If you know anything about me, you know that I’m a Google hardware guy through-and-through. As a matter of fact, I have a post idea on my Trello board I’ve simply titled “Why I keep coming back to Pixel” that I’ve yet to write. Invariably, every time I’ve strayed away (this happened with Google’s own Pixelbooks when they were still making them as well), I’ve always ended up back with Google’s products in my pocket or in my bag.
For the phones, it has always come down to software. The Chromebooks were a bit of a different story since ChromeOS is the same across all Chromebooks. At the end of the day, Pixelbook devices attracted me completely based on hardware. For Pixel phones, though, the hardware has largely always played second fiddle to the software experience. That isn’t to say Pixel hardware is bad; it’s just not on par with what the big phone makers are building most times.
But as Android has matured, I find myself less and less aggravated by software on other devices and a bit perplexed from time to time by the more-Spartan approach Google sometimes takes with their phones. While I don’t think anyone likes the overwrought software that came on Samsung’s phones during the early Galaxy S days, there are some things that have been added to the base Android experience over the years by non-Google companies that are all worthy additions to the experience.
Manufacturer software is getting better
Gaming modes come to mind first and foremost, and Google’s Game Dashboard on the Pixel is pretty bare-bones at the moment. For gaming, a few controls are crucial: keeping notifications at bay, keeping the displpay brightness in check, and allocating system resources for the game currently in focus. There are many more options, sure, but those things are the most common and most important. While the Pixel Game Dashboard puts your phone on do not disturb, there’s no actual setting for the screen brightness and no priority settings for many games.
By contrast, Samsung’s Game Launcher and Game Booster give you controls over sounds, visuals, priority apps, notifications, voice chats in Discord and more. And they aren’t the only ones doing this, either. I always loved the OnePlus game mode and others like ASUS have some really useful features that allow you to really nerd out on the experience while adding things that are truly useful.
I explain all that to make the point that added features and software aren’t a bad thing if done properly. In the past, as tons of manufacturers were vying for the #1 Android phone brand title, the clear way to stand out was through the use of gimmicks and parlor tricks that could get people’s attention quickly in a phone store or somewhere like Best Buy.
But those days are behind us, and whether we like it or not, Samsung is the clear leader in Android phones here in 2023. No one else is even close, and Samusung’s real competition these days is actually Apple. They don’t need to beat the other Android phone makers: that part is done. Now they are trying to clean things up the best the can to seduce iPhone users with truly useful features, and that approach is far more interesting to me as it means less and less useless bloatware and more focus on the things smartphones really need to be good at.
Why I’m going to give the Galaxy S23 Ultra a chance
With this renewed focus in the past few years by Samsung, I’ve slowly become more and more intrigued with their phones. And when you add that long-standing interest to the recent revelation that I’ve had about the liklihood of a vast majority of our audience here at Chrome Unboxed currently using Samsung phones, it became clear that I need to give Samsung an earnest try once again.
While I’ve spent the past few years allowing myself to get quite manufacturer-specific, there’s a pull in me to get back to the days where I was far more agnostic. With the cleanup to Windows 11, the focus in Samsung’s latest phones, the better hardware we’re seeing with non-Google Chromebooks, and the pleasurable experience I’m having with my Pixel Watch, I’m moving back to a point where I don’t care quite as much who makes a particular device as long as I can do the things I need on it.
I didn’t include any Apple hardware in that list because Apple still really wants to make it tough to be manufacturer agnostic. They want and pursue ecosystem lock-in, and by nature, I resist that. I’m happy to use my ASUS Chromebook Vibe CX34 Flip for work, my gaming PC for golf, the Pixel Watch on my wrist, and soon, a Galaxy S23 Ultra in my pocket for phone-related stuff. All of those things are deeply connected to my Google account and all the apps I need, so why feel the need to stay locked to any particular brand?
Might I run back to my Pixel 7 Pro after a bit of time? Maybe, but I’m not sure that I will. Where a few years ago I know I’d fight to either use a Google phone or try my best to convert whatever phone I was using into a more-stock-Android experience, I’m just not there any longer. While I’ll still steer clear of any Samsung feature that won’t work on non-Samsung hardware, I’m eager to see what things I can use of theirs that work on Chromebooks and don’t try to push me towards a locked-in system.
I have no idea how this will all go, but I’m feeling quite hopeful about it. The advancements I’m seeing with the S23 Ultra’s cameras and the speed/battery life of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 all look like hardware upgrades I’m ready for. Add that to what I know will be top-notch hardware (speakers, screen, storage speed, RAM speed) and I think – for the first time in a long time – I’m going to have a really good experience with this Samsung device. I’ll know for sure when it ships next week.