Android tends to beat iOS in reviews on customisation, app selection, and cloud integration. After five years with an iPhone, I decided to put Android to the test and buy a Google Pixel. A year later, I wish I hadn't switched.
Every time my brother downloaded a new song or app, it would appear on my iPhone. And every time we got an iOS update, I would start to receive his text messages. We tried everything, but the glitch wouldn't go away.
At the same time, I had been hearing praise for the Google Pixel's professional-grade camera. Many tech reviewers had also praised Android's superiority over iOS for qualities like customisation, cloud services, and app selection.
Sure, the iPhone X had been the most popular smartphone in the world in the first quarter of 2018, but popular didn't necessarily mean better, right?
So after five years with an iPhone, I decided to give the Google Pixel a go.
If you choose not to customise your Pixel, you'll notice its user experience is nearly identical to the iPhone's. Both smartphones sport a grid layout with rounded icons in bright colours. Getting used to the new system took no longer than getting used to the dashboard and brakes of a new car.
Where the Pixel in particular and Androids in general excel is in their vast capacity for customisation.
Android's software is built on an open-source platform, which gives developers the ability to create apps that can do more. The potential for customisation is basically limitless.
In theory, this is awesome. Tired of opening the calculator when you meant to open the clock? Download a new family of icons. Play around with the widgets so they're always where you want them. Explore hundreds of themes on Google Play. If you're feeling cheeky, you could even give your Pixel an Apple interface.
In reality, however, the only thing I've bothered to change is my wallpaper. Turns out that just because you can download a third-party app to customise your phone doesn't mean you want to. Storage is limited, and not all third-party apps are trustworthy. And to be honest, many themes, such as 3D Ice Wolf and Pink Paris, look gaudy and bring back bad MySpace memories.
Privacy and security
While I never got a virus scare with iOS, using Android reminds me of surfing the web in the early 2000s. I've frequently had to exit out of apps like a maniac as pop-ups flooded my screen.
More than 80% of hackers target Android users, while less than 4% target iOS users, as reported in Nokia's Mobile Threat Intelligence Report. Compared with iOS, Android's open-source platform is reportedly easier to hack.
Security and privacy go hand in hand, especially when you consider how much sensitive data we make available on your phone, sometimes unintentionally.
If I had fully understood Google's approach to protecting user privacy, I probably would have never switched.
This hit home for me earlier this year when an Ars Technica report revealed that Facebook had been collecting texting data and call history from users through its Messenger app. Though users technically opt in, the specifics of what Facebook was allowed to collect was hidden in the fine print. This breach of privacy affected only Android users.
Apple distances itself from user information through its "Differential Privacy" policy. According to the policy, the company can add "statistical noise" to any data it collects so personal information can't be traced back to the individual user.
Google also uses a form of differential privacy, but with a "heavy-duty" approach to data collection that has drawn criticism in opinion articles such as one in Fortune from the University of Pennsylvania communications professor Joseph Turow.
Though Google claims this data collection improves the Pixel's user experience, I've found the personalised suggestions and reminders more creepy than helpful.
If you switch to the Google Pixel, expect to lose some of the amenities that come standard on most phones.
What I missed most was the ability to copy and paste from a text message. Google recently resolved this issue, but at the time it was a huge pain, especially when people sent addresses. You really get used to the ability to simply click an address and have it come up in your maps app.
I also missed being able to set my music to a sleep timer without having to install a new app. Even my Samsung Juke had that feature, and it was as wide as my thumb.
Hypothetically, you could find many of these functionalities on the Google Play store. But the effort of finding something and vetting its quality never seems worth it.
Ultimately, I wish I hadn't switched. I'm not a coder. I'm not a big gamer. I'm not even that inclined to change my font or background. For this reason, the freedom to customise simply doesn't outweigh the issues I've outlined. While the experience hasn't been bad enough to get me rummaging around for my old Juke, I definitely won't go for a Pixel the next time I'm in the market for a phone.