All wrapped up and ready to start
So I made the switch. It was with a heavy heart that I gave up my Blackberry Z30 on the overlooked and underrated BB10 OS. Three weeks ago, I upgraded to a Google Pixel 128GB Android 7.1 powered smartphone and have been immersing myself in the world of Android. Many of our clients have been asking our advice about where to go in a world where Blackberry has lost out, while others just want to know if the Pixel is any good. So I took the plunge and here’s my look at not just the Pixel, but what to expect when you make the change.
(note, I will get into the “why I gave up on BB” in another post…that’s a long story).
Short take on the Pixel? It’s simply an amazing piece of hardware. Look, you can find reviews of the specs and comparisons of the Pixel to the Galaxy S7 or the LG V20, just about anywhere. It’s hard to choose between any of those phones and you really can’t go wrong. So forget the specs.
I’ll be honest, as a messaging phone, the base install, with Gmail as the email tool…well…it sucks. Gmail is great if you use Gmail. Beyond that, I found it to be clunky when dealing with multiple email accounts and especially with my work based Office 365 host exchange account. I already knew that native android mail apps weren’t the best with its integration, so I went on the hunt through the many email apps available for Android.
And the winner is?
Blackberry hub for Android!!! Yay! Sorta…kinda…
Look I admit to being biased. Having the BB hub gives me at least some of the functionality that I thought BB10 was great for when it came to messaging. I actually just subscribed to it for its monthly fee ($1.50 CDN per month to be ad free), and the hub does come with their version of calendar, contact, password keeper and a few other apps I barely used on BB10. That being said, I’m not totally sold on it yet (the subscription can be cancelled any time). It lacks the swipe gestures that really made the Hub so useful (swipe right to peek) and again, it’s a bit clunky switching between account views. The one thing it doesn’t include is the amazing BB keyboard, the one thing I really wished it did have. Seriously, swipe typing is neat and I’m learning to use it, but why can’t any android keyboard include the simple “long press to capitalize” function. How hard is that??
So while I’ve settled on the Hub right now, I am testing a few others alongside it, including Nine and the Alto app (made by AOL of all people) as I research good Office 365 Android apps. Notice I am not using Outlook for Android or OWA for Android. These are…adequate, but I found they surprisingly had issues with how I use my work email, with a lot of subfolders I need to sync as I use rules to sort mail into them automatically. If you have a simpler setup they can work and are easily familiar.
So what about the rest of the phone? I won’t even get into finally having access to up to date apps. I always said I was not an apps person, that’s not why I use a smartphone but…damn once you have access there is a ton of stuff out there to try. Have fun with it, just beware to use only the Google Play (or Amazon) and watch those reviews, as they can be manipulated.
As for the rest of the phone, I’ve bullet pointed some features, tips and tricks to be aware of for those new to Android and the Pixel alike:
- The Pixel comes with Android 7.1 Nougat (they name versions after candy). This is significant as only the Pixel comes with 7.1 and most importantly, it’s pure stock Android. That’s a bit complex to explain why that matters, but the key is you get all security upgrades on the day of release and feature upgrades as fast as your carrier can release them (unless you buy it unlocked, then you aren’t limited by your carrier). Telus in Canada has been VERY quick with the releases, far faster than you’d find with competing Android phones. I had November security update in my first week and an OS update that Canada got first just last week. This is VERY good.
- Quick charging and battery life: so far the battery life is good, not spectacular but good. What is amazing is the quick charging. I really can get about a 50% charge in 15-20 minutes. The battery does really depend on how you are using it. Turn off Facebook and don’t play any games and you can easily go a day plus on one charge (seriously what is with the drain from the FB android app).
- Fantastic camera. I say this as I am actually a good test of cameras not due to any skill but because I have shakey hands (not due to my SCI, I’ve always had those). If I can take a decent picture with it, then anyone should do just as well. The Pixel does not include Optical Image Stabilization for its camera, but still handles pics with a sleight shake with ease. The video uses a steadying technique that looks better than a lot of the competition (see Samsung phones that don’t explode). That said it doesn’t come with as many tricks and gadgets as the Samsung phones do.
- One quick note about the camera. The Pixel comes with a special offer from Google for unlimited storage of your ultra high-resolution pics and vids on Google Photo. Great offer, but there is a trick to this. It only covers pictures and videos uploaded from your phone. If you browse to your google photos account, you’ll find it shows only 15GB of storage. You can’t just plunk all your pictures into it because you bought a Pixel. However, all pics you take with the phone are stored for free no matter how much, FOREVER (or until you delete them).
- One more note: I’m experimenting to see if Google detects pictures and videos taken from your phone or uploaded from your phone. It might be possible to load picture to your phone and then have them upload for free, but not sure on that yet.
- If you are new to Android, remember you must setup a gmail account. You don’t need to use this for any purpose other than logging into your phone and making purchases in the Play Store. It will automatically be setup and you can create a new gmail account when you setup the phone. I have a private account I barely use (no you can’t have it). **Edit Dec 2 4pm: A reader updated me that you can use any account to register with Google Play. The Pixel did not make this apparent during setup, but good to know. I already had a gmail account, so just used that. So no extra step needed, you can use a primary email address.**
- If you buy it soon (no timeline for this) the rep at Telus let me trade in my old phone and gave me over $200 in accessories that I normally wouldn’t have even thought about. What you get and how generous the rep is will vary, but if you are with Telus, Peter at Yorkdale Telus store spoiled me for items.
- Finally (that I can think of for now), you get full 24/7 live support from Google for the lifetime of the phone. I’ve already had to use it once (when I somehow deleted some settings from the settings window…too much playing in the first day) and it was a breeze. They can remote into your phone and walk you through almost anything, so don’t be afraid to use it if you get lost.
- Environmental protection – not a lot. It’s rated as splash proof, not water proof, which was one that gave me second thoughts during my research (the Galaxy S7 is completely submersible for instance). How a phone can’t have that in this day and age for the price is odd.
- The price. It’s a premium phone with premium price. Buying it outright will set you back $1000 CDN (approx) for the base model. I went on a two-year contract, and splurged a bit for the more storage…why? See next
- No SD card expansion. If you get the 32GB version you are stuck, and keep in mind that just the OS and preloaded apps bring you down to about 23GB free to start. You’ll be clearing space in no time…so I recommend spending the extra on the 128GB version if you can.
- The body materials of this thing are slippery as hell. The top part of the back is actually a glass window, so I can’t recommend a good case high enough. I am still looking for something that doesn’t add as much weight as an Otterbox (waiting on a case from urbanarmorgear.com), so beware of drops!
- No wireless charging. Not a big deal to me, but it is something to consider.
- Other than that, my only nitpick is the odd choice of the power button on the right side of the phone, just above the volume buttons. Why not the more natural top? Small nitpick.
I admit, I still miss how tight my BB10 was…but it was time for the change and with a few weeks in I am really enjoying the phone. Why didn’t I choose a Priv or Dtek60 from Blackberry is for another article and expect a followup to this one. For now, if you are ready to make the switch full-bore and put your BB (or are tired of Apple’s closed ecosystem), the Pixel is the top end for this holiday period.
Until the Galaxy S8 arrives in February/March…assuming it doesn’t burn up 🙂
Please feel free to comment or ask questions and if you have tips from more knowledgeable Android users, I’m all ears.