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April 9, 2018

I’d rather have excellent software over flashy hardware

by John_A

When it comes to this endless debate, software is the clear winner in my book.

A couple weeks ago, Android Central’s Hayato Huseman offered the question of “Is hardware or software a bigger determining factor when buying a phone?” This is a question that’s helped settle countless smartphone-buying decisions throughout time, and it’s one I felt like answering.

Both hardware and software are required to create any phone, but in my case, I’d much rather use one with a top-of-the-line software experience – even if it means settling for mediocre hardware.

google-pixel-2-red-background.jpg?itok=F

Take the Google Pixel 2, for example. I bought this phone last October shortly after it was announced, and it’s been my daily driver ever since. It’s not a particularly attractive or modern-looking phone, but even so, it’s quickly become one of my favorite purchases of recent memory. Why? Google’s nearly perfected the end-user experience thanks to rigorous software optimizations.

Samsung’s phones are beautiful, but they’re notorious for performance degradation after just a few months.

Even after six months of heavy, daily use, my Pixel 2 still flies through everything just like it’s done from day one. Apps open in the blink of an eye, animations are buttery smooth, and there’s never even the slightest hint of lag or jitters when scrolling through apps, web pages, or the general UI.

The Snapdragon 835 processor and 4GB of RAM certainly contribute to the Pixel 2’s speed, but this processing power on its own isn’t nearly enough to ensure a smooth experience after months and months of use. Want an example for that? Take one look at the Galaxy S8.

Samsung’s Galaxy S8 is a top-notch phone, and it has the exact same processor and RAM as the Pixel 2. However, as Andrew noted in his 10-month re-review, Samsung’s heavy software customizations forced him to do a factory reset after just three months because the phone “became unbearably slow.” (Something he also experienced on the Note 8 a few months earlier). Coincidence? I think not.

galaxy-s9-plus-pixel-theme.jpg?itok=KKj_ The Galaxy S9 is at its best when trying to mimic the look of the Pixel 2.

Something else that keeps me hooked on the Pixel 2 is how well thought-out everything is. There aren’t any duplicate apps, all of the UI elements feel as if they have a purpose, and while this isn’t necessarily “stock” Android any longer, it feels like a natural evolution of what we saw with the Nexus brand for all those years. Not once have I found myself fighting a laundry list of features I’ve never heard of in the settings or accidentally launching an alternative, inferior virtual assistant, and when you don’t have to deal with these annoyances throughout the day, you get to enjoy your phone in a way that you won’t find from a Samsung, LG, Huawei, etc.

My Pixel 2 gives me a software experience I can’t find anywhere else, and it strikes the balance of melding hardware and software together that’s worked so well for Apple over the years. However, when you focus this heavily on software, something’s got to give.

Simply put, the Pixel 2 is not a pretty phone.

With the Pixel 2, that’s seen right away with its design.

As much as I love the Pixel 2, I’ll be the first to admit that it looks straight out of 2015. The textured metal and glass panel on the back looks great, but between the lack of wireless charging and dem bezels flanking the screen, it’s not a very elegant phone.

I used the Galaxy S8 for a short period before switching to the Pixel 2, and while Samsung’s software eventually drove me away, I couldn’t help but smile each time I powered on its screen. Having an app or video take up the vast majority of the phone’s front was almost magical, and it was very easy to get tricked into thinking you were holding a display panel with nothing surrounding it.

That illusion is never conjured up with the Pixel 2. Its screen isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s straight-up boring when placed next to virtually any phone that’s been released over the past year.

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Even so, I continue to use and enjoy the phone. It may not be the prettiest out there and certainly doesn’t grab your attention like the iPhone X or Galaxy S9, but its software keeps me coming back day after day.

Do I wish it had slimmer bezels? Sure. Would I like to have wireless charging? Absolutely. These grievances may be deal-breakers for some consumers, but if you’re able to look past these things, your met with one of the snappiest and most reliable phones money can buy.

Until Google learns how to compete with Samsung and Apple on the hardware side of things, I’ll keep buying these “ugly” phones.

Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL

  • Pixel 2 FAQ: Everything you need to know!
  • Google Pixel 2 and 2 XL review: The new standard
  • Google Pixel 2 specs
  • Google Pixel 2 vs. Pixel 2 XL: What’s the difference?
  • Join our Pixel 2 forums

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