Before upgrading to the iPhone 12 Pro Max I decided to revisit the past in my second foray into the world of the Google Pixel 4 XL with the first one being abruptly ended because I had convinced myself that maybe Apple had addressed the short comings of the bundled software included with iOS, mainly, Safari and it’s lack of evolution in terms of supporting web standards. There is a tendency to look at Google services from the outside and jump to conclusions about what the iCloud ecosystem is. A good example would be the view that iCloud services has been a gradual evolution since I opened up an iCloud account but has Google on the other hand moved forward (Apple Maps vs. Google Maps outside of the United States) at a faster pace or are the improvements more widely reported as a result of their services being platform agnostic (accessed via the web browser) vs. iCloud which heavily relies on native applications running on Apple’s various platforms which directly talk to Apple’s servers? How do the Google services feel, when running in a native experience, which will give Google the ability to really make their services shin given that they control the platform?

When it comes to Android I take the ‘iron man argument’ – take the most robust implementation of Android and use that as the benchmark rather than the most popular but less ‘well put together’ implementation of Android. For me, ever since the Nexus 6P (my first exposure of Android direct from Google) the handsets direct from Google gives the most pure Android experience – devoid of the crapware and controlled directly from Google so that the experience you are given is what Google have envisaged Android to be for the consumer. The Pixel being the successor to Nexus but in a more ‘consumer friendly form’ (the Nexus when launched was primarily focused on tech enthusiasts and developers) but none the less what you get is the most pure form of the Google experience – it is the Google experience that Google wishes its customer to experience, to represent the highest ideal of what Google is all about. Unfortunately Pixel phones aren’t available in retail stores in New Zealand but it is available through online retailers such as Kogan who sell in New Zealand (they ship the product from Australia with their logistics company taking care of the GST themselves). Although the Pixel 5 was released I decided to go with the Pixel 4 XL because Kogan had it on special along with the fact that I wanted a bigger screen plus there is still another 2 years minimum (possibly longer assuming that Android moves to GKI 2.0 (link) which will allow piecemeal updates).

The day I received the handset Google pushed out the November security and bug fix update, and just like in the iOS world it was received on time rather than the long protracted weeks of ‘rolling it out’ such as Samsung releasing updates a month in New Zealand after Google makes the security update available to their own phones. So far things are going very well – stable and reliable.

Side note: I thought it was interesting that when I put in a Vodafone SIM it didn’t work ‘out of the box’ yet when I put in my Skinny SIM (which uses the Spark network) everything auto configured and worked as it should. So keeping in mind that when I tested it I was using a Skinny SIM and using G-Suite as well.

When it comes to the hardware itself, even after a year, it is still very snappy to the point that I think that although there are improvements that can be demonstrated via a benchmark, the improvements really aren’t that noticeable when it comes to every day use. When compared to the Pixel 5, it has a slight lead in performance over the 765G, but the main benefit of the Pixel 4 XL is the bigger screen When it comes to the amount of RAM, 6GB, I didn’t experience any issues of applications having to be forced closed by the system to free up memory. The feel of the hardware is great in the hands but keeping in mind that I always put my devices in a leather flip case from Snakehive (link).

Android 11 has very much moved in the direction of being more ‘privacy focused’ – not as much as say iOS but they have introduced a more fine grained control such as the ability to allow the application only to use GPS when you’re physically using the application or enable an application to only be able to access the microphone and/or camera only when you’re directly interacting with it.

Although Chrome is installed by default it is still disappointing that even after all these years that they haven’t provided the ability to install extensions – yes, it is possible to install a third party browser but part of benefit of going with Android is being able to leverage the Google cloud service as a ‘one stop stop’ (I tend to prefer only having to deal with one provider rather than multiple providers if I can avoid it) along with the fact that the alternatives don’t run well on macOS (Firefox for example still very much lags behind Chrome when it comes to taking advantage of macOS’s underlying technology such as webrender isn’t fully implemented on macOS when compared to Windows).

The bundled applications are still lacking; the phone application I was hoping to make an answer calls in much the same way I can do with the iPhone and my Mac but it appears that it is a service that Google is only allowing for their Google Fi customers. When it comes to Google Messages, the RCS service (via the Jibe platform (which Google owns)) does allow one to send photos etc without the added expense of normally associating with sending photos (since RCS uses Jobe platform servers rather than the traditional text messaging system provided by ones carrier) however it has limited utility. Outside of the US Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are king there is limited benefit of Google pushing out an RCS service – particularly one that doesn’t provide end to end encryption which makes it lack the sort of privacy protection that for example iMessage has.

YouTube Music is limited when compared to the old Google Play Music application particularly when dealing with albums that have more than 10 tracks which result in the number getting out of order, the limited options when it comes to the built in audio equaliser (I prefer to have bass booster enabled). I can’t help but get the feeling that although it can play music that is stored on local storage the main focus is it’s integration into the paid service Google provides.

In terms of the battery life, the battery life is pretty good – about the same as my experience with my iPhone 11 Pro Max but keeping in mind that I am a very light user (I don’t play games, play videos etc. as I primarily surf the net, read reddit, send messages via WhatsApp, listening to music etc) so your mileage may vary. The quality of the connection to the mobile network was better than the iPhone 11 Pro Max due to Qualcomm being the more mature modem but if you’re using an iPhone 12 Pro Max (like I am) which uses the x55 modem then you’ll find that the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a slight edge over the Pixel 4XL particularly when it comes to areas which have weak coverage.

Would I buy I buy the Pixel 4 XL when compared to the iPhone 11 Pro Max? it depends on how deeply ingrained into the Apple ecosystem are in terms of your reliance on the frictionless integration (in my case, my security camera setup integrating in with Home Kit which enable me to view what is happening at home whether I’m on my computer at home or out and about with my mobile phone) – keeping in mind that if you buy the Pixel 4 XL at this stage then you would be looking at another 2 years of support. That is one of the benefits of the iPhone where you’re receiving almost 5 years of support so if you’re the sort of person who keeps their phone for more than 2-3 years then the iPhone is probably more suitable. When compared to the new Pixel phones that were announced which were based on the Qualcomm 765G SoC the performance gap between that and the Qualcomm 855 is small but it depends on how keen you are to have 5G support.

Side note: I’ve now got a iPhone 12 Pro Max which comes with the Qualcomm x55 modem (second generation 5G modem) but keeping in mind that outside of the US the primary focus on the sub-6GHz band rather than wasting time on the mmwave (there have been articles about Qualcomm testing point to point connections using mmwave which IMHO where the best benefits will be yielded). In the case of Spark (the carrier I am with) their 5G frequency is N78 which translates to 3300Mhz to 3800Mhz. Such a high frequency will require Spark to install more base stations but it’ll be more useful to the average person than mmwave that can be blocked by a leaf, hand or a raindrop (thus making the whole ‘anti-5G’ nonsense even crazier than it is given that the mmwave frequencies cannot even penetrate the human body, heck it cannot even penetrate through double glazed windows!).

I’m tempted to write a bit of a grab bag article outlining the new Apple Silicon, Big Sur etc. but that’ll probably in a few days. This took a lot longer than it should have primarily because I’ve been lazy and laying in bed with my laptop where as I really should be a lot more motivated by being at my desk which gives me a lot more focus.

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