Google Pixel revisited: is it still the king?

As with any gadget, a few cracks in the armour start to become apparent a few months in.

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Google Pixel Revisited:

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As a devoted Google Pixel user and lover, I read MobileSyrup’s recent review-revisited article with interest. While the site’s reviewers generally continue to have high praise for Google’s first in-house-designed smartphone, they have found some issues with it.

With the annual Mobile World Congress super-show kicking off in Barcelona next week – where a number of players including Samsung and LG are expected to unveil new flagship Android phones – I thought it might be worthwhile to do my own revisit.

I’ve had a few months to use the Pixel XL now, and I’ve actually been wondering to myself if it’s still worthy of all the gushing I initially did about it. So is it?

In a word, yes. I still believe it’s the best smartphone on the market. However, just like MobileSyrup’s reviewers, I too have encountered some problems.

First up, I haven’t seen any of the issues they’ve reported, which include problems connecting to LTE, inexplicable battery draining, heat accumulation or software slowdown. It may just be that I’m lucky, but my issues have been minor in comparison, with a few them rooted in the Android operating system itself rather than the Pixel.

I’ve said before that I hate the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor because it makes using the phone awkward. If it’s lying face up on a table, I have to pick it up to unlock it rather than just touch a front home button to do so.

It’s worse when it’s in my car mount because I have fumble around behind it while keeping my eyes on the road. Not that I’m using it while driving, of course.

But my new biggest gripe is with the Pixel’s locking and how it interferes with the voice-activated Google Assistant.

Initially, saying “Okay Google” would unlock the phone and immediately launch the assistant. For the past few weeks, however, this feature has randomly stopped working. Before completing my voice request, I have to enter my PIN manually to unlock the device, which largely defeats the purpose of having the assistant in the first place.

The issue can be quickly fixed with an easy reset in the settings, but it’s a pain because it keeps recurring randomly. It happens every day or so and I can’t figure out what causes it. Doing some searches on the issue suggests it also happens on other Google Nexus devices too.

I finally reported it to tech support the other day and was instructed to do a bunch of resets. Google techies say they’re also remotely monitoring the phone to try and detect the problem, but given the lack of clear fixes on various online fora, I’m not confident their suggestions will take in the long run. We’ll see.

My other big beef with the Pixel is again an Android complaint in that I really don’t like the Gmail app. Unless you’ve got it set up to continually push email, it can be highly inaccurate to the point where you wonder if Gmail is continually experiencing outages.

I’ve got four different Gmail accounts and I don’t have any of my devices set to push through syncs, mainly to avoid constant distractions and the extra data usage. When I manually check those accounts on my iPad, all new email quickly comes through. But when I do the same manual refresh in the Gmail app on the Pixel, it’s not uncommon for nothing to show up, even though I know there’s new email waiting.

One other quibble, and this is purely Pixel-oriented: the Live Case doesn’t work. It’s cool that you can get your favourite photo printed on a case and that it syncs with your phone’s wallpaper, but the button that’s supposed to activate the function of your choice that’s built into it almost never works. I’ve actually given up on using it.

The phone itself also inexplicably resets the wallpaper photos linked to the case on the odd occasion too. If I hadn’t got a free case included with my review unit, I would have promptly sent it back – at $50, it’s not inexpensive.

That’s about the extent of my complaints with the Pixel XL, though. To be fair, there were things I hated about the iPhone too – like anything associated with iCloud – before I switched, and problems inevitably arise with every phone. Not a single one is perfect.

On the flip side, there are also aspects of the Pixel that continue to impress me – especially its camera. I didn’t even bother to take my SLR along on my recent vacation to Costa Rica, opting to snap everything with the Pixel instead. It passed that test with flying colours.

So yup, other Android manufacturers still have a high bar to meet next week in Barcelona. The Pixel isn’t perfect, but it’s still the king in my books.

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