Geoffrey Meredith
Thoughts on Technology


(posted on 28 Oct 2017)

Over the summer I decided it was time to replace my iPhone 6 Plus. I had installed iOS 10.3.3 on it and that had really broken the phone. I tried wiping out the phone and completely reinstalling everything but with no luck. Apple should not have pushed that update out to iPhone 6's.  It also had the same effect on Rochelle's iPhone 5.  My guess is that because both of these phones have 1GB of RAM (a ridiculously low amount even when the iPhone 6 came out) some change made in iOS 10.3.3 cause there to be a lot less memory available for apps.  Apps began crashing and were extremely slow to load. Multitasking (such as it is on iOS) just about stopped. It became hard to listen to audio while doing other stuff.  Even Apple's apps, like the settings app, became very slow to load and sluggish.  All this from upgrading from 10.3.2 to 10.3.3.

I eventually tried upgrading to iOS 11 when it came out but the results were more or less the same.  Essentially Apple had obsoleted my very powerful and perfectly usable 2.5-year-old phone.  I do wish that instead of breaking the phone, they had just stopped updating it.  The phone ran well before iOS 10.3.3.  I think that they didn't do this because they were still selling the iPhone 6 so they couldn't leave it behind on software updates.

So, with a very strong annoyance at Apple, I started paying a whole lot more attention to reviews and rumors of upcoming phones.  I was determined not to replace this iPhone with another iPhone.  My two phones before the iPhone 6 Plus were Google's Nexus S and Nexus 4.  I liked the Nexus S but I drowned it on my cross Canada bike trip.  I really liked my Nexus 4.  Neither of those phones was perfect but I could make them work for me and more importantly, they were very inexpensive.  With that experience, I didn't really feel locked into the Apple ecosystem.  I've avoided Apples iOS apps for the most part.  I've been sticking with Google's apps on the iPhone so a switch back to Android should be fairly painless.  The big highlight would be that Google's voice assistant is a first class app on Android instead of being stuck with the practically useless Siri on iPhones.

My biggest "must have" on the new phone was a good camera.  If it wasn't for that, I'd likely be happy buying a mid-range Android.  I wanted a phone that got security and OS updates in a timely manner so that mostly rules out all phones except for what Google provides.  I also wanted a phone that did a good job of playing podcasts via Bluetooth.  As the rumors started to come out about the new Pixel 2's, it seemed like one of them would be my new phone.  They seemed way too expensive but all the reviewers loved the first Pixel phones and Google has really been positioning themselves as a head-to-head competitor to Apple in the phone market.

Once the Pixel 2s was announced, it seemed clear to me that the Pixel 2 (not XL) was right for me.  I liked the look of the XL but there wasn't enough added value for the extra cost for me.  I also kind of liked the idea of moving to a somewhat smaller phone from the larger iPhone 6 Plus.  I bought the Plus so that it would be easier to read notifications when mounting on the handlebars of my bike and at the time Android notification didn't work well with cycling.  With better bicycle computers that show phone notifications on them, this is less important.  I really loved that both Pixel 2s had the same camera and that those cameras seemed like they were a big upgrade from the already great Pixel camera.

So I pre-ordered a black Pixel 2 as soon as the pre-orders opened.  With their protection plan and taxes that came out to a whopping CA$1200 ($900 + extended warranty + tax)!  That felt like it was at least $200 too high but I really felt like I was getting a premium, Apple quality level product so I went for it.

On October 23, the phone finally arrived.  Although the phone has automated transfer software and an adapter, it still took me about 2 days to really transfer my life over to the Pixel 2.  The phone is fast and the interaction is nice and smooth.  It really highlighted how much iOS 10/11 has degraded the usability of the iPhone 6.  My initial impressions were very positive.  I really like the Android Material Design interface.  It feels much more modern and usable than iOS.  I like having Google voice assistant come up just by squeezing the phone or by saying "OK Google".  I also liked being able to look down at the sleeping phone and see the time and notification icons, and when music is playing, the name and artist of the song!  Oreo from a design and features perspective is amazing.

Then I started to use the phone in real life...  I have at least 7 different Bluetooth devices that I have been using regularly with the iPhone, many at the same time.  I have a mono-headset for listing to podcasts (actually I have 4 of these), a UE Roll speaker, a sound bar, a bike computer, car stereo,  a sous-vide device and another device.  These all have troubles working with the Pixel 2.  Usually, once I get a device connected and working, they work well but it's that initial pairing and latter connection that is really problematic.  When you turn on a Bluetooth headset that has already been paired, I expect it to just connect to my phone, and if there is something playing on the phone, it should just start in the headset.  On the Pixel 2 that happens about 50% of the time.  When you want to switch from one audio device to another, it should just happen when you turn it on.  Mostly the Pixel doesn't even recognize the already paired device.  I'll reboot the phone and the Bluetooth works much better, for a matter of minutes to hours and then it becomes a struggle again.  I ride my bike with the mono headset and listen to podcasts.  For various reasons, I will want to pause the playback while riding.  Often when I attempt to start up the podcast, it just won't.  I have to stop my bike, get out my phone, unlock, navigate to my podcast app and hit the play button.  On my iPhone, just hitting the pause/play button on the headset would get the audio going again (although Apple did have a nasty habit of playing the Apple Music app, which I never used, instead of the last played app -- it also always played the same song).

Looking online, I see that Pixel 1 and Pixel 2 owners have been struggling with Bluetooth for a long time.  Google has promised fixes but I'm starting to see that Google has a lot of fixes to do on the Pixel 2 (particularly the XL version) and Oreo so I won't hold my breath.

Something that really surprised me is that I couldn't find any way to just switch audio from one connected Bluetooth device to another or the phone speaker. iPhones have had that feature forever and I used it all the time.  It was such a time saver for me.  It really seems to me that Google developers have never properly tested or used Bluetooth with multiple devices connected or paired.

I also found that if I was listening to Bluetooth audio that I could not connect my Bluetooth bike computer.  I would have to reboot the phone to get that to work.

While out on a ride last week, I was looking for interesting things to take pictures off to test out the phones amazing camera.  On one occasion, I pulled out the phone, hit the camera app, it started up and then I waited for the live image.  And I waited.  And I waited.  About 30 seconds later, the camera app crashed.  I tried again.  I waited about 15 seconds and finally, the camera app became responsive and I took the picture.  I haven't seen this problem since but I have seen a lot of different apps crash.  Overall, the apps seem to be somewhat unstable.  I'm sure that will improve as Oreo is updated but should I wait?  I thought I was buying a premium product, not a developer beta.

While no one has been complaining about the Pixel 2's screen (unlike the avalanche of complaints about the XL screen), I did find it a serious step down from the 3-year-old iPhone 6 Plus design.  The screen was less bright and greyer.  When you looked at a bit of an angle, the colour changed slightly.  At larger angles, you get a rainbow effect that I thought went away on LCD screens a decade ago.  I also found the brightness of the screen would change from moment to moment and that was very distracting at times.  I suspect that the auto adjust for brightness isn't tuned well, but why isn't it?

There has been a lot said about how great a camera comes with the Pixel 2.  It does take some really good pictures but have a look at this panorama image that I took.

It's the worst panorama image that I've ever taken.  It looks like the camera didn't do any post-processing of the image.  Other panorama images were the same.

So after almost a week with this phone, I've decided it's got to go back.  It had a lot of promise and if cost CA$600 instead of CA$900 (and if Bluetooth worked better) I would keep it.  It's just not the premium product that you would expect for $900.

So this begs the question, what smartphone should I  get?  My iPhone 6 Plus has been almost unusable since August but I waited until the fall announcements completed before making a choice.  So what's my second choice?  I might go for a OnePlus 5.  It's got amazing specs and price and supposedly it's gotten its camera issues ironed out.  But as is typical with OnePlus, all their phones are out of stock.  How does OnePlus survive?  I could go for a new Moto G or X.  The reviews are good and they are quite reasonably priced but the camera is the big sticking point.  They all seem to have mediocre cameras.  Also, if Oreo on a Pixel is this bad, is it likely to be any better on a second-rate phone?  Samsung phones sell well and they seem to make really good hardware.  Unfortunately they really "crapify" their device and don't update them regularly, even for security fixes.

So that leaves me going back to the evil empire of Apple.  I ordered an iPhone X at 12:05 am on October 27 just in case.  I figured I could cancel the order or flip the phone if they are in as much demand as it looks like they will be.  With AppleCare and taxes, it comes out to about $1760 for the "low-end" 64GB model.  That's more than I've paid for any Windows computer in about 25 years.  A similar iPhone 8 Plus is a more reasonable (??) $1410.  I like the more compact form factor of the X but the FaceID and other faddish features scare me.  Apple is kind of betting the farm that FaceID will take off and people will be willing to pay a massive premium for it.  I have my doubts.  If all that technology was on the back of the phone for augmented reality use, it might be a game changer, but it's not. 

Reports are that the 8 Plus is not selling well.  It's no longer in fashion with its 4-year-old design.  Those sales might pick up once people realize that they won't be able to get an X before the end of the year.  I would be afraid to go for the iPhone X.  Apple has had a lot of problems with newly introduced technologies lately and the X has a lot that is new.  I can see a lot of failures in its future.  The iPhone 6 Plus was new tech when it came out.  I had to have my replaced twice due to screen and battery failures.  Because Apple has perfected the 8 Plus form factor, I bet that it will have very few failures. It may look dated but it's likely to "just work". And isn't that one of the main reasons people buy Apple products in the first place?

So it looks like I'll be going back to Apple and the iPhone 8 Plus.