I don’t want to date myself too much, so let’s just say I’ve owned a few cell phones over the years both for personal and work purposes. These ranged from the early Nokia (“dumb”) flip phones to a couple Blackberries to Android. While each type of phone provided its own unique (good or not so good) experience, I am obviously not looking to go back to the “good old days”.
The last several years I’ve been exclusively using Samsung’s phones running Android, which gave me plenty of time to get to know them, tweak them and experiment with such things as rooting and flashing custom ROMs. Being a techy that’s pretty much a given, so that adventure started when I got my hands on a Samsung Galaxy S 4G. That’s not a typo! I really meant to say Galaxy S 4G and not S4.
Coming from a Blackberry flip phone as my personal cell phone and a Blackberry Storm I was using for work, it was quite a change. While the Storm had a touch screen and it was a decent size (at the time), it had nowhere near the versatility of Android even in those early days (think Froyo or Android 2.2).
I was immediately hooked and intrigued by the possibilities which resulted in many hours of exploration and tweaking of the new OS. As Android was relatively young and a long ways off from where it is today, I eagerly anticipated each OS update which would bring new functionality or enhancement to my device. I also want to mention that I don’t just tweak my devices for the sake of tweaking but to achieve a specific functionality not turned on by default in order to make the phone work the way I need it to as opposed to the other way around. Not to sound like a total Android fanboy, but this has always been an issue for me when it came to Apple devices.
Aah, Those Updates!
So back then, as it is now, Sammy had a slew of different models running Android and new ones coming out every year, so I soon discovered that after about one year of ownership of my Galaxy S 4G, most of the updates my phone got were security updates and even those were far and few as time went on. It was about that time I had discovered a lively community of Android enthusiasts and tweakers residing at XDA Developers and their very active forums.
This became sort of a coping mechanism for me that really served a dual purpose – it allowed me to continue advancing my knowledge of all things Android while affording me the opportunity not only to discover all sorts of enhancements to the OS, but also the ability to experiment with customs ROMs. I want to focus on this latter point since by that time newer flavors of Android had come out but have not made it to my device, which was apparently abandoned by Samsung in favor of newer models.
I am not going to turn this into a rant against Samsung and their marketing strategy since the same can be said about other phone vendors such as LG or Motorola. Of course, the most notable exception to that back then, and to a somewhat lesser extent today, is Apple (more on that later). So while not exactly mad about the lack of updates for my phone, I was definitely frustrated first by the delays in getting those updates and then not having the latest and greatest advances in Android OS unless I purchased a new device.
And since I am not one to upgrade my phone every time a new model comes out, I had to either live with what I had (thanks to Samsung and T-Mobile) or find a way to update my phone with as close to the latest software as possible as long as the hardware would cooperate. So all this to say that finding and running all those custom ROMs I discovered through the XDA Developers forums, allowed me to extend the lifespan of my Samsung Galaxy phone for a few extra years.
So fast forward three years and given the popularity of Samsung devices and me having some confidence that custom ROMs were still being developed for them, I acquired another Sammy. This time it was a Galaxy S5. As with any brand new phone, the improvements in speed and screen quality (not to mention the most current version of Android running on it), were immediately apparent.
And so I left the stock version of the OS handed down to me from Samsung and T-Mobile alone for awhile. But only for awhile since it didn’t take too long for the same cycle of events to manifest itself with the phone becoming less snappy over time and the same lack of updates. I can’t say I was surprised by this experience having gone through it with my previous phone, but a couple things were different for me this time around.
First, other smartphone vendors were coming to the market and competing with Samsung for a piece of the Android pie with their take on the OS such as OnePlus. And of course I was a bit envious of the regular updates Apple provided for its devices, but now Google was also entering the fray not only as the maker of Android but also the hardware running it. And, secondly, Google was also providing regular, timely and longer-term updates for its devices such as the Nexus line and then later the Pixel phones.
A Time For Change
So after having owned my Samsung Galaxy S5 for over four years, extending its life and usability via multiple custom ROMs, I was seriously considering upgrading. Even with the latest version of LineageOS running Android Oreo, my phone was becoming laggy and sometimes unreliable. While still usable and being my daily driver, the device was starting to show its age to the point where my family was nagging me to upgrade.
The natural and obvious choice would have been to get another Samsung such as an S9 or the more recent Note 9 which from what I understand are both excellent devices. But something in me was saying to look elsewhere and explore outside my comfort zone. So I started looking at other vendors such as LG, Sony and Google. And while my family carry Apple devices, I could never get used to the interface, so the iPhone was not really a consideration for me, although they are definitely very good phones.
Also, I need to mention that after rooting my Samsung devices such as the two Galaxy phones I owned, I would immediately proceed to remove the extra apps that came with the stock OS image which are most commonly referred to as “bloat”. I don’t want to discount their usefulness for those people who need them, but for me they seemed unnecessary as many similar apps were already available from the Google Play store.
The point I am trying to make here is that for me moving to a device running pure Android OS on the most current available hardware was more of a natural transition than for someone who actually does use those extra apps provided by such vendors as Samsung or LG. So while I was waiting to see what Google would come out with at its annual event, I started checking out other flagships besides Samsung’s latest and greatest.
While I can’t really say that those other flagships from LG, Sony or others were terrible or unimpressive, something held me back from biting the bullet. Part of me was curious about trying out a Google device even though I knew I would be giving up some bells and whistles I have grown accustomed to running either Samsung’s flavor of Android or those custom ROMs I’ve tried over the years. So I had to weigh that against getting timely updates for three years and avoding the potential slowdowns that I have experienced over time with my Samsung phones.
Since there had been so many leaks around the upcoming Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL release, I didn’t really have a great amount of anticipation other than waiting for the devices to actually become available. So shortly after the launch date of October 9, 2018, I put in my order with Google for a Pixel 3. I opted for the smaller model since my hands are fairly small and the screen size of the new phone would still be larger than my S5 (5.5″ vs 5.1″). And not having to deal with the notch was another plus, not that it would have been a deal breaker for me. Still, sometimes too much change can feel a bit overwhelming.
Embarking On A New Adventure
So I have now owned my Pixel 3 for about a week, and so far I don’t regret my decision to switch away from Samsung. Well, that doesn’t exactly sound like a ringing endorsement for Google’s product, does it? But then again we are talking about a very short time I’ve had my hands on the Pixel, so I will share my preliminary observations and my experience thus far while reserving further judgment after a longer-term ownership of this phone.
The first thing I really fell in love with is the extremely well-placed and highly responsive fingerprint sensor on the Pixel 3. This is something I could not get to work consistently (more like at all) on the S5 with its home button, so I ended up not using it on that device.The other piece is the Pixel’s camera, which while was not a primary consideration for me, produces some really nice pictures that I am pretty happy with.
While not having root on the Pixel has some pain points for me such as not being able to run apps that require root and putting up with ads, I am going to stick with this for a while as I typically do with a new phone. But I already have my eye on what might be possible once the phone is rooted. For now though, I am quite happy with the fluidity and the snappiness of the Pixel and looking forward to the next update from Google.
Did you purchase a new phone this year or are you still holding out for the next flagship coming out early next year? Perhaps you have also upgraded to a Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL. How has your experience been with it? Please share in the comments area below.
So it has been more than a year since I got my Pixel 3 (October 2018) and since then Google has come out with the next generation of its flagship (Pixel 4 and its variants). I can honestly say that while I very briefly thought about upgrading being mildly curious about the latest and greatest offering from Google, I quickly ruled it out. Apparently, it turned out to be the right call if the latest (mixed) reviews of Pixel 4 like the one below are any indication.
Anyway, I digress…
So here are some reasons why I am still happy with my Pixel 3:
The phone is still as snappy as when it was brand new over a year ago. I only have to look at my old Samsung Galaxy S5 (which is still running by the way and sporting a custom Android Pie ROM). I don’t reboot the Pixel 3 very often, but when I do, it is a very quick reboot and I am back in business.
As previously mentioned earlier in this post, the regularity of security updates that come out around the 5th of each month is something I have really gotten used to and have now come to expect to the point of taking them for granted. Also, this may be just a coincidence, but I could not help but notice that the apps on my phone have been getting updated much more frequently than I could ever recall before. This might be due to the changes Google made to the Play Store or to the Android OS, so this is purely a personal observation on my part, which may not be specific to the Pixel. Speaking of the Android OS, it sure was nice to be among the first to get updated to Android Q.
Another concern I voiced above was using the phone unrooted with the stock ROM. I am happy to report that I am still running my Pixel the same way because of an app I found for blocking ads that does not require root. It is, of course, sourced from outside the Play Store, but has proven very effective with blocking ads not only while browsing the web but also inside other apps. Take a look at Blokada if this is something of interest to you.
When the other contributor to this site, Eli, had acquired a Samsung Note 9, I was vowed by the bright screen and the other bells and whistles. So it made me think about “coming back into the fold” of the Samsung family once again when it comes time to upgrade, but I will wait to cross that bridge when I come to it. Currently, I don’t anticipate needing to upgrade or switch devices for quite some time.
As usual, feel free to share your own experience if you still own (or not) a Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL and why in the comments area below.