Silverman: Finally, an Android phone to call my own: Google’s Pixel 6 Pro

Regular readers know I’m a longtime iPhone user, one who’s all-in on Apple’s ecosystem. But I’ve long been Android-curious, and have reviewed smartphones running Google’s mobile operating system since the very first one, the HTC Dream, was released in 2008.

Every now and then, I think about buying an Android phone. Last month, I did more than just think.

I’m now the owner of a Pixel 6 Pro, the flagship smartphone from Google and considered the vanguard device for the Android OS. When a new Android version is set loose upon the land, it shows up first on Pixel hardware. More about that in a minute.

I spent my cash this way because, even though I’m familiar enough with Android to write handset reviews, I don’t carry the expertise on the platform that I do for iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system. Pixel ownership is my shot at changing that.

This is not to imply in any way that I’m on the road to becoming an Android switcher. As I said, I’m happily surrounded by Apple’s hardware, happy with Apple’s software, tapped into Apple’s services, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. What others deride as “lock-in,” I consider “enablement.”

iPhone users who can copy text or images from their handsets and instantly paste them into a document on their Macs, iPads or other iPhones know what I’m talking about.

No, in this case I’m taking myself to school, enrolling in Android University. Since I received the phone after buying it from Amazon, I’ve been spending as much time using it as my iPhone 13 Pro Max. It is not my daily driver, but for now it gets equal time. I’ve been customizing it, installing (and uninstalling) apps, tweaking settings and signing up for services.

This is not the first time I’ve gotten up close and personal with a Pixel 6 Pro. I reviewed it last November, declaring at the time:

“From its stellar camera to its beautiful 6.7-inch display to its unusual design to its Google-designed processor, it’s an instant contender for the best Android device you can own. Bonus: It costs less than the competition, too.”

Picking the Pixel as my Android testbed wasn’t a simple decision. I thought about what I wanted to accomplish and the criteria necessary to hit that goal. Here’s what I require from an Android device I call my own:

Longevity. Apple provides at least five years of updates for its iOS devices, but often users get more than that. Some low-end Android devices don’t get any OS updates, and even flagship models may only receive one or two. That is changing — Samsung now provides four years of OS updates and five years of security fixes, while Google gives Pixel phones three years of OS updates and five years of security patches. To make sure I get lots of updates, my choice needed to be a new model, not something that’s already a year or two old.

Minimal bloatware. Like Windows PCs, Android devices are notorious for bloatware, unnecessary apps that get in the way and often duplicate OS-native apps. I wanted a device relatively free of junk, or at least one where most of the offending apps could be removed. The closer to “pure” Android, the better.

Mainstream. I didn’t want a device that’s not readily available in the United States, or with little or no carrier support. I wanted to test multiple carriers with it, so it needed to be unlocked.

Drum roll, please

Sadly, it’s almost impossible to find a device that meets all those criteria. Still, I narrowed my selections down to a short list of four phones, and asked social media followers and readers of my personal blog at dwightsilverman.com for their thoughts. The list:

Samsung A53 5G
– At the higher end of Samsung’s mid-range line of phones, the A53 has a decent camera system and display, good battery life and a responsive processor. It’s also an excellent buy at $450. I rejected it because Samsung makes significant changes to Android. It also has a notorious amount of bloatware on it, some of which can’t be removed.

Samsung Galaxy S22
– Ideally, I really wanted the S22+, as I prefer larger-screen devices. But the bigger phone is $1,000 compared to the S22’s $800. But still, it’s a Samsung so it has bloatware and a tweaked OS.

Google Pixel 6a
– Even though this is a smaller phone, with a 6.1-inch display, I was intrigued by the great reviews it’s received. Also, it’s brand new and costs $450. But the camera system is less capable than the 6 Pro.

Google Pixel 6 Pro
– In the end, I wound up choosing it because it’s bloatware-free and will get several years of OS updates that are as pure as Android can be. It’s not the cheapest choice, at $899, but it’s less expensive than the top-of-the-line models from Samsung or Apple. The downside: Google’s phones have a relatively small market share, beloved mostly by the geekerati. They’re not particularly mainstream devices. Also: A successor, the Pixel 7 Pro, is due this fall.

I also decided, for now, to sign up for Google Fi, the company’s own wireless service. Fi, as it’s known, is a Mobile Virtual Network Operator, or MVNO. These types of services run on top of the major carriers. In Fi’s case, the base carriers are T-Mobile and Consumer Cellular, which itself runs on AT&T’s network.

I signed up for the Flexible tier, in which you pay for only what you use: $20 a month, plus $10 per gigabyte of data. (Pro tip: Don’t run 5G tests using the popular Speedtest app from Ookla on this plan. In my case, each test chewed up about half a gigabyte of data, costing me $10 under the Flexible tier’s terms. Yikes!) But otherwise, I like the convenience of Fi, but will be switching to an unlimited tier at the end of this billing period.

Expect to see future columns focusing on Android, including a look at version 13, which could come sometime this month.

dsilverman@outlook.com

twitter.com/dsilverman

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