What is the iPad to You? Let Me Count the Ways (Magic Keyboard Review)

What is the iPad to You? Let Me Count the Ways (Magic Keyboard Review)

I think the iPad Pro’s new accessory, the Magic Keyboard, has helped bring some clarity for me as to what makes the iPad so special for me. This is why critics seem to not be able to agree on how good the keyboard is, and it’s why I think Tech Twitter is struggling to talk about this disagreement and why there are so many thoughts.

What Makes the iPad Great

What I love more than anything else about the iPad is how it adapts to you. Steve Jobs once said the iPhone’s all screen design lets the iPhone become that app while you’re using it. When you go to another app, the iPhone completely morphs into that new app too.

Similarly, I think the iPad does this same thing, but it does it at a hardware level. I can use the iPad as a drawing tablet, plop it into a keyboard case to make it more of a laptop, connect it to a monitor to use it like a desktop, and I can wirelessly connect a mouse and keyboard to make it work exactly like a desktop. When I’m tired of that, I can unplug it and start using it like a tablet again.

And not only does the hardware allow for me to change the physical context of the device, the software comes along for the ride as well. Apps work differently depending on if you have a keyboard attached, if you have a mouse/trackpad available, or if you’re using an Apple Pencil. Oh, and it is completely fine with you turning the iPad on its side, flipping it upside down, and using it however you want. Occasionally I find myself reading on the iPad Pro in portrait mode and it takes me a long time to realize I’ve been holding the device upside down. Does it matter? Not really because iPadOS just came along for the ride with me. “Upside down” is just like, your opinion, man.

How This is Distinct from PCs

At this point you may be asking “how is this different from a Mac/PC?” You reference something like the Mac Pro and how you can configure it with different hardware and different accessories to make it the exact platform you need. I would counter and ask “ok, what if I want to use the Mac Pro totally different than normal? How long would it take to use it on my couch?” Obviously it’s not going to do that, to which you would tell me to get a laptop instead.

Ok, now I’ve got myself a MacBook Pro and it’s plugged into an external monitor so I can work at my desk on a big screen and I can take it anywehere else because it’s portable. Better, for sure, but what if I want to read a book? What if I want to draw? What if I want to hold it in portrait orientation? What if I want to use it as a digital board game? The MacBook Pro can’t do any of that, while the iPad is never more than 2 seconds away from adapting to those use cases.

Now you think you have me cornered. “Get a Surface then,” you reply, thinking you’ve got me. And in fairness, this is a close as you’ve gotten so far, but this isn’t the product for me. It doesn’t run the apps I want, the apps it does run are old-school in comparison to iPadOS, and the touch experience is way, way worse than the iPad. But if you like Windows, then yeah, the Surface line is pretty comparable to this quick context switching, although I really feel that the touch stuff still feels hacked into Windows.

A Diversity of Users and Use Cases

Myke Hurley recently posted this photo of his iPad Pro setup. This works great for him, but it looks nothing like my iPad setup, which I’m guessing looks nothing like your iPad setup. The freedom to switch between use cases I mentioned above doesn’t mean that everyone needs to use every use case; you pick and choose which ones you care about and are free to ignore the rest.

I personally use my iPad in a keyboard case 80% of the time, with the other 20% being completely out of the case and using it like a more “traditional” iPad. That 80% time is broken down between at my desk, at the kitchen table, on the couch, on the road, and at coffee shops. Portability is huge for me, as is the ability to start using the iPad as “just a tablet” at the drop of a hat.

Most of my time is spent writing, so a good keyboard holds more value to me than other elements of a keyboard case. This is what works for me, it may or may not line up with you.

The Magic Keyboard

I spent almost 1,000 words talking about everything that isn’t the Magic Keyboard, so now it’s time for the nitty gritty details in the review, right?

Nah.

Many other people have reviewed the technical specs of the Magic Keyboard, and there’s no reason for me to rattle off specs or say the things you already know in slightly different words. No, instead I I’ll say that if you read everything to this point, you can probably finish the review for me, you don’t need me to write it. With that in mind, I’ll say that the way I use the iPad Pro lines up very nicely with what the Magic Keyboard enables.

The keyboard is solidly constructed, which comes with the downside of being notably heavier than I was expecting, but is a necessary trade off to get the stability and solid typing experience this thing provides. It allows for both of the viewing angles of the Smart Keyboard Folio I was using before, but also allows all angles in between, so it’s more often angled perfectly for me. The keyboard itself is better than the Folio’s, and is maybe the best “laptop keyboard” I’ve ever used. The inverted-T arrows alone are a welcome return to usability over symmetry! And the trackpad is small, but gets the job done and is as responsive and accurate as you’d expect from Apple.

The solid construction of this device means I can use it at my desk and everywhere else I use it, including on my lap, very well. It’s heavier in my bag than before, but it’s not the end of the world. And while I can’t flip this around to put it into a tablet mode, I can pretty easily rip it off the keyboard and it immediately is the thinnest, lightest tablet out there. I do have to find a place to put the Magic Keyboard when I take it off on my kitchen table, at the coffee shop, or on the couch, but again, it’s not the end of the world, and the iPad experience I’m left with is excellent, so it’s a cost I’m willing to pay.

Value Proposition and Final Thoughts

The Magic Keyboard is a $299-349 accessory to a ~$1,000 computer, so it’s going to get a lot of criticism, and rightfully so. When you pay 88% the cost of a new iPhone on an accessory, you had better be getting a ton of value from that device. For me, the value is clearly there. The amazing keyboard is a major benefit for me since I do so much typing on my iPad. The trackpad being built into the keyboard is a major benefit to me so I can use things like Figma and other apps better than before, all while sticking with touch and the Apple Pencil for other apps where those work better for me.

But this is not universal, and if you need to prop up your iPad a little bit to draw on it then this is not going to do that for you. If you want something as light as possible, this isn’t going to do that either. If you think that iPadOS is still a baby OS for content consumption only, then this isn’t going to convince you either, although I think it’s another body blow to an outdated idea.

I can’t tell you if the Magic Keyboard is right for you, but if your values for what you want the iPad to be line up with what I laid out above and this pandemic has been kind to your pocketbook, then yeah, you may really enjoy this product and get serious value from it.

Nintendo Switch Lite Review

Nintendo Switch Lite Review

The Nintendo Switch Lite is close to perfect. Yeah, it’s kind of a brilliant product, and as a package outclasses the original, more expensive Switch in a couple key ways. I got a Switch Lite so I could play my games while my wife tended to her Animal Crossing island, but the more I use it, the more I find myself gravitating to the smaller, objectively less capable, but maybe better Lite. Let me explain.

The “Switch”

One of the big draws of the Switch was that, well, switched between home console and portable completely seamlessly. You could be playing Link’s latest adventure on your big 4K TV one moment, and by simply picking up the console, the next moment that entire experience was in your hands. It was magical in 2017 when it was new, and it’s still really cool in 2020 and really doesn’t have a direct competitor with this capability.

The Switch Lite, some would say ironically, doesn’t switch.

But that doesn’t matter because the game library is so expansive and the quality is so high that there is so much fun to be had on the Switch Lite even if it can’t hook up to a TV. If you will ever want to play on a large screen, then get the standard Switch, but if you’re looking for a portable device to give you some games that are about 10x better than anything on your phone, then the Lite is going to kill it.

The Feel

What is immediately obvious when picking up the Switch Lite is how damn good it feels in the hand. It’s much lighter than the normal model, 30% lighter, to be exact, and that makes it even more comfortable to hold for all gaming sessions, especially longer ones.

The device also feels more solid than the Switch since it’s all one piece. The Joy Cons attach very well to the standard model, but there’s no replacement for one solid piece of plastic.

The buttons mostly feel similar to the bigger brother, but I think they feel a little better with a more satisfying click, and the the D-Pad is…well, it’s an actual D-pad! It’s super nice to have this in place of the 4 individual buttons on the Joy Cons. I get why they had to be that way, but it’s definitely better to play in this form factor with an actual D-pad.

And finally, Nintendo is using some sort of soft touch plastic on this thing that feels incredible! It doesn’t feel “premium” necessarily, but it feels perfect and is really comfortable.

The Screen

Since all of your gaming is going to happen on it with this model, the screen is pretty important. I’m happy to say that while the screen is still 720p, games look very good on it. I’d even say they look better than the regular Switch if only because the screen is the same resolution, but slightly smaller, so the pixels are a little smaller too. The screen is 5.5” compared to the big brother’s 6.2”, which works out to a PPI of 267 on the Lite and 236 on the regular Switch.

If we use “retina” to mean whether you can see the pixels, then the Switch Lite is “retina” if you hold it 13” or father from your face, which based on some crude measurements I just took, is closer than I tend to hold it from my face. The 6.2” regular Switch hits this retina designation at 15” so it’s not a huge difference, but it’s something I’ve noticed outside of these more clinical measures.

The screen is bright enough to be usable indoors at about 50% brightness and outdoors it is playable, but I definitely struggled to see every detail on screen under direct sunlight.

Value and Final Verdict

At $199, the Switch Lite is a great value. $199 gets you access to a huge library of amazing games, and with regular eShop sales and the robust used cartridge market, you can play most of these games on the cheap if you can wait for a sale.

If you ever want to play on your TV then you should spend the extra $100 to get a full size Switch. Multiplayer games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate work so much better on a TV, and epic games like Breath of the Wild thrive on the bigger screen, so there is definitely value in having this as an option.

But if you are never going to play on a TV, then there is absolutely no reason I can think of to spend the extra cash. Save $100 and get better controls and access to an amazing library of games.

Oh, just make sure you buy a beefy micro-SD card to stick in this thing. The 32GB of onboard storage runs out really quickly. I’m using this $13 64GB card in mine and it works totally fine.

Logitech MX Keys Review

Logitech MX Keys Review

The Logitech MX Keys is my current favorite desktop keyboard, and it's a brilliant keyboard for me during the great work from home adventure of 2020. Even if you're switching between a Mac and an iPad in your normal day-to-day, this is a great keyboard.

Compatibility

The MX Keys works great with macOS, Windows, and iPadOS, and acts like a first class citizen on each platform. The modifier keys are all printed with Mac and Windows symbols, so pairing with either system is intuitive, and the special function buttons at the top right for taking screenshots, opening the calculator, and locking the screen all do exactly what you'd expect on each platform.

Logitech makes this multi-device support a breeze too, as you can have it paired with up to 3 devices at once. It will only connect to one at a time, but you can toggle between your devices in literally a second by using the 1, 2, and 3 buttons on the top of the keyboard. The change takes no time at all, and it's really a matter of how quickly your new device sees the new Bluetooth signal, which for me has been a second or less almost every time.

My current working situation has me at home and I'm using the same monitor for work as I am for my gaming PC. So at night my keyboard is paired with a Windows computer and does all the Windows things you'd expect, and then I work in the morning and all I have to do is tap the "2" button to switch to my Mac and I'm immediately switched over and all the keys work like they should on a Mac. At the end of the work day, just press "1" and I'm back to the PC.

Feel and Layout

Alright, this is not a mechanical keyboard, nor will it trick you into thinking it's mechanical. That said, it feels quite nice to type on and there is more than enough key depth here. For context, the keys go down a little more than the Magic Keyboard. Apple's excellent Magic Keyboard has about 1mm of travel, and the MX Keys has 1.8mm, which is solid. Which you prefer will be a matter of taste, of course.

And these keys feel excellent! The keyboard is surprisingly heavy and acts as a solid base for these keys to plunk down into. They're less "sharp" than the Magic Keyboard, but I actually find that to be a little easier on my finger tips. The concave key caps were a concern going in, but I'm happy to report that they actually feel really nice and help me know where on each key I'm pressing so I can more easily find the center of each key. I just love it.

In terms of sound, it's a very quiet keyboard, so while I get a little tactile bump when I press a key, my office-mates (well, my one day office-mates) don't have to be bothered. This is a membrane keyboard, yes, but it's not a mushy one.

And the layout is pretty much just what you'd expect, which is a good thing. The only real complaint I have is that the top right of the keyboard is devoted to special function buttons. I made great use of the F13-19 keys on my Magic Keyboard using Keyboard Maestro, and I can't do the same thing with this keyboard. I lose F13-15 to the device switching buttons, and F16-19 turn into special functions.

Software

This is something that bothers a few people, but I like the Logi Options app, and it's what helps me make the keyboard (and mouse) behave more how I'd like. While I can't customize every key, I can change all of the function keys, as well as the 4 special action keys to do other things. You can change them to open specific applications or to simulate any keyboard combination you want.

I mapped mine to Ctrl+Opt+Cmd+Q and a few other letters which I then mapped to automations in Keyboard Maestro. This is a bit of a hack, and I suspect the vast majority of users will just stick with the default behavior, but I like that I had an easy-to-use UI to change these my way. I would love it if Logitech updated this app to let me map these to simply F16-19, but I doubt they'll do that.

Lights and Power

The MX Keys uses Bluetooth (awesome) and USB-C to charge (double awesome). You can also pair it via Logitech's classic(?) USB dongle if you'd prefer. As far as I can tell, it does not have a wired mode, and pluggin in the USB-C cable only charges it, it does not actually set up a wired connection to your computer. This is slightly frustrating for those times you need to press a button during boot up as this keyboard simply will not do.

If you use it unplugged, it will last for a couple weeks on a charge, which is actually very short. I have the backlight on and I get about 2 weeks of power out of it, so I have been charging it over the weekend. When the Magic Keyboard (which is what this replaced for me, if you were curious why it keeps being my reference point) lasts for months, this feels like a big downgrade.

The keyboard also has some sensors to turn the backlight on when you bring your hands towards the keyboard, and turn them off when you take your hands away. It's pretty clever, and is a way to save battery life, but my 2 week number is when using this power-saving feature. I have to think it's even shorter with it off.

Oh, and those backlights? They're fine. They are not RGB and just come in a nice white, and they immuninate the keyboard well. I don't know what else to say here, they're backlights that don't suck.

Buying Advice

The MX Keys is $99 which is objectively expensive for an accessory that comes for free with the computer you're using this with. But considering the nice key feel, great construction, good software integration, and easy device switching, it makes a really compelling case for that price tag.

And if you're looking for a good Mac keyboard, this $99 price tag isn't that crazy. The Magic Keyboard, which I've referenced all over this review, goes for $30-50 more than this, and mechanical offerings like the Keychron line are only $10-20 cheaper. From what I have used, this is the best balance of features, price, and delight.

The Keychron K4 is Not for Me

The Keychron K4 is Not for Me

I got this keyboard from work, and fully expected to love it. After all, tons of YouTubers and tech bloggers out there seem to love it, so it had to be good, right? Well, it may be good for some people, but it's not the right keyboard for me. Here's why.

The Left

Things start out so promising on the left side of the keyboard. The bown and gray keys look fantastic, and the orange accent on the escape key is perfection. The function row also defaults to things like screen brightness, volume, and media controls, which this Mac fan likes. And the keys on this model are Gateron Yellows, which are not my favorite feeling (browns by a mile) but they are pretty decent.

So far so good.

The Middle

Then we get to the middle of the keyboard and things fall down a bit. The scrunched Command and Control keys are a bit annoying, but not the end of the world, but the space bar is a real chonker and takes a lot of effort to press down. I know these are yellow key switches and that may be expected, but I didn't love how this felt.

But still, nothing to kill it for me.

The Right

As is so often the case in my life, the right is where all things just go crazy ;)

I hate everything about this side of the keyboard. The killer here is the positioning of the arrow keys. They feel like every other key on the board and they are wedged in there so it's impossible to know where they are by touch, you need to just know. I don't want to think about my hand placement when it comes to arrowing around my computer, and this made me have to think and look down every time.

I also could not get on board with the placement of the delete key, the home/end layout, or the small zero on the number pad.

The Height

Which finally brings us to the wrist killer: the height of this keyboard. It sits so freaking high that I needed to get a tall wrist rest to type on it. I tend to prefer flatter keyboards and while I knew this was teller going in, my wrist pain tells me I either need to adapt to this or go back to something a lot shallower.

As you can see in the comparison above, by mechanical keyboard I use at home is just over half as high as this one and I find it way more comfortable to type on.

The Verdict

This keyboard may be perfect for some people, and that's totally fine by me. It's an $80 mechanical keyboard that looks nice, has good switches, is lit for dark rooms, comes in an RGB version (for $10 more), uses Bluetooth, and works great with a Mac. But sadly for me, the layout and height of this keyboard make it a no-go for me.

Check it out on Amazon if you want to give it a go.

I sheepishly had to ask my IT department to let me return this one and get what I use at home: the Logitech MX Keys, which is definitively not a mechanical keyboard, but works so much better for what I like in a keyboard.

Unread 2: RSS That Looks Nice, but I Wish Did More

Unread 2: RSS That Looks Nice, but I Wish Did More

Unread is one of those apps that just has an incredibly loyal following. It’s not the biggest player in the RSS space, but so many people I respect love it that it is always an app on my radar. Despite this love, Reeder has remained my go-to RSS app for iPhone, iPad, and Mac. I use Reeder for a few specific reasons:

  1. I subscribe to a lot of feeds and Reeder has a UI optimized for getting through lots of content quickly.
  2. The app simply looks wonderful and has a style that has naturally evolved from its pre-iOS 7 days without losing it’s personality.

So Unread 2 sparked my interest, but I didn’t think it would take over Reeder’s spot as my favorite way to catch up on the news of the day. Ultimately, I think that is still true, but I see a place for Unread 2 in my life.

RSS Service Support

Because this review becomes immediately useless to you if you can’t sync your feeds with it, here’s the list of services you can use with Unread:

  • Feed Wrangler
  • Feedbin
  • Feedly
  • Fever
  • Inoreader
  • Newsblur

There is no option to sync over iCloud, if that’s your jam.

What’s New

Fundamentally, Unread is the same app as it was before, and as someone who doesn’t use it that often, it was hard to notice the changes at first glance. If you enjoyed how the old app was laid out, then you’re not in for much of a surprise here, and you’re still going to enjoy it. This is an app that simply looks fantastic, and it does a great job of making you enjoy your time in it.

The headline feature for me is being able to manage your feeds from inside Unread. The previous version of the app required you to add feeds in your syncing service’s website, but now you can add them from within Unread and put them in whatever folder you have set up.

Another big feature is that Unread will attempt to display full text articles for feeds that truncate the content in their RSS feeds. For example, the 9to5Mac feed is truncated, but Unread shows you everything in the app, which is nice. There is some UI weirdness where the app will flash the full website on screen for a moment and then display the text nicely, which is a little distracting, but is also nice since it’s loading the source URL and giving the publication the page hit they want from the truncated feed, but the user gets the nice in-app reading experience.

And then there are a few other changes that are smaller, but mostly welcome. They have integrated to the big read later services, so you can save to Pocket, for example with one tap less than before. They’ve added a “double-tap” gesture you can use to save to read later, mark unread/read, or star an article (I have this mapped to saving to Pocket).

Form Over Function

There were numerous times in the beta period where I thought the app was unable to do something because I couldn't find a control for it. All of the user interaction items are hidden behind gestures with no indications of where you can do said gestures. For example, I like to sort my feeds from oldest to newest, and I went through the settings for list view in the app settings page but didn't see the option to change this. I was about to submit a feature request before seeing in the release notes that this could be done by swiping left on the article list view and toggling it there. Why this one view setting is broken out from the others, I don't know.

There has been a lot of talk lately about discoverability and intuitiveness on the iPad lately, and I think Unread leans too far in the “custom and undiscoverable” end of the pendulum. I believe this is a case of not wanting to mar their admittedly beautiful UI, but now we're at a form vs function debate. You don’t want a cluttered UI, I get it, but buttons are not the enemy.

Pricing

I’ll get dragged over the coals for this if I didn’t bring it up, so here’s the big thing for a lot of people. Unread is now a subscription app and it will run you $19.99 per year.

Unread 2 is a new app on the App Store, so if you're happy with Unread 1, you can just keep using it. I don't believe the old app has any web services it relies on, so it should work well, it just won't get updates going forward.

If you bought Unread 1 after Jun 1, 2019, you can get the first year of the new app for free. This expires June 1, 2020, so if that's you, you probably want to make sure you get that redeemed on time.

Did It Steal Me Away from Reeder?

Sadly, I still don’t think Unread is the reader for me. I think it looks great, and if you have a small number of feeds, it’s great, but my needs are more intense and I don’t think Unread keeps up.

For example, their iPad app got some love this year, adding keyboard shortcuts and multi-window mode. These changes are welcome, but the keyboard shortcuts are not standard so you'll need to learn all of them from scratch, but the more glaring miss is that the UI is precisely a blown up iPhone UI. Again, this is maybe more of a me thing, but the UI does not take advantage of the 13” screen in running it on and that's a shame.

If my primary reading was on an iPhone, it would be more compelling to me personally, but I don’t think it’s the right option for me on the iPad.

Recommendation

My review skewed a little negative, but I don’t think this is a bad app by any means, I just don’t think it’s the app for me, and I worry that some of its UI decisions make it hard to understand for new users. John Gruber recently complained about a UI element (that is typically a “set it and forget it” feature, but whatever) on the iPad that was hidden and he therefore went years without knowing it was there. Unread hides 90% of it’s interactions behind non-standard gestures, and for me that’s not a good design choice. The app looks amazing, and when I’m casually browsing a few items, it’s really delightful, but the choices they made don’t line up with what I need from an RSS reader.

But if you enjoy that design and are used to the gestures, then this could be your favorite app in the world! This review was strange to write because I know this app is adored by many, but it still doesn’t quite click for me.

Servant Review

Servant Review

I watched the first two episodes of Apple TV+’s new show, Servant on a plane on Tuesday morning. By Thursday night I had finished the first season. Servant is a far better show than I was expecting, and in my opinion, is way more interesting, well produced, and more memorable than the completely average-at-best The Morning Show which is getting all the headlines.

M. Night Shyamalan’s name is all over the marketing for this show, and he was indeed involved, executive producing the series and directing two episodes, but this is Tony Basgallop’s baby (pun not intended) and he is the creator and gets the solo writing credit for every episode. The show definitely feel Shyamalan-esque in all the right ways, though, so I could see why Shyamalan was interested in making this show happen.

Servant is a very small show in many ways. There are few characters, and almost every scene takes place in a single family home in Philadelphia. It follows a husband and wife, played by Lauren Ambrose and Toby Kebbell, who lose their child at a very young age and get a baby doll as a physical coping mechanism to help the wife get over the loss. They both put in amazing performances that really made me feel the sorrow, pain, and helplessness that they were going through.

They hire a nanny to help them raise this  doll, which is certainly weird, but the nanny, played by Nell Tiger Free, is inexplicably committed to embracing the “reality” of the doll. Rounding out the cast, Rupert Grint plays Lauren Ambrose’s brother, and I thought did a great job playing the concerned, and aggressively suspicious friend role.

I don’t want to get too into the plot because you should go in knowing as little as possible, but you can probably guess that things get complicated with this new nanny and the whole season has you wrestling with what is real and what exactly is going on. I found it compelling from start to finish, and the way it uses food to communicate things in the plot is really inspired.

it’s also worth jumping back to the Shyamalan involvement. He directed episodes 1 and 9, and you can really tell that those episodes are a little better than all the rest. I’ve always loved his directorial style, while the words coming out of characters’ mouth are often far less exciting, and I think he’s in fine form here, working off someone else’s script. Also, the 9th episode is truly devastating and I was really surprised to see the show go as far as it did. I can’t say more without spoilers, but I’ll say that the show set themselves up to have an episode that was either great or horribly embarrassing, and they completely nailed it.

Servant has been picked up for a second season, and I think it’s very well deserved. There is a lot of ways the rest of this story can be told, and I hope they continue this level of quality, but as it stands today, Servant is a tight 10 episodes of television that left me feeling creeped out, uncomfortable, and always glued to the screen.

One UI 2.0: The BirchTree Micro-Review

One UI 2.0: The BirchTree Micro-Review

Alright, let’s do this thing! I’m calling this a micro-review because there actually isn’t a ton to say about this update to Samsung’s Android skin. But hey, it’s rolling out to Galaxy S10 devices now, with S9 phones coming soon, so here are some of the highlights from my 2 months in the beta.

Overall Feelings

The biggest change here is the upgrade to Android 10 under the hood. Check out my Android 10 review to see what I liked and didn’t like about that release, but the TLDR version is:

  • The new navigation gestures are a complete rip off of the iPhone ones, and they work 90% as well.
  • Dark mode is a nice addition
  • Tons of updates to privacy mean the system will ask you allow apps to do more than before. This is a good update, and again makes it basically like iOS.
  • Focus mode is cool and is similar to iOS’s “downtime” but more easy to toggle on demand.

Screen Recording

This is a huge update for me since I use this feature pretty regularly on my iPhone. You can trigger this from the notification shade toggles and after a 3 second countdown, you get a video of the happenings on your screen. As this is Samsung, there are more options than iOS’s version of this:

  1. 1080p vs 720p recording quality (why you’d choose 720p is beyond me)
  2. No audio, just the media audio from the phone, or media and microphone audio.
  3. When recording, you can have an insert of video from the front-facing camera so you can show your face while doing the things you’re recording.
  4. When recording, you can draw on the screen to highlight specific things happening.

Ultimately, this works well, and my only complaint is that it seems the video plays back at 30fps, not 60fps like it does on the iPhone and iPad.

Dark Mode

One UI previously had a dark mode, but it was Samsung’s own custom mode that only worked with Samsung-made apps. This lead to an inconsistent dark mode that largely made it a disappointment to turn on for me. One UI 2.0 adopts Android’s native dark mode, which is to be expected since Google now does the hard work for them, and all Google and third party apps going forward will implement this dark mode if they support it at all.

And unlike stock Android 10, you can schedule dark mode to turn on and off on your own schedule. I do this on iOS, so it’s nice to be able to enable it on an Android phone running the latest OS. I have to imagine Google will add this natively to Android 11 later this year.

Camera Changes

Outside of some minor UI tweaks to the app overall, my favorite change is the ability to customize what camera modes are displayed front and center when you launch the app. Previously, you can make certain modes available or hidden, but now you can drag and drop modes behind a “more” option, which makes it easier to hide modes you rarely use, but access them easier on those rare cases you need them.

Oh, and Samsung added slow motion video to the selfie camera. So if you were “upset” with Apple for adding this “stupid” mode to the new iPhones, now you get to be mad about the whole S10 and Note 10 line having it now.

Finally, sort of related, Samsung has added an option to have the native Gallery app sync with OneDrive, giving you a non-Google option for syncing your photo library online. Yes, you could have done this all along with the OneDrive app for Android, but I found that to be less than a seamless experience, and building it into the stock app means it should get more adoption.

Conclusion

Amazingly, we’re at the end of this micro-review, in large part due to the general lack of changes this year. Again, this update takes the foundation of One UI from Android Pie to Android 10, so you get a lot of changes there, but if you’re looking for changes only Samsung users will get, the list is pretty short.

There’s some changes to the layout and arrangement of settings pages, and the power share feature now lets you disable the feature at whatever battery percentage you want (used to be just 20%), but I’m hard pressed to think of anything else.

My overall impression of this update is that I didn’t feel nearly as much of a change as I was expecting. If you have never used Android 10, then you’ll have a good time experiencing some of those updates, but the stuff Samsung added on top of that is very minor. Basically, if you liked One UI last year, you’ll still like it this year. If you didn’t like it, then this didn’t do much to change your mind.

The Morning Show

The Morning Show

My wife and I sat down to finished Apple TV+’s The Morning Show last night. I was excited about the talent behind the show, and despite some grumpiness about the show’s reviews, a majority of critics liked the first 3 episodes, I thought it had a chance to be really good.

To say I was disappointed with the early episodes of this show would be an understatement. I would say that without question, the first few episodes of The Morning Show were the worst TV episodes I watched this year. The writing was borderline amateur, the production value was both high and low somehow at the same time, and the cast turned in uncharacteristically awful performances.

The next few episodes were much of the same, but two actors started to stand out: Jennifer Aniston remained strong for basically the whole time and Billy Crudup seemed to be getting a whole different set of stage directions than everyone else, turning in a truly bizarre, but wonderful performance.

Episodes 8-10 which close the season bounce back remarkably though, and I thought they were largely pretty compelling television. The actors finally started to get a hold on their roles and the corporate intrigue was far more interesting than the schlocky storytelling we were getting for most of the season. With the exception of the final scene, I thought these wrapped up the season very nicely.

The Morning Show is not great television in my view, but it at least became good television by the end. I hope that season 2 hits the ground running.

AirPods Pro Mini Review (cold weather and travel)

AirPods Pro Mini Review (cold weather and travel)

I know, I know, you’ve already seen enough AirPods Pro reviews to know the deal, but I wanted to share my feelings on Apple’s new wireless earbuds anyway. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it brief.

I’ve had these new Pods for 3 weeks and have used them in near 0°F weather, as well as on a trip down to Austin, Texas to escape that terrible weather for a bit.

Traveling

AirPods were already great for travel since they were very small and had a battery that could make it though pretty much any stint in a car, bus, train, or plane. On the downside, they didn’t block out much of the outside world, so they are close to useless on most airplanes.

AirPods Pro have a slightly larger case, but it’s only by a few millimeters on either axis and you only notice the difference if you hold it right next to a standard AirPods case or if you happen to fit them into a particularly snug coin pocket in your skinny jeans.

The batter life is also basically the same (mine dropped from 100% to 65% through a 2.5 hour flight with noise cancelling on the whole time), and they still stare up 4-5 more times in the case before you need to charge the case up again. You can of course charge the case wirelessly or with Lightning, so you get maximum flexibility.

The real difference is in the new noice cancelation feature, which does a good enough job of keeping plane noises out so you don’t have to crank the volume up to 100% just to make out what you’re listening to. It’s not as good as my over-ear Sonys, but it’s totally good enough.

Transparency Mode

Before we get too far off of sound, I wanted to mention transparency mode, which is basically the opposite of noise cancelation. In this mode, sounds around your are amplified instead of blocked. I find this far less useful day-to-day, as most of the time I prefer to block out the world when I’m listening to stuff, but there are cases where I prefer to have it on.

The first case is when I’m working around the house. The house is usually relatively quiet, so noise cancelling isn’t required, and I sometimes listen to something my wife has no interest in. So instead of forcing her to hear my stuff though a HomePod or something, and instead of closing myself off from her, I pop in my AirPods Pro and listen with transparency mode turned on. This lets me hear her if she calls for me without making her listen to my tech podcast and distract her from her work.

I also like it for shopping. I never wore earbuds when shopping because I felt closed off from the rest of the store. But with this mode I am able to keep track of everything going on around me without stopping my podcast or book. It’s not always ideal, and I usually shop without headphones, but when I do, this is super nice to have.

Cold Weather

It’s been cold here in the Midwest recently, as it always is, but this has been a great test for these new AirPods. One issue I had with the old ones is that they would stop working in really cold temperatures. We’re talking like 10°F or lower, and they would just shut off, almost as if the insides froze up. I would get them home, warm them up, and they would turn back on. So far I have not had this problem with these buds.

The other thing I wondered about was how the squeeze gesture would compare to tapping. While I greatly prefer the squeeze gesture, in no small part because now I get play, pause, rewind, and forward all on each bud. But how would they work when wearing big winter gloves? Well sadly, they are completely impossible to use when wearing anything more than a very light glove. There simply isn’t enough to grab onto and squeeze, while the old ones would work by banging the side of my head through my glove and hat. Now if I want to do something I can take off my glove and do it. Definitely annoying, except…

Hey Siri

These were on the second generation AirPods as well, but I never had those so these are my first AirPods with Hey Siri support, and good lord, I love it! The top time I use these headphones is when I’m walking my dog. We live in the suburbs and either walk through the neighborhood or through a nature preserve. This usually means we are not too close to anyone most of the time, so it’s not awkward to ask Siri to do things in stride.

Being able to say, “hey Siri, fast forward 3 minutes” to skip a podcast ad or “is it going to rain?” if I see some suspicious clouds on the horizon has been lovely. Especially with gloves on, it’s becoming more and more my preferred method of doing things when on the move.

Overall Feelings

Overall I really enjoy these headphones. There are no downgrades from the cheaper AirPods, only differences. So while these work well for me, there may be reasons you still prefer the less expensive model. If you don’t like in-ear earbuds, I can tell you these are more comfortable than most, but they are still deeper in your ear than standard AirPods. Also, they don’t have nearly as many accessories as the old ones (partially because they’re new, partially because they’re going to be more niche) and they don’t fit perfectly in their case since they need to accommodate 3 ear tip sizes.

But if the price doesn’t scare you away (and if you’re in the market for noise-cancelling wireless earbuds it should not) then these are absolutely worth it. They are another fantastic product in a lineup that we should only expect to keep growing.

Google Pixel 4: The BirchTree Review

Google Pixel 4: The BirchTree Review

This is going to be a different type of review. In part because you’ve likely read and watched a bunch of reviews already which go over the spec sheets and basic functionality. Instead, I’m going to address only the parts of this phone that I find interesting and where I have not seen my opinions widely voiced out there already.

It’s a wild idea, I know, but I hope you enjoy!

The Pricing Conundrum

The Pixel 4 starts at $799; that’s for the 64GB smaller model. However, as you have likely seen from most reviews, no one can recommend the smaller one due to its small battery, so they suggest you get the XL model, bringing us up to $899.

Then you have to contend with the fact that 64GB is not a lot of storage for a phone in this price range, and people who spend this much on a phone will likely want the 128GB model, bring our total up to $999.

If you want more than this, too bad, because we’ve maxed out the phone already.

Where this gets dicy is when you look at what this phone offers and what other competitors are doing right now. The iPhone 11 is $699, and $749 if you want to match the Pixel’s 128GB storage1. The 128GB Galaxy S10e, my favorite Android phone of the year, goes for $749. And the just-released 128GB OnePlus 7T goes for a chill $599.

Obviously phones are more than their spec sheets, but when we look at what the Pixel 4 is offering, Google is asking us to pay hundreds of dollars more that other flagship phones in this class. And I can happily recommend any of those phones from Apple, Samsung, and OnePlus without hesitation. If someone tells me they’re thinking of getting a Pixel 4, I might still recommend it to them, but we have to have a serious conversation about the opportunities.

Strategy

I don’t always talk about market strategy in my reviews, but I think the Pixel 4 warrants it more than most other phones. As I just talked about, the pricing for the Pixel 4 is quite high considering the spec sheet and I think we’re seeing a lot of reviewers struggling to contend with this fact in their reviews. They like the phone but they have a hard time justifying the price. Again, since most of them say “you need 128GB and the better XL battery, so it’s $999,” the price comparisons get silly2.

Add onto this the fact that after 3 years of Pixel phones, Google has struggled to garner any significant market share or grow sales in any significant way. I would totally believe you if you said each Pixel sold more than the previous model, but we’re still solidly in niche phone territory here. In fact, according to a recent report, Pixels account for 5% of the phones Verizon sells, with a whopping 90% going to Apple and Samsung phones. And that report even called out the Pixel 3a as the main driver of Pixel sales, not the high end Pixel 3.

I think the Pixel line has always been priced wrong. Google failed to gain any real traction with the $649 Pixel 1 and 2, and they didn’t move the needle when they raised the starting price to $799 last year. The only thing that got them anywhere was the Pixel 3a this spring that took us all by surprise with how great it actually was. I personally called it the MacBook Air of smartphones and I stand by that phone being a great value with a camera that punches way above its weight class.

With the $799-999 Pixel 4, I think Google has assured that they will not make any significant changes this year either. I just think that they’re trying to play a game that they can’t win while they should be focused on the game they have every ability to dominate.

Google is currently attacking iPhones and Galaxies, and frankly in the US Apple and Samsung have that high end market locked up tight. Google is trying to beat them head on when they should be trying to flank them with something different.

My Pixel 4

I swear I’ll talk about the phone as it exists today soon! But before I do, let’s look at what I would have done to get the Pixel 4 down to that $599 price point I think they should have targeted. Of course, I don’t know Google’s margin or exact component pricing here, but I’ll try to ballpark based on what other phones are out there.

First, I’d remove the Motion Sense radar sensor. The Soli project was debuted half a decade ago and the version released on the Pixel 4 is so far less advanced than that 2015 demo that it’s actually kind of shocking. More details in the “It’s Freaking Radar, Man!” section below, but I think they could remove this and have a phone that’s just as useful. And it would let them sell the phone in India, which is kind of a big deal.

Second, kill the 90Hz screen. I know, I know, it is very nice and I’m happy to have it, but it hardly adds any value, is something most people won’t even notice, and currently it only runs that fast when the screen is over 75% brightness, so basically only when you’re outside. Oh, and because the battery is so small, many reviewers say you can turn it off entirely to make the battery more acceptable, at which point it serves zero value.

Third, speaking of the battery, I would do whatever it took to put a bigger battery in here. Maybe that’s removing more components or making the phone a little thicker, but one way or the other, the most important thing for phone buyers is the battery and the Pixel can’t fall this far short.

And finally, if that isn’t enough to get them to that $599 price point, I hate to say it but throw out face unlock and bring back the fingerprint sensor. I like secure face unlocks far more than fingerprint readers, but there are plenty of people out there who still like the fingerprint option and if it cuts a significant amount off the price, then it has to be done.

To recap:

  1. Remove the radar
  2. Use a 60Hz screen
  3. Boost the battery
  4. If needed, go back to a fingerprint sensor instead of face unlock

While I get that these changes would make this phone less “cool” they would also make the phone better for almost everyone, and it would make this a phone people have to twist themselves in knots to recommend into something they can recommend without hesitation.

This Thing has a Battery in it, Right?

If I had to describe this phone’s battery in one word, it would be “brutal.” The above screenshot is from this Sunday when I used the phone a little bit (2.5 hours) which burned through 74% of my battery. Comparatively, my iPhone 11 Pro with a very similar 2.3 hours of screen on time sits at 69%. For lack of a better word: nice.

And this is without having a SIM card in there this day! It’s not like it was searching for a hard-to-reach cellular network or anything. I’ve even tried turning off all Motion Sense features to see if that Soli chip is what was killing it, but that didn’t really move the needle for me.

I don’t know what’s going on here, but this is by far the worst battery life I’ve ever experienced in a smartphone3. It’s just very, very bad.

It’s Freaking Radar, Man!

The Soli radar sensor, or Motion Sense, in the Pixel 4 is certainly the most unique hardware aspect of Google’s new phones, and the ways Google has integrated it into Android range from pretty clever to very questionable. I’m going to look at each one from most useful to least.

Making Face Unlock Even Faster

The best use for Motion Sense is in how it helps make unlocking your phone incredibly quick. From my testing, the Pixel 4 recognizes my face exactly as quickly as the iPhone 11 Pro, but the Pixel feels faster because it uses its radar system to notice when you’re reaching for it and turns on the screen and face unlock camera system before you even touch the phone. This makes it so as soon as your face comes into view it unlocks and is ready to go. This is a very clever use case and it’s effectively invisible to the average user. Their phone just feels like it’s fast, and that’s the whole point.

This would also be a good time to mention that just like the iPad Pro, this face unlock works from any angle, so it works in bed, unlike my iPhone. Love this.

The only downside of this in my experience is that it’s too aggressive in activating so my phone has been unlocking way more than I actually want it to. For example, my phone sits on a charging stand on my desk at work. With my iPhone, I tap the screen, it unlocks in milliseconds, and I can see my notifications. With the Pixel 4, any sudden movements I make trigger it to light up and unlock. I’ve had it happen when I simply lean forward a little in my chair and BOOM the phone is unlocked and on my home screen. I also have an annoying issue where simply putting the phone on the charger makes it unlock. It also typically unlocks itself when I place it on my wireless charger on my bedside table. It also unlocks when I move it from my desk into my pocket.

Basically, the Pixel 4 seems to think that if you touch it, you want to unlock it, which is absolutely not the case and makes me handle my phone differently. And as has been well-documented, since the Pixel doesn’t care if I’m looking at it or am even, you know, alive, I can’t close my eyes or something and prevent it from doing this.

This problem is mostly mitigated by changing the default behavior to only unlock the phone but not take you to the home screen (go to Settings app, Security, Face Unlock, and disable the “skip lock screen” setting), I recommend most people change that as soon as they get the phone.

Quieting Alarms, Timers, and Calls

This one is pretty cool too. When a timer, alert, or phone call is beeping, you can reach out to the phone and it will quiet the noise. It doesn’t silence it, mind you, just make it quiet. Then you can decide what you want to do with it. In all cases, you can swipe your hand over the phone to dismiss the timer, stop the alarm, but oddly not reject a call.

The part with quieting the noise when you reach for the phone works very reliably, but the swipe to dismiss is a little less so (more on this below).

Saving Battery When You’re Far Away

This one is very subtle, and you may never notice it’s even happening, but the Pixel 4 will try to detect when you are far away and turn off the always-on screen to conserve battery. As soon as you get closer, it turns on the screen. Again, this is subtle and it’s actually kind of hard to test as you need to get far enough away to make it work.

All in all, my screen always “feels” like it’s on even though it’s not actually always on.

Controlling Media Playback

And finally there is the one that Google is marketing the most, all while being, in my experience, the worst of the bunch: media controls. This works in lots of apps, but not all. It works in all my music apps from Apple Music to Spotify to Google Play Music, and works in YouTube as well. It does not work in Pocket Casts, though. It doesn’t appear that apps need to integrate to this themselves, the system determines if an app is playing media and enables the media gestures on its own.

But this is a feature I’ve turned off because my use of it can mostly be broken down like so:

  • 5% using it because it’s useful
  • 20% using it for testing
  • 60% struggling to make it actually work
  • 15% accidentally triggering it and wanting to throw my phone across the room

The feature just isn’t reliable or predictable. I can’t get it to work reliably, and more importantly, I can’t find a spot in my life where it’s actually useful. The cooking example comes up all the time, but (a) this is the only example anyone can come up with and (b) I use my phone all the time when I’m cooking with pinkies and knuckles. The biggest thing this solves is advancing to the next track when the screen is off, which I will admit is nice, but isn’t a major pain point for me.

What’s frustrating is that this gesture seems to work one minute and then not the next. Sometimes it recognizes left swipes as right swipes and does the opposite of what I want. And that 15% I mentioned above, that comes when I’m making breakfast and happen to walk too close to the phone and it skips tracks. Or other times I’m getting ready in the bathroom and I put my toothbrush away, only to have YouTube skip to the next video because I thinks I was swiping it.

Google showed this off as having some smarts to recognize intentional vs unintentional swipes, but it’s unreliable enough that I got way too many false positives. In the end, this is the thing that made me turn the feature off; it made me feel like I had to tiptoe around my phone lest it do things I very much did not want it to do.

As many have already said, the media controls are very limited, presumably because Google wanted to do a few things well and build from there, but this very limited functionality is very bad right now. My fingers are crossed for some updates that make this work better.

All of this adds up to very little in my experience, and when I turned off Motion Sense to try and save battery life, I hardly even missed it.

Cameras

There is tons to say about the cameras on the Pixel 4, but let’s just look at how the Pixel 4 camera stacks up against the iPhone 11 Pro in some situations.

First up is a comparison of:

  1. Computational zoom past 2x
  2. Portrait mode
  3. Low light indoors

https://youtu.be/Z_KRvCnBNdE

And then here are some side-by-sides in good lighting. iPhone is always on the left and the Pixel is always on the right.

Next up, here are some night shots taken with each phone (iPhone still on left, Pixel still on right).

And how about another one for fun? Here’s the iPhone 11 Pro:

And here’s the Pixel 4:

As a whole they look pretty similar, but the details show some differences. The Pixel has much more color noise in the sky, as well as a little less detail in the grass and bushes. Here’s the deal: the iPhone tends to do better in handheld night mode shots and the Pixel tends to do better when using a tripod.

And finally, we have to try out some astral photography and see how the main new feature in this year’s camera update.

That’s not how it comes out of the camera, of course, that’s how I made it look after a minute in Lightroom. This is what the camera app gives you:

I sadly don’t have any other examples right now since it’s been cloudy and rainy every night here in the US Midwest. What I can tell you is that I went out a few weeks back with the astral mode on the Pixel 3a, and got very similar results to what I’m seeing on the Pixel 4. Google is showing off some remarkable photos in their marketing but I haven’t seen anyone online get much more than I am. Maybe we all just have too much light pollution where we live to see that many stars.

Oh, and I should probably show what the iPhone gets when trying the same thing:

Also good, but not as clear as the Pixel. Again, this is a 30 second exposure while the Pixel used the full 4 minutes possible.

My Opinion on Still Photos

When it comes to still photography these phones are really neck-and-neck. The Pixel 4 applies much less harsh contrast to every photo which was my main complaint with the photos in years past, which is wonderful. I’d say I still prefer the colors in iPhone shots more often than Pixel ones, but it’s so close that it’s not worth discussing further…so I won’t.

When it comes to detail in shots, it’s really a toss up and varies from shot to shot. Sometimes the iPhone got a better image and sometimes the Pixel did, but they were both almost universally excellent so it didn’t really matter.

That said, in low light, but not night time, the iPhone consistently gets sharper photos, largely helped by the excellent addition of “Deep Fusion” in iOS 13.2. Additionally, portrait mode I find far better on the iPhone in 90% of shots.

Nighttime is where things are most interesting, as both haver upped their game significantly from the Pixel 3 last year. This is again a toss up from photo to photo, but the Pixel 4 probably won out 60% of the time, giving it the slight edge.

One big caveat with the Pixel 4’s night mode, especially when you throw it on a tripod and it switches to “astral photography” mode, and that is that the exposures take waaaaaaay longer to take than on the iPhone. Handheld night shots take 3 seconds on the iPhone and 10 seconds if you’re using a tripod (you can manually boost those to 5 and 30 seconds, although the difference in image quality is usually trivial and not worth it). Meanwhile, they are somewhere around 7 seconds handheld and 2-4 minutes on the Pixel 4. Take that first photo of the life saver: that was a 210 second exposure on the Pixel 4 vs 10 seconds on the iPhone. When you consider the photos look effectively the same, it’s really hard to justify the 20x time commitment. Seriously, you don’t appreciate how long 3 minutes is until your phone is incapacitated for that long while you wait.

All of this said, if you don’t want an iPhone then none of this is going to bother you. The Pixel 4 reliably shoots some of the best still photographs you can get on a camera, let alone a smartphone camera.

My Opinion on Video

Video is a whole other story, as this time it’s not even close, the iPhone 11 Pro smokes the Pixel 4 in every single way. If we look at lenses, the iPhone has an ultra-wide lens4, so it’s more flexible. If we look at modes, the iPhone shoots higher resolutions at higher frame rates, at higher bitrates, and with noticeably better video quality at all times.

https://youtu.be/E0n30RJk9XQ

Taking the iPhone out of the picture, the Pixel 4 still doesn’t hold up that well on the video front. The video okay overall, but there are far too many instances of artifacts in the footage, especially in scenes with lots of texture like grass or trees.

I don’t have nearly as much to say about video as it’s not my forte, but I’ll say this about video: every video I take with the Pixel 4 makes me go “yeah, that’s okay” while everything I take with the iPhone 11 Pro makes me go “I can’t believe how good this is!” I’d love to see Google put their photography smarts towards video as well.

Software

Next to the cameras, the software on Pixels is what really draws people to them. The Pixel 4 has a good number of software improvements that make it a better Android experience than most other devices out there.

The New Google Assistant

I’m not the biggest user of voice assistants on my phone, although I’m all in on smart speakers, so I don’t have a ton to say here. What I will say is that Google moved all voice processing onto the device and this makes everything feel stupid fast. Doing things locally like dictating a message or asking Google to set a timer happen with almost zero lag. Seriously, setting a timer feels like it’s done before I’ve finished asking for it! I went frame-by-frame in a video of me asking for one and it took 0.83 seconds for me to finish saying the word “timer” to the timer being started.

Other things like being able to navigate your phone and issue sequential requests have not been nearly as good for me. For example, asking Google “show me my dog pictures” from the home screen does a search of my photo library with all my dog pics, but then asking “only ones from last week” doesn’t return anything, despite there being tons of dog pictures last week.

But this isn’t particularly new, and the features Google showed off at I/O this spring that let you control your phone entirely with your voice seem to not be here yet. And if they are, I have not been able to find them, so please let me know if I’m wrong here.

Overall, Google Assistant is similar to the one on all other devices, but the voice recognition is much faster, so everything is a bit faster than before.

Voice Recording Cranked to 11

The Pixel 4 ships with a new app called Recorder and think of it like Voice Memos on the iPhone but with automatic transcriptions built in. All you have to do is hit record and you’ll get a nice sounding recording of whatever is going on, and the app with automatically (and in real time) transcribe everything it records. It does this all offline and doesn’t send anything off your device. In fact, unlike Voice Memos on iOS which syncs your recordings across your devices, Google’s Recorder specifically tells you that nothing leaves your device. If you would like, you can share these recordings one at a time, either as audio files, text files, or both.

And the quality of the transcriptions is pretty good, although it’s not perfect by any means. This might not be a perfect test, but I played the first 90 seconds of my most recent podcast for the app and this is the transcription it created:

Good morning everyone and welcome to the. Mycast today. I want to talk about what I would like in a pro. I.

So the iPhone 11 Pro came out just over a month ago, so we've had if you got it at lunch you had your phone for a month and two days at this point, so one of the common threads in many of the youtuber view. The iPhone 11 pro is people saying what's the pro for what's pro about this?

And. Get mentioned our stuff like if it was going to be called pro I think you should get rid of the notch. I think you should have a high refresh display and I don't think those are things that's quote unquote pros actually need like is that really what is going to keep someone from using the iPhone as their smartphone?

And believe that problematic to.

I don't think so, so if I think about what a pro device actually. Mean do I do? I care about the naming I guess.

General. The word pro typically.

The one that we sell to everybody but has higher specs can do. A little bit more is a little faster when.

The transcript is okay, but it’s far from a word-for-word transcript of what I said. Is it useful? Yes, but is it going to give you word-for-word transcripts of that it’s hearing? Not unless you’re recording someone talking very precisely at all times.

Car Crash Detection

And finally on the software front, there is a new car crash detection feature that acts kind of like the fall detection on the Apple Watch. If the phone detects you were in crash, it will make a loud noise and ask if you are okay. If you don’t respond in time, it will call emergency services and your emergency contact. The app says it uses the accelerometer, location, and audio sensors to guess if you were in a crash, and is off by default when you get the phone. To turn it on, just go the Safety app and enable it from there.

No, I did not test this out, but I did use the demo the app lets you try out and yeah, it’s pretty loud: you’ll notice if it goes off.

General Notes on Hardware

  • The asymmetrical top and bottom bezels don’t really bother me, but it’s definitely not ideal. Is it better than a notch? Depends on who you are, but for me it falls into the “minor annoyance” category.
  • The phone overall feels quite nice in the hands. I love the brushed edges for being far more grippy than the polished steel on the iPhone 11 Pro or the brushed, slippery aluminum on the iPhone 11. The white modelI got is also very striking and I think looks fantastic with the black accents and single splash of orange on the power button. Interestingly, I asked my wife what she thought about the feel and she instantly said it felt cheap and she didn’t like it compared to her iPhone 11, so your mileage my vary.
  • The screen is very good and works well for me. It’s bright enough and the 90Hz screen looks amazing when it’s activated. However, it currently only goes 90 when the brightness is over 75%, which is not often when you’re indoors. This is to conserve battery life, but it makes it so the screen feels normal most of the time and only silky smooth occasionally. You an force the screen to always do 90Hz in the developer options, and that’s quite nice, but it slays the battery, so it’s only worth changing if you’re always topping up thought the day.
  • The power and volume buttons are decent, but are a bit soft. The power button feels good if you hit it dead in the middle, but if you’re off center at all it loses its clickiness.
  • Face unlock works when I’m lying down in bed! This is my only time Face ID on the iPhone lets me down, and I’m happy that the secure face unlock on the Pixel 4 works from all angles, just like the iPad Pro.
  • Speaking of face unlock, the fact that it can be used even if I’m not awake or even alive is not ideal but is also not the end of the world for me. The same can be said for any fingerprint reader, so I won’t go so far as to say this is useless, but an attention requirement certainly should have been there from day one, and not months away in a yet unconfirmed software update.
  • The haptics on this phone are second only to the iPhone. They’re just great.

My Buying Advice

The Pixel 4 is a really hard thing for me to recommend. It has great cameras, very good software (if you’re cool with Android), nice hardware, a questionable price, and a piss poor battery life, and all that adds up to a device that only works for people who really value the things it does well to an obscene degree. If all you want is the best still camera in a smartphone, I think the iPhone 11 Pro is better, but on the Android front the Pixel is still king. If you love Google’s opinionated take on Android and want to always have the latest updates, then the Pixel 4 is also the best way to go.

But if you are looking for the most bang for your buck, it’s hard to think of a phone with a worse value per dollar. If you want a phone you can trust to make it through the day, you’re also hard-pressed to find something worse. If you want ultra-premium hardware, I don’t think you’re going to get it here either. And if you take more videos than photos, then the camera is going to let you down more than other options out there today.

If you fall into the camp that really wants one of the things the Pixel 4 excels at, then have at it, but know what its limits are so you can plan accordingly.

Finally, I won’t pretend to be able to tell you what you should do, but in general in the US in late 2019, I think people who would consider the Pixel 4 might enjoy a few other phones instead.

The Samsung Galaxy S10e is $50 less than the Pixel 4, has double the storage, all the same specs5, and takes much better video. It also comes with One UI which I think improves on Android in some ways and has all of Samsung’s additional software which many people enjoy and is much better than it has ever been. I loved this phone and I think most people would enjoy this more than the Pixel 4.

The OnePlus 7T is $200 less than the Pixel 4, has double the storage, and has a slightly faster processor (855+) with more RAM (8GB). And while the photos from this phone are not as good as the Pixel’s they’re competent and have the advantage of a 3x telephoto lens (vs the Pixel’s 2x) and an ultra-wide lens as well. It also shares the 90Hz display and has a nice premium build. Oh, and did I mention it was $200 less expensive?

Google’s own Pixel 3a is also a contender for some folks. Yes, it’s slower and has last year’s camera, but it’s been updated to get the new astral photography mode and also will receive software updates the same say the Pixel 4 will. If you want the Pixel experience while spending half the price of the baseline Pixel 4 and get the same 64GB storage, then the 3a should be in the conversation.

And finally, it’s not Android, but the new iPhone 11 is $100 cheaper ($150 cheaper if you compare the 128GB versions) and comes with all the benefits of iOS, but we’re not going to go too far down that rabbit hole today.


  1. I’ll leave a note here that the iPhone 11 Pro Max also has 64GB in its $1,099 model, which is insane as well. There are plenty of reasons the 11 Pro warrants its price tag, but storage is not one of them.

    I’m not reviewing the 11 Pro Max here, but this is to fend off the “um excuse me, but the iPhone 11 Pro Max, which you love, has 64GB too!”

    It does, I don’t like it, and I don’t think anyone should get that one. It doesn’t excuse the Pixel 4. 

  2. Compared to other good battery 128GB phones: $250 more than the iPhone 11, $250 more than the Galaxy S10e, and a whopping $400 more than the OnePlus 7T. 
  3. Standard disclaimer that I don’t review every single phone that comes out, so I’m open to there being worse ones out there. 
  4. Which I find more useful for video than still photos. 
  5. 1080p screen, Snapdragon 855, and 6GB RAM