My current thoughts about my new Pixel 7
A few weeks ago, I had to make the decision to upgrade from my Pixel 3a XL to a new device; I chose the Pixel 7. In this I will discuss my rationale and how I feel about it so far after a few weeks of use.
I have written in the past about wanting to move away from my Pixel 3a XL. I have had my desires to upgrade and get some new performance squeezed out from a hand-held device. Things were running at okay speeds, but it could have been better. The Pixel 3a XL came out only a few years ago, but it came with what I would call a ham-strung processor that is miles worse than it's non-"a" version.
Back in May of 2022, Google stopped giving out security updates to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 CPU series for the Pixel 3a line of phones, meaning firmware updates and other security fixes would no longer be provided OTA by Google anymore. The device was effectively dead; no security updates means the device would be subject to random attacks via either application installations or possibly through web-browsing attacks.
When this happened, I installed LineageOS which worked great, and gave the battery a massive battery boost, sometimes lasting well over 24 hours on idle/casual usage. The downside was by rooting the device, certain classes of applications would no longer work due to the presence of rooting, and the strong lack of Google Play Services. This was mostly anything strongly-tightened, like banking apps (which is dumb, because I can still use my mobile browser to use the bank, but the app they provide just "doesn't").
I had no issue originally; I switched myself over to a rather comfy life of using FOSS-only applications while downloading less-FOSS-y stuff via Aurora Store. I was able to keep up a relatively stable digital lifestyle without using Google Play Services entirely. I got along just fine. Notable heroes of my Android success:
I was able to chat, read my emails, interact socially, read RSS feeds, and do everything I could have done on an official Google OS image. I drove several road trips using OsmAnd~ even. It is very possible to be happy with LineageOS, and I would go back if I could, the battery life was just too much to ignore.
Due to new restrictions, my LineageOS was not cutting it. I needed some specific applications for granting 2FA, as KeePassXC was not something supported at the time. I had to use a very specific 2FA application, and I had no solution in sight for it. After much discussion, I decided it might be best for me to part ways with the 3a XL.
So to sum it all up, there isn't one reason, but a few:
I did some modest phone browsing for a few weeks and decided on the Pixel 7. There were some contenders at the time, but I felt Pixel 7 was where the best bang-for-my-buck sat. And looking at the availability of iPhone-level contenders in Android, it was a bit... Sad, I guess.
Over the years, phone brands came and went, and frankly I don't even see Android phones that aren't Google or Samsung anymore in-person. I know a few people who have a OnePlus device, but that's about it. Shopping around I see only Google and Samsung as my main choices for easy access.
The warzone between Samsung and Google is real, but holy cow, have you seen Samsung prices recently? I cannot fathom spending over $1,000 USD on a Galaxy S23. What the heck even is that price point. And about 60GB of that 256GB+ storage will be filled with Samsung-only proprietary garbage? Yuck.
The reality is that, unfortunately, Android is Google's child, and having past experience with a Pixel 3a converting it into a Lineage phone, I felt better just going straight to the source. The price point was more modest in the end.
I had a time-sensitive mission to get this as soon as possible, and unfortunately my choices for an in-person pickup were very low. I ended up using Best Buy as my vendor for this since they had it in stock, versus Target who didn't carry it anywhere. Beats going into the Manhattan Google Store at least.
The transition back to a world full of Google Play Services and an almost always-online world felt strange, at first. I was reminded about how I was disgusted about all the weird ways Google tries to farm you for data and information. Then grossed out by all the weird things they try to subscribe you for. Prompt after prompt of saying "no" and unchecking all things I didn't want, I finally made it back to the Home Screen, where I was reminded about the worst part of Google Android: Google Assistant.
The Assistant lurks its way into every snippet of your screen usage, and even on the home screen, if you don't turn it off and swipe left a bit too much, you'll find your "personalized news feed". This disgusts me a bit too much; an automated system that absorbs as much information as possible from you by silently observing everything you type and every interaction you have with anyone around you. I've had this thought for years now, but it's just disgusting to see it literally on your own home screen.
It can be turned off, but I decided that I'd rather not deal with Google on my home screen at all, and moved to OpenLauncher. I used this a bunch on Lineage, and while it's a little old and out of date, it still works. For weather you can replace whatever Google puts on your home screen with wX, which grabs weather station data and is pretty customizable.
So far, the Pixel 7 is not all that much different from my Pixel 3a. The big differences are in performance and camera categories; which I don't need to spend much dwelling on. It's faster, it's better, it's more modern, yada yada yada. Melvor Idle still feels kind of chuggish, but I don't think any phone in the world could make it smoother with all the UI elements it has. I could be wrong though, maybe it's faster on my iPad.
The one upgrade is in the refresh rate department: it can go up to 90Hz on a Pixel 7 (and 120Hz on a Pixel 7 Pro), but this, as I observe, can wreck the battery the fastest. Re-drawing screen elements at higher rates can make your phone burn out in under a day's time. Maybe variable refresh rate will make it so it won't re-draw everything all the time, but I frankly don't really trust it to be battery efficient 100% of the time. It's impossible.
You can turn off the higher refresh rate in the Display settings, which I did. I would much rather enjoy my battery for the full three+ years I'll own the device, thanks. I currently don't see how this could be a useful feature all things considering most content on the web can never go above 60Hz anyways (videos, games, etc).
Here's a list of things I like so far about the Pixel 7 overall.
The things I probably won't like about the Pixel 7 are going to be...:
While I understand some of the choices Google has made, and strongly disagree with others, I feel it's a hard balance to strike in a world where you're viewed as the most used operating system, yet still viewed as an insignificant product in the originating country. The struggle between Android and iPhone has been going on for over a decade now, and I grow more tired of it with each and every passing day. PinePhone's time to shine couldn't come any sooner.
I might continue to be an Android supporter for as long as it is beneficial to me. I am perfectly fine with using a phone that doesn't include Google services (LineageOS), and would be completely okay transforming my life if it meant supporting a truly open-source phone (PinePhone). I am pretty much not okay with my data being harvested for free, nor do I enjoy being served ads everywhere I go. This is where Apple does it right, but they have a bit of a different business model.
It's getting harder and harder to separate the good parts of Android from the bad, and turning off a number of services is a game of whack-a-mole to see what stops working first. Heavy reliance on Google Play Services can completely turn off notifications, and notifications are convenient for some, but might turn you into someone who's terminally online. In my time away from mainstream Android I learned a couple of things about how Android works, and I did find LineageOS to be the best way of servicing my mental health. Google's crappy "well-being" services are not the way; literally just turn off notifications and stop doom-scrolling, you'll see a radical change in days.
Overall, I'm pleased with the phone so far. I have most Googley things disabled, but still rely on things like Android Auto for the sake of my car. I got too accustomed to free software during my LineageOS 3a XL time, so I simply reinstalled F-Droid and went crazy. I like my RSS reader, I enjoy using Fedilab for the Fediverse stuff, and I can still do other basic things. I try to avoid complex things and prefer keeping things simple now; the less push notifications the better.
The goal is still to use this phone as long as I can to avoid having to buy new hardware on repeated cycles. I'm shooting for four years (2027) at least. Moore's Law seems to be dropping off, so I'm hopeful the Pixel 7 will last a good couple of years. By 2025 I can probably drop Lineage onto it just fine and resume my FOSS adventures in Android from there.