I really do love Pixel phones. I’ve enjoyed them since the beginning and I loved the Nexus line of phones prior to that. Well, for the most part, anyway. There’s just been something so comforting and reliable about handsets that aren’t overly concerned with new gimmicks and pseudo features and, instead, are focused on the general user experience. Timely software updates, smooth operation, the latest core Android features, and a solid camera have always been the hallmarks of Google’s phones. It’s a Spartan approach, for sure, but I’ve grown to love it and miss it dearly when trying out other phones from other manufacturers.
In the years since the first Pixel, I’ve deviated here and there and always ended up back in Google’s safe, controlled, clean camp. Sure, other phones have cameras arguably as good as the Pixel these days, but there has always been something attractive about the Pixel’s rock-solid camera that gets the picture right despite the fact that I’m just not that good at photography. Then there’s the software experience. The latest updates are always there, the UI feels a touch more polished than all the others, and the bugs are less in number as a result. I’ve weathered hardware blunder after hardware blunder to have this software in my pocket over the years, but that time has run out for now, I’m afraid.
Stepping back from the Pixel phone
Some of this journey began back in the fall when I left the Pixel 4 XL for the OnePlus 7T. For less money, the OnePlus offered so much more from a hardware perspective that I had to give it a try. I’d messed around with OnePlus phones in the past, but I never really gave them a try long-term. With the massive forehead and dim screen of the Pixel 4XL, it felt like the right time to try. I did so and I liked a lot about the OnePlus 7T, but there were software quirks that eventually led me back to the safety of the Pixel 4XL and I’ve stayed put ever since. For me, full Google integration is essential, and little things like not being able to make Google Photos my default gallery nagged and grated on me. For me, moving away from the Pixel would take a bit more of an integrated solution.
Enter the OnePlus 8. When this device launched, I was interested enough to go take it for a spin. With my T-Mobile plan, I can switch phones quite easily, so I knew there wasn’t too much risk involved. Getting the phone in, I could tell there was a slight downgrade in the camera compared with the Pixel 4XL, but that was paired with an upgrade in literally every other facet of the hardware. From the amazing display to the ultra-fast Snapdragon 865 to the 120hz refresh rates to 5G connectivity, there was so much to like. And, in the months since I last had a OnePlus phone, their Oxygen OS had only gotten better. As a matter of fact, this phone felt like a more customizable version of Google’s own software in most respects. There are a few small differences in the launcher, but nothing that took away from the experience. I was confident I’d found my new daily driver.
Then came the Wi-Fi issues. To be fair, it could have just been my device as I couldn’t find a ton out there in the very-vocal OnePlus community about this issue, but my Wi-Fi constantly disconnected and reconnected with no warning whatsoever. With no solution in sight, I returned the OnePlus 8 and went back to a Pixel 4XL. I felt at home. Safe. Secure. And wildly disappointed.
In the time I had the OnePlus 8 (about six weeks), I felt the Pixel’s grip on me loosening quite a bit. I began to realize that aside from a big issue like the troubling Wi-Fi problem I experienced, I was completely satisfied with the OnePlus 8. Sure, the camera was not quite as good, but it was far from bad and the rest of the phone’s hardware and software were absolutely amazing to use. I loved that phone and sincerely hope that either the issue gets fixed in an update or that my device was simply a lemon.
The OnePlus path forward
That brings me to where I am today, waiting on the arrival of my new OnePlus 8 Pro – the device I really wanted when I watched the OnePlus 8 launch event in the first place. I’m headed to that device with no intention of returning to the Pixel line of phones any time in the near future. Why? Because Google’s current trajectory is so confused and so messy that I no longer feel I can rely on them as a safety net in the Android phone space. I used to look at new phones with new features and consider giving them a try, knowing I always had Google’s flagship to fall back to. This year, it seems that won’t be the case.
As confusing as it sounds, from what we can tell Google will eventually launch the smaller Pixel 4a and then launch the Pixel 5 with a non-flagship-level Snapdragon 765G processor. I tried out a phone with this chip in it lately and I can tell you that it is definitely inferior to the 855 and 865 from Qualcomm. I fully understand that Google sells mid-range phones at a much faster clip than it does with flagship-caliber phones, but to know that we likely won’t see a high-end phone from Google this year puts users like myself in a strange position. I’m all for cheaper phones with great experiences for a large portion of the user base; I’m just not all for those phones being in my pocket long-term.
At this point in the year, I generally test the waters a bit with other phones and know that I’ll eventually land on the latest Pixel hardware when it launches, even if that hardware is a bit behind the curve. As it turns out, this year that won’t really be an option for me. Almost out of necessity I’ve been forced to look elsewhere for a 2020 flagship phone and, as it stands, the only one I’m considering right now is made by OnePlus. With their up-to-date software and focus on a clean, unblemished version of the latest build of Android, I almost feel like I have nowhere else to even consider. After all, the best from Samsung, Motorola, and LG all have heavily customized versions of Android that lag far behind the latest updates. OnePlus feels as close to Pixel as you can get at this point.
Thankfully, OnePlus happens to also be making fantastic hardware and I’m extremely excited to be making them my de facto phone moving forward. I hope there comes a time where Google gets back into the flagship game and perhaps it will be with their own silicon when it does happen. For now, however, if you are a fan of the clean Pixel experience but also want faster processors for games and heavy multitasking, it may be time to start looking elsewhere for your phone hardware. Google is doing what it needs to do to sell more phones and I can appreciate that. I’ll just have to do so at a distance with my OnePlus 8 Pro in-hand.