The Problem with Google Pixel 2

There’s a weight on my chest. It was tolerable just a short while ago, but now that the new Google Pixel 2 is out — and I’ve put my hands on it — it’s been feeling too heavy, and it’s slowly choking me. I need to get it off.

Two years ago I was a happy Nexus 5 owner. Until i dropped it, and it cracked so badly, you could see the silicon board under its lower border. That was the second time it cracked, and the second display it received. Also its battery was starting to give up (on top of initially mediocre battery life). Of course, I could’ve bought another screen for it, and a new battery. But the fresh (at the time) Nexus 5X and 6P were about to go on sale, and I thought, “Maybe it’s time to upgrade”. Since I’m not particularly excited about large phones, the 6P was not an option. I got the 32 GB version of the 5X for $350 ($30 less than the regular price of the 16 GB version), although it also turned out to be a tad bigger than what I’m comfortable with. As you probably figured by now, I prefer stock Android from Google with timely system updates and security patches. I use iOS, too — mostly on an iPad, but for the daily device Android works better for me.

Sometimes switching between apps takes forever.

Currently my 5X is running Android 8, and while I enjoy some of the new features (and despise the “new” emojis Google blindly conformed to), it’s becoming very clear that the new version of the OS was designed specifically for the new hardware. The 5X has now entered the “ticking bomb” stage, pointing out more and more chunks of code poorly optimized for older hardware with its performance. Sometimes it gets frustratingly, abysmally unresponsive, like it hasn’t ever been. Rebooting, clearing cache, monitoring RAM usage, dancing with a tambourine around it are now common procedures that I have to perform every now and again just to deal with my frustration — to no meaningful effect. And its very-very modest 2700 mAh battery is also showing mileage at this point.

I skipped the original Pixel for several reasons. It was heavily rumored that it would sell at a “full” price of the competing top tier devices, which made me hope that would finally result in a pocketable device directly from Google with no compromises. But yet again the battery capacity was barely sufficient in the smaller model, the “chin” was famously criticized for lacking a frontal speaker and wasting space (making the device larger than what it could’ve been), the cloth in the top speaker was certainly a poor choice of material, absence of wireless charging and basic water resistance negatively surprised potential buyers, and on a subjective note, I’m not an AMOLED enthusiast. It’s not a deal breaker, but when possible, I’ll take a high quality LCD panel over Pentile AMOLED any day. Yes, I’m one of those weirdos who prefer thin lines that look actually thin. To my eyes Pentile AMOLED panels lose in clarity to lower resolution LCD panels when it comes to rendering thin lines (used in, you know, text and other “unimportant” things), and thus, I feel like they waste the GPU resources by pushing unnecessary pixels and with it, the battery life. In my opinion, 1920×1080 is abundant for a ~5” LCD, and for the tasks most users typically perform on their devices. That’s not necessarily the case for an AMOLED panel.

Enter late 2017 — I’m patiently waiting for the Pixel 2 announcement, ignoring all “leaks” and rumors. Seeing the “regular” $650 version with a 5” display confirmed, I naturally assumed that in 2017 that would surely mean the device will pack all its guts as tightly as possible without using a single unnecessary millimeter. And then I put my Nexus 5X next to it…

Are you seeing the problem here?

The phone on the left is a two year old model that sold from $350-$380, and the phone on the right is the latest model going from $650. Why on earth are they practically the same size? The much older, much cheaper model, that was overshadowed by the Nexus 6P (the real headliner of 2015), uses space far more efficiently with its larger 5.2” display, than the brand new so-called flagship, and it’s immediately noticeable. Yes, the top speaker in the 5X is just a small ear piece, but the 5X has a 3.5 mm audio jack, and the Pixel 2 for absolutely no good reason doesn’t have it. They are virtually equally thin — a quality I’d happily sacrifice for a larger battery. The 5X is a little lighter (probably because of its plastic body, which I’m okay with), and holding Pixel 2 next to it is indescribably frustrating. Look, I don’t even mind reasonably sized bezels — really, in all honesty, I don’t have that craving for a bezel-less smartphone, which so many people seem to have. I simply prefer devices that comfortably fit in my hand and don’t try to slip out, when I’m typing or taking a picture with one hand. However, take a look at what this community manager had to say on the official Google Forum:

“We want to provide a little more information about headphone options for the Pixel 2. The Pixel 2 still comes with a headphone jack but we have moved to USB-C, a standard that is becoming commonplace in the best phones and laptops of today. Moving to the USB-C audio port with Pixel 2 allows us to provide a better audio and digital experience, as we move towards a bezel-less future.”

The level of marketing arrogance in that statement… “Better audio and digital experience” and “bezel-less future” particularly stick out. Also leaves me wondering, if he meant the Pixel 2 XL, casually dismissing the “peasant” version, and implying that only the humongous and the unwieldy one is worth attention, since that’s the closest thing they have to “bezel-less”. Although, as the commentators rightfully point out, it still has plenty of bezel around its tall display. Which, by the way, is another gripe I have — why the hell are we seeing taller displays, when both Android and now iOS are heavily relying on upper UI elements? If the shape of displays absolutely must change, they should probably get wider, not taller.

I feel cheated. I feel that Google has lured me into its lair with the promising products full of unexecuted potential, which certainly was going to — make no mistake about it, they were winking — was going to be executed in the next generations. Never happened. Probably never will. And now that I’m deep into the cave, I feel this giant heavy anaconda wrapping its muscular body around my chest. I’m an Android purist, who doesn’t like large smartphones and small batteries, not partial to Pentile AMOLED panels, and loves timely updates and freaking analog audio ports. Sucks to be a tech enthusiast in my shoes these days — it’s a very small camp, and I want to scream for help. I think I have no choice, but to stab the snake.

P. S. Do you know which phones feel right in my hand? Smaller iPhones, from 6 to 8. But iOS 11 brought even more performance issues to both older and newer hardware, and at this point I don’t believe in switching anyway. Sometimes I pick up my horribly cracked Nexus 5, stare at the silicon board peeking through the glass, and think, “This could be your iPhone SE, Google. You don’t have to adopt only bad ideas”.