No headphone jack. Lots of bezel. Killer camera. Are these secretly the same phone?
Apple and Google have been walking different paths to the same place for a long time now. With every new generation of hardware and software, it seems like these companies spend more time “borrowing” from one another and less time doing something new and exciting. Last year the camera was the thing, until it was generally accepted that the top three options were largely the same. This year? It looks like Samsung, Apple, Google, LG, and several others have decided bezels need to go.
Well, almost. When it comes to the “base model” for Apple and Google, these bezels are here to stay. That’s not the only thing the iPhone 8 and Pixel 2 have in common, but it’s easily the most obvious by looking at them. Here’s everything else you need to know if you’re choosing between these two phones.
The ‘small’ phone
Apple and Google are two of the biggest companies out there to adopt the big/little strategy when it comes to the big launch each year. Apple has the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, and Google has the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL this year (the iPhone X is another story for another time). The whole plan here is to offer a small version of the phone for folks who prefer that size and a larger version of the phone for people who prefer either a larger display or a noticeable increase in battery life.
Each company works hard to make sure this standard version doesn’t feel like a lesser version of the larger phone. For example, Google stresses how both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL charge at the same rate, specifically how 15 minutes on a fast charger will give you 7 hours of use. There’s no arguing which of these phones will do a better job getting you through a full day with lots of activity, but it’s important to Google that this smaller phone doesn’t feel somehow less.
Apple’s approach is less focused on that similarity between the two versions of the iPhone, especially when it comes to the camera. There’s a lot of very impressive tech in the dual camera system in the iPhone 8 Plus. Both sensors are hardware stabilized and offer a lot of interesting depth sorcery for very cool photos. By contrast, Google’s Pixel Cameras are identical in both the front and rear cameras. These cameras have all of the same features, which includes Google’s version of the Portrait Mode feature that is limited to the iPhone 8 Plus.
At the same time, it’s clear, looking at these phones side by side, that Apple has nailed the “smaller” phone in a way Google seems to struggle with. The bezels on the Pixel 2 make this phone look and feel much bigger than it should be, and comparing it to the iPhone 8 makes that painfully obvious. Apple is routinely dinged for maintaining its “huge” top and bottom bezel on its phones, and Google shows up and not only says “hold my beer,” but manages to do so without adding anything of use, like the fingerprint scanner.
The diehard Android and iOS fans don’t like to admit it, but these two operating systems have way more in common these days. Most apps live on both platforms, it’s much easier to switch between these platforms nowadays, and separating the two largely comes down to an order of operations. On an Android phone, apps are all connected and its very easy to share something between apps. On an iPhone, apps only have access to what you give explicit permission to. There are a lot of small examples like this all over the OS, and it really comes down to what workflow is most convenient to you.
Apple owns its ecosystem in a way no other company can claim right now.
Where these two operating systems tend to part ways is when you leave the phone and integrate with the rest of your digital ecosystem. Apple owns its ecosystem in a way no other company can claim right now, but you absolutely pay for the privilege. Being able to open up an iPad and enable the Hotspot on your iPhone so the two can share internet, without ever having to touch your iPhone to enable said hotspot, it just plain cool. It’s a perfect example of the deep integration Apple is able to pull off, and that makes a huge difference when it comes to choosing a phone that will make your life easier in new ways.
Google has its own form of deep integration, but instead of being based on local hardware it’s based on the web. Through Google services, your phone becomes a whole entertainment platform complete with one-tap Chromecast integration across hundreds of streaming apps. Toss a Chromebook in there and you have a lightweight platform built to better sync your mobile self with a larger screen. It doesn’t feel quite as complete as what you see with the Apple ecosystem right now, but it’s clear Google is starting to focus on capturing that same experience.
The camera is probably the most important aspect of these phones’ stories.
You can’t have a conversation about phones anymore without talking about the camera, and increasingly the camera has just as much to do with the software powering it as it does the physical hardware inside the casing. Over the last year in particular, there’s been some very interesting conversations about what makes a smartphone camera great.
Is color accuracy more important than color brilliance? Is detail more important than balanced exposure? How about the ability to treat the phone almost like it is a DSLR complete with an expansive photo and video editing suite? It’s a fascinating conversation, and at the center of it is frequently the folks at DXOMark. Currently, these image benchmark folks say the Pixel 2 is the most capable camera you can get on a phone today. Rather than take these people at their word, we took a few shots of our own.
Cost and Availability
A big part of Apple owning a more mature hardware platform right now is being able to make the phone available everywhere. Google struggled to keep the Pixels in stock throughout most of last year, even though the phone was available in far fewer places. There’s a general hope that will be less of a problem this year, but seeing the Pixel 2 XL fail to ship the same day as the Pixel 2 doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.
Let’s hope you can at least buy a Pixel 2 this year. That will be a good start.
Pricing is another matter. Both the $649 Pixel 2 and $699 iPhone 8 have starting models with 64GB of onboard storage and are available in multiple colors if you buy unlocked from Google or Apple. You can get a $34.50/month iPhone Upgrade Plan from Apple or the $27.04/month financing plan through Google with no upgrade plan. Either way, the price you’re going to pay is close enough that there isn’t going to be any justifying one over the other.
So which should you buy? It really comes down to the ecosystem you want to live in. Apple has been at this a lot longer and has cultivated a more mature hardware experience across its ecosystem, but at the same time sacrifices for design leaves the iPhone 8 as the undisputed runt of the litter.
Google’s Pixel 2 is a little on the chunky side, but it’s still a very capable phone powered by a great experience and some impressive new software. Choosing between the two largely comes down to your desire to experience something new or your desire to continue using something stable but decidedly less interesting.