apple’s Photo service into Google Photos was a bit of a pain, but with the Backup & Sync app for MacOS, I disabled RAW files and other things and just let it do its stuff. And it seems to work well enough. So every time I take a photo with my iPhone XS, it’ll be uploaded to iCloud Photo Library and then downloaded to my Mac when I next use it. Google will then detect the change and upload any new photos or videos to Google Photos.

Controlling smart devices with the Home Hub is a much more pleasant experience than Alexa. I can just ask it to turn the living room lights on or off and it’ll do it. Or ask it to set a temperature and it’ll instruct my Hive thermostat to turn the heating on or off as appropriate. The only problem I stumbled across is that I had the smart plug for the Hive controller in my living room. If I instructed Home Hub to turn off Living Room, it’ll turn EVERYTHING off in the living room – including the plug – and there goes the Hive system. So I moved the smart plug out of the Living Room category and it sits by itself where I can’t accidentally turn it off.

As for other things, watching YouTube is fine. All4 is supported, so I can watch Channel 4 TV shows too. And Channel 5. It’s like having a very small TV in the kitchen. If I were to get to the Nest Hub Max, it’d make for a much better kitchen TV with its 10 inch screen, but for the moment this is fine.

Radio is fine too – just ask Home Hub to play X channel and it’ll do so. The biggest problem I have with the Home Hub is G Suite integration. I’m using the beta integration right now, but like its consumer cousin, the Home Hub is not able to inform you of all-day events.

As for other things, it either works or it doesn’t. I’ve found that the Google Assistant is not intelligent enough to figure out many things and you do need to be very specific in the commands you give it. In that sense, it is at the same level as Alexa’s comprehension. Google Assistant also misunderstands me from time to time and there have been some quite hilarious “conversations” as a result. A simple “hello” translated into “Get You” for some reason.

I’ll give you an example of trying to find information. My dad recently told me the origin of the phrase “time immemorial”. Now, we know this to be something so long past that people have forgotten. But the origin of that phrase comes from 1275 by the first Statute of Westminster, the time of memory was limited to the reign of King Richard I, beginning 6 July 1189, the date of the king’s accession.  Since that date, proof of unbroken possession or use of any right made it unnecessary to establish the original grant under certain circumstances. Wikipedia can tell me that, but Google Assistant can’t.

I think Digital Assistants have got a loooooooooong way to go before they can be considered truly useful. But I have faith in Google. Their Duplex technology looks intriguing (even if restaurants aren’t taking Google identified calls) and they’re going to be making the Google Assistant small enough to work from a mobile phone, so data is never transmitted back to Google. I only hope that the same is going to be said with these devices too – privacy is everybody’s right and processing on the device would go some way to prove Google is being consumer conscious.

On the other hand, I can see how great a device like the Nest Home Hub would be in the office. Assuming limitations are removed by the type of calendar entries it can process, the Nest Home Hub would make a very good personal desk assistant. The Nest Hub Max will feature a very cool video conference system through Google Duo – but I hope Google will also consider supporting Google Meet (for G Suite) as well.

If like me, you’re using Google’s business level G Suite for personal use, you need to be aware that if you want to add any of the Google Voice options to your “organisation” – you can’t.

Tax status within Google’s G Suite billing system

Specifically, Google won’t let you because unless you have established yourself as a Business for tax purposes within G Suite billing system, the system will just throw an error. So if your account type is set to Individual and UK tax info is set to Personal, no G Suite Voice for you.

Apparently, the reason this is all happening is an internal thing to Google. It could possibly change, but I doubt that’ll happen for a long while. I’d rather hoped to make use of this so I could set-up a UK number for work – to avoid having to give out my personal mobile number to vendors.

Google’s really needs to work towards a better solution that would allow their business product, G Suite, to function with consumer products such as the Google Home Hub and Google Home Mini as they are, by and large, incompatible.

I understand why – businesses are not going to want potential confidential data being leaked out to consumer devices (which Google definitely see these devices as being). Yet as the admin for my G Suite domain, surely I should make that decision? Surely Google should be thinking about the option to allow calendar data from G Suite accounts to be allowed with the Google Home Hub and

We use Joan at work. And it’s useful for letting people know who is using a meeting room. And they’ve just added functionality to customise a button on the screen which would allow anybody to connect to a guest Wi-Fi network. If we tried something similar with Google, well, there isn’t anything that Google offers that could do similar.

Joan caught napping on the job

I wasn’t very keen with Amazon’s Echo Show, so I sold it. It doesn’t integrate well into the stuff I use, and when it does, getting it to do anything useful requires having to remember syntax. Google’s home assistants are – when I’ve tried them – much better. But G Suite is hindering my use of them – and thus I can’t buy any of their products until they work on a system that allows G Suite (or a organisation unit of it) to be able to share data with these devices.

I love G Suite. I really do. I’ve been using it since 2006 when it first came out in beta. I’ve been a Top Contributor on their forums for a while, and ended up as a paying customer for well over 12 years. It gives me business grade email using only a web client. It does away with many of the problems email clients and email servers suffer from, and the overall experience is just delightful. And the number of features it offers (and supports) is fantastic. We have G Suite at work too, and the experience of using it in a proper business environment has been nothing short of miraculous versus the old clunky IMAP email clients that I used to use in all my previous places of employment.

But I really do want to use G Suite with Google’s consumer range of products. I’d even be willing to try moving back to the Pixel range of phones again (though I’ll have to wait until September next year as I have an Apple Watch which cannot be used without an iPhone).

Come on, Google, let’s find a solution to this!