My full retreat back to iPhone-land

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My Pixel 3 as viewed from my iPhone 7 Plus

That’s it then.  My Pixel 3 is gathering dust already.  I gave it a try, but ultimately decided to return to my trusty old iPhone. The reason? I missed some key iPhone features, and I was frustrated with a few Pixel 3 quirks.

Pixel 3: “Turn left onto North Main Street.”

Me: “OK Google. Stop Navigation.”

Pixel 3: “Continue straight 1 mile.”

Me: “OK GOOGLE. STOP NAVIGATION”

Pixel 3: “Turn left onto…”

The dialog above is a recreation of a conversation that happened with my Pixel 3 multiple times.  Why won’t Google listen to me?  It listens when I tell it to start navigation, but I guess it really loves doing its job and just won’t quit.  Siri doesn’t do that.  She’ll happily navigate to where I want to go and stop navigating when I ask.  True, Google is much better at understanding destination names and at giving correct directions, but the rest of the experience has been frustrating.

And don’t get me started on the fact that the Pixel often doesn’t respond to my touch on certain areas of the screen…

More important to me than the Pixel 3 quirks was the lack of iPhone features that I’ve come to rely on:

  • iMessage: Sometimes you just want to “like” a comment without replying back.
  • Airdrop: When traveling, I find that almost everyone around me tends to have an iPhone.  This means that we can seamlessly share with each other via Airdrop.  Airdrop makes it super easy to share photos, videos, notes, etc. and you don’t even have to be connected to the internet to do so.
  • Share Wifi Password: When traveling around Germany and England with a group of 9, we used this feature frequently. One person would log into our Airbnb’s wifi by typing in the codes and then he or she simply shared the password with others nearby through some iPhone magic that I don’t understand.
  • Find Friends: My wife and I use this regularly.  Yes, we could have switched to a similar Google Maps feature, but we didn’t.
  • iPhone Charging Cables: I don’t particularly like Apple’s proprietary charging cables. But I definitely like being able to share charging cables with friends and family.

I did like some Android and Pixel features more than the iPhone, but none were so great that it was worth giving up my favorite iPhone features.  Yes, the Pixel 3 takes outstanding photos (especially group photos in my opinion), but the iPhone’s photos are plenty good enough for my needs.  Yes, the Pixel can take photos in the dark, but I have yet to encounter a good use for that feature. I guess peeping toms can use it to have memories that will last forever, but the rest of us?

How I switched back without voiding the deal

My iPhone 7 Plus as viewed from the Pixel 3

As a reminder, I bought the Pixel 3 phone during a ridiculously good less-than-one-day deal.  That deal required that I switch my Google Fi phone service to the Pixel phone and keep it active for either 60 days or 120 days depending upon how you interpret the rules of the promo.  Here were the rules:

  • To qualify for this promotion, a device must be activated within 15 days of device shipment and remain active for 60 consecutive days within 75 days of device shipment. The device must be activated within the same group plan that was used to purchase the device. Activation must be for full service (i.e., activation does not apply to a data-only SIM).
  • If Fi service is paused for more than 7 days or cancelled within 120 days of activation, the value of the gift card will be charged to your Google Payments account to match the purchased price of the device.

I plan to err on the side of caution and keep my Google Fi service attached to my Pixel 3 phone for the full 120 days.  Luckily, Google Fi has a feature that made it possible for me to return to my iPhone anyway.  Google Fi offers free data-only SIMs.  Here’s what I did:

  1. I inserted a free data-only SIM card into my iPhone 7 Plus.  This gave me data but not phone service.
  2. I installed the Google Hangouts app on my iPhone and configured it to accept incoming phone calls and messages for my phone number.
  3. I moved the regular phone icon out of the docking bar and replaced it with the Hangouts icon

The result of doing the above is:

  1. I can send and receive SMS text messages from Hangouts using my usual phone number (the same number that is still tied to my Pixel phone)
  2. I can send and receive iMessages based on my email address, but not based on my phone number.  In practice this means that I usually initiate iMessages and they work fine when people reply.
  3. I can initiate and accept phone calls via Hangouts using my usual phone number.  All calls then are conducted over my data connection (either wifi or Google Fi depending on what’s available).

There are several problems with this solution:

  1. I can’t tell Siri to call someone since she’ll try to initiate the call as a regular phone call (which Google Fi blocks since I’m using a data-only SIM)
  2. I can tell Siri to text or message someone as long as they’re on iMessage.  Otherwise it won’t go through.
  3. If I have a poor wifi and data connection, I can’t make a regular phone call.

Despite the above problems, 99% of the time the phone seems to work exactly as it did before I switched service to the Pixel phone.

What about my Samsung watch?  And my Moto?

Last week I wrote about my Samsung Gear S3 watch which works almost everywhere for mobile payments (See: 3X everywhere, on my wrist).  This watch can pair with my iPhone, but not if I want to continue using Samsung Pay.  So, for now, I’ve kept the watch paired with my Pixel 3.  When I’m away from the house and the Pixel 3, the watch still works as a time piece and it still works with Samsung Pay.  It just doesn’t do other smartwatch things like alerts, phone calls, etc.  I wasn’t using those features much anyway, so that hardly bothers me.  When I return home, the watch pairs again with the Pixel 3 and all of those features resume.

Once my 120 days with the Pixel 3 are over, I plan to sell that phone.  At that point, I’ll return to my Moto G6 as my home Android phone.  Long time readers may remember that I had bought the very inexpensive Moto G6 phone last year in order to try out Google Fi.  Google Fi was called Project Fi at that time, and they didn’t yet officially support iPhone use (now they do).  When I switch back to the Moto G6 I’ll have to setup Samsung Pay anew on this phone and re-add cards to my Samsung Pay wallet.  That’s inconvenient since sometimes it’s necessary to call the bank to verify cards as they’re added to Samsung Pay.  Still, I think it will be worth it to keep Samsung Pay working on my watch.

Supporting my watch won’t be the Moto phone’s only job.  It will also act as a wifi hotspot when we travel abroad.  I wrote about my previous experience doing so here: Google’s Project Fi abroad. 6 surprises: 3 good and 3 bad.

Conclusion

My experiment with switching from iPhone world to Android wasn’t a complete failure.  Overall, I actually like the Android user interface a little bit more than the iPhone interface.  But, for whatever reason, fate has decided that I run in an iPhone-centric crowd.  Almost everyone I see regularly has an iPhone.  As a result, I really missed the interactive iPhone features that were unavailable to me as an Android user.  Nick has told me that it’s the opposite for him: almost everyone around him is on Android.  I believe that that’s what makes all the difference.  The key isn’t the phone features or performance.  Both phone types are good enough for most purposes.  The key differentiator, for better or worse, is who you hang out with.

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