Here are two statements that sound like opposites, but in reality, exist in parallel:
The iPhone is a gorgeous, remarkable device.
The software running on the iPhone is adequate at best.
The iPhone 7, Apple's latest iPhone model, is an especially impressive piece of hardware. Just look at this sleek object as personal technology:
It's even better in person — it was my "daily driver" phone from December until last week. Even with signs of wear, the iPhone 7 is a ridiculously gorgeous thing. And using it, most of the time, is a pretty good experience. It takes great photos! It's fast!
Last week, I switched to the Google Pixel.
When it comes to phones, good looks only get you so far — this is a device I use every day, all the time. How it fits into my life is far more important than how much I like to look at it. In this respect, the Pixel is a far better phone.
It's not as pretty as the iPhone 7, but it's better in every other way. Here's why.
The Pixel nails the most important aspects of modern smartphone design: It's light without feeling cheap, is large but not too large, and has a sharp, large screen.
In many respects, the Pixel looks like a bizarro-world version of the iPhone. It has a similar shape, thickness, and screen size. It has the typical curved rectangle look. The size of the border around the screen, the bezel, is nearly identical.
That's not a knock against it — the iPhone's design is the bar by which smartphones are measured in 2017. For the Pixel to feel and look as solid as an iPhone is a real accomplishment, especially considering this is Google's first real crack at making a high-end smartphone.
But there are two crucial differences in the Pixel's design that distinguish it from the iPhone 7: a fingerprint sensor on the back, and a headphone jack on top.
Ever since the iPhone got the fingerprint sensor, it has been in the same place. It's a great feature — you tap your finger on a spot and, like magic, your phone is unlocked. But its placement is tremendously flawed.
You're just as likely to accidentally drop your phone while pinching it from the bottom in an attempt to unlock it. I certainly am, anyway.
The Pixel solves this flaw in an elegant way, by moving the fingerprint sensor to the back, where your finger naturally rests. As I'm pulling the phone out of my pocket, my finger is already on the sensor. Thus, as I look at my phone, it's unlocked.
It's a small difference, no doubt, but it has a major effect on daily use. It makes the Pixel a faster and more easily accessed device. It also makes it a more secure device, as I'm never holding it by a sliver from the bottom — I'm always gripping it with my full hand, thus preventing needless risk.
The iPhone 7 not having a headphone jack is a critical flaw.
I have nice Bluetooth headphones. I love using them at work because there's no wire to get in the way of my hands flitting between keyboard and mouse. I take them off at the end of the day and plug them in. When I arrive the next day, they're fully charged and ready to go. It's an ideal situation for Bluetooth headphones, which require recharging.
Using those headphones in my personal life — on the New York City subway or while traveling, for instance — is an entirely different experience. Frankly, they get in the way. Another device to charge? And shutting them off means futzing with buttons instead of just taking them out. Not having a wire dangling is nice, of course, but not worth the trade-off, in my opinion.
I say all this because Apple notoriously removed the traditional headphone jack from the iPhone 7. If you really want to use wired headphones, you can plug them into the Lightning port. Otherwise, you're stuck with Bluetooth headphones. It's not an ideal solution, to say the least.