The Google Pixel 2 XL: Great phone, brilliant camera!

I’m continuing to enjoy using my Google Pixel 2 XL phone.  It is quite the beast.  I love almost everything about it – including Android.  Took me a few days to get used to how Android deals with things, but one the adjustment period is over – it comes naturally.  I do still kind of miss having a front fingerprint scanner – I do keep putting my finger over the camera flash from time to time, but I’m sure muscle memory will eventually kick in.

But what I really love about this phone is the camera.  It truly is best in class despite only having a single lens.  Google’s computational photography outdoes Apple considerably.  The Google Photos service is also a remarkable thing – far better in many ways than iCloud Photo Library – though I do wish Google would maintain up-to-date support for the latest camera RAW formats as my Sony RX100 mark V isn’t supported and I can’t upload my RAW images.  Otherwise, Google Photos for me has been the best experience in managing and organising photos since the Apple Photos app.  I can download the whole lot via Google Takeaway – though I’d also appreciate some form of API so that I can plug in another cloud service (thinking Backblaze B2) to back up all photos on the fly.  One cannot escape the cloud these days!

Taken at Surbiton Station with a Google Pixel 2 XL.
Pizza time at work. Taken with Google Pixel 2 XL. Note that at 100% crop, you can read the Samsung logo on the TV clearly. With Apple, this would be like am expressionist painting.

The photos are good enough, IMHO, to leave the proper camera at home.  I’m very happy with the quality that Google brings to the table.  When the Pixel 3 XL comes out, I’m sure it’ll be even better.

Interestingly enough, I’ve been going through my photos that are now stored in Google Photos and it’s interesting to note that after the iPhone 6S, the (mainly Samsung) Android phones that I have had produced much better imagery than the iPhone 7, iPhone 7S and even the iPhone X!  At least to my eye.  There’s something that Apple did from the iPhone 6S onwards that seems to have resulted in “painting like” imagery when cropped at 100%.

Getting back to the phone itself, customising ringtones is dead simple to do on this phone – unlike iOS where you have to jump through a number of loops beforehand.  I also really like notifications – though a bit in-your-face at first, they are highly customisable and I like that one can easily copy codes from SMSes or reply/acknowledge direct from the notification centre.

Google really make use of the bigger screen resolution to fit more icons on, and this also means that apps such as Authy allow me to cram as many 2FA sites on there than I could with the iPhone X.

Apple Music on Android is a bit of a pain, however.  It can often just open, sitting there with a blank screen until I click the pull-down menu and fuss about with it.  Then there is the issue that it doesn’t seem to recognise purchased content which IS still available in the UK iTune store and is also downloaded to the phone:

Apple Music – 3 years later, and being a pain in the arse on a different platform.,

Apple still has much to learn about co-operating with other platforms.

I regret nothing switching to the Pixel 2 XL.  Bring on the Pixel 3 XL later this year.  Unless Apple really pull something out their sleeve…

Escaping Apple’s Luxury Prison part 443,211: Google Pixel 2 XL and Fitbit Versa

So, this happened:

Great Googly moogly..

The biggest problem with Apple’s ecosystem (aka the luxury prison) is that it doesn’t tend to work well with others.  I’ve been scratching my head over how to integrate iCloud Photo Library with Windows properly, but it is slow and a pain in the arse to use under Windows.  I don’t want to use iTunes to connect my phone to the computer – a straightforward USB to use-as-a-disk is fine.  The iPhone X did not let me do that.

The Google Pixel 2 XL has been receiving many rave reviews over the past few months.  It’s stock Android which means that there is no bloat from the phone manufacturer or telecoms company, and it receives the very latest security updates ASAP as well as the latest feature updates too.  And you know where you stand with their update policy – this phone is supported up until late 2020.  Apple seems to keep moving things forwards and backwards and forwards with their support lifecycle for various products.

Now, I picked up my Google Pixel 2 XL at a bargain price.  Carphone Warehouse had knocked off a good £170 off the RRP, so I decided to go with them.  I also bought a Google Home Mini to replace the Apple Homepod.  I’ve got to say, Google has absolutely nailed it with the home assistant.  Not only is she responsive, but the response is natural and quick.  For example, when I ask how best to get to Woking, she tells me the correct bus number to take, when the next bus is, and the nearest stop.  And as it integrates with various smart related technologies around the home, it Just Works(TM).  I always found the Apple HomeKit system to be far too overly complex to operate.  The UI is a mess, and Siri has to think about things before responding.

The Pixel 2 XL itself is great.  The images it takes are the sharpest of any smartphone I’ve ever used, and even some compact cameras.

Everything’s peachy with the Google Pixel 2 XL camera
Dog keeping me company while I eat a ham sandwich.

The device is larger than the iPhone X, and also offers a greater number of app icons to be shown on screen at once.  All apps I’ve had on the iPhone are available under Android.  It took about 2 hours to transfer everything and set-up the phone as new (never trusted these transfer processes).  Instead of Apple Pay, there is now Google Pay.   Again, same support from the banks and credit card companies.

Gone is Face ID and replaced with a fingerprint scanner again.  This time around the back.  Its placement feels natural enough and makes looking at the phone at 3am in the morning much easier than trying to get Face ID to recognise you with your face against the pillow.

Another change Apple made without telling anybody is Wi-Fi calling.  Thanks to the hoo-hah over batterygate and Apple slowing down older phones whose battery is wearing out, they made a change to Wi-Fi Calling which meant that Wi-Fi Calling on iPhones will use cellular if it’s strong enough and fallback to Wi-Fi Calling if not.  There is no way of overriding this.  On the Google Pixel 2 XL, this works full time if you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network regardless of cellular signal strength and you enable Wi-Fi Calling.

The G-Team

But what about the Apple Watch?  I’ve replaced it with a Fitbit Versa.  This looks to be a device formed from the assimilation of the Pebble watch team.  It’s a lightweight watch that incorporates the usual fitness tracking.  But it works with both Android and iOS, and unlike the Apple Watch has a battery life of up to 4 days between charges.  So far it’s been great – though the Fitbit app is rather confusing.  The GPS connection warning started up immediately even though I wasn’t exercising, and I couldn’t figure it out, though it seems that it has something to do with the Always Connected versus All-Day Sync option.

The Fitbit Versa’s wrist straps are relatively straight forward to change.  I had to swap out the smaller strap for the included larger one, but to do this requires fiddling about with pins in the straps.  I managed to cause my fingernails to bleed when applying pressure to the pin heads.

My one concern is that of how tough the front glass is – there are many reports of the face getting scratched easily, though so far I haven’t managed to ding mine and I’m quite rough with it.

Guardians of the Galaxy S8+ Vol. 2

Unfortunately, while I have genuinely liked the Galaxy S8+, I’m swapping it back for the iPhone 7 Plus.  The biggest issue I’ve found with the S8+ was the lack of Android Pay support in some apps which somehow worked with the OnePlus 3T (Starbucks, IIRC) and the Arriva Bus Ticket app keeps crashing with alarming regularity – and at the most inconvenient times.  Never happened with the OnePlus 3T.  Plus the size of the phone means that many apps can’t take full advantage of the screen size.  Yes, in time, this will change – especially as the LG 6 shares the same aspect ratio.  We’re going to see a lot more phones adapt this kind of size/ratio in the future.

So why not just stick with the OnePlus 3T?  Well, I think it’s a very fine phone, but the battery life just isn’t great.  It ran out of juice on one of my trips out of Edinburgh and I rely fairly heavily on the likes of Google Maps to get me around. It’s good enough for a backup phone, but I can’t say it’d be very good for a daily driver.  Especially if one is doing on-call.  And that reminds me – the Galaxy S8+ speaker isn’t that great – and I found myself missing on-call alerts.

So Apple it is.  I can’t say I shall be trying this again – two years in a trot with Android and Every. Single. Time. I come back to IOS.  That either says something about the strength Apple’s ecosystem, or how well iOS has been designed.  I don’t know.  Much of it is down to marketing, and to be fair to Samsung, they pulled off a very good campaign.  But has not been helped by the lack of the Gear 360 or the VR headset at the time of the S8’s launch either.

By heading back to iOS, I regain the ability to use iMessage again.  Many friends and family have this – and it’s particularly useful for those abroad.  Getting everybody on WhatsApp has been difficult.  I have other contacts on Skype.  So it’s all a bit fragmented.  Also Wi-Fi Calling.  The S8+ is not compatible with Three’s Wi-Fi Calling service at this time, so there’s that too.

There is a part of me that desperately wants to love and use Android full time, but there are too many inconsistencies.  Both in rolling out security updates (the Galaxy S8+ is still on April security updates), features (S8+ on version 7, the OnePlus 3T is on 7.1.1), and app performance.  iOS fixes many of these issues, and thus after the great swaparoos of 2016 and 2017, I declare iOS as the recommended mobile platform.

Now, I had a bet with somebody about all this, and I owe them a crate of Budweiser beer…

Samsung Galaxy S8+ Mini Review

This post appeared yesterday, but due to some weird underlying problem with the host server, it forced me to move everything to a new host.

I’ve had my shiny new Samsung Galaxy S8+ for nearly a week, and I must say that it meets my expectations.  It combines everything that I loved about the ill-fated Note 7 with the Galaxy S7 Edge, and this makes for a very, very nice pocketable computer (which just so happens to make and receive phone calls too).

The 6.2″ screen (phew – nearly a typo, nearly suggested it was 6ft 2inches -imagine carrying THAT around) is, as everybody says, lovely.  As it inherits the Note 7’s more subtle edges, the phone is very comfortable in my hand.  It’s long and slim versus the iPhone 7 Plus’ wide body (which offers less viewing space).

The rear fingerprint sensor situated right next to the camera isn’t a problem for me.  I have been described as having “E.T. fingers”, so my hands are suitably adapted to using a long phone.  My index finger hits that fingerprint sensor every single time – so far I have not yet hit the camera lens – the proof is in the lack of fingerprints on the lens.  When I have the phone in my left hand, I can still manage it, albeit with a bit more difficulty.

Iris scanning is another matter.  I wear glasses, so this was bound to be a disaster – but initially, the system registered my peepers without any difficulty in good light, wearing my glasses.  Unlocking the phone worked just fine using irises for a couple of times – after which it’s become a hit and miss.  Definitely better than the Note 7, but still no cigar.  Yet.  I’ve a feeling Samsung will eventually crack it.

The software side is good – no complaints.  Currently running Android 7.0 with April security updates.  Hopefully, Samsung will roll out May updates soon.  The UI looks and feels like the Note 7 – with a few enhancements.  I like the touch-hold to see options for apps on the Home screen – feels like right-clicking on the desktop – it provides – for me at least – better options than iOS.

Android Pay works – as it should.  Apparently, we’re due to get Samsung Pay this month, and I shall look to see if it’s worth moving over to it from Android Pay. It’d be nice if only to be able to pay with my Samsung Gear S3 Frontier.

I’ve not had much of a chance to test the camera yet, but limited testing seems to suggest a very capable shooter – as good as what I experienced with the Note 7.

I’m particularly fond of the Always On display.  I have that set-up to display the current “home” time and that of Seattle (long story).  Notifications appear as icons as they come in – and certain notifications will trigger the LED notification light – something I would have really liked on the iPhone.

Battery life is decent enough.  Hands down the winner is the iPhone 7 Plus, but the Galaxy S8+ doesn’t do a bad job.  I kept my two Samsung wireless Fast Charge chargers and let me tell you – once you’ve tried wireless charging, you will never go back (okay, I went back to the iPhone for a while after the Note 7 fiasco – but boy, have I missed wireless charging).  Battery life lasts approximately a day and a bit – maybe longer if you don’t tinker much with the phone.

Speaking of battery/display – I kept the default setting at medium resolution – I don’t see any difference in the quality of the display at that setting, and the battery level does drain a little tiny bit faster if you choose to use the higher resolution.

I have a 200Gb Sandisk microSD card installed to complement the onboard UFS 2.1 64Gb storage.  No problems with it so far.  I did think it was a right bugger to get the nano SIM and microSD card to share the same tray (big fingers, remember?), but otherwise, all is good.

I use Apple Music (thanks, Apple – I appreciate having to have a choice) and downloading music to the SD card and playing music back is as one would expect.

Overall I really like what Samsung have done with this phone.  I keep it in a Spigen case.  I have tried the Clear View Samsung case (particularly notable for its ability to act as a stand, and provide a separate partition for the fingerprint sensor so that it’s easier to locate), but – ironically – I found that the cover gets in the way of the fingerprint sensor and camera, and I’m reasonably sure that the Gorilla Glass 5 will do a capable job of keeping scratches at bay when the phone is in my trouser pocket.

After 4 days, the Pixel XL is going back..

.. because of the lens flare problem.

I know I said it wouldn’t bother me, but having experienced it a few times after that post, I just can’t justify locking myself into a two year contract when the hardware isn’t up to scratch.  It is a hardware issue.  I know Google has said it would fix the problem with a software patch that will detect and remove the lens flare through the use of complex algorithms, but having experienced it first hand, I just don’t think this is the right way to do it.  Short of a full recall with redesigned camera assembly, software isn’t going to cut it.   There have also been a few Bluetooth issues that have cropped up as well.

So I’ve arranged with the carrier to return the unit to them next week and downgrade back to the SIM only plan.  I’ll just stick with the iPhone 7 Plus.  Having now had what appears to be two flagship Android handsets returned in four months – both of which were designed in a bit of a rush[1], at least I know what I have with the iPhone.


[1] Apparently the Pixel/Pixel took just 9 months of development time.  Samsung rushed the Note 7 to try and beat Apple, and look how that ended up.