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Pixel, iPhone 7, and grading on a curve

The popular press has a weird relationship with Apple. They tend to be massive users of Apple's products, even as they take any excuse, real or imagined, to stick Apple in doomsday headlines. It makes sense — Apple has terrifically usable products, and those headlines garner huge amounts of negative attention. As long as you're willing to swallow the contradiction, it's win/win. Well, for everyone but readers and consumers. And never has that been clearer than with the Google Pixel.

Last year Apple launched iPhone 6s which, despite being completely rebuilt from 7000 series aluminum, got dinged for being the same old design, with the same old "ugly" antenna lines on the back. Some competitors had been shipping features like stereo speakers and water resistance, and Apple, apparently, couldn't even fit optical image stabilization (OIS) into the regular-sized iPhone 6s. Also: Expensive! And don't even get them started about those big-forehead-and-chin bezels!

Some of this year's criticism was even worse, with Apple adding stereo speakers, water resistance, and optical image stabilization to the regular-sized iPhone 7, but daring to keep the same design, at the same starting price, and with the same still not-deleted bezels.

Then Google announced the Pixel and Pixel XL.

They were segmented like iPhones, priced like iPhones, and they even looked like iPhones — roughly the same shape, with the same "ugly" antenna lines, and the same big-chin-and-forehead bezels. (Despite not having a Home button on the bottom front.)

Google made a point of how they controlled the hardware this time, from design to features. Google could have made the Pixel look like anything — like a Galaxy S7 Edge, like an LG G5, like a Moto X, or like something completely new and refreshing. Google carefully, deliberately, chose to make it look like an iPhone 6s, though. And that means they get to own that choice. As do we.

So, everyone who'd been criticizing Apple and iPhone design immediately called Google out for aping it?

Not so much.

Well, at least they called Google and Pixel out for the same things they called Apple and iPhone out for?

Again, not so much.

Surely they drew the line at Google's 2016 flagship missing optical image stabilization — not just in the regular-size, but in the Plus XL model as well — stereo speakers, and water resistance — things that were pointed to last year as indicators Apple was falling behind?

Turns out, not deal-breakers either.

It's almost like the Pixel is being graded on a curve. And that's terrible for consumers. "You slagged iPhone for XYZ, but now that Google has XYZ, but is missing ABC, it's the greatest thing ever? Um…. close browser, delete bookmark!"

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Don't get me wrong: I love that Google is getting serious about phones. I even ordered a Pixel XL, just like I ordered a Nexus One, Nexus 4, and Nexus 5. I'm just not sure copying Apple in 2016 will be any better a strategy than copying BlackBerry or Windows Mobile would have been in 2006.

Especially not for the company who spent so much time and effort positioning Android as "be together, not the same". (A line Google's device partners must be reading between clenched teeth as of late.)

And no, sadly, a new Artificial Intelligence (AI )Assistant, when it requires ongoing payment in the form of exorbitant quantities of personal data above and beyond the already premium price of the phone itself, isn't enough to give everything else a pass.

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But none of that is the point. Google's smart. They were smart enough then to react faster to iPhone than any other competitor, and they're smart enough now to react to Samsung.

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As a designer, I'd prefer to see more differentiation in the market, and my eyes do bleed more than a little at seeing iPhone 4, 5, and 6 cues piled all on top of each other, but none of that is the point either.

I'm fine with Apple continuing to use rounded rectangles because my hand continues to be hand-shaped, and if Google wants to go with convention rather then challenge it, I'm fine with that too. Hell, I agree with my colleague, Serenity Caldwell, Google's even added several features Apple should strongly consider matching as well, especially "unlimited" photo storage.

Design is also freaking hard. It's all about compromise. It took Apple until this year to have the design they wanted along with water resistance, OIS on the regular-sized model, stereo speakers, minimized antenna lines, etc. Matching that, straight out of the gate, would be nearly miraculous.

I even get the reception we're seeing. After years in the Google desert, we're finally being thrown a cracker, and so we're so hungry for it, we're telling ourselves it tastes like a Ritz. Meanwhile, we're taking Apple's year-over-year crackers for granted, and looking at them like they're just regular old saltines. The human brain is a real jerk that way. It only takes perspective when you force it to.

But that's the job, and grading Pixel on a curve doesn't help anybody, even and especially Google.

So here's my advice: If you want an iPhone, accept no substitutes and get an iPhone 7. Making something that looks like an iPhone is easy, building out Apple's support infrastructure — including all the Apple Stores you can go to and AppleCare reps you can call when you have a problem — is impossible short-term. If you really want an Android phone, though, especially if you don't want one made by Samsung, and you're okay without OIS, water-resistance, and stereo speakers, and with Google data-harvesting, get a Pixel and enjoy.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

198 Comments
  • So.... the pixel is getting a ton of flack from the android community yet you make it seem that this phone is getting a pass somehow? What lens are you looking through? Any android forum shows that the typical android user thinks this phone is a ripoff and is not feature friendly like the other OEM offerings. Not to mention the tongue in cheek reviewers who DO call out google on their design choices on the pixel. On a side note, when are you going to have Ren review the pixel on iMore? You had Bader do a review of the iphone 7 on AC. You say you "love all your children equally". When is the review coming?
  • I would love to review the Pixel on iMore! Unfortunately, as with the AC review of the iPhone, we're not top priority for pre-release Pixel units. :) I'm hoping to do a similar thing to the AC iPhone review with Rene as soon as I can get my hands on a Pixel.
  • Now that's what I'm talking about. Can't wait. Kudos Ren!!
  • I doubt you could do a fair honest review like android central did with the iPhone. Hope to be proved wrong.
  • What makes you doubt this?
  • Previous history Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • "Previous history" - I see this argument a lot from people on this site. But nothing I have ever read showed any examples. I have seen people who claim iMore only praises Apple provided with link after link of contradictory evidence, but the "perception" still holds true. Also, there is a bit of Catch-22. Apple happens to make top notch products. So if reviewers like them, they are somehow "biased" - Oh well, can't please everyone
  • Here is some evidence. This piece highlights flaws with the pixel, that weren't mentioned in the review for the 6s on imore. The 'grading on a curve' seems to be going the other way.
  • So was are the 6s and 6s+ not top notch products? They lack waterproofing, tereo and ois(6s)? These design choices aren't deal breakers for me. I agree with other readers that, were you to take a closer look at reviews, most make an iPhone reference when it comes to the front. Rectangle screens with speakers and sensors are what they are, why try and differentiate? Wait, no home button...there you have it. Google isn't getting graded on a curve here. There are many critics if what Google has done here, but the amount of people that use Android in the world vs iOS is staggering. So of course you will see more welcoming, glowing and positive reviews. Less than 20% of the world use iOS and iPhone, 85% of the world uses Android, numbers alone dictate the amount of positive reviews. Factor in the prominent Google branding and that is a lot of interested eyeballs. The curve is in those numbers, not reviewers giving it a pass.
  • Rene Ritchie's unbridled bias makes people doubt this. Read the comments on many of his articles, and it's clear people think he's a lying fanboy.
  • What some people think and what he actually is are two very different things
  • When he posts articles like this there are a lot more comments that disagree with him that support him. He goes out of his way to write these articles. It boggles my mind why anyone would defend him. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I dont think he is being bias, he is being right on this one, if Apple wouldve come out with no water resistant and no OIS oh boy! Heil would have broken loose
  • Not true, iphone 6 came out without water resistance or ois yet still got very high scores across the board when other older devices have had both for a while. Just because the iphone 7 has these features now all of a sudden the pixel should get dinged for it?!? Hypocrisy at it's best.
  • They didn't come out with those things last year and did **** break out? No. Apple sites like this one were only talking about how amazing it was, especially if you weren't coming from the iPhone released the year before. But if you had the slightest bit of sense you'd realise that argument cannot be made for the pixel which is the first of it's kind. If you ignore the comparisons with the iPhone 6, there was basically nothing bad said about the 6s on this fanboy site.
  • Probably you should buy one... I own both iPhone and Android, can provide balanced opinion unlike many people on this site. Sent from the iMore App
  • This Posted from my Nexus 6P
  • The EIS and speed of the phone is pretty good and the phone is water resistant for the casual spill or drop. Someone left their phone in a tub of water for half an hour and it was perfectly fine.
  • It's more the reviews; not the general Android forum users that this article is targeting Sent from the iMore App
  • Although Rene doesn't need an advocate, he surely meant number of positive reviews that Pixel got from "mainstream" publications, print or web (with a glorious exception of the NYT's Brian X. Chen).
  • It's not flack from the "android community" he's talking about. The iPhone gets plenty of praise and flack from its own community as well. He's referring to professional media. If you've got a few links to professional writers calling out the Pixel on these same issues, share them and that would render Renee's point mute.
  • Why do you make grading on a curve a bad thing. It's Google's first phone they designed. I could swear Apple first phone couldn't record video or have flash on the camera. While the first iPhone should have had it. It was graded on a curve because it was special in a way. The pixel is graded on a curve because if you like Android than this is as good as it gets even without ois and waterproof and whatever else. It's not just another Android phone. Google isn't new to the game so they do deserve some criticism. But I wouldn't say you should compare them to apple after there 7th phone or whatever
  • Here's a fair assessment:
    1. Every review I've read has called out Google for lack of water resistance. It's not acceptable
    2. Video stabilisation in the Pixel is way better than whatever Apple had in the 6s. This was not a fair comparison. Google did a good thing here, and no camera hump. The writer completely ignores this.
    3. I won't defend the lack of stereo speakers. Fair point.
    4. Familiar design. Fair point. I think the thing that makes the Pixel so good is how well the package all fits together. It offers so many other things that the iPhone (even 7) does not offer. Better Assistant; better battery life on the XL, full unlimited storage; Whilst matching the 7 in responsiveness, camera quality (sometimes beating it), overall build quality. So yeah, hardly a 2015 product.
  • My first time posting here, btw. Also, this article has a very clear undertone of presenting the iPhone as the one and only. Hardly objective.
  • That's Rene for you, he very rarely criticises Apple if ever and can't seem to cope that there are other phones out. Android central reviewed the iPhone and gave it a fair and honest review (yes it's a great phone) but doubt very much Rene could give any phone other than the iPhone a fair balanced review.
  • Rene is objective, I don't see how this isn't
  • Rene? Objetive? LMAO
  • The only person laughing is you, also learn to spell.
  • Grammar police? That's all you have? Rather childish. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Adults can spell, children cannot
  • I'm laughing too, I don't know how you end up with that opinion. but definitely there are many people don't agree to it :D
  • Any many people that do agree to it too
  • DannyJJK either knows Rene Ritchie personally, and that's why they are acting as his personal cheerleader, or it IS Rene posting under another username. Having read crackberry.com, androidcentral.com, and imore since it was tipb...Rene is the worst writer of the bunch. He's the least objective, the most biased, and the biggest fanboy.
  • Or maybe iMore just has the most negative people leaving comments…
  • That's such a silly assertion. There just happens to be more negative people on iMore? What do you have to back that up? Why would that be the case? Do you have any explanation?
  • What do I have to back that up? You're looking at iMore's comments right now, you can see it for yourself
  • So... why are you here? I don't read sites that I don't trust. If you don't trust iMore... leave. Find sites that you do trust and that give you news and reviews that you like. But the constant Rene bashing, especially from biased Android folks, is childish. Man the F up and, if you don't like something, don't read it.
  • Look don't blame me because Rene is a hack and a fanboy. Just because I think his biased articles are rubbish does not mean I think that of the rest of the writers for this site. So I will keep coming and reading what I want to read and if I want to get some extra comedy in my day, I will read the trash that Rene writes so that I can have a good laugh.
  • He's objective, no matter how much you hate him
  • Gotta say I disagree. I listen to the podcast and check the site and I hear Rene criticize Apple when they deserve it. Just because he believes different things are important than you do doesn't mean he's a blind Apple fan boy.
  • +1
  • I listen to macbreak weekly and he defends apple a lot, if there is a problem he will explain it away but if someone like Samsung did the same thing then he won't explain that away.. One example the holes on a Samsung phone don't line up so that's bad design yet the holes on the Apple watch series 2 opposite the crown don't line up but that will be explained away or ingored.
  • Good thing to point out, I had never notice that the crown on Apple Watch dosn't line up at the centre, but I also never notice the HOLE doesn't line up on the Galaxy S6 (and I am using 1!) until I saw Rene post here. You know there is something fishy about it when you search that topic on internet and only iMore is complaining about it. It's blogger here are really picking some nonsense to whine about Samsung.
  • https://www.cnet.com/news/samsung-almost-fixes-a-small-design-problem-wi... http://www.redmondpie.com/heres-why-samsung-design-absolutely-sucks-photos/ http://www.iphonehacks.com/2016/02/samsung-still-cant-match-apples-atten... Only iMore you say?
  • You do realized that 2 out of the 3 url there is referencing iMore right? Okay, to give you the credit for your hard work to find the similar article. CNet did complaint about the alignment almost a year later (Feb 2016). Happy?
  • They are referencing iMore, but they still chose to mention it which means they thought it was worth mentioning and being talked about outside of iMore. And yes, happy :)
  • Oh cmon.... Samsung is a joke of a company as far as mobile phones are concerned....
  • Right. They sell billions of phones but they are a joke. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I certainly wouldn't go that far. Currently they have some of the best phone hardware design around, well for the ones that don't explode ;). Their software still kind of sucks though, a Pixel phone with Samsung instead of HTC would be sublime.
  • Samsung TouchWiz is far from sucks IMO, I'm using a Galaxy S6 for more then 1 year, it is still very snappy for most of the time. Of course they do have time that the phone is noticeably slow down for a while (even my iPad mini 4 also slow down sometimes!). But with Google Pixel setting a new UX benchmark on Android platform. I hope other Android OEM would pick up on that area in the near future.
  • Samsung TouchWiz might be faster now (it certainly didn't used to be), but it still uses up a lot of space on the device. Compare the Google devices and how much space they have free before installing anything to Samsung devices, it's like Windows laptop bloatware all over again
  • Touchwiz isn't that bad anymore, although I saw no reasons for it to exist anymore as I think the Google Launcher is better. There is more than Touchwiz though: there is their clones of all the basic stuff (calendar, calculator, etc...), there is their app store, their lock screen, contacts, and probably more I'm forgetting about. Each individual app is fine (well their app store kind of sucks) but taken all together it definitely made the overall phone experience worse. What was especially annoying was not being able to get all the default Google apps (like the dialer) installed, but also being stuck with things like the settings pane and the lock screen unless I rooted. All that taken together is why I said it kind of sucks.
  • This post from Rene has nothing to do the iPhone and everything to do with the hypocrisy of the mainstream tech media. Rene is unique in that he doesn't criticize products or companies without attaining complete knowledge of why decisions were made. He understands science and the laws of physics and has realistic expectations of new products. He's also unique in that he isn't afraid to call out his peers for grading on a curve iPhone competing products. Mainstream media is so desperate for an iPhone killer they will go to great lengths to create a narrative around competing products. I say bravo. It's refreshing.
  • What you smoking ? Cause you should stop, can't be good for your health.
  • Apparently neither you nor Rene has actually read any reviews of the Pixel phones. Sent from the iMore App
  • Seen some video review yes but not read the reviews yet, I still need to make up my mind about the pixel. I will do what I did with the iphone 7 read some reviews and watch alot of decent youtube reviews then make up my mind.
  • Maybe because iPhone actually IS the one and only...
  • Lmao Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • No camera bump because the entire phone gets thicker at the top. It is a wedge.
  • It isn't that thick though. We don't need phones to be paper thin. Posted from my Nexus 6P
  • A whole millimeter. I mean seriously that's HUGE! /s Sent from the iMore App
  • But at least Pixel phone doesn't give you that irritating wobble effect when using your phone on a table (or flat surface)
  • I've never had this problem with an iPhone
  • It was more apparent with the larger camera bump of the 6/S than it is with the 7, but it's definitely there.
  • Fair enough, I guess it's more irritating to some than others
  • B
  • How is the XL's battery better then the iphone 7+'s battery? No camera hump because it's thicker at the top so technically the whole top of the phone is a hump. Full unlimited storage? It's of just your photos and not storage on the device itself, you get the same 32 or 128gb options(noticed how apples was stupid to skip 64gb as an option but...) So the build of not hiding the antenna is matching the build of hiding it? Comparing the video stabilization to last year's phone and saying its better means what? And yea no waterproofing or stereo speakers does put it in a 2015 product category.
  • To be fair up until last month only Samsung and Sony had water resistant phones. Apple then launched the iPhone 7 which was water resistant, but no one can honestly expect that Google could have changed their plan and quickly make the Pixel water resistant because by that point it was already all complete.
  • I'm confused it sounds like the pixel XL is a fair copy of the iPhone glad I stuck with the iPhone was debating waiting but just got iPhone 7 Plus and very impressed Sent from the iMore App
  • It is a copy. It's an iPhone running android with iOS smoothness and more capability. Basically, it's a better "iPhone". Rene seems to take issue with this.
  • Let's see if they can sell them like an iPhone or support it like an iPhone. Then we can call it a better iPhone. I wanted to get one but if you're offering me an iphone clone running Android, I'll just stick to the original.
  • You forgot to mention it only works on Verizon. Idk how many countries at launch, or near future. I assume very few. Compare to iPhone. Sent from the iMore App
  • Only works on Verizon??? Huh? Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • It works on all US phone carriers. Verizon will be the only carrier selling the phone but until they ran out they were sold on store.google.com where you could be the phone with 0 % fin for 24 months. These phones are not locked and again works on all carriers. So yes it works on Verizon, At&t, T-Mobile, and Sprint.
  • To quote an earlier comment.. "Is there any air in that bubble?". Seriously though, how do people feel confident to comment without actually reading about what they're commenting about? Ignorance must be nice.
  • The Pixel looks like an iPhone 6 which looks like HTC One M8 who also happens to be the company that makes the Pixel. Circle of life
  • Yea, cherry picked biased view points from Rene, as usual. Go to ANY Android Forum and you'll see endless number of threads blasting Google for Pixel. Almost everyone is criticizing it for one or the other feature omissions. Of course there are some fanboys who are guilty of the 2015 - 2016 thingy mentioned in that tweet and that irritates me too. I despise blind devotion. We had seen the same thing happen during Nexus 6P launch too. Before 6P, everyone was saying Snapdragon 810 heats up and throttles, but as soon as 6P came with it, several people were fine with it. That's what fanboys do. Rene should know. He's one, of iPhone.
  • Rene isn't a fanboy, he's objective, but yes he does have a love for the iPhone and maybe that comes out in his writing, but that doesn't mean he won't point out flaws in the iPhone itself
  • If Rene isn't a fanboy and he's objective then I am Batman, now where do I leave the keys to the batmobile?
  • Good thing you're not Batman then
  • I'm Batman :-B
  • Have to agree with the article. Its a joke what google did, given what Nexus was before and a review is in order but i can't really hope for anything refreshing, innovative or new for that matter. Its a top spec camera, a "decent" battery, not dictated by the MaH size as we all know that size doesn't mean squat with Android. A somewhat refreshed UI, that some may or may not like. In short, nothing new, just a "new" phone for a really high price. Its my opinion that the value of the 6p is much greater.
  • Before blasting Rene as usual, remember he is reporting for a site that promotes  goods and services and his opinions are his and reports them freely. Mentioned earlier in the comments, Serenity along with Rene would like to conduct a fair review of the Pixel line on their site. People should not be so quick to judge and dismiss an opinion that does not agree with their thinking. I believe Serenity would do an excellent revie