iPhone vs Pixel

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Searching for the Future of Mobile

After several weeks testing the iPhone 7, the iPhone 7+, and the Google Pixel I thought I might write up a review that might be helpful for anyone considering which phone to buy for the holidays. This is the closest the competition has ever been amongst the iOS and Android ecosystem from both a hardware and software perspective, so I have found more people asking me for advice than usual. To set some context, I used each phone for a couple of weeks alone as my primary phone, then decided by the end which phone was the best to use as my single phone going forward.

As a bit of additional context, I had switched to an iPhone SE as my only phone for the months prior to this test out of a desire to be more mindful about my mobile usage as well as to improve the ergonomics of the device in my hands by going smaller again. I found it to be the most zen experience of all mobile phones so far, forcing me to edit my apps and usage based on the size of the screen and capacity of the device. I loved it.

As a photographer I was most excited to start with the iPhone 7+ first because of the impressive new camera work Apple was bringing to the table. The iPhone 7+ boasts an impressive combination of a new f1.8 aperture on the primary 28mm wide-angle lens, and the addition of an all-new 50mm f2.8 telephoto lens. Apple has released a new technology they call computational photography in a feature called "Portrait Mode" which promises a future where photographers no longer have to carry several lenses around to achieve the oft lusted after "Bokeh" effect. Portrait Mode is only available on the iPhone 7+ because it requires two lenses. The main downside of the iPhone 7+ is the size, it is just too big for your pocket and for using with one hand, frustratingly so. Computational photography is still clearly in beta, leaving your friends wondering why you are taking so long to set up a portrait: Portrait Mode is clearly not ready for prime time and likely should not have shipped.

The Google Pixel is so good that this was first time in years that I have found myself genuinely considering switching away from the Apple ecosystem. Google has dramatically improved the hardware, though it still leaves something to be desired in the way that it actually "feels" in your hands. The iPhone continues to feel so solid in your hand that it almost feels like it came from the natural world. The Pixel still feels robotic and mechanical and lacks quality leather casing like the iPhone, leaving something to be desired. However, the most impressive work comes in the form of the most recent version of Android software custom designed for the Pixel. Here, Google is dramatically accelerating ahead of Apple in fundamental ways such as notifications, customization, machine learning, and interaction design. The camera is also impressive at 28mm and f2.0. Though still slightly lower camera hardware quality than the iPhone, again the software shines in places like HDR and the extraordinary new Google Photos. I left using the Pixel thinking that Google is almost there and that we might be one cycle away.

The iPhone 7 feels just right in almost every way. Perfect size. Perfect leather case options. Great color options, particularly the impressive all-new Jet Black. While the camera lacks the second lens of its bigger sibling, it does bring the same faster aperture of f1.8 at 28mm wide-angle, making it great for everyday shooting in all types of light. Because computational photography is not ready for prime time, I will continue to carry my camera for days that I want to do good portrait work. I am also liking the speed of the new Apple Watch Series 2, the quality of Watch OS3, and the tight software integration with the iPhone. The App Store ecosystem also continues to reign supreme, for now, though I hear a lot of chatter from developers and investors looking elsewhere which is reducing my confidence in the future. Perhaps the only real downside is that iOS for version 10 has taken a step back in simplicity and quality for the first time in a decade, leaving me concerned that I will be looking much more closely during the next cycle.

Overall, my recommendation for 2016 is the iPhone 7.

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