Google Pixel XL: First few hours

Sorry, Steve.
Sorry, Steve.

Earlier tonight I picked up my Google Pixel XL from the Verizon store. After a few hours of playing around, I’m figuring things out, including the fact that I’ve got a lot to learn.

First, what’s in the box.

The Pixel XL comes in a tidy box larger than I expected it to be. It’s made of solid cardboard that fits together just so. In short, it feels like quality packaging.

Inside is the following:

  1. A mini quick-start guide
  2. A card on Google Assistant
  3. A card on Google Play Music
  4. A thank-you card
  5. A mini manual (and I mean “mini”)

There’s also an adapter for importing info from an iPhone (a process that worked flawlessly for me), two cables and a big, honking wall charger. Lastly, there’s a tool for removing the SIM card.

To call these "flyers" is generous. Let's go with "cards."
To call these “flyers” is generous. Let’s go with “cards.”

The phone itself

It feels very nice in the hand. The taper that many have mentioned…it’s a wedge shape, thicker at the top and thinner at the bottom…is likely in place to avoid camera bulge and does not affect the feel of the phone. I was afraid it would feel top heavy but that’s not the case. It’s really well balanced.

The sides are nice and grippy and it’s definitely less slippery than my iPhone 6S was. Also notable is that piece of glass that covers the top third of the rear case. I guess Google was going for something distinctive and iconic there, but ultimately it’s unnecessary and kind of goofy. Like a rear spoiler on a Toyota Corolla.

The good

There are a few things I like right off the bat. First is the placement of the fingerprint sensor. It really makes sense on the rear of the phone, as the way I hold the thing places my finger right where the sensor is. The phone is also just as fast as you’ve read. Apps launch very quickly and are quite responsive. Additionally, the power button on the side is textured, making it very easy to find without looking.

The mildly irksome

There are a few things that irk me a bit. Chief among them is the inconsistency among app icon design. Google is pushing circular icons as a standard, and many developers have not updated their icons yet. So you get some that are round, some that are square, some that are simply a logo. It’s messy.

By default, the phone is set to vibrate whenever you hit any button. Type a letter, it vibrates. Hit a home button, it vibrates. It’s extremely annoying but I was able to disable it. Thank goodness.

Lastly, “jiggle mode” is not persistent. If you long-tap so that you can re-arrange icons, you can move one and then you leave jiggle mode automatically. Unless I’m doing it wrong. Which is likely.

So far, I’m happy with this device but honestly I’ve only had it for a few hours. Tomorrow will be my first full day with it. I’ll be sharing everything here so keep an eye out. Talk to you soon.

Switching from iPhone to Pixel

I wanted to Photoshop a Pixel into Judas’ hand but I don’t know how to do that. So imagine that it’s there.

“You’re a traitor.” – My 13-year-old daughter to me, as I purchased my Google Pixel XL.

After nine years of iPhone ownership, I’ve switched to Android by buying a Google Pixel XL. This article is about why.

Let me begin with what did not motivate my decision. First: I love the iPhone. When I picked up the original model on June 29, 2007, I declared it, “The coolest thing I’ve ever owned.” Subsequent models have only reinforced that assertion with huge leaps in features, design, utility and fun.

The iPhone defined a market and created several cottage industries, from case manufacturers to blogs and podcasts that feature reviews, opinions and discussions around the device’s present and future. The App Store is an economy that provides a sustaining income for developers, designers, copy writers and more.

That little slab of metal and glass has been my constant companion for nearly a decade, providing entertainment, timely reminders, easy communication with friends and family, near ubiquitous, on-demand access to work files, gorgeous photos and more reliably and with grace. I love the iPhone and did not by a Pixel as a reaction to some gripe with Apple. So why did I switch? A few reasons.

The time is right

pixelI’ve always been Android-curious. I’ve taken glimpses over Android-wielding friends’ shoulders over the past few years, but rarely liked what I saw. Android seemed like an OS built for developers, not civilians like me. Likewise, I dislike the model that divorces hardware and software development. As a result, my curiosity about Android remained just that: curiosity.

Meanwhile, I slowly and quite unintentionally added Google apps and services to my iPhone. The Google App for iPhone is fantastic for reminders, scheduling, search and timely news. I check it several times per day and love it. Google Calendar has been my choice for years, and Google Photos has managed my digital image library since it was first released. Likewise, I’ve been using Google Docs and Drive to collaborate for as long as I can remember.

At the same time, I abandoned Apple’s Calendar, Photos, News and Pages. Not intentionally or even consciously. It’s just that Google’s solutions worked beautifully on my iPhone, so I used them.

Enter the Pixel

Google’s Pixel announcement happened just as I was thinking about replacing my iPhone 6S. I was intrigued by a piece of hardware designed by Google, running “pure” Android with deep integration with the services I loved. I held off on the iPhone 7 and took some time to read reviews:

Dieter Bohn liked it.
Walt Mossberg liked it.
Joanna Stern liked it.
John Gruber sent me a brief but glowing “Twitter review.”
Myke Hurley had nice things to say.*

I watched several hands-on videos and listened to – a first here – a couple of episodes of the Android Central Podcast. The hosts were nit-picky but overall enthusiastic.

I felt a stirring inside. The time was right. Which leads me to…

I want the fun of an adventure

I have two children. I try to instill in them a sense of adventure and curiosity about our world. Here’s a quick story.

Recently we spent a long weekend out of state. At one point, we needed to get a new charger for his iPad. He was annoyed that his charger and died, and even more bothered when I told him that he’d come with me to find a replacement. “Why can’t you just go?” he asked.

“You don’t want to come? It’ll be an adventure!”

“Going to Best Buy is not an adventure.”

But it is. We’re in a new state. We’re in a town we’ve never seen before. We’ll travel through new (to us) neighborhoods, see new people and yes, visit a new strip mall. There was a little mom-and-pop corner store that we went into and saw a black-and-white photo of a man in a chicken suit. I got a Coke and we talked to the cashier. He told us about local legend Chicken Man and pointed us to Best Buy. As we drove back to the hotel, my son said, “That was fun.” It was.

Using an Android phone for the next two years will be an adventure. It will be fun. Oh, there will be things I’ll miss, like Twitterrific, Spark, iMessages (I’m REALLY going to miss iMessages) and something I’m calling Knowing How To Operate My Damn Phone, but I’m still looking forward to it. The time is right. The device is right. I might hate it; I might love it. I’m eager to find out.

Of course, I’ll be writing exhaustively about the process here. The adventure begins on Tuesday. See you then.

*Myke offers a bit of “real talk” on the episode of his vlog about his own Pixel XL. He says, in part:

“I can switch phones. It’s totally fine. We’re not fighting a war here, from device to device, from operating system to operating system. Apple isn’t an underdog anymore. Android isn’t an underdog. They’re both levelly placed on this huge playing field…It’s totally fine for people to like two tech companies, three tech companies, four tech companies and enjoy the products that they make.”

Amen, Myke. Now please explain that to my daughter, OK?

Google Motion Stills

Today must be bizarro day as Google has mastered Apple’s live photos. Motion Stills (free) is a new iOS app that extracts the little videos that are created when you take a live photo, applies some very effective image stabilization and lets  you export the result — with or without sound — as a GIF or a brief .MOV clip. Like this (click to watch):

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 5.27.24 PM

It’s super cool and finally gets those clips off of your phone. I did a little experimentation today and I’ll have a good look at this app tomorrow. Until then, grab it, play around and explore #motionstill on Instagram for inspiration.

[Via The Loop]

iPhone Traveler Pt. 9 – Navigate with maps

mapsontheroadApple’s iPhone ships with Maps, a home-grown mapping application that you can use to find driving directions, public bus routes and walking directions for when you’re on foot.

A quick note.

The public has not been satisfied with the performance of Apple’s Maps, and in September, 2012, the company issued a public apology for the performance of its app.

Understand that the mapping application that ships with your iPhone, Maps, may not be the best solution for you. Fortunately, there are several fine alternatives in the App Store, many of which can be found by searching for the term “navigation” or “maps.”

Today, I’ll explain how to use Apple’s Maps app as well as an alternative that I trust. Let’s begin with Maps.

Continue reading →

Google Keep and self-sufficiency in web apps

Om Malik, writing about Google Keep:

“…it is hard to trust Google to keep an app alive. What if I spend months using the app, and then Google decides it doesn’t meet some arbitrary objective? Evernote has my data and frankly, I’m glad to pay them to keep it because they are who they are. One of the reasons I use Evernote is because it is their only thing. (For now.) Evernote is focused on making the service better. And it keeps that focus every year.”

I’m with Om on this. I trust Evernote because I pay them and because the company consistently demonstrates a serious commitment to me as a customer and to my data. But that brings up a larger point of self-sufficiently. This isn’t the first time I’ve come to rely on a service that’s been shut down or sold. Today I have a real hard time trusting the newest startup with my data or my photos, for example. Too many either go out of business or get bought, disrupting my workflow in the process.

It might be time to give roll-your-own solutions a real hard look. That way you’ve got total control over the whole thing, soup to nuts.

Daily Tip: Export your feeds from Google Reader

Google has given Reader its walking papers. It’ll be gone as of June 1, 2013. Here’s how to export your feeds to an OPML file:

  1. Log into your Reader account at
  2. Click the gear icon and then select Reader Settings.
  3. The settings screen appears. Click the Import/Export tab.
  4. At the bottom of the screen, click Download your data through Takeout.
  5. You may have to sign into Google again.
  6. A new screen appears. When your file is ready, it’ll say “100%.” Click Create Archive.


At this point, the process begins. How long it takes depends on how many feeds you subscribe to. If you don’t feel like waiting, opt to receive an email when your file is ready. Otherwise, click Download when the process is finished (you might have to sign in yet again). Your file will download.


The result will be a folder on your computer with files that end in .json and one that ends in .xml. Now you’re ready to find a new client and import your feeds via that .xml file. But that’s another post entirely.

This post is part is one of 31 tech tips I published in March, 2013You’ll find the rest here.

Print email from your iPhone with Gmail app and Cloud Print

Google has updated its Gmail app for iPhone and iPad. The free, universal app has many swell features, but my concern is with Google Cloud Print. This setup lets me print email directly from my iPhone without the benefit of an AirPrint-capable printer. Here’s how to set it up.

Google Cloud Print

Google’s Cloud Print service connects your printer to the web. Once set up, you can send a print job over the Internet, no matter where you are. You can even give access to others, like co-workers or family. It works very well.

Google recommends you use a “Cloud Ready” printer, but in my experience that’s not necessary. All you need is a Google account and a few minutes setup time. Google’s process walks you through the super-simple process expertly.

Gmail for iPhone

Version 2.0 of this app offers easy access to your Cloud Print printer(s). Here’s where to find it.

  1. Open a message in Gmail for iPhone.
  2. Tap the black disclosure triangle in the upper right.
  3. A slip of icons appears. Tap Print.
  4. The Google Cloud Print screen appears. Tap the Cloud Print printer you set up.
  5. The confirmation screen appears. Tap Print and giggle like a schoolgirl as your print job begins.

I don’t own an AirPrint printer, so I’m always looking for inexpensive alternatives. While this one’s restricted to Gmail, [1. To expand your options beyond Gmail, read my tutorial on printing from iOS with IFTTT, Dropbox and Automator.] it does its job very well. And it’s free! Try it out.

Thanks for reading. You’ll find more tech-y “how-to’s” here.

Microsoft’s gut-wrenching decisions over Office for iPad

The New York Times lays out some of the hard decisions Microsoft has to make around launching Office for the iPad:

“First, the company has its own answer to the iPad coming out this fall in the form of Windows 8, its first operating system designed from the ground up with touch screens in mind. One of the chief selling points of Windows 8 tablets, especially to business customers, will be that they can run an official version of Office designed for those devices. An Office for the iPad could hurt Windows 8’s chances of capturing a chunk of the tablet business.

There is also the question of how Microsoft designs Office for iPad and prices it so it doesn’t cannibalize sales of the software for computers. Quickoffice currently sells for $19.99 on the iPad App Store, a lot less than the $119 or so that Office for PCs starts at.”

The Times goes on to point out that ignoring the iPad’s potential would possibly be the greatest risk of all, as the device is becoming increasingly popular among people who buy Microsoft Office. All of this just as Google forces Microsoft to show its cards. I’m glad I’m not in that game of Hold ‘Em.

Google Search app for iPad updated

Google has updated its iOS search app (free, universal) and it’s beautiful. I especially like the large thumbnail preview option (left) and gesture support.

The UI is far superior to that of a Google search with mobile Safari, but I can’t help but wonder if I’ll use this app instead of Safari, especially now that the new “tablet view” looks so good. Plus, I end up clicking “Open in Safari” every time.

Furthermore, will I use it at all once I’ve got Siri? You can watch a promo video after the break.

Continue reading →

Pokemon email [Update]

Google has released a native Gmail app for the iPhone and iPad (free, universal).

Gee, maybe I can install a separate app for every email account I have. Gotta catch ’em all!

I’ll stick with Mail’s unified inbox, even if it means I can’t spend time fiddling with tags, categories and priority inbox instead of replying to email.

[Update] Google has pulled the app, citing “…a bug which broke notifications and caused users to see an error message when first opening the app.”