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The Pixel 4 is more like an iPhone than any other Android phone

Google is bridging the gap between iOS and Android

Photography by Vjeran Pavic

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I’ve never been a big fan of Android, and each time I try to switch from my iPhone, I’m left frustrated. Every Android phone I pick up has a different user interface, with clumsy navigation, substandard animations, and an overall lack of polish. While the Galaxy Note 10 I’ve been testing recently does a slightly better job at some UI elements, its fingerprint reader, bloatware, and forced Bixby integration still left me wanting more. I’ve now been using Google’s Pixel 4 for nearly a week, and it’s given me hope that Android is heading in the right direction.

Google has done a number of things with the Pixel 4 to appeal to iPhone users like myself. The basic navigation mechanic has switched to gestures by default as part of Android 10. It’s almost identical to the gestures that Apple borrowed from webOS to bring to the iPhone X two years ago. You swipe up on a tiny white bar to go home and swipe across it to quickly switch apps. There’s even a task switcher UI if you swipe up and hold.

Alongside these new gestures, Google has also introduced its own version of Face ID. During my testing, I’ve found it to be incredibly reliable and fast. It actually works better than Face ID by automatically bypassing the lock screen to get you straight into your phone without you ever having to touch the display. There’s even a screen attention feature (that you have to enable) that stops the display from going to sleep if you’re looking at it.

Google’s Face Unlock feature feels far better integrated into Android than any other face scanning feature I’ve found on other Android handsets. It works with Google Pay, websites, and even third-party apps like 1Password. There might only be a handful of apps supported, but it’s far more seamless than the many finicky fingerprint readers I’ve had to battle with previously. Much like Face ID, it just works.

Google’s built-in core Android apps are also far superior to what Apple supplies with iOS. Google Photos smartly arranges my photos, Chrome syncs with all of the browsing I do on my desktop PC, Google Maps actually gets me to Victoria in London and not Victoria in Australia, and I don’t really need to say anything about the state of the built-in Mail client in iOS 13.

All of these improvements have given me hope that I could switch to Android fully soon, but there’s also a large number of annoyances that still give me doubt. The new navigation system works well in a lot of apps, but there are many that clearly aren’t ready for it. I use Slack daily, and tapping into a conversation thread with co-workers and swiping back works well. But as soon as I attempt to swipe over to get the navigation bar (as I would on iOS), it immediately backs me out of the app.

Google has implemented the swipe right gesture as a universal back button, but apps like Gmail used to use these edge gestures to open a slide-out menu. I’ve been confused by this a number of times over the past week, and it’s a really frustrating experience, especially if you’re used to the gestures in iOS.

Apple hasn’t exactly solved this problem of navigation back to an app either; in iOS, this ugly text appears at the top left of an app to help you navigate back. It’s not ideal, but I prefer it to swiping across and exiting the app instead of getting a sidebar. Swiping within apps using gestures genuinely saves me time when navigating around apps, and I’d like to see this used in Android.

There’s also a level of inconsistency across Android in many parts that still makes it feel less polished than iOS. I can navigate to the Photos app on Android and tap a picture and then swipe down to dismiss it, but if I take a photo from the camera and look at a preview of the picture, then swiping down does nothing. The navigation buttons in a lot of apps like the Play Store, Phone, and Camera are placed at the bottom of the screen for easy access. In Chrome, they’re placed at the top on Android, but even Chrome on iOS places these closer to your thumbs at the bottom of the display. Some have hamburger menus and navigation buttons, and it’s almost like the teams at Google don’t talk to each other or agree on a single unified effort here.

Elsewhere, it’s really the small things that still put me off of Android, and you could probably ridicule me for even noticing them. When I swipe to the bottom of the page in Chrome, it just stops abruptly. There’s no subtle bounce animation or anything to indicate I may have reached the end of the page. In Twitter for Android, I pull down to refresh, and there’s no rubberband effect or anything resembling a decent animation, just a boring loading circle.

Both of these are strange omissions considering that I can do the same in the main app launcher on Android 10 and there’s a subtle bounce. There are plenty of examples of this inconsistency across Android, and I won’t list them all, but it leaves you feeling like you’re missing something if you’re used to the smooth animations found in iOS.

There’s also a lack of clever haptics across Android. On my iPhone, I can pull to refresh in apps like Outlook, and there’s a subtle vibration that lets me know the phone is searching for new mail. Android has this when you hold down to select pictures in the Photos app or swipe down to get to notifications, but it’s not widely implemented across apps.

Some of this inconsistency comes from app developers, and it often feels like there’s a lack of polish and love given to Android apps compared to their iOS counterparts. Even Twitter still only has the basic dark mode, not the totally black “lights out” mode that’s available on iOS. Apps like WhatsApp feel totally different on iOS, as they’re obviously trying to conform to some Android norms that are outdated in this modern Android 10 era.

I’d love to see Google focus on all of these parts of the user experience. There’s clearly an effort to match what’s available with the iPhone. But if you’re going to overhaul the entire way you navigate around a touchscreen OS, then there needs to a bigger, more coordinated effort with developers.

That effort also needs to extend to the hardware before I’d consider switching. The bezels on Pixel phones have always annoyed me, and the forehead on the Pixel 4 isn’t much better. Thankfully, the overall build quality has improved from previous years, and the new orange color really pops. Google took a step back with battery life on the Pixel 4, though, and that’s particularly unfortunate given the improvements on the iPhone 11 side.

I’d also like to see a good Android-compatible smartwatch before I consider switching. I use the Apple Watch paired to my iPhone, and there’s still no competitor I’d seriously consider. (The Galaxy Watch Active 2 is close, but to have the best experience with that, you really need to be using a Samsung phone.) Since you can’t use the Apple Watch with Android, I feel a little locked into Apple’s ecosystem here. I also use AirPods, which is fortunate as there aren’t any headphones or dongles supplied with the Pixel 4.

Despite all of the challenges Google faces here, I’ve really enjoyed using the Pixel 4 over the past week. It’s the first time I’ve genuinely considered switching to Android for a longer period than just a week or two. As a Windows user, I really want to switch to Android because Microsoft is increasingly focused on making Android and Windows work well together. Your Phone brings the type of integration between Windows and Android that Apple offers between iOS and macOS. Google is definitely bridging the gap between Android and iOS, and I’m going to keep checking back in to see if it closes even further before I make the big jump.

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