This year the mobile phone market saw the rise of many new trends – from high refresh rate screens through 108MP image sensors to periscope cameras. The first foldable phones went on sale, charging speeds went through the roof, displays got curvier and grew punch holes.
Some brands used these trends to their advantage and grow in the market, others missed the mark. In this series we look at what each company got right in 2019 and where their efforts came short.
Winner: Pixel 3a and 3a XL
Undoubtedly, Google’s best products this year were the Google Pixel 3a and 3a XL. Sure, you could find better midrangers but that doesn’t mean the 3a lineup doesn’t have its own claims to fame. For the price, these phones boast OLED screens and unrivaled camera performance. In fact, the picture quality these two phones produce is comparable to the Pixel 3 and 3 XL, not to mention other flagship phones as well.
Moreover, the 3a and 3a XL righted the wrongs of the original Pixel 3 duo by having excellent battery life and 3.5mm audio jacks. And these phones remain the only option for people looking for pure Android experience and stellar camera performance on the cheap. Sure, it’s a niche thing but it’s no coincidence these phones received so much praise by both media and adopters. The Pixel 3a-series reminded us of the good old days of Nexus phones.
Loser – Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL
And now to the painful moment that was the arrival of the Pixel 4 series. This is probably the worst phone launch Google had ever since its first Nexus device. It feels like the search giant just doesn’t care about its hardware or it’s low-key trying not to compete with its OEM partners.
At least until last year, Google had the lead on computational photography but in just twelve months, the competition had already caught up and now the Pixel 4’s main camera is matched, while it finds itself short on auxiliary ones.
Leaving this aside, the absence of a fingerprint reader, even one on the back is just absurd. You can probably make the argument that Apple got away without it, but Google’s solution is nowhere near what FaceID offers.
Shortly after the launch, all the issues surrounding the phone started to pop up – the limited functionality of the 90Hz displays, the poor color calibration coming with the high-refresh rate displays, the laughable battery life, the gimmicky hand gestures (hell, Samsung’s Galaxy S III’s hand gestures were about as useful), the questionable face unlock (that can unlock the phone with your eyes closed).
Not to mention that Google still hasn’t fixed the crackling loudspeaker issue that has been plaguing Pixel phones ever since the second generation. The quality control is just terrible.
In its attempt to compete with Apple, Google forgot that it also has to compete with the whole Android market as well and it’s now decidedly off the pace. If the price was considerably lower or if the hardware department paid more attention to the Android trends, it might have had a chance, but perhaps next year.
Stadia was the big “wow” this year appealing to gamers around the world. It’s a service that can leverage Google’s combined computing power and servers to deliver something nobody else can. It eliminates the need for everyone to buy new hardware to drive the latest AAA titles every other year. You can play the game on your phone, on your TV, on your ten-year-old PC, you name it. As long as you have a good internet connection and a display, you can play a wide range of games. It’s like Netflix for games.
Sounds pretty awesome, right? But it does come with some caveats.
Loser: Stadia launch
It all sounds good on paper and when presented on stage, Stadia sounded like this is the future of gaming. Not saying it isn’t but the reality is that it’s stumbled out of the gate. Google still has a lot of work to do to improve the gaming experience on its newly presented platform.
When Stadia was announced, Google promised uncompromising graphics and performance. However, neither of those were actually true. Some of the games on the platform are upscaled to 1080p and 2160p and they just look poor.
Most of the times the graphics aren’t on par with what you can get on a fairly modern PC or even on a recent console. When you are releasing a product that wants to reinvent the entire gaming market you should probably put more effort in it.
Additionally, it’s not lag-free. People with 100 Mbps or even 1 Gbps connections say the occasional lag ruins the whole gaming experience. And when it lags, the game continues to run, the server continues to send over data and a few seconds later, your character is teleported forward in time. Even though Google promised seamless gameplay at 4K@60fps if you have stable 25 Mbps connection.
I suppose the service will improve over time and the library of games will expand enough to draw in more subscribers because right now, this is an issue as well. I really want to believe that this is the future of gaming but it definitely didn’t happen this year and probably won’t for the next year or two. At least not if Google doesn’t really put some effort in it.
In any case, 2019 is almost behind us and Google will hopefully do better in 2020.