There was once a time when Google was just the company that worked on Android and then shipped it off to anyone who wanted it, letting them create all kinds of franken-phones. But these days, things are different. Google’s a company that should be taken seriously. And the Pixel 8 Pro proves it.
That might sound a big strange, I realize that. After all, Google (or Alphabet, perhaps) is an absolute behemoth of a company. It has its fingers in many pies, and Android has been the other side of the mobile phone coin for years. But it’s never really been in the same league as Apple. Its phones were never really in the same league as iPhones. Not really.
I write that as someone who’s had Google phones over the years. Who’s had Samsung and HTC phones, and loved them. But ultimately they never had that same level of polish, of put-together-thinking that Apple and the iPhone have always had. But today? Today, things are changing. And the Pixel 8 Pro is the most iPhone-like Android phone ever.
It’s just a good phone all around
Let’s take a look at what Google announced this week. There’s the Pixel 8 and Pixel Watch 2 neither of which I’m particularly interested in. As an iPhone 15 Pro Max owner, I’m only ever going to want to take a look at the Pixel 8 Pro. And when I do, things look very good indeed.
Sure, there are the specs. The Tensor G3 sounds great and all and I’m sure it’ll make all the apps and games scream. There’s a big 6.7-inch Super Actua display which is Google’s name for… something. I think it’s Google’s version of 120Hz ProMotion but with a worse name. But whatever, it’s there. And there are cameras, three of them. A main 50-megapixel camera joined by two more 48-megapixel lenses. One’s the ultrawide, the other is the 5x optical zoom. Lovely stuff.
But the specs only tell half the story. They’re good, but all phones have good specs these days. You can buy a Chinese-brand Android phone for iPhone 13 money that’ll have good specs. The difference? Well, that comes from two places; the fit and finish, and the intangibles.
It’s definitely a looker
The fit and finish is one area where Android phones in general, and Google’s in particular, have historically fallen down. Yes, things have gotten better in the last couple of years but to get iPhone qualities of materials and build quality, you’ve had to go Samsung. That’s all changing and in reality it probably started a couple of Pixels ago.
I’m trying very hard indeed to avoid saying “industrial design” because it makes me cringe, not least because it makes me think of Jony Ive in a white box. But the point stands — the Pixel 8 Pro looks like a solid chunk of glass and metal. It looks like it won’t creak when you pick it up. It looks… like a phone that belongs at the top table. And not many do.
Sure, Google seems to have caught Apple’s love of removing color from everything and Pixel 8 Pro’s Porcelain, Bay (!), and Obsidian colors are far from inspiring. But I have an iPhone that is literally the color of metal so I won’t be throwing any stones in this glass house.
And above and beyond all that, I just think it looks nice. Remember when that was reason enough to like something?
It’s the bits (and bytes) you can’t touch
But above everything, Google’s real coming of age is in the software. Not just Android, although it very much isn’t the mess of cluttered icons and mixed-up design language that it once was. I’m talking about the bits that hold everything together. The software that talks to the custom silicon that talks to the Google services.
Google, like Apple, now designs its own chips for use in phones and tablets. And as we already know, that makes a big difference. The Tensor G3 has special security features built in that allow the Pixel 8 Pro to be more secure and private than ever. It has all of the AI and machine learning smarts that make Google’s amazingly impressive photography and videography features tick. And then there’s how everything works with Gmail, Google Calendar, the Google VPN, and all the rest.
In short, Google hasn’t come up with a proper name to bundle it all together yet, but it has its own iCloud. And unlike iCloud, it seems to work reliably and predictably.
Google has always been at the top of its game when building things that run on servers we never see. Building things that run on phones, it turns out, is also something it’s good at. Building the phones has historically been a problem, but no more. And most important of all, meshing the servers with the phones with the industrial design (shudder!) is no longer beyond the company that for so long as just been the outfit that gave us Android.
Now? Now it’s game on. And the better Pixels are, the better the best iPhone becomes. For that reason alone, we should all be pleased the Pixel 8 Pro is here.
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