Google Pixel & Pixel XL: impressions

It’s a little late in the release cycle, with the Pixel 2 and Pixel XL 2 having been released, but there’s a number of points I’ve been contemplating on this premium-priced phone for some time that I’ve wanted to Blog about.  Here goes…

Phone Retailer: Avoiding the Bloat-ware

I purchased my Pixel (in Australia) direct from Google about 12 months ago (as at December 2017). One of my primary reasons for purchasing a phone direct from the vendor is to explicitly avoid 3rd party (Tel co) pre-installed, forced additional ‘value’ software.

Telephone companies (collectively, Wireless Providers, Tel Co, Phone company, Mobile Company, Cell Provider or whatever your term is) seem to take vanilla smart phone firmware, and force-install their own additional software that they see as adding essential functionality. They also mark such software on Android as being not uninstallable, leaving the consumer with space consumed on their device for software they potentially don’t want, or may want to free up later.

Telcos have a history of producing some fairly horrible 3rd Party software. Somehow they get the combination of inefficient software that drains battery life, causes system reboots, consumes inordinate amount of phone storage capacity for no obvious reason, and often has horrible security throughout, none of which is in the consumer’s interest.

Given this software is not uninstallable, the consumer has two options over the life of the phone: either put up with the issues, or apply security updates for this bloat ware — if they are made available — which inevitable consumes more device storage space (apparently never less), and spin the wheel on changes around battery life, stability and security.

You’ll note I say ‘consumer‘ in the above, because if the Telcos treated the people paying them as customers, then perhaps they’d pay a bit more attention to customer experience and customer satisfaction, rather than forcing their own poorly implemented branded bloat ware on these devices. Even a boot logo — I’d rather have the default boot logo rather than have to fetch the animated loop for a Tel co to be displayed to me when I turn my phone on.

I had this with the original Google Nexus phone perhaps a decade ago, but phones I have used since then have suffered this bloat infestation. My wife has a Samsung Galaxy S4, with a combination of additional Optus and Samsung software crowding out the fixed-storage-space in the S4.

The Pixel

While Nexus returned with the 5P, it was the time that the Pixel launched that my S3 was on its last legs; and with an option of going direct to Google, I ordered one; a reasonably easy ordering process, good tracking for delivery.

The install looked great: just hook up a USB cable to the older Android phone, and everything should transfer — except it didn’t work at all. The S3 (from Optus) was capped at Android 4.4, the Pixel shipped with Android 7, an the delta was too long a divide for a promised smooth transfer.

Oh well, looks likes this may be useful in future for easing the upgrade/transition/replacement path I thought.

Pixel Sound Issues

Then the speaker started to play up.

Over the course of three months, the sound quality from the speakers (ie, when playing music, YouTube content, and phone Speakerphone mode) degraded (and eventually stopped, later). When the phone ‘rang’, it would be highly distorted audio. Speakerphone was not possible – you couldn’t make out the words the caller was saying.

This is when I first contacted Google support.

Google Support

Conveniently, Google support was contacted through a menu on the phone; either text chat, or a ring-back system that must have registered me into a queue, and called me when an agent was available. Neat.

After performing a few checks (ie, volume turned up), I was asked to firmware reset the phone. With MFA enabled on my phone for a few accounts (>30), I didn’t want to loose those seeds; but would like to transfer them to a new handset, especially if the promised transfer experience was going to avoid me having to recover MFA set up. After explaining this, the call ended, but no replacement was forthcoming.

Fast forward until October, and the audio on speaker phone was completely dead, and I’d even tried the new Oreo release and any other software solution. So now another call with Google support; this time they confirmed on the phone they would send a replacement.

Replacement procedure

What they didn’t say was that they would send a time sensitive email to my Gmail address (not my primary address) that Gmail would automatically filter into a folder called “updates” (ie, not my default view of my Gmail inbox) that required me to a lick a link to order a replacement model within 5 days.

So a week after the call, wondering where the process was up to, I discovered email (having not been told to click a link in an email); but the link had expired, so another call to get a fresh time based link generated.

Confusingly, while I was trying to replace a Pixel, support sent me a link that would only order a Pixel XL. I wasn’t looking to change form factor (the Pixel fits nicely in my pocket). Another call – to sort this out, turned up that there were no Pixel replacements for RMA, and I would have to move to a larger handset.

The RMA procedure also required me to order a new one, a daunting process of having a UAD$1400 hold on my credit card, especially late in the pay cycle when there wasn’t $1400 clear on my card to hold. A few days later, another support call, a fresh link to click and start the “order” (RMA) again.

Transferring Pixels

Finally, it arrived. I connected the magic USB cable to initiate the transfer… hoping to keep copy media on the device, and the precious MFA seeds.

But it failed to start. Pixel 8.1 → Pixel XL 8.0 wouldn’t connect over the USB cable, but after trying various options, and proceeding to join a common WiFi network, it did promise to copy over WiFi.

Sadly, account logins only for Gmail. No media, no seeds. Not even the set of applications installed on the old phone.

So the promise of a seamless upgrade over a back-to-back connection between handsets seems unfulfilled.

Symantec Touchdown

For my various work email addresses, I purchased and have been using Symantec Touchdown for about 6 years. Its a reasonable exchange client, and consisted of the Touchdown application, and the Touchdown License application (ie, two installations).

Now as stars align, Symatec have End-of-Lifed Touchdown. They did this by pulling the license installation from the Play store. So I am transferring my applications, and can no longer install the license I purchased from Symantec.

Pixel & Pixel XL USB-C PD (Power Delivery) charging

One of the nice points about the Pixel was that it charges quick., using a new USB connector. This rectangular connector is effectively symmetrical; it can be plugged in either way, and starts a very rapid charging process (like a percent per 30 seconds or so).

However, it appears to wear loose pretty quickly. Even on the Pixel XL (now two months old) the USB-C PD connector actually needs to be held in place to acquire a rapid charge. Numerous times I have connected it, seen the rapid charge begin, but returned to find that it had dislodged and not been charging at all!

So now I have to regularly check on a charging phone to ensure I don’t need to grab-and-go and find its flat.

Pixel & Pixel XL Performance

So some positives: the snapdragon processor seems pretty speedy; applications respond well.

The Chrome browser is regularly updated, and Security updates come through each month without delay (didn’t get that with a Telco branded firmware).

The camera takes nice photos and videos, including some reasonable slow motion (either 120 or 240 fps) and nice panorama and photo-sphere pics (stitched on camera). The integration of photos.google.com into the phone to backup (and offload) media from the device works well.

The placement of the fingerprint sensor works well on the rear; with the same hand I am holing the phone I can unlock it. And unlike FaceID, it doesn’t stink: I can register multiple fingers (ie, one from left hand, and one from right – H/A for my hands).

Wish List

Google:

  1. make transferring phones also install the applications from the older phone into the new, and set them up with the same settings
  2. transfer media from old to new over the back-to-back USB-C link
  3. improve the support experience for RMA; perhaps extend the link validity a little longer (2 weeks?), tell customers to look for the email that customers have to order the device
  4. have the USB-C click and lock into place, or something else to help it not spring back and loose connection

Symantec:

  1. can I get my licence key or a refund?

Tel cos in general:

  1. stop forcing your software onto customers phones; make your ‘essential’ services available as web apps without requiring client side bloat, make them uninstallable, and ensure that Androind updates flow to customers as soon as possible (have you pushed WPA Krack updates yet?).

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