The Pixel Ultra and Pixel 3 Lite are not the solution to Google's smartphone problems

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
The Pixel Ultra and Pixel 3 Lite are not the solution to Google's smartphone problems
The latest global smartphone shipment numbers are in, and you know whose name doesn’t come up once in this Q3 2018 Counterpoint Research report? That’s right, Google’s. That’s despite the fact the Mountain View-based search giant has been selling its own mobile devices since 2010, first by merely slapping a logo and ordering a certain Nexus design from a third-party manufacturer.

Then came the Pixel program, which included higher-end smartphones “made by Google”, at least for marketing purposes. The first Pixel generation was (silently) manufactured by HTC, but Google grew more ambitious and independent, bringing in external talent to closely monitor and handle more aspects of the production process in-house.

Unfortunately, the Pixel 3 and 3 XL were stillborn, proving yet again Google doesn’t know how to design and sell a phone for the masses after all these years. That was obvious before the two were formally unveiled, and a mythical Pixel Ultra or curious Pixel 3 Lite wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Here's why.

Google just doesn’t get it


Because there’s clearly no such thing as a perfect phone, it’s pretty impressive Google managed to release three Pixel generations that earned glowing reviews. According to our in-depth reviewers, the Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel 2, 2 XL, 3, and 3 XL all came within one point of perfection.


What’s interesting is that the hardware prevented all six handsets from getting a perfect score. In the case of the Pixel 3 and 3 XL, for instance, the objectively ill-advised designs were ultimately deemed the number one weakness.

Thus, it would be safe to imagine that a Pixel Ultra could have sold like hotcakes. Never mind that what many people expected from the Pixel Ultra simply cannot be done today. The more important point is a zero-bezel, no-notch third-generation Pixel wouldn't have fixed a darn thing. Maybe it would be rated a 9.5 or even a perfect 10, but when it comes to real-life, long-term usage, Google remains completely clueless as to the “average” user’s wishes and priorities.

“Vanilla” software? That’s something a handful of people care about. A stable software experience putting device performance first, as well as quick, comprehensive bug fixes? That’s the real dream.


So-called Android “purists” and general hardcore Google fans might argue the Pixel 3 and 3 XL issues have been blown out of proportion these past few weeks, getting way more (negative) press coverage than, say, Galaxy Note 9 glitches.

That’s partially true, but there are a couple of reasons why that tends to happen with Google-made phones. These are generally held to a higher standard than other Android devices when it comes to software stability because this particular hardware vendor just so happens to be in charge of the entire ecosystem. No blame can be passed on to a different company, and no one else can mess up a Pixel's OS recipe.
 
Besides, Google is a software (and Internet services) specialist first, so while customers might be inclined to forgive the occasional hardware flaw, there’s no excuse for getting the user interface of the Pixel 3 and 3 XL so terribly wrong that even using the camera can sometimes turn into an adventure. Finally, you’d have thought that some good would come out of all those Pixel 2 bugs, glitches, and controversies last year. Guess not.

At least get the basics right


Before Google can magically create the world’s first bezelless smartphone with no notch, hole, or other type of screen cutout, it’d be nice to deliver the basics of a respectable high-ender today.

Sure, a phenomenal camera is a great start, but that can't be the only truly impressive feature you get for as much as $999. Many people feel a 4GB RAM-packing “premium” Android phone is an insult in this day and age, and until we see exactly what Google can do about those widely reported memory management malfunctions by way of a software update, we shouldn't rule out the problem having something to do with both hardware and software. 


Speaking of that ridiculous $799 - $999 price range, justifying such an extravagant purchase becomes practically impossible when you also consider the absence of a microSD card slot and headphone jack, which the overwhelming majority of Android fans still view as essential features. Oh, and let’s not forget about Verizon exclusivity.

Now picture a Verizon-exclusive Pixel Ultra with razor-thin screen bezels, the same key feature omissions, and a starting price of $1,000 or even more. Still think the notch is Google’s biggest problem? Or let’s assume the Pixel 3 Lite is real and coming soon rather than a canceled prototype or simply a failed mid-range experiment.

 

Realistically speaking, how much do you think Google would charge for a Pixel 3 doppelgänger with a modest (by high-end standards) Snapdragon 670 processor and the headphone jack revived... for some reason? $600? Sounds about right. Of course, you can always get a OnePlus 6T with 6GB RAM, 128GB internal storage, and the same top-notch SoC as the Pixel 3 for 50 bucks less.

What the fudge is Fuchsia?


If we’re talking specifics, we have no idea. As a general concept, it’s something Google has allegedly been floating around as a potential Android replacement. Why would you replace the world’s most popular mobile operating system (by an incredibly wide margin)? 

Maybe because Android fragmentation has gotten completely out of control and there’s no way to contain the issue anytime soon. No, Treble is not it. And it’s not it because users don’t want only faster updates. They want better updates first and foremost.

 

They want software that won't randomly make their ears bleed due to insufferable buzzing and clicking, as well as exhaustive bug fixes delivered within days or weeks, not months, of the discovery of an issue.

If this Fuchsia project can do all that, then by all means load it up on next year’s Pixel 4. But if not (and we think not, as the completion of the experiment might still be several years away), Google may want to reorder its priorities and decide exactly what the purpose of the company’s in-house smartphone program is.


Instead of paying Eminem and Jimmy Kimmel millions for arguably cool ads that however rarely translate into strong sales, how about offering existing users official, timely, and reliable repair options

Instead of producing boring switch-encouraging videos that iPhone owners aren’t even going to watch, maybe hire some engineers from a company that’s not on the brink of extinction to come up with better designs. They don’t have to be particularly original, imaginative, or game-changing. But they definitely need to keep up with modern trends better.

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