When you use your smartphone, do you find yourself loving it or hating it? Maybe your job is hazardous and that expensive, fragile flagship is just an accident waiting to happen (and another bill you're not prepared to pay). Or maybe you find yourself with a long commute to the city and the meager battery life of your phone just isn't cutting it anymore. Or maybe, just maybe, you actually picked the perfect smartphone this time around and can't wait to sing its praises.
Whatever situation you're in, Reader's Choice explores the decisions you made along the way that brought you to your current smartphone. Whether that's one of the best Android phones (opens in new tab) or one of the worst you've ever had, we're talking to readers and finding out exactly why they chose their current smartphone, if they love or hate it, and what could be better or worse.
Interested in voicing your opinion? Reader's Choice is a regular column and we would love to hear from you. Have you found the secret sauce that makes your phone best for your lifestyle, or do you want to warn others not to make the same purchasing mistakes? Send us a Tweet (opens in new tab) and let us know! This one's all about you.
Better call Saul
I’m kicking off this regular column with my good friend Saul, a Data Consultant who lives in Chicago with his family. Saul makes the regular commute to and from the office several days a week but, as he tells me, he didn’t choose his most recent upgrade to better fit his work life or the commute. After all, Saul previously used the Note 20 Ultra and certainly didn’t need a device with better battery life or more productivity features.
Instead, Saul told me he chose the Pixel 6 Pro specifically for its camera. “I've owned Nokia, Apple, and Samsung phones in the past and the camera has been the most important thing for me. With all the hype of past Pixel phones, plus the promise of a new sensor, it was the obvious choice for someone like me who prioritizes the camera.”
Back in November, I wrote about how the Pixel 6 is the best smartphone camera for parents (opens in new tab) for a reason. There is no other Android phone that can capture movement the way a Pixel 6 can. Google built in several new automated features that work to ensure your photos are as crisp as possible and, even when there is a lot of movement, the faces of the folks you capture should be clearer than on any other phone.
Saul also agrees with this, saying, “I take tons of family pictures, and this is one area where the phone delivers. No other phone I've used is better at capturing faces and freezing movement. It's the ultimate camera for capturing active children at play.”
But I know from personal conversations over the past few months with Saul that he would also love a phone like the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra (opens in new tab) because of the ability to zoom in even further than the Pixel 6 Pro. For someone who commutes to a big city for work, having the ability to zoom in farther to see the minute details of historic buildings is just a lot of fun. While the Pixel 6 Pro can zoom up to 20x pretty cleanly, it’s hard to argue with the 100x zoom of an S22 Ultra — if that were a priority, of course.
It’s the little things that matter
Saul also told me a stylus would be nice — something else a Galaxy S22 Ultra would provide — but that type of productivity simply isn’t a priority for him on his daily commute.
Instead, Saul told me that one particular feature was a happy surprise for him and quickly became his favorite part of the Pixel 6 Pro experience. “I would say my favorite thing about the phone is...the phone app. It screens calls for me, efficiently deals with spam, waits on hold for me, and otherwise just demonstrates how Google can actually use its AI smarts to improve the user experience when it focuses.”
Samsung offers decent spam detection on its phones but nothing really comes close to Pixel Call Screening (opens in new tab). It not only automatically rejects callers who are identified as spam, but can harness the power of Google Assistant to actually answer calls for you, asking as an actual personal assistant at an office would. As someone who switches phones on a regular basis in order to review them, I can tell you that I notice the massive increase in spam calls every time I switch away from a Pixel phone.
But there’s no arguing over the fact that the Pixel 6 has had the buggiest software of any Pixel phone to date which, considering the problems of the Pixel line over the years, is saying quite a bit. When I asked Saul his least favorite thing about the Pixel 6 Pro, he was quick to answer.
“The bugs. There are far too many of them. They are frequent enough to cause daily frustration.”
I’ve come across my fair share of bugs on my Pixel 6 Pro, as well, but Saul regularly seems to find bugs that I’ve never encountered before. “I consider myself a power user so I'm used to bugs, whether on iPhone or Android, but the amount of software quirks on the Pixel were still surprising.”
We’ve been running a Pixel 6 bug tracker (opens in new tab) since the phone launched in an effort to keep track of all the oddities that occur, but some of these bugs have also been present in previous-generation Pixel phones, too.
Just recently, he told me about a time when he was taking a picture during a Zoom meeting while on a train. He tapped the button and saw the shutter register, but no image was ever saved to his gallery. By that point, the moment had passed and the split-second opportunity to snag a gorgeous photo was gone. That’s a bug I haven’t encountered on Pixel phones since the Pixel 3 and proves that there are still gremlins in Google’s software.
I can recall plenty of times where Bluetooth just wouldn’t work right on my Pixel 4 XL — in fact, I wasn’t even able to set up the August Smart Lock because the Pixel’s Bluetooth stack somehow wasn’t compatible with it — and Saul seems to have similar issues on the Pixel 6 Pro. “Some of the bugs I've experienced around Bluetooth audio switching make it difficult when I have to transfer zoom calls between Bluetooth headphones and car audio.”
I really only use Bluetooth on my Fluance bookshelf speakers at home — or when I’m traveling and use a pair of earbuds — so I haven’t seen these same issues but I’ve experienced lots of irritating little bugs all the time on the phone. Saul’s Pixel 6 Pro, on the other hand, seems to regularly have show-stopping bugs that might drive anyone away from the phone if it weren’t for how good the camera is.
Saul tells me that “using the camera from the lockscreen is entirely unreliable and I've lost photo opportunities because of it. The home screen is also unstable.”
While switching to a third-party launcher could be the cure for at least one of these issues, one particular Android 12 bug that’s present on all phones running the OS makes that experience less than excellent when using gestures. In a nutshell, you’ll need to wait a moment after swiping up to go home before tapping any icons, otherwise, you’ll accidentally launch some random recent app.
Was the switch worth it?
Switching from an incredibly feature-rich Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra to the Pixel 6 Pro seems like it could be a hard choice. While Google certainly has its share of unique features — including the much-loved call screening feature — it’s hard to go without Samsung’s features once you’ve gotten accustomed to using them on a daily basis.
Surprisingly, despite the bugs and loss of some features, Saul says he doesn’t regret switching at all. “In terms of regretting my purchase, I would say that my overall experience with the phone has been positive. I've enjoyed using it and taking pictures with it. I expected more in terms of software stability given the price point, but I do not regret purchasing this phone, partly because I upgrade yearly anyway so I move on fairly quickly from phones.”
That last part is probably the tell-tale sign for others, though. While I certainly expect Google to iron out most (or all) of these bugs before the year is up, folks who have less patience for bugs might want to steer clear from the Pixel 6 for now.
Saul tells me he’s looking forward to the next generation of foldable phones for his next upgrade. We’re hoping for some big changes in the Galaxy Z Fold 4 (opens in new tab), but none of those improvements are as important to Saul — or someone like myself, really — than getting better camera hardware on the most cutting-edge phones available. The best camera might be the one you carry with you, but why can’t it have the best hardware, too? Here’s hoping.
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