Yes, a redemption story.

In case you hadn't seen, I wasn't a huge fan of Google's own Places Live Case I ordered for my Pixel XL. Not only did fulfillment and shipping issues lead to it taking nearly a month to arrive, but when it finally showed up the notoriously poor case didn't even work properly.

A refresher:

The idea of the "Live Case" series is that you install the My live Case app to pair up with your case. For the Places Live Case, it enables an exclusive wallpaper that changes as you move around, and can be customized to your liking. The case also includes a button on the back that interfaces with NFC on your phone to perform various actions.

My issue is that the case's button is finicky at best and demonstrably broken at worst. For the first few days of using the Live Case, the button would activate every single time I unlocked the phone — by default launching the "places near me" interface of Google Maps. Being frustrated but hoping to mitigate the problem, I turned the shortcut button off ... but unfortunately all that does is stop the app from starting an action; it still triggers a confirmatory beep and vibration that the button had been "pressed" when it hadn't.

Loving the look of the case and hoping it was just an anomaly, I took a plunge and ordered another Places Live Case, this time for my Pixel. To my enjoyment, the case not only showed up on time but it also worked exactly as intended. This is the proper experience you'd expect to get when buying a case (particularly directly from Google), and let me evaluate it without the extra headaches.

Google Pixel with Places Live Case

Since Google has these cases made in China one by one with custom artwork on the back, it's bound to increase fulfillment time. And indeed, with default shipping Google claimed that my order on January 17 would arrive between January 24 and 26. And unlike my horrible experience last time, the case was sent out the next day and arrived on January 25. Still not super fast, but for a custom-printed case coming from Asia with free shipping, I call that a logistics win.

Even when the case works flawlessly it may be tough to justify its price.

Now, the case itself. My first Places Live Case had major issues with its customizable NFC-based button on the back. At first it automatically triggered each time I unlocked the phone, and then switched to not activating at all. The one truly unique feature of the case didn't even work. Thankfully, all works as intended this time around on my Pixel. Speaking with a Google representative I'm told there was a manufacturing issue related to the button that was identified and fixed — and at least in this sample size of one, that holds true.

You can still easily say that the selection of Live Cases from the Google Store isn't worth your hard-earned $40. When the case material itself is on par with one you can find online for around $10, you're paying a huge premium for that custom design and not-super-valuable customizable key on the back. But if you do spend that kind of cash on a hard plastic case, you want it to show up on time and work right — Google seems to have figured out those basics, and in the end I have a completely unique case that keeps my Pixel safe.