In the past, the Google Phone app had a dedicated toggle for dark mode within its in-app settings. The toggle would naturally flip depending on your system theme settings.
If you wanted to know how consistently dark mode was implemented when it shipped in Android 10 last year, the phone app just got an automatic dark mode. It used to have a dark mode, but you had to manually toggle it, which isn't exactly the idea of a system dark mode.
I think that the Pixel 3a has immediately made it hard for me to recommend anyone looking for a midrange phone look at anything else right now. If your budget is $400 then this is a no-brainer, and even if you’re willing to spend a little more and you bring the OnePlus 7 Pro into play, I think this phone will hold its own very well for a lot of people.
Just like last year, Google is back at it with the 4a, which feels very much like the successor you expected it to be. Google made the same choices they made last year, leaning into making the camera experience amazing, and compromising in materials and performance.
While the 3a had the exact same camera hardware and software as the flagship 3 and 3 XL, the 4a is actually a bit of a downgrade this year. It shares the same main sensor as the Pixel 4/4 XL, but it lacks the 2x telephoto lens. This is a sad omission, but it's not the end of the world. You still get the same great processing that you get from the flagship line, and I'm sure photos will just look great from this phone.
I'm actually impressed with the build quality this year, too. Last year's phone was definitely not "premium" but it felt good in the hand and certainly did not feel "cheap". I don't have it in hand to tell for sure, but the materials look at least as good as last year, and the screen got a solid upgrade. There's far less bezel than even on the Pixel 4, and the hole punch camera is something I disliked initially when I had it on the Galaxy S10e, but I've come to like it more over time.
There's a bigger battery than than the Pixel 4, which I very much appreciate. Coupled with a lower energy processor and this thing should get solid battery life, just like last year's model (again, can't say for sure, but the math works and early reviews seem to indicate this is indeed the case).
And then there's performance, which is the thread they had to leave a little short to hit the price point. It's a little slower than the OnePlus Nord which is not shipping in the US, but that's pretty encouraging. This ain't going to be a top-tier phone for benchmarks, but for lighter users it's going to be perfectly capable, at least for a year or two.
That's all I can really say for now. I'd love to get my hands on one of these, but since I've already got a Pixel 4, I don't have a good reason to buy one for myself. Instead, I'd recommend Michael Fisher's impressions as a solid overview.
I was going to write a long article about each new thing in iOS 14 and whether each feature has been in Android already, but then I trashed the doc. I was getting bored writing it myself, so I can’t imagine how bored you would have been reading it.
Features like home screen widgets, cycling navigation in Maps, and picture-in-picture on your phone may seem like familiar features to Android users, but here’s the thing…
Here are some new features in Android 11 coming this fall:
Screen video recording
Uniform media controls in quick settings
New smart home controls
Airplane mode doesn’t turn off bluetooth
Pixel 4 face unlock can require eyes open
Better voice control
Allow location access just once
Auto-set dark mode based on a schedule
Scrolling screenshots (maybe)
There’s some other stuff there, but that’s a good chunk of the new features, and iOS users will probably already know where I’m going with this…all of this has been on iOS for years.
My point is that iOS and Android are mature operating systems and it is unreasonable to expect each platform to add new features that are totally unique. At this point, we can expect some new features, but a lot of the work is on filling holes (aka doing things the other guys have done for years) and refining the experience as a whole. Snarky tweets about “heh, heh, Android/iOS has had this for years 🤓” get likes and retweets, but they’re not particularly insightful commentary. If you just want to be snarky, that’s cool, enjoy! Let’s just not pretend that this commentary is anything more than fanboy bait.
I think the new widgets in iOS 14 look better than anything I’ve seen in Android widgets in 13 years and it’s stupid easy to make them look good on your home screen, but they’re also less capable and less flexible than what Android can do. The same goes for picture-in-picture, which Android has had for a little while, but iOS is adding a new ability to hide the video off screen and bring it back on demand. They caught up and then took the lead in this feature.
“Android had it first” and “iOS had it first” are mildly interesting data points now, that’s it.
In the interest of doing as little work as possible since Google isn't going to start over on this feature now, I wanted to do a quick modifiecation to the new media controls in Android 11. For those who haven't see it, this is what it looks like today.
There are a couple problems, as far as I am concerned:
You have to pull down twice to get access to a usable version of the controls. The one in the middle screenshot above is what you get when pulling down the notification shade and it's just not easy to use.
Phones are tall, and this is supposed to be a convenient way to control your medie, but by putting it at the top of the page, it's as hard as possible to access.
The UI is laid out in a way that makes everything cut off after just a few characters. The episode title cuts off after 13 characters and the default audio device (the phone itself) has an eplisis.
Android 11 supports multiple media controls (say you have recently listened to Spotify and Pocket Casts) and lets you control them both. This is nice, but you can't tell from the screenshots above that Spotify is also available.
My change aims to address those problems.
This takes us into a more iOS-style world, but I think the iOS version is better, so let’s just go with it.
You get usable controls with a single pull down, not two.
The controls are closer to your fingers, and while they're not as low as they could be, they're at least closer.
The UI has more room to breath, allowing you to see more full names of everything from song titles to artists to podcast episode titles.
The Spotify media card is just off screen and is visible, letting you know you can swipe to see it.
There is more tweaking one could make to this, but I feel like this is relatively doable given the tight timeline to release this whole new OS in a couple months (with the obvious disclaimer that anyone outside of a software project thinks what they want is "just a small code change").
And if this is too much to change now, my even more minor change would be this:
Ok, let's do 2 pull downs to get everything, but move both versions below the device controls and make the "small" version larger so it's more usable.
Any post about Android updates is going to be meet with some snarky folks say "ummmm, Android updates are like a year late if they come at all 🤓" Yes, we get it, iOS is much better at getting updates to more devices faster, but hey, people own Pixels and for them this isn't a problem. Let's try and talk with out reverting to fanboy stuff?
Google has been doing these "feature drops" for a few months now, and this one brought along a few features we first saw in the Android 11 beta:
Play/pause through Motion Sense gestures.
"Rules" for making your phone change some settings based on location or Wifi networks.
Cards & Passes for a more Apple Wallet-style experience.
Dark mode scheduling based on sunrise/sunset (so hard coded times yet, though).
None of these are tent-pole features, but they are all quite nice (except you, Motion Sense) and make the phone experience a bit better. This is just nice for Pixel owners since they don't need to wait for the fall to get all the new goodies they first saw in a beta.
Ok, maybe 61 seconds, but still, this is basically just a standard reboot time for the phone. I'd love to see Apple match Android when it comes to downtime when doing small updates. This was the equivalant of an update like iOS 13.1.1 to 13.1.2, and it happened when my phone was still totoally usable, and the reboot meant I was out of order for a single minute. iOS updates take way too long and are a reason people often delay them as much as they can.
And even if you say "well, many of these updates happen overnight, so what does it matter?" to which I would retort:
How often do these actually work for you? I almost always get a message saying "we could not perform the update overnight, try again tomorrow?"
What if there is an emergency overnight (either family/friend issue or you're on call for work)? Would you like your phone to be "dead" for 1 minute or 20 minutes?
There are few things I would say are absolutely better about Android than iOS, but update durations are definitely one of them.
This was actually a video I made in September but didn’t feel like posting right away. As the description and title cards try to make exceptionally clear, this is not a video bashing Android, it’s just fun to see Android folks praise the virtues of things iOS either has or has had for literally a decade. The Android 10 update was really the “let’s add a bunch of things iOS does to make things safer for our users” update, and I think that’s why I liked it.
As someone who spends time in the iOS and Android worlds, I install a lot of updates. And while these are a pain on iOS, they’re nearly transparent on Android, and I made this video to try and show just how drastic the difference is.
This first one is a wild difference, and really shows off what Night Shift can do for you. The iPhone was hopeless at getting something here, but the Pixel got something totally unnatural, but shows off the thing I was shooting.
This one is up to personal preference, as the iPhone is sharper, but the Pixel gets more of the surrounding area. I like the iPhone shot personally.
This is another massive difference, with the Pixel getting so much more of the scene than the iPhone.
Again, I like the iPhone shot better, as the Pixel made everything lighter, but doesn’t actually show any new details the iPhone missed. The Pixel has a blurry shot and the iPhone is surprisingly sharp.
The Pixel is back on top here, but neither camera did a particularly great job.
This was a zoom shot at 2x, and I was surprised how much better the Pixel shot was here. Not only is it much brighter but the details are sharper as well.
Again, Night Sight shows why it’s useful as another tool in a photographer’s bag of tricks. It gets shots that are simply unusable and turns them into pretty decent photos. What it does not do is make every low light shot perfect, which I think has become the narrative out there for some people. It absolutely creates messy images and some that are just plain ugly. But much like Portrait Mode on the iPhone, it’s an opt-in tool that adds to your options without limiting you from doing anything else.
While I maintain the iPhone Xs camera is better than the Pixel 3 for me, if you’re looking for a camera that gives you the most options in low light, it’s hard to recommend the iPhone over the Pixel at this point.