It’s my blog so I get to post angry posts when I feel like it, right?
Anyone that knows me knows I’m a Google fanboy. I’ve had every major Android phone made since the initial Android Developer Phone 1 (a HTC Dream/T-Mobile G1 with a REALLY cool backplate). I’ve been an Android dev since the first release of the Android SDK. I remember exactly where I was sitting when I read the news article announcing the Open Handset Alliance.
I could list more and more evidence, but honestly this kind of says it all:
That’s me, 100lbs and many years ago. Wearing a Google Wave shirt. Walking to lunch from the Crittenden campus, with my brand new Nexus One (or was it a S?) in hand.
That has to be enough for you to believe this: I love Google. I love Android. I love the ecosystem, I even use Google Cloud. I love it all.
So, with that said: boy, am I disappointed.
I should’ve known right from that awkward October 4 Made By Google event that I’d be let down. Google historically misses the mark on hardware, and this was their biggest push yet. I’ve been really liking Google’s design ideology for the last few years, so I was hopeful.
The awkwardness of the release event ignored, the Pixel seemed to be a great phone. Pure Android. An actually good camera. A good look, nothing too unique but something I could live with. No camera hump! I was in.
I pre-ordered a 5″ Pixel in Quite Black and 128GB the second I could. I also pre-ordered a Google Home. I have now had the Pixel for just over two weeks and the Google Home for just under one week. I even pre-ordered the Daydream headset, that should arrive later this week.
There’s a lot of good to be said about the Pixel. I liked the phone itself a lot. My big problem with it (which I’ll get to in a second) is more about the Made by Google brand as a whole and how the products interact.
The Google Home though, holy shit. I get that it’s their first try, but I’ve seen a lot of IoT first tries. I have a lot of IoT in my household, and I purchased the Echo during invite-only beta. I’ve made many integrations with the Echo, and used it many many times a day.
But still, I wanted to try something new. I had faith in Google being able to answer my drunken rambling questions better than Amazon. I can google “that one movie with that one guy”, so why not have something that lets me say “Play that one movie with that one guy on my TV”.
Here’s the thing though. The Google Home sucks. I feel like I replaced my Amazon Echo with something that’s worse than when the Echo was in beta.
First, just focusing on the Home itself:
It faces a specific direction. It has that little tilt, then the lights are on the surface facing a wall. It looks nice and the animations of the lights are cute, but it doesn’t provide 360 visual signaling like the Echo does.
I understand this seems minor, but when you are standing directly behind the face and say “Okay Google, set a timer for 40 minutes” while you place brussels sprouts in the oven — guess what you’re going to burn.
It also… well it fails to do anything a lot. I can’t tell you how many of my attempts have resulted in a “I’m sorry, I can’t help you with that yet”. If a voice-controlled device continues not understanding or not being able to do what I ask, I stop using it for even things I know it can do.
It advertises that it can control all my Google Cast devices, but “Okay Google, mute my TV” errors out. Many “who plays … in …” questions that I used to ask Alexa a lot error out. I haven’t used the Home for any voice based queries since the second day, so I can’t give too many examples here.
With the Echo any request it didn’t understand I could look at in the app, see what it heard, then report it to Amazon if I felt it should’ve understood me.
Now, on how it plays with others:
On the Echo, if I say “Play Spotify” and have Spotify open somewhere else, it switches over to that and resumes the same part of the same song with the same queue of next songs. On the Google Home, the same query plays my Discover Weekly playlist, every time.
Don’t get me started on its Phillips Hue integration. They’re the most popular “smart” lightbulbs, it’s a “smart” hub, why didn’t they test the two?! It crashed the first 5 times I tried to connect my lights to my Home, that should tell you enough.
When you play some media through the Home or any other Google Cast device in your household, you get two notifications on the Pixel. Every single time you watch Netflix on your Chromecast, two persistent notifications on your phone.
They say the exact same thing. They have the same buttons. One has brand styling, one is gray. I would show a screenshot, but:
I dropped my Pixel 5 feet while grabbing it out of my pocket and now it doesn’t work.
A very ordinary event, but rare for me. I’ve had many many phones, and I’ve never even cracked a screen. First time I’ve completely killed a phone.
The screen on the Pixel didn’t crack, but it stopped being responsive to touches on the top half. So I turned it off. And now it turns on, but I can only tell because adb says it’s connected.
I talked to Google. It’s the same deal as support for the much cheaper Nexus devices. Unless you bought the extra warranty plan when buying the phone, there’s nothing they can do.
I can’t send my $800 phone to the manufacturer and pay some extra money to get it repaired like I could if this was a Samsung or Apple device.
Hey Google, if you want to pivot into a real brand: You need to provide real support. No other flagship phone tells people “well, good luck” if they have a common incident break the device.
I’m not even sure if any third-party repair shops work on the device yet since it’s so new. I’m supposed to just get it taken care of out of warranty, but I don’t know who to go to.
I honestly don’t know what to do. I put my SIM back in my iPhone 6s. I was really hoping the Pixel would be the device that makes this Android developer use Android every day again.
I do know what I’m doing with the Google Home though, I’m throwing it at a fucking wall and putting the Echo back where it belongs. Alexa, I’m so sorry I put you in the closet.