While I was visiting over New Year’s my sister recently picked out a Google Pixel 2 to replace her three-year-old Samsung phone with a cracked screen. I have an iPhone 6s and had no plans to get a new phone until next fall, but I was curious to do some more research on the Pixel 2 when I got home. I got more interested as I learned about what it had to offer. I had been thinking that I was not particularly excited about the features that the latest iPhones were offering, such as wireless charging and portrait mode photography. As for the iPhone X in particular I was wary of the notch at the top of the screen, the taller display (wider in the horizontal position), and the missing home button. I figured next year’s iPhone X successor would have the same issues.
The Pixel 2 and larger Pixel 2 XL are Google’s newest phones to offer a pure Android experience. Someone has termed them the “iPhone” of Android phones, as they have hardware and software designed by one company, Google, and don’t have an additional skin and bloatware apps added by the Android phone makers like Samsung and LG. Google has also promised that they will receive software updates directly from Google for three years. Owners of other Android phones have to wait for their phone’s manufacturer and then their cellphone carrier to update the software after Google releases a new version of Android, and manufacturers lose interest in releasing updates for their phones after just one year or two.
I was more interested in the smaller Pixel 2 as I wanted something that would fit in my pocket, and the Pixel 2 would only be slightly larger than my iPhone 6s. Reviewers noted how fast the Pixel 2s were compared to other Android phones, despite having the same processor and no more RAM. They especially praised the camera. There was some warning about the Pixel 2 XL’s display—which, like the phone, is from LG—as having dull colors, a blue shift when tilted slightly off axis, and some screen burn-in noticed in the area of the on-screen Android navigation buttons. Google addressed two of these with a software update. The blue shift is a limitation of the display hardware and can’t be addressed with a software update. The smaller Pixel 2 is manufactured by HTC and has a Samsung display panel, so it does not exhibit the same pronounced blue shift that OLED panels can sometimes exhibit.
I was also impressed by the transfer process Google offered from a previous Android phone or iPhone. It was just a matter of connecting your phone’s charging cable to the Pixel 2’s supplied USB-C to USB-A adapter during the Pixel 2’s startup process. I was not a Verizon customer like my sister, which is the only carrier in the U.S. to offer the phone, so I ordered a Pixel 2 directly from Google. It arrived in just a few days.
The Pixel 2 comes with a USB-C cable and power adapter that enables fast charging. It also comes with a USB-C to 3.5 mm headphone adapter with a built-in DAC, since there is no built-in headphone jack. One nice thing about Google’s adapter is that it will work with any device, such as a computer or another phone, that has a USB-C port. I follow the included instructions to beginning the switch to the Pixel 2. iPhone users are warned to turn off iMessage and FaceTime on their iPhone. (You can continue to use those on any iPad or Mac that you use.) This is to ensure that you will receive future text messages on the Android phone. I removed my SIM card from the iPhone and inserted it into the Pixel 2. Then I connected my iPhone to the Pixel 2 and was soon asked what data I wanted transferred—contacts, text messages, photos, and music. I entered my Google account, which is not a Gmail address, that I only have for using YouTube. I did not request that my contacts to be transferred, which I’ll explain in a bit.
In general, I avoid using Google services with the exception of YouTube, so I am not a particularly good candidate for switching to an Android device. If you already use Google Maps, Gmail, Google Contacts and Calendar, you will feel more at home in Android. Since I wanted to avoid Google tracking my life as much as possible, I looked to find alternatives in Android. Instead of Chrome I use Firefox or the Dolphin browser. The latter has plugins for the LastPass password manager and Xmarks bookmark manager that I use. Of course, I changed the default search engine from Google to DuckDuckGo. Since my contacts and calendar are in iCloud, I needed a way to continue using them on Android. I found SmoothSync for Cloud Contacts and SmoothSync for Cloud Calendar in the Google Play Store. These are not free, but work well and allow me to sync my iCloud contacts and calendar between Android and my iPad and Mac.
Since this was a new phone I wanted to see if my voicemails were available, but I did not find them in the Phone app like I would on iOS. I searched the Google Play Store and found the AT&T Visual Voicemail app. I had trouble getting it working so I wound up in a chat with AT&T. They asked for my new phone’s IMEI number, so they could update their end. After that the Voicemail app started working and I saw my past voicemails, albeit without the text transcripts that I used to get in the iOS Phone app. My text messages showed up in the built-in Messages app without a hitch.
I had transferred my music and it showed up in music apps like Google Play Music and Amazon Music. However, I soon realized that I wanted a way to continue using iTunes to manage my music, as that is how I make it available on my iPad and Apple TV. I found doubleTwist, which is an Android app as well as a Mac or Windows desktop application that allows you to sync your iTunes music and playlists with your Android device. I had to purchase an in-app upgrade to enable the AirSync feature for wireless syncing. It worked, but I wound up with a second copy of every song. I didn’t find an efficient way to eliminate just the duplicates, so I wound up deleting all the music files using an Android file manager, and started the sync over again. This took several hours, but was ultimately successful. So, if you plan to use doubleTwist, don’t transfer your music using the Google transfer process. One nice feature of the doubleTwist app is that it filled in a lot of missing album cover art.
The same apps, Instagram, Meetup, Snapchat, Twitter, etc., are often available for both iOS and Android, but sometimes you will need to find a substitute. For a simple shopping list, I had been using ShopShop which I could sync between my iPhone and iPad using DropBox, but there was no Android version. I found the cross-platform OurGroceries as a capable substitute.
We should also talk about the in-car experience. My iPhone has a Bluetooth connection with my car, allowing me to listen to the songs on my phone as soon as I turn on the car, if I have Bluetooth selected on the car’s touch screen display. I can also connect with a USB cable, giving me a choice of an iPod interface on the car’s display for just music playing and leaving my phone screen for a navigation app, or Apple CarPlay which offers Apple Maps for navigation and a choice of music apps using the car’s touch screen.
With Android, there is Android Auto that takes over the car’s display like Apple CarPlay, and I found that worked well, giving me a choice of Google Maps or Waze, plus a choice of music apps: Google Play Music, Amazon Music, or doubleTwist. So far, my Bluetooth experience with the Pixel 2 has not been so successful. At first, I could not get music to automatically start without interacting with the phone. I had the three music apps so I had to hunt for options related to Bluetooth connections and managed to find some, although it was confusing as to which app might take control. I also had trouble with the same song repeating over and over again. I again had to hunt for the music app that might be the culprit. I found one that had a repeat-single-song option selected and am crossing my fingers that things will go better on my next car trip.
At this point, I want to relay my experience with battery life, which has been fairly poor for me so far. It’s a challenge to get to the end of the day without needing to recharge. Granted, my usage may be heavier at this point since I am setting up a lot of things on a new phone. I have been going into the Battery settings which shows the apps making most use of the battery. In some cases, you can disable an app from running in the background. We’ll see if I can improve the situation.
I want to conclude with the things I do like on the Pixel 2 versus my iPhone 6s. It’s got a slightly larger display, 5” versus 4.7”, at a higher resolution, and the display is AMOLED which has better contrast due to having true blacks. The fingerprint reader is on the back but is really fast and works well with Android Pay. I like paying for things with my phone like I did using Apple Pay on my iPhone. The always-on display is nice, showing the time, date, and notification icons even when the phone goes to sleep. I also like the optional Now Playing feature which identifies songs on the lock screen whenever it hears a song it recognizes, based on a locally stored database. It doesn’t send audio to Google’s servers. If I can get a handle on the battery life, I will be happy with my switch until Apple comes out with a phone I can get excited about again.