The new phone I went with was…

… a Pixel 5. Not the current flagship Google Android unit, but one generation removed from it.

Here’s how the decision happened, in brief:
– It was an unlocked unit sold at a steep open box discount (everything included but unused; it literally hadn’t even had the cables or anything else unwrapped) on eBay for $500 (all prices Canadian), which was $200+ less than I’d seen other used ones being sold for. It was also $200-300 less than the price of a used iPhone 12 (one step down from their current flagship model) with the same storage space.
– It was three full versions of the Android OS updated from my last phone, and with numerous more updates yet to come. So, planned obsolescence is once again staved off for a while.
– It’s an Android and I’m already in an Android ecosystem. Which is the weakest point, but, particularly with Google’s convenient/somewhat creepy method of copying (and sometimes placing) everything that was on your old phone to your new phone, it did spare me a lot of time that an iPhone would’ve taken me to get to the same familiar, comfortable place with apps I use and where I can find them, and all my pics are intact and connected to their same online storage space. Momentum absolutely counts for something.

I’ve been using it as my only phone for a few weeks now and have some takes on it.

Pros:
– It’s definitely snappier than my previous phone on response time loading apps and swapping browser pages.
– It has a more robust camera than I previously had, with larger photo sizing (nice for those of us who like taking photos).
– It doubles my previous storage space, which gives me a lot of wiggle room to let photos and videos mellow for a while, as well as being able to try out new apps without stressing over needing to make room to accommodate them.

Cons:
– Not all apps transferred over from my previous phone. Which isn’t a huge pain, but if you’re going to transfer the apps to help me out, then transfer the apps to help me out. Having to hunt for and install items that are unexpectedly not there is odd (though again, less than I’d be doing finding it all item by item if I got an iPhone).
– Because it’s such a big OS jump from my last phone, there’s a LOT of stuff different with the interface and gestures to get the results I’m looking for. Which not only takes a while to get used to, but not all of them even make much intuitive sense to me. A quick flick of the thumb up from the bottom of the screen dismisses the current app. A slower thumb drag up from the same place will bring up a thumbnail of recent apps including the current one, which can then be flicked away to close them one at a time. So what it does is based not on what gesture I do or where I do it, but is entirely on the speed I do it with? Hmm.
– I can’t change the Google internet search bar on the home screen to any other browser. I use Firefox for a browser on phones and both of my home computers, but here I can’t have a Firefox search bar (as I could with my previous phone, the Samsung Galaxy S8). Installing an app gave me that freedom, but that shouldn’t be needed. An upgraded OS that’s more limited in such options seems odd.
– Other OS updates are also not improvements. I’ll expand a bit on this later, but I’m not sure why, for instance, using the volume buttons from my home page raises or lowers the volume of the media instead of the phone ringer. That’s not a misunderstanding on my part; I verified that’s how it is made to operate. There are workarounds to resolve that issue so that using the volume keys from the main screen affect the phone ringer first and foremost, again via adding more apps. But that shouldn’t be required to make a high-end phone operate the way the user community thinks it should (there have been a lot of inquiries about why the volume keys work this way).
– Related to the previous point, the ringer and notification volumes are paired in one volume slot, which I haven’t seen happen in at least a couple of previous phones. That means you can’t have your notifications louder than your phone ringer or vice-versa, which I’d gotten quite used to being able to do on the S8 and still seems a good idea in case your ringer and notification tone are different intensities. That seems a really simple fix for the UI designers to have made–one volume slider for each aspect you want to change–but nope…

If you noticed there are way more cons than pros, you aren’t alone. I’m… well… not thrilled with it. I can’t say I’ve got full-on buyer’s remorse, but it’s frankly about as close as I’ve ever had with any new smartphone before, and I believe it’s due to the steep learning curve for using the new OS, combined with the odd UI choices Google made for it.

Two days ago I got a call that I couldn’t answer but I asked my wife to get for me. And while she’s at least competent in making the basics of her her iPhone work (I’m not speaking out of turn, she’d likely call that summary generous) she simply couldn’t get my phone to answer the call. A couple of swipe attempts turned into the ringing phone screen disappearing completely, and she was then totally lost on how to even get that screen back, let alone answer the call. Before she could figure it out or I was able to talk her through some potential fixes, it had gone to voicemail.

Now here’s my thing: The Pixel 5 is supposed to be not just an improvement on my previous phone, but a few levels of improvement. Remember, it’s three full operating systems newer. Yet not only can an intelligent person who knows how to use a smartphone not figure out how to answer an incoming call on it, but she completely loses the ability to answer it, full stop. That never happened when she answered calls on my S8. And maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think that should happen on any remotely modern phone in the hands of someone who’s had smartphones for years. Smartphones have long-since become mobile computers that happen to be able to operate as phones, but being able to use the phone on them is still a fundamental feature. Let’s not worry about making “improvements” to the OS at the expense of being able to easily and conveniently answer a call, shall we?

This isn’t just an aging person getting cranky about how things used to be better (although in this case, things absolutely used to be better). It’s that there are changes being made seemingly for the sake of making changes rather than actually improving anything. The first smartphone, the iPhone, was a huge innovative leap in cell phone technology. But there hasn’t been an innovative jump anywhere close to that since. There were of course improvements made after that original came to market. And then Androids came out to give people some choice in what kind of smartphone they had. But I think that for years now, “upgrades” generally only mean improvements to the hardware–more resilient components, better camera quality, larger storage capacity, etc.–while the software may be faster and perhaps offer prettier imagery, but otherwise isn’t necessarily improved on so much as just changed in order to be changed.

All of which is to say, it almost feels like if I was going to go through the relative steep learning curve and unexpected discomfort of using this new phone anyway, I maybe (maybe?) should’ve just gone with an iPhone.

It also occurred to me (after buying the Pixel 5 without any option to send it back, of course), that there’s something to be said for just going with the flow. By which I mean, I think probably 90% of my family and friends–and certainly the ones I interact with most often–have iPhones. So rolling with the same kind of phone would make a lot of daily interactions smoother.

– As it is, I can’t FaceTime family and friends who have iPhones.
– One friend often turns off his (paid) data feed while he’s at work to save on costs, but his (free) iMessage still works, the stock–and widely regarded as very secure–iPhone messaging system. So if I text him he won’t get the message until he’s back on his data feed, sometimes hours later. With an iPhone, he’d get that text right away.
– Another iPhone friend kept not getting some of my texts, for months getting into years, until I finally found an Android texting app that a) I liked privacy-oriented-wise, and b) he could receive texts from. That wouldn’t have happened if we’d both just had iPhones. (Related side note: That app I’ve been using doesn’t jibe well with this Android OS, so some features don’t work well or at all. Back to to the hunt for another texting app…)
– Years back, in the Before Times™, a family member visiting from England was going around the restaurant table where the extended family was sitting and was Air Dropping large family video files to all the others with iPhones. Three guesses who didn’t/couldn’t get that file.
– When my wife shoots video on her iPhone and shares it with me, whether by text or email, they tend to be super small and pixelated, I assume in order to make them small enough to share. Yet other iPhones she sends it to (even on the far side of the continent) see and get the full-sized/full resolution version of the videos…

The list goes on. And while no one of those things are huge issues, of course, they do add up.

Does Android have advantages over iPhones? It depends entirely on who you ask. I know for sure that all of my Androids have behaved better in cold weather than any iPhones friends have had. The latter will tend to be sluggish or unresponsive, or sometimes just shut down entirely, when our temperature plummets, whereas my Androids have never had any such issues. That’s a genuine plus in a region where we’re below freezing for sometimes months of the year at a stretch. And you pay less for larger storage with Android, and you can get much better camera quality if you’re willing to pay for it, and… yes, there are advantages that some Androids offer over iPhones. But even getting some of those advantages with the Pixel 5, I’m still not sold on its quality or everyday practicality.

The ability to be independent can be important. But so, too, is realizing that certain choices, like doing what everyone else is, doesn’t mean you’re blindly following the masses, but may make the most practical sense for your lifestyle. Android commanding something like 75% of the global smartphone market share doesn’t mean much when almost all of my friends and family are using iPhones. Androids don’t come with the inherent group-use benefits that iPhones do, and I don’t hang with enough Android users to take advantage of them even if they did.

I’ve pulled the trigger and spent no small amount of money getting the newer phone it seemed I wanted, and it’s the first time I think (I think?) I may have made a mistake. I’ll stick with it and make the most of it and learn all the tips and tricks I can to hopefully make it a more enjoyable experience than it has been these last few weeks. But failing a huge change of impressions, next time I’m looking at buying something newer in a few years, I’m pretty sure I know which way I’ll be going.

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