Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Pixel is a real testament to good software

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For years now the importance of smartphone software has taken a back seat in the arms race known as the specs war. How often have we lamented a beautiful piece of hardware – take most Huawei phones prior to the EMUI 5 update or Xiaomi phones to this date – ‘ruined’ by a bad software experience? But with the first Google Pixel, those poles were reversed, and largely horrible hardware was miraculously saved by superior software.


I know there are plenty of fans of the Pixel hardware out there – our own Joe Hindy is one of them, and we’ve debated the merits of the Pixel’s nuts and bolts at length. And while I’m not straight-up calling the Pixel’s hardware a dumpster fire, I would definitely call it dumpster fire adjacent. Defend the Pixe’s build quality if you will, but you can’t tell me it’s on the same level as the Galaxy S8, LG G6 or even the OnePlus 5. But there’s a good reason for why this is so…


Ron Amadeo at Ars Technica did a superb piece of sleuthing when the Pixel was launched to back up his convincing claim that the Google Pixel was simply a gutted HTC mid-ranger. Google’s original hardware partner, Huawei, reportedly backed out at the last minute over a branding dispute, resulting in HTC offering up a sacrifice of one of its children to the Google gods.



I’ve acknowledged elsewhere that what Google achieved in such an incredibly short timeframe was nothing short of a miracle and it should be applauded for the result. But again, that sentiment relates primarily to the software and camera, not the hardware generally (even if the chipset, RAM and so on naturally contribute to the software experience). Then, as now, I find the Pixel – as an object – to be uninspiring and infinitely forgettable.


Then, as now, I find the Pixel – as an object – to be uninspiring and infinitely forgettable.



The Pixel feels cheap, the glass on the front and back scratches incredibly easily, the ‘paint’ rubs off on the edges where it gets the most action and if you ever drop the thing, it fails to even vaguely hide dents and scrapes. If this phone had appeared under HTC’s banner it would’ve been mocked for what it is: a nondescript mid-range chassis that looks and feels like one. But add that Google logo – and again, that software and image processing – and suddenly perspectives change.


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