Tag Archives: cell phone

Pixel 4 One-Month Look

The fourth Pixel that I own is a limited-edition Orange 4 with 128GB storage. I already managed to lightly scratch the display (probably because I put it and a lanyard in the same pocket without thinking). Other than that, it’s pretty nice. I’ve even gotten used to this Spigen case, which is the clear TPU one that is a little thicker than the one I rocked with the 3 (which was black).

I think the 4 remarkably similar to Pixel 3, with even better build quality. After using Pixels 1, 2, 3 and 4 each year, you can begin to tell the improvements. Pixel 2 was definitely kind of the odd child out versus the 1, which remains a solid phone if you can get it cheap (although the 3a probably is the better bet now). Pixel 2 was great more because of its crazy software. Pixel 3 was great because it is more like what Pixel 2 should have been–kind of like the 2 XL was for the 1. So Pixel 4 definitely feels more like a “S cycle” upgrade for the 3.

The 4 is great build-wise. Like this is close to Sammy quality. The display is Sammy quality in fact, and it’s got the 90Hz screen that almost got me to buy a OnePlus 7T. Actually without this I would not have bought the 4, at least as I tell myself. It does justify the price a bit.

The new speakers on the 4 sounds better than the 3, which sounds worse than the 2. The polish on 4 is better than the 3, which, in a way, is what makes 2 XL good. No screen gacha meant it is a phone people can recommend, other than the ludicrous price of $799 (or $899 in my case).

So in a lot of ways the 4 is really what things should have been a year ago. The more I think about stuff to write, the more I feel this is true.

I sold my Black 3 128GB for about $350, which reflects the deep discount I got from the Fi deal that were prevalent when the 3 came out. No such a thing came with 4 unless you sign up with Verizon or another contract-laden tier-1. I’m vaguely tempted actually. Sometimes I think the limited color actually would help the aftermarket price.

In the end, I think it’s still worth it, because the hardware is nice. It’s just not a huge jump. Losing full-size backup of Google Photo is a hit but not too bad of a hit. I would think during BF you can probably do enough of a deal to justify, should you fancy that.

As for the new features? 90Hz is as advertised, it is also not worth that much. You can tell, it is nicer, but it is also not a huge deal. Same with the astrophotography mode–you can make some great pics with it, but not really relevant for most people. The new swipe gesture takes getting used to, because more the lack of easy home screen access. The added memory makes the 4 actually practical versus the 3. Again, build quality type improvements in this phone makes the 4 actually a lot more desirable. Face unlock is overall better than fingerprint, but what Google really should have done is combine radar detect with accel method in the iPhone. As is, there are some edge cases where fingerprint is still better. If you use a pwd manager that supports face unlock (like lastpass) you can seamlessly access your app with face unlock.

It’s just that if you are not already doing the Pixel life the past years, there isn’t much candy on that stick to get you forward.

Pixel 3 128GB First Impressions

I’ve had the phone for 4 days, cheeky me.

The original plan was to not upgrade this year. My Pixel 2 had a failure in the camera in September (2 days before I left for Taipei and Hokkaido for family vacation). Google sent a replacement while I was away, and basically when the Pixel 3 was announced I had a 3-week old refurb Pixel 2 128GB Black. The phone has a 2-year warranty and that means I will be set even for the next Pixel.

From the keynote and marketing material, it was clear that the Pixel 3 was an incremental improvement over the 2. What’s more, all the cool software features, most of them were slated to be released on the 1 and 2 anyway. I didn’t have much of a reason to upgrade.

Then the sales hit. BOGO on Fi and Verizon? I decided to go in with my sister on Fi and reap that $800 credit. She was going to jump from a Nexus 6P, so it’s a huge jump. We ordered the day it was announced. Reselling the refurb plus the credits would basically pay for 90% of a new Pixel 3.

The downside was switching to Fi. I’m not entirely sure if I have signal inside the river crossing tunnel. I have not personally checked, it is spotty as is on Verizon, and half the time I was still clinging to the work VZW hotspot. At times it feels like I have signal in there, though… The other issue was losing my Google Voice capability. It’s forwarding to my work phone (which is VOIP software anyway). I used that number for work and I definitely can’t lose it, and I also can’t lose my personal number that I use for everything else.

The upside to Fi was it’s a lot cheaper, and it has high speed data overseas included. It’s a major savings, as I pay 4500JPY for 7gb in Japan for 30 days (including voice and text). That’s a big fat zero on my next trip, now that I’ve paid the cost to verify my JP number (which means I still have to activate it once a year).

Swappa gave me about $410 in actual cash after the sale of the Pixel 2 (didn’t even took 24 hours to sell). The fees were 15 from Swappa, 15 for shipping (and insurance), and 13 from Paypal. This is nuts. The Pixel 3 128GB is 955 or so after tax. So I’m still on the hook for 145, or 15% of the cost. Maybe I should have held out for a better deal.

Onto the phone. Oh, just to detail the activation process, I followed first the invite email from my sister to set up the porting info. Then when it’s time to load the phone, I followed the on-screen prompts. It would let stuff run in the background while the rest of the phone is being set.

Basically after I got to the home screen, there was a notification waiting for me telling me there was an issue porting. Going to the notif takes me to th Fi app, and tells me what was wrong. Seems like invalid pin? I was suppose to put in my last 4 digits of social for Verizon porting, but I just set a pin on the Verizon account anyways and used that, and it worked minutes later.

In short, the phone is a refined Pixel 2, or what Pixel 2 really should have been. You can say that the Pixel line is a bit behind the release cadence. OnePlus for example, do 2 phones a year (6T looks good!). The next gen Galaxy phone is due in a few months. iPhone news comes out in September or early October. I would say the overall package of the Pixel 3 matches what is really, a better than-iPhone X.

That is great really, except we live in a world with the iPhone XS/Max. So on paper the Pixel 3 is not leading in any category besides its still class-leading camera powers, and other things that people who live inside Google’s ecosystem would enjoy. Thankfully that describes me to a tee.

I say with no irony that this is the most iPhone-y experience I’ve had yet on Android. It’s not a knock as a copycat, but it provides finally that fit and finish matching post-iPhone 8 hardware, with a visual presentation to match. I didn’t know how much of that edge-to-edge look added to this phone. I had it side by side with the Pixel 2, and despite similar displays, the Pixel 3 knocks things out of the park just because the angle my eyes see the edges of the screen, making it “float” towards the top like an iPhone X does.

As for features, it’s similar to the Pixel 2 on Pie. The only quirk is the tall screen makes pulling down the notification shade harder than the 2, and the wider aspect makes my full screen games look slightly different.

Besides the screen, there are major improvement in the speakers–they have a lot more depth and reverb and makes it sound way more solid than the Pixel 2’s. The buttons feel much better with better flex and feedback, where as the Pixel 2’s feels like they could get stuck. The haptic engine is improved, but I normally don’t use it anyway. These 3 points are in the order of decreasing importance, if you didn’t notice.

Wireless charging is something I can actually live without, but I splurged for a Pixel Stand. I can use one for my desk, and I still haven’t messed around it enough to give a proper review. So far it’s mainly just to fast charge, show the time and notification, and do the sunrise alarm thing. I think I am staying clear of a wireless charging pad on the Tesla Model 3, but I can see the appeal if the wiring situation is squared away (long story). Maybe in the future when they’re cheaper (the cheapest one I would buy is $50).

Not much to say otherwise. There are some integration in the Pixel 3 that makes sense which hasn’t rolled out to the Pixel 2 yet. Putting a photo scan link in the photo app makes sense, but I think this might be in Pixel 2 already. New nav for camera makes more sense than before, and it’s easier to use. I sideloaded the night mode beta and it is definitely as jaw-dropping as they say. Sample photos here and here.

In conclusion? This is the phone the Pixel 2 should have been. I don’t want to mention the XL line here because the 2 XL is a much closer presentation to the 3 XL than 2 was to 3. In a way, the Pixel 3 is actually the non-notched answer to our burning need for a modern, iPhone X-y device. LOL. Too bad the iPhone X is going to be a year old in December.

As for the rest of the competition… if you are looking at this phone and not, say, a 1+ 6T or Galaxy Note 9 or Huawei Mate 20 Pro, then nothing more needs to be said. Software superiority is something real. Integration matters. This is still the heart of the Pixel experience, where you get real-time chat and support over the web, your phone (as in not voice, but app), as well as traditional telephone service. It still has a long ways to go to catch Apple in terms of physical stores supporting users, but it’s slowly getting there. At least it needs to solve my Pixel 2 camera problem with less lead time than 48 hours!

I think I see clearly where Google is trying to catch up, and it’s a lot of stuff difficult to market. It doesn’t show up on a spec sheet. But for Americans it matters… So I think I will continue to use a Pixel phone in the future, and let Google take care of my personal info in exchange for services it provides.

Google Pixel 2 First Takes

It might be too early for a first take because things are still developing with some potential hardware issues with the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, and Google is in the process of addressing them. Today they announced that my warranty for this 128GB Black Pixel 2 will go from 1 year to 2.

I like this. Coming from almost 1 exact year from owning and using a Pixel (also 128GB and Black), I had to RMA my old Pixel once because the unit died, effectively bricking the phone. It also died while I was in Japan, so that kind of blows. After I got back to the States I started the RMA process, which involved calling them and explaining the situ. Then they sent me a replacement phone (likely a refurb) and I sent them my broken phone back. And in this process they had to authorize the payment of a phone and credit me back, which is kind of normal I guess? I don’t know. Anyways it’s good to have assurance.

What is there to say about the new Pixel 2? Leading up to it, I was definitely reading on all the leaks. What was pivotal was the first impressions people had at the Google announcement event. Reading those, I got the impression to turn on sRGB mode on my Pixel (as O already rolled out by then on Pixels) and started to get used to it. Turned out that really was the one biggest change between PIxel and Pixel 2.

That leads to my biggest one thing about the Pixel 2–it’s sRGB only (on launch), and this is BAD. I mean, it’s great, but bad in that people want Android because of choice, not because it’s Yet Another Apple. I think Google doesn’t own enough of the supply chain to guarantee that they don’t screw up on the screen, as the currently developing situation is playing out. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, there are widespread reports about the Pixel 2 XL display, that it either is just low quality (blue tinting, graininess, and varies between units), reports of burn in (unlikely tbh, just that the OLED in question leading to more image retention for more units), and it looks blue off-angle (all units exhibits this). It’s the same pentile nonsense Nexus owners had to deal with in the early days.

That said, it’s not a big deal. The display itself is great on the Pixel 2 and sRGB is hardly terrible, it’s just this sRGB is a tad too blue (not enough red).

To give this review more personal context, I think the second largest change is the sound. Two front facing speakers is great to play Theater Days/Deresute/Bang Dream with. Playing it on the Pixel was pretty lame because sound would go right into your palm (I’m a thumb player) and now it sounds fine. I actually picked up the fact that the top and bottom speakers actually sound different almost immediately, but from far away enough you wouldn’t really be able to tell. It doesn’t really matter. On those rhythm games, the only thing that bothered me was just if you press hard enough, you can feel the vibration of the music just a bit, which is lols. Overall it’s improved from the Pixel I’d say, mainly because of the speakers, and there’s less lag. My calibration is maybe 2-5 max on the Pixel 2 in Theater Days, 10 with BT. On the Pixel it’s like 18 on BT.

The other part of music/sound that’s great about the Pixel 2 is that it comes with out of box aptx (full stack) support and LDAC support. The low BT latency and superior connection makes this a much better music box than the Pixel. Even via the USB-C dongle hires sounded notably better than the 3.5mm jack. Sure, I am now rocking a Fiio BTR1 and I pulled the trigger on a pair of Sony MDX-1000X, just because this is the solution God has intended. Well, maybe when someone else releases a good AptX HD compatible BT portable amp.

I guess that might be it in terms of the overall impact? The Pixel 2 is really similar to the Pixel. Physically it is a bit heavier, and a touch longer, and of course it has a better camera stack and all. The camera on the Pixel 2 is really the bees knees and there is nothing on the market this good. I actually think it’s a better point-and-shooter than my aging NEX-5N, especially under low light, unless you include what a nice kit of wide-aperture, prime lens can do for anybody.

Some key data points for curious Pixel 2 owners or owner-wannabes. I used the Google Clear case with my Pixel, and I can’t find the same thing from Google for the Pixel 2. Bummer. The next best thing is the Air Jacket case Google Store sells, and it does fit the description for the most part. Instead of textured plastic on the back though, now it’s this kind-of-slippery self-healing thing. I guess it looks better, but it’s more slippery. It also now covers all of the top of the phone, because there isn’t a need to accommodate a headphone jack. I count this as an improvement because my Pixel got scratched the hardest at the top of the phone, which is now protected with this type of case.

I tried to use a generic Pixel 2 case at the Verizon store while the air jacket case was in the mail, it sucked and promptly was returned a few days later.

Anyways, since I’m really happy about my Pixel, I am about as happy with my Pixel 2. The price of the Pixel 2 128GB went down compared to the Pixel originally, and I was able to sell my Pixel on Swappa for about $400ish, making this a fairly painless purchase. I guess the money I spent on the Pixel is lost to depreciation…and being able to get a 1-year phone to a 0-year phone with some incremental upgrades.

So that’s the rub, if you dig incremental upgrades and don’t mind paying for that gap, I think the Pixel 2 is worth it. If you are coming from a Nexus 5X or something, it’s a huge upgrade. Actually I’d say it’s a huge upgrade from anyone not coming from a GS8, as that’s the only phone not that big and still arguably comparable (closer to Pixel than Pixel 2 TBH). Maybe the LG V30 but that thing is huge. Or a discounted Pixel, LOL.

Google Pixel Hot Take (72 Hours)

TL;DR after the jump.

The Pixel is a good phone with flaws, but that shouldn’t stop anyone because there are no perfect phones. Every phone has some flaws, and any claim of “best” is to be taken not just with a grain of salt but a confirmation of bias in the opinion. After all, there are only ‘better’ phones, and no perfect phone yet. I got the Pixel on a Monday (but didn’t open it till Tuesday) and I like it a lot, as I have no regret changing from a Nexus 6P. But you need to be cognizant of your own requirements and preferences before going into any high end smartphone purchase decision.

If that sounded a defensive way to open up a phone review, it’s because ultimately I feel the Pixel is a flawed phone. The ideal Google Phone probably won’t emerge until next year. Reason why here. But compared to other phones on the market, the Pixel is still the best or almost the best Android phone you can get.

The only real concern about the Pixel is the cost versus the value you get. I think at some level it’s hard to justify any phone over, say, $500, just because alternatively you can get a Nexus 5X or 6P or OnePlus 3 or something, and get on with your life. The extra $200-400 go pretty far and it’s up to each person to figure out if that distance covers the difference between the newest Pure Google experience and their best alternatives.

To help with that fundamental calculus, let me offer another delta-value, which is the difference of having a Nexus 6P when it was the newest Pure Google experience a  year ago, and the Pixel today. I can’t really speak from a place of who may be coming from a more “mundane” device, like someone who wants to upgrade from an iPhone 6 or your garden variety Android phone of 2 years+ vintage. I can speak to that this shiny New Google Device experience is better than the last one. How much better?

  • The 6P has good hardware, but it’s not Huawei’s best bet, just one of their better ones. The Pixel might be HTC’s best phone.
  • Software-wise, the biggest advantage to Android 6/7 was the power management. The Pixel takes it up a notch (FWIW Pixel XL owners were reporting 1+ day batt life across the board).
  • Arguably the best camera although what really shines is the HDR+, much like Nexus 6P but better compared to rival phone cameras.
  • The new on-board features, such as live help and unlimited Google Photo storage @ full size, are of some value. I don’t even count the assistant integration, although that’s nice.

The real driving reason to buy a Pixel is because this is Google’s first start-to-finish product. That allows them to innovate in the software in a way that has only been possible to see in iPhone and the Microsoft Surface (and the Surface Studio is a prime example of it), because they can control both the hardware and software in the minute. I can say that Google delivered a little of that in this first iteration. A lot of the above bullets are more “business” reasons in that some of Google’s strengths are their ecosystem/services, and it would be more kosher to embrace a phone that didn’t belong to an Android OEM. For that, you have to look at the camera–i is the crown jewel of Android integration and Google engineering.

Which is to say, it’s kind of like a Nexus phone in that the Pixel has some breakthroughs, but it also has some rough edges. It’s just that, by far, the Pixel is the most polished Nexus phone if it was one. Which is good, because you expect that given the price gap.

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#Donglephobia or the video-audio future is yet again split

The past 17 years I felt I saw the law and business on digital consumer video go a different way than the law and busiess on digital consumer audio. By this I mean not only the hardware prosumers buy, but the way we watch media or listen to media as well. Before Spotify there has been a series of market leaders, where as when it comes to movies and TV shows in the USA, it was really a format war until we went digital pretty much wholesale.

I read this review of the iPhone 7 and I can’t help but to think of two things:

  1. Lack of a headphone jack is no big deal; and
  2. This is a great illustration where we are at when it comes to digital mobile experience for sound versus the digital mobile experience for photography/videography

Nilay is right that the mobile photography world has been so boosted by these powerful phone cameras that it has been truly revolutionary. And it wouldn’t be fair to give Apple all the credit; tons of people have been shooting with their flip phones well before 2008, but the backend of the ecosystem have matured enough (maybe) between first media-oriented sites but now social networks with good video/audio support.

The audio world, not so much. Which is well-symbolized by some high end tech dude reviewing the latest electronics lamenting about a connector older than the floppy drive. Nilay recognizes this in this review as well, but I guess he’s not taken to this conclusion.

Because, as someone who has made two major switches in his life (one to go wireless, one to go to usb-to-go to a portable DAC…so even more wired?) when it comes to listening to music/audio on his phone (and I’ve been doing this since like 2003), the headphone jack is not really all that useful on your phone. At least that’s my opinion.

Where are all the whiners that complained about the lack of a S-video port or whatever? RCA jacks? Display port over HDMI? I don’t get it.

I guess when ethernet jacks left the building so did common sense. [Read Mossberg’s rant on this, it’s utmost stupid.]

I’m not going to get into why I feel this way, besides as someone who has been using bluetooth wireless headsets for like 8+ years. Who knows where the pain point is (it’s not sound quality or batt life, far from it). And I believe most people just don’t know/care about audio enough to justify their whine. To be fair Apple is complicit in the media blowback somewhat with their nonsense audio standard and their usual play to sell more junk that doesn’t really do anything. Maybe it’s a good reminder that an iPhone is a closed ecosystem and you’re going to hit those drawbacks. But seriously, bluetooth is plenty good. It works well. It’s not the greatest, but odds are your  come-with-iPhone headsets are worse than the one you now need to shell out for to fully enjoy that Bluetooth experience.

And I feel, it really comes down to that most people just don’t care about audio that much, and those who do are stuck in their irrational ways to really offer good, rational criticism. Verge included.