As @Factotum posted last week, Google's annual developer conference, Google I/O, was held between the 7th and 9th of May in California. As he accurately pointed out, I do have some thoughts I'd like to share with regards to some of the announcements that were made, specifically focusing on the new Pixel smartphones, Android Q, and the Google Assistant. I'm a bit late to the party, but nevertheless, here are my thoughts that I'd like to share.
Google Pixel 3a and 3a XL
Many tech journalists and reviewers were full of praise for the more affordable Pixel 3a/XL. Starting at just $399, you get all the goodness of the much more expensive Pixel 3/XL, which includes prompt software updates, a clean unadulterated Android experience directly from Google, but most importantly, that amazing Pixel camera experience. However, I'm not entirely sold on the product.
It is true that compared to the $1000 flagships that have unfortunately become commonplace in today's market, the 3a and 3a XL offer great value for money. But that's only because those $1000 flagships exist in the first place. The 3a is by all accounts, just your average mid-range smartphone. It has a mid-range SD670 processor, which is good enough for most people, but it's still a mid-range chip with performance drawbacks compared to the flagship SD800 series. Pair that with the fact that it comes with eMMc storage instead of UFS, and you might find performance to be an issue in some cases. The body is made of plastic, which is fine for a mid-range phone, but the glass that protects the display is not Gorilla Glass, which is standard on pretty much all phones, even phones in the same price range. It only comes with 4GB of RAM (which will further contribute to possible performance issues) and 64GB of storage, which is really the absolute minimum in 2019. Many other phones, again, within the same price range, offer more.
The biggest selling point of the 3a/XL as I mentioned above, is that camera. And yes, in this price range you won't find a better camera. However, I've always believed that the camera is not the most important aspect of a smartphone (this may differ for others). There's no point having a great camera if the phone's performance is a laggy stuttering mess. That's not to say the 3a will lag or stutter, but when its more expensive sibling has been known to struggle after several months of use, can you really hope for better with the midrange 3a?
$399 is a great starting price for the Pixel brand, despite the apparent disadvantages that come with it. People who really wanted the Pixel but were put off by the price now have a much more affordable option. And in the US, you can get it for even cheaper. If you live outside the US however, you're out of luck. Not only are you unlikely to find deals as good as in the US, the starting price of the 3a is much more expensive to begin with, especially in Asia. So outside the US, the 3a could be even less appealing to many, especially when the likes of Huawei, Xiaomi, and Oppo dominate the midrange market.
But hey, it has a headphone jack. So that fixes everything, I guess.
2.5 billion. That's how many Android devices are being used monthly around the globe. To put that into perspective, that's about 7.5 times the population of the US. Android is by far the most widespread operating system in the world, and Google is always looking for ways to improve it. Most notably, is Google's effort to future-proof Android Q. Though Google has no foldable or 5G phones on the market (yet), Android Q supports both natively. This is a good move by Google, one that ensures all OEMs who make foldable and 5G phones will have the platform tools necessary to move forward.
Android Q (which will numerically be Android 10) has been out for quite some time now, and Beta 3 was announced at I/O. Alongside the announcement of this new beta was the announcement that it will be made available for a total of 23 phones, including phones from Huawei, OnePlus, Xiaomi, Sony, Nokia, Oppo, the Pixels of course, and many more. Together with the announcement of Project Mainline, hopefully we can look forward to a future where Android updates are better than they currently are.
Moving on to new features, Android Q will finally provide a dark theme, something that many Android OEMs have already been offering for years. Personally, I don't really like dark themes, especially system wide. However, I do appreciate when apps can automatically toggle to a dark theme when I'm in a dark environment, like Google Maps and Telegram.
Google is still trying to figure out how to do gestures well, and the latest attempt in Beta 3 seems to be the best attempt thus far. No more buttons (why have buttons if you want to use gestures anyway?), just a thin line beneath the dock which looks remarkably similar to iOS. Swiping in from the edge to go back is a little weird, especially since many Android apps have a drawer on the left which opens with the same gesture, so only time will tell how well people receive this. Luckily though, OEMs are not forced to adopt Google's version of gesture navigation, which is great, because I like how OnePlus does it.
Lastly, a couple of small changes which caught my interest. Android Beam is being retired, and I don't think anybody will miss it. Between cloud storage, instant messaging apps, and e-mail, we have sufficient (and better) methods to transfer media between phones. It was quite cool though back in the day. Smart Replies are getting an update. It's now system wide so all messaging apps will have short replies in their notifications allowing you to quickly reply without even opening the app. The replies can even link to actions in other apps based on the content of the received message, such as opening an address you received in a message directly in Google Maps.
When it comes to digital assistants, Google Assistant is often regarded to be much better than the competition. But that hasn't stopped Google from wanting to improve it even further. At I/O, Google demoed new improvements that will be coming to the Assistant, biggest of which is the switch to on-device processing, which will make it incredibly fast when responding to queries. I'm really excited for this, as waiting a few seconds to get a response from Assistant slightly mitigates the awesome factor.
Another big improvement to the Assistant is the addition of Driving Mode. Not all cars come with head-units that support Android Auto (Google's in-car Android system), so turning your phone into your car's navigation unit is only natural. This was done previously with a mobile version of Android Auto, but it didn't work so well (as do most things which are ported to mobile when they were designed for something else). Driving Mode in Assistant aims to fix this, by having the Assistant on your phone handle everything for you, from navigation, to music, to incoming calls. Best thing about it is that it will come to all phones with the Assistant in just a few months.
If that's not really something that interests you though, the Assistant is also coming to Waze, following in the footsteps of Google Maps.
Those are my thoughts on the three things from I/O that interest me the most, but there's still a lot that I didn't cover. There were a lot of announcements, demos, and updates from Google, and you can check out Android Police's extensive coverage here.
What did you find most interesting about Google's event?