Americans check their phones a reported eighty times every day, which is a stat that’s both surprising and not. It’s also a figure that makes it increasingly likely you’re reading this news on your phone.
Given the amount of times we touch our phones each day, how it feels in your hand is an overlooked but important matter. Apple, whose iOS claims around 40 percent of U.S. market share, has defined how a phone should feel for the better part of a decade, but is that time coming to an end for the imposing iPhone?
It’s sleek, cold, and a polished black. You might wonder why those buttons are suspiciously small. iPhone looks like Darth Vader’s phone. It’s many things to many people, but it’s never never felt soft or natural or even of this world. As I was looking to make the switch from iPhone, I was interested in the Google Pixel 3’s more natural appearance — it seemed more representative of how I use and think about my phone: An everyday technology.
The Google Pixel 3 has design aesthetics of something more Earthly than iPhone, which floats above Tim Cook’s head in that photo above like a UFO. Make no mistake, the Pixel 3, with its Google Assistant A.I., feels like something from at least a future Earth. After a few weeks of use, the Pixel 3 feels more like an electronic device you’d find in the world of Her, the near-future sci-fi movie set in LA, not on the Death Star.
Google Designer Ivy Ross “helped change Google’s culture of design” claimed design magazine Design Milk in January 2018, after it interviewed Ross, Google’s Vice President of hardware design. She is the woman responsible for the fabric you see wrapped around Pixel phone cases or atop the Google Home Mini. Compared to iPhone, Google products are softer; they feel like they were made with a different mood in mind. The era of black, shiny consumer electronics ought to be over by now, and while Apple has made some warmer design changes, Google is doing more to push consumer tech design out from the darkness.
I’ve had nearly every generation of the iPhone since the 3G model in 2009, yet I found switching surprisingly easy, despite becoming a green bubble person (which is kind of nice?). Here are five ways I found the Google Pixel 3 to be sturdier, more comfortable, and more intangibly human than an iPhone.
5. A USB-C Cable That Feels Studier Than a Lightning Bolt Cable
The larger cable head, not to the mention the versatility of a USB-C cable as compared to the Apple-only Lightning Bolt cable, certainly makes any new Apple refugee more confident that their cable won’t eventually short out on them. Of course, the USB-C cable and its corresponding ports can do more than a Mac-specific Lightning cable, meant for largely one thing, sticking in your phone. Apple sells a $19 USB-C to Lightning port cable, but let’s stick to design. The USB-C input is studier.
One more thing about charging and design: If you use the wireless Pixel Stand, you’ll get a faster charge (up to 10 watts), no cables required.
4. A Protruding Power Button That Feels Like a Button
Who doesn’t love a button, especially a power button? Many of the reviews for the Pixel 3 mention the “pop of color” that this button provides. My black Pixel has a light green button; the white one has an orange button. But unlike iPhone, the colorful matte surface of this raised button gives it character, and it’s grippier to your finger. It is a Good Button. This is another area where Apple’s chief designer Jony Ive might disagree with Ross’s decision, but as a owner of a new Google Pixel, this protruding power button felt more suited technology on Earth.
3. A Swipe-Able Fingerprint Button
The fingerprint sensor on the Pixel 3 is on the back of the phone, but —and I’m not sure why this came to me — you can “scratch the phone’s back,” twice, up or down, to executing various functions, like quickly toggling the settings. After the initial period of getting used to the new position of what amounts to the “home” button for the Pixel 3, the location does feel more natural in your hand — especially if you’re checking your phone 80 times a day.
2. A First-Party Fabric Case
First, let’s talk about the iPhone’s in-house cases for its new range. Apple has paid attention to changing tastes in colors, including more nature-based hues and naming conventions to match: “Nectarine,” “Sand,” “Blue Horizon.” It has also paired leather cases with silicone. While leather is a common household material, silicone isn’t (though that might not be so bad?). Neither are as everyday as fabric. Interestingly, the Apple doesn’t appear to be selling cases for the new iPhone XR.
That fabric case also allow for the sort of inductive charging you’ll get with the equally homey charging stand:
“Technology is here to stay, so it needs to disappear or fit in with your environment,” Ross told Design Milk in that aforementioned interview. “The days of the big black boom box are gone, so that’s why we used soft knit and picked specific colors.”
1. Friendly Haptic Feedback
My colleague Danny Paez spoke with Google hardware engineer Debanjan Mukherjee this week about the phone’s impressive haptic feedback. Mukherjee explains why the phone just feels better this way:
“Haptics feedback is improved through a joint optimization of hardware and software,” he says in an email. “The smart haptics controller drives a vibration motor at a high voltage and provides precise control. This results in crisp and differentiated touch feedback which is consistent throughout the system and applications. The vibro-notifications are pleasant, noticeable and synchronized with audio for ringtones.”
Make sure you read the full story on Google Pixel 3 haptic feedback for more on why you’ll want to touch your phone in number above the average.
I did some quick math and I estimate I handle my phone about 60 times during a typical day, so less than average. But after nearly a decade of using only an iPhone (I resisted switching from a Blackberry before that), I was surprised at the ease with which I moved to the Google Pixel 3.
I credit the easy switch to the above differing design elements. The power button, a fabric case, a fingerprint button on the back, and more, are great features I didn’t know I wanted until I had them with Pixel 3.
If you’re interested in the software or hardware of the phone outside this design-focused list, be sure to check out these stories:
No matter what phone you end up with — whether an Apple or LG or Huawei or Pixel or Samsung — remember the design and how the thing feels in your hands is consider along with matters like privacy, the camera specs and whether you’re OK being a green bubble person (it’s not bad).
Here’s a video of the Google Pixel 3 “unboxing” if you’re curious about that: