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Google’s inconsistent Pixel experience makes its phones impossible to recommend

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Summary

  • The Pixel 8 Pro has been plagued by software problems, including app crashes and display glitches, which raises concerns about the overall reliability of Google’s mobile experience.
  • Google’s official fix for the issues with the Pixel 8 Pro involves using ADB commands, which requires technical know-how and seems like a less-than-ideal solution.
  • Google needs to prioritize fixing its software issues and providing stable and reliable updates to regain trust from users and reviewers alike.


Last week, I got my hands on Google’s new mint-colored Pixel 8 Pro, a rare mid-cycle refresh for the company that seemed perfectly timed to pull focus from its best frenemy’s lineup of flagship smartphones. I was pretty excited to get my hands on this unit, and not just because mint’s one of my favorite colors. It’s been a few months since I had time to use the Pixel 8 Pro as a daily driver, and this launch presented the perfect opportunity to see how a couple of key Feature Drops might’ve improved a device I already quite liked.

Unfortunately, it cemented my biggest fear of recommending Pixel devices to anyone, both those I know personally and those who read my writing online. A week with the Pixel 8 Pro as a secondary device alongside the OnePlus 12R I just reviewed proved to be headache-inducing, and I’m not the only one. Despite its status as fresh out of the box, this particular unit has been afflicted with Google’s bug du jour, causing app crashes, display glitches, and hard reboots because of two corrupted app installs.


Another busted update from Google

It’s a pattern

“Google phone has post-update problems” is far from breaking news. Since the company transitioned to using its own Tensor chipsets with the Pixel 6, we’ve seen no shortage of delayed updates, bugs, and other frustrating experiences. I’m not immune to it; last year’s Pixel 7a review went live on this site without a score because my battery drain was so dire, the phone demanded a full factory reset. But despite not being the only person with a Pixel 7a on hand at Android Police, I was the only person facing these issues, and reading through reviews from last summer showcased just how unreliable Google’s mobile experience can be.

This is a problem I’ve been all too aware of as the Phones Editor at this site (yes, your comments calling out Google’s buggy experience don’t go unread, even if I don’t reply). More than any other smartphone lineup out there, Tensor-powered Pixels remain a gamble, which makes the lineup particularly challenging to review. Yes, I had a great experience with my blue Pixel 8 Pro last fall, and that phone is still running perfectly fine. But the mint-colored device that landed on my desk last week? It’s virtually unusable without either a factory reset or — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — Google-sanctioned ADB commands.

Related

Google’s new mint Pixel 8 Pro looks even better in person

Please, phone companies, give us all the colors

Just to rephrase that, Google’s official fix involved opening whatever command-line application is on your computer, placing your smartphone in developer mode with debugging enabled, and pushing several commands over ADB to fix two corrupted media applications. An actual solution that doesn’t require this amount of effort and technical know-how seems to be part of the February patch that rolled out this week, at least based on my early testing of the patch, though it took two full weeks for this to arrive on phones. Frankly, it doesn’t matter: this debacle left me with two near-identical smartphones sitting on my desk: one that worked, one that didn’t. And that doesn’t seem to be a rare occurrence.

Which experience is more valid? Which experience are you more likely to run into? My blue Pixel 8 Pro hasn’t been affected, either because it never received Google’s halted January Play Services update or out of sheer luck. My mint Pixel 8 Pro didn’t even seem to respond to the company’s suggested ADB commands, and if I end up seeing repeat problems after this week’s patch, I’ll likely be on the hook to spend some time factory resetting my phone.

It’s past time to reevaluate the Pixel’s software

Hey, Google: Fix it

Frankly, these sorts of sporadic pain points — which, as I noted, I’ve experienced with previous Pixels in the past — are usually things that affect some devices, but not all. That makes it particularly challenging whenever a new generation comes along. My experience with the Pixel 8 Pro last fall (still, along with the base Pixel 8, the only Tensor G3 phones released) left me thinking a lot of my problems with Tensor G2 devices — overheating, middling battery life, etc. — were more or less fixed. Now though, I’m not so sure; at the very least, the chance of running into some pretty severe bugs feels as high as ever.

I can only have my own experiences with phones I review, but I now have two very different exposures to the device AP named the best phone of 2023 (BRB, putting a “Don’t blame me, I voted for the OnePlus Open” bumper sticker on my truck). At the end of this, I keep coming back to the idea of any regular consumer unboxing their new phone for the very first time, only to have constant app crashes, screen distortions, and who knows what else pop up within the first couple days. And I can’t help but wonder if that user would hold onto their bugged-out phone, or if they’d see Google’s ADB instructions, box it right back up, and try out the latest from Samsung — or, if we’re being even more realistic, the latest from Apple.

Google needs to get its software right, full stop. Even better, it needs to go a full year without these sorts of problems appearing after rushed updates. Until then, I — and, I hope, my fellow reviewers — should be harsher on the Pixel lineup’s software experience as a whole. As much as I like Google’s clean build of Android, it simply doesn’t make up for the “beta tester” experience many users have run into. Three generations into the Tensor era, Google owes it to anyone using one of its phones to prove stable, reliable updates matter just as much as timely ones.

Google Pixel 8 Pro in Bay

Google Pixel 8 Pro

The Pixel 8 Pro combines solid flagship performance with an excellent camera and a design that just feels right in your hand, but Google’s software headaches might be enough to turn you off the lineup for good.

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