I mapped out the essences of my Google Pixel first 30 days experience in case there was a specific section you needed to get to:
- Verizon Network settings
- Camera Optimization
- Google Assistant
- WiFi Calling
- Google Ecosphere
- Android User Experience (UX): alphabetizing apps
- Talk to Text
- Power meters
- Nice battery
- Night pictures
- 24/7 support, forums…
- No Google Play Music integration
- Sidenote: How to set custom ringtones in Google Pixel using music from your Google Play Music Library
- Pull out the old Western Digital backup
- 3rd party heel drags
- 2-year software update
- 3rd party app crashes
- In truth, my wife has had more issues
And, of course, some final thoughts.
Now, back to the beginning.
It’s been a little nerve-racking giving up the iPhone after over 8 years of dutiful service, but with Google liking a phone so much they attached their name to it, I had to take a chance on the Google Pixel. Since Katie loved that HTC put the Pixel together, she was more-than-eager to trade in our iPhone 5Ss. And, because her employer covers her phone bill, we ended up paying a little less per month than what we had been paying.
So in early-October 2016, the first week the Pixels were out, we went downstairs to the Verizon retailer store and bought two of them:
- Basic Google Pixels
- 128 GB HD
Both feet ahead, and, jump.
Setup: Learning how to use the Google Pixel
It definitely feels like I’m buying my first smartphone all over again. The hours are flying by testing stuff. I get the frustrated urge every 90 minutes to want to throw it off our 3rd-story balcony because I can’t instinctively do the shortcuts on the Pixel like I could on the iPhone.
Seriously. I bet I could land it in the Armadillo Willy’s smokestack from here.
There have been cool tutorials
Here’s what I’ve been using so far:
On the phone itself, there are tutorials that help you get started and learn the basics. And, because Google is Google, they put these videos on YouTube. Here’s the basic one.
I also started a Google Pixel How-To playlist on YouTube.
Here’s another video that tells you how to switch from iPhone iOS to Google Pixel (which runs on Nougat at the moment).
For the record, I skipped the “migrate from iPhone iOS” step so I could take the long way ’round and do everything manually, thereby learning more about the phone. I was mostly on Google anyways. Thank you, Google Photos, Google Business Apps, and Google Play Music (and Spotify). As for the old chat messages, they’re still on my iPad until some time that I’d want to pay $40 for a 3rd party app to access the old messages. Absolutely lame, Apple.
Also, by doing this manually, I get a chance to find out which Apps I really don’t use anymore. Going minimalistic and building it up as I go.
If you go online to MadeBy.Google.com/phone/tips, you’ll find a lot of tips and instructions on how to do things on your phone, from animated GIFs and Facetime-equivalent (Google Duo) to setting the nightlight mode to make it help you calm down at night (“Yes. I use the nightlight”).
I also found this incredibly handy blog post about 5 things to do when you first get your Google Pixel. It really helped optimize my phone by doing the following:
- Setting up the fingerscan : This is the one I’m still dragging my heels on. I had it turned off so I couldn’t be forced to do it if ever pulled over by the police. I still need to follow up on that rule.
- Updating Verizon Network settings : Yup. I’m on Verizon. The settings were good to go save for the WiFi Calling setup.
- Optimizing the camera : it gave me steps to set the pics and video to 4k by default. I’m assuming Mountain View didn’t have this set by default for phones because of how much memory 4K videos and pictures take up. “But we have unlimited storage.” You have unlimited CLOUD storage. You still have to sync the data over to the Google Photos to utilize it (which is easy once you’re logged into Google (gmail account for phone). It’s a one-button push. Click “Free Up Space” in Google Photos and it’ll finish the sync and delete all photos and videos on your phone that are already in Google Photos (and aren’t being used for wallpaper or contact photos). This will free up your, otherwise, finite local storage. What, you didn’t think they put a TARDiS in the phone. Did you?
- Configure Google Assistant : Surprisingly necessary. And handy.
- WiFi calling!: I didn’t even know WiFi calling was available on the Google Pixel. Data-saver if ever I saw one.
The issue I ran into when setting up WiFi Calling
If your Wifi Calling setup doesn’t work initially, check to see if you’re in Battery Saving mode. The first way to tell is if the top and bottom of the phone have are in Google Play Orange. I point this out because I had trouble setting up WiFi Calling until I turned off the battery saving mode. Then, it booted right up.
- Pictures, and set up: Google Photos is great. If you’re logged into your Google / Gmail account, then you can push the nice button and sync your photos to Google. And, all 4K photos and video stored in Google Photos is free of charge, so long as you stay with the phone.
I’m also enjoying finding new things as I go along.
For example, I’ve never tried the NASA app before. I set it so every 8 hours it updates my wallpaper with their most recent image.
What I like about Google Pixel
The Google Ecosphere: it’s been like coming home
I stopped using iOS apps over the year. I was already integrated into Google, and Google offered all the same features, essentially (we’ll save the feature nitpicking for another post). In the last year, I stopped using iOS’s mail app because, aside from some drag & drop inability at the time, Gmail was what I preferred.
Then, with the onset of Google Photos, I was in app heaven.
Android user experience
For this reformed iPhone user, I had to get used to the following features:
- That there’s no home button under the screen
- the shortcut menu drops down from the top instead of pulls up from the bottom
- and that the nav button are on the right, which initially made me think the designer was a lefty until I realized that placing the buttons on the right made me use my left hand for them, but left my right hand open to navigate the screen
Otherwise, the Android UX is actually more intuitive. Like when I got used to the Kinesis Advantage MPC USB / QD ergonomic keyboard for my desktop, which took about a day, the other days were made quicker and easier by the innovation.
There are two ways to get to apps
- Like with iPhone, there are shortcut menu screens
- Unlike the iPhone, there’s a second navigation that you can pull up that places all the apps in alphabetical order. Heaven sent. Just remember that all the Google Apps remove “Google” from the title and you’ll find things easier. Like, when looking for Google Analytics, look for “Analytics” in “As” and not “Google Analytics” in the “G”s and you’re good to go
The keyboard is actually really, really good
Katie always raved about it on her old HTC. I believed her, but I didn’t realize the significance of the difference until I started typing, text-to-talking, and using that trace keyboard where you can drag from letter-to-letter like you’re tracing a line with a crayon, and it finds the word usually before you’re done tracing. It’s actually fast. And, bless Google for tracking my docs and emails for the last 12 years. They’re probably using it to anticipate what I’m trying to type.
The sounds have been louder
I dunno if it was because my iPhone was in a LifeProof case or what, but the phone has just sounded incredibly louder. Music, speakerphone, alarms. Maybe that changes when I get a case for it (hurry the fuck up, LifeProof).
January ’17 update…
Thank you, LifeProof.
The pictures have been worth the hype
Especially at night. Google Pixel’s camera has been doing a great job of accentuating the light it finds at night and at low levels. It finds everything as well as a few rays that weren’t there, but, yeah. Been worth it so far.
I just learned to optimize the photos for 4k and learned to leave it in HDR. And, go figure, it’s rained every day out here in East Bay / Bay Area since we got the phone. The chances of that happening are about the same as the Cubs going to the World Series.
Oh, wait. That’s why I’ve been crying tears of joy a lot.
Anyway, I look forward to getting better views from our patio of the Pleasanton Ridge and the Altamont at sundown. When I do, I’ll update it.
The battery and charging has been as good as advertised
I went almost 40 hours between charges, and that’s been with excessive use while simultaneous waiting for the transfer from AT&T. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens over the weekend. Katie probably won’t be. Leaving my phone’s battery life in single-digits is what of the (hopefully few) pet peeves she has about me.
The support is, well, Google. It’s been legit.
There’s 24/7 support feature for the Google Pixel users. There’s even a section on the phone where you can one-touch call or text in your questions.
Settings App > Support tab
You can even share your phone screen with your tech – provided it’s working – and they can take the controls and show you how to work it.
Like with all Google Products, there’s nice online support forum where you can find conversations on your question, and if you can’t find that, you can start your own. So far, the answers are quick in coming. I’m currently in a dialogue I started about my biggest pet peeve with this phone. Speaking of which…
What I am not liking about Google Pixel
1) No Google Play Music integration? WHY????
So, like me, you have your library uploaded to Google Play Music. And, like me, on your past phones, you’ve used MP3s of your favorite songs for alarms and ringtones, to personalize your world and make it better. It also helps tip you off as to who or what is calling or contacting you, and, from there, you can or cannot decide to act. It’s a handy bit. Not to mention how you use your music to motivate you when you first wake up. You’re a smart user.
In your Google Pixel, you find only one place for music: Google Play Music. So, like me, you’re thinking, “Sweet. This means that I’ll finally be able to easily update my alarms and ringtones from my Google Play Music Library in the same way I can update photos from Google Photos.” It’s like 2003 all over again with my LG. Nice job. You’re a sucker. Like me.
Now, while you can make MP3s for your ringtones and alarms, you still can’t get them directly from Google Play Music. This includes the library of songs you’ve either purchased directly or uploaded from your personal collection. You have to download the music into a separate folder on the phone. A folder you wouldn’t have known about without some serious digging.
You can drag and drop stored files. Here’s how I did it from a MacBook Pro
After an over an hour of fuckin’ with it, I figured out the following steps to add songs to custom ringtones and alarms from a desktop to my Google Pixel without using a 3rd party app.
- Find the songs on your desktop you want to use: either from the desktop’s hard drive or from an external hard drive synced to the desktop
- From your desktop, drop the MP3 files into the Google Drive account associated with your Pixel: Might be my favorite step to this. Note: this is the last step involving your desktop. From here, the rest of the work is performed within Google Pixel.
- In Pixel, open Google Drive and located those songs: sorting the files by “last modified” or “last added” should make that pretty easy for you, assuming you’re performing these steps consecutively and not with days/months between this step and the previous step
- Select these files, click the overflow menu (the 3 vertical dots that look like a gray stoplight), and select Download: This will download it for you.
- Once the download is done, close out Drive: You won’t need it anymore for this task.
- Find the Settings app: Either in all the apps alphabetized below, or by using the search feature.
- Go to Settings > Storage > Other: When you click Other, you’ll get a pop-up warning about the files. Click Explore.
- Go to Downloads: Hey, look. The MP3s you downloaded.
- Select the MP3s you want to copy to Ringtones
- Hit that overflow menu at the top. Then, select the Copy to… button: Easier to copy them than to move them, especially if you’re using these songs for both Ringtones and Alarms. At worst, once we’re down, you can wipe the downloads folder clean during cleanup.
- A left-hand menu appears. Select Pixel :
Congrats. This took me 30 minutes to figure out the hard way. I kept trying to go straight from Downloads to Ringtones and Alarms without taking this path. It wouldn’t give me the menu options. At that point, the phone about got tossed from our balcony.
- Select the Alarm folder.
- Once in Alarm, hit the Copy link in the lower-right-hand corner: Hot damn. Your songs are in there.
- Repeat the steps for all the songs you want as Ringtones. Substitute Alarm for Ringtones:
- RESTART THE PHONE: This step took me 15 minutes to figure out. “Why restart the phone?” Because, as I spent 15 minutes learning, the songs won’t show up later on in the menus when you go to set alarms and ringtones unless you do this.
How to restart the Google Pixel?
- Hold down the top button on the right (or top-left, if you’re holding up-right in the landscape position [wider than taller]. You’ll know you’ve hit it because it’s the much-shorter of the two buttons.
- Select Restart
- Go added the songs to your contacts and alarms: Poke around. You’ll find them when you pull up your individual contacts (in the Contacts app>) and alarms (in the Clock app). You can also now use these as default sounds.
- Clean up redundant MP3s: Now that they’re in your Ringtones and Alarms folder, you don’t need them in Google Drive or Downloads unless you really, really, want to keep them there. I’d recommend deleting them.
3rd party developer heel drags. I’m looking at you, LifeProof. I’m waiting on you.
I love LifeProof cases for smartphones. They’re perhaps the priciest on the market, but if you’ve ever left your smartphone in your swimsuit pocket and sit in a hot tub for 15 minutes before realizing it, you’ll discover first-hand why their covers are worth every penny.
“Yes,” I’ve done this to my iPhone 5S. I realized it was in there after I reset the hot tub for another 15 minutes of bubbles.
Not only that but on the rare occasion when I’ve taken my iPhone 5S out of the case, the phone has continued to look as new as the day I bought it, which is making it easier to trade it in for full value on the Pixel – meaning the LifeProof can be considered an investment.
They have a page up for the Pixel case. They’re taking emails to announce when the cases are ready for purchase
I signed up for it. I’m waiting for it. But now I’ve got a month on the road and, right now, I’m going with an uncovered phone. I don’t really want to buy a temporary case, but I also don’t want to trust just how water resistant the Pixel is. I don’t trust myself with my phone, especially when lost in thought.
January ’17 update: LifeProof finally released the cases!
LifeProof finally came out with the cases for the Pixel in January. Katie saw them online, bought two of them for us, and we’re using them now. Thank you, LifeProof.
What has me concerned about Google Pixel
1) Guaranteed Android version updates till October 2018 and security patch updates through October 2019
This has scared some folks away from purchasing it. I get that. For Katie & I, we got the phones in October 2016. That means we’ll get security patches for 3 years. But if someone goes and buys this flagship phone in, say, April 2017, this means they’ll only have 2.5 years before they’ll leave on their own – in theory.
Others are pointing out that there’s no way in Hell that Google will let its flagship phone owners in a lurch and we’ll probably continue to do updates for longer into the future. No one would want that PR nightmare. Ask Samsung.
No longer “guaranteeing” is a nice CYA.
They’re not the first tech company to put in such a CYA. They won’t be the last. The notice is in there because, as much advanced knowledge as the industry has, in the end, nobody knows what’s going to be going on in October 2019. The market could change. Google could get out of phones. Google could dominate phones.
While the guarantee window puts them well short of the average life expectancy of a smartphone (4.6 years at last casual glance), for me, I’m glad when a phone goes 3 years. So, right now, as I bought, it’s okay. But, once again, if I bought this in Spring of 2017, I’d probably weigh my options a little longer, especially in such a hackable world.
This is more about me not typically being an early adopter, but there have been subtle bugs. Not too bad, especially with a new phone line, but it bugs about once a day. The screen was locked this morning with the Google Assistant updates on my lock screen. The first day, I couldn’t send links out from Facebook Messenger, but that seemed to clear out.
The biggest but we saw was that it wasn’t pairing well to cars’ bluetooth. Katie’s Nissan Sentra has had this issue. Now, granted, we’ve read where Nissan Bluetooth tech isn’t perfect comparatively, but it’s something we’re hoping gets fixed quickly. Like, by Tuesday.
January ’17 update: we found a fix
After a couple months, we found a fix for the Nissan Bluetooth issue. It was called, “trade in her phone and get a new one.” It not only fixed the Bluetooth issue but fixed all her phone issues.
My wife is the one that had real issues with her Pixel
My wife’s Nissan Bluetooth issues mentioned a couple paragraphs up from here was just the tip of the iceberg. She also had important call drops, static, wifi call drops…she ended up getting a whole new phone after the sim card swap the Verizon store reps suggested didn’t work.
Final Thoughts on my first thirty days with the Google Pixel
No transition is ever seamless, expect for the Dell XPS 15 I just picked up. That’s been relatively flawless.
But, overall, it’s been a pretty good ride with the Google Pixel. I was on the road when my first 30 days was up. I’ll cover that in the next post. And, yes, I promise, it will be shorter than this book.