Lightweek in Tech: Making the Switch

For the past year I’ve bought into Apple’s ecosystem. An iPhone 6S Plus, Apple Watch, Apple TV, Apple Music and for a time, a MacBook. For the most part, everything works nicely together. iOS 10 brought in HomeKit and better controls over my smart home stuff. I passed on upgrading to the iPhone 7 this year. It’s a nice enough device on its own, but the only really great upgrade to me was the waterproofing. Something I could gain from the Lifeproof case I have in my desk at home. Another thing I’ve been hoping for was a 4K Apple TV. Didn’t happen. I saw where Google released the Pixel and liked it enough, but more and more reviewers spending more time with it and its camera kept drawing me towards it. Plus Google released a 4K Chromecast and brought 4K movies to the Google Play store. A few years ago, making a switch from one ecosystem to another was fairly straight forward. Move contacts over. Find apps and setup any special functions. Now that I have invested in other devices that work alongside my smartphone – it’s a little trickier and bears consideration before jumping head first into a new ecosystem.

Last week I received my Pixel, direct from Google. I went with the regular 5″, quite black version with 128GB of storage. The camera specs between the 5″ and 5.5″ models were the same. And it’s my first 5″ phone since the Nexus 5. Of all the things I have to change and adjust, the screen size and keyboard are by far the most challenging differences for me. I didn’t only get the Pixel, but I added a Google Home and Chromecast Ultra to the mix. Being able to just tell Google’s Assistant what I want to watch on YouTube or play over Spotify is nice and works nicely. I’m typing this from my living room while Google is playing via Spotify and Chromecast an album on my TV . It also works well for YouTube. “Okay Google, play the latest video from Mr. Fruit on my TV.” My TV turns on and loads up the playlist from Mr. Fruit (a YouTube gamer I watch) with his most recent uploads.

A big concern for me was how well the Ecobee3 thermostat was going to work with Google. Google works with the Nest really well, but not many other smart thermostats besides the basics – the same can be said from the Apple/HomeKit perspective. However, there’s a pair of agnostic tools I have at my disposal: IFTTT and Google WiFi (formerly Google OnHub – Google’s router). I use IFTTT to automate my smarthome. Google WiFi checks to see if my Pixel is connected to the router (you could use any other device here for you) and then triggers the Home/Away settings. I haven’t found a way to use Rooms, but it does work for all lights and my general settings for now. I’ll be expanding this as I can. I’m also able to add custom triggers for Google Assistant. “Okay Google, see you later alligator”, then Google responds “after a while crocodile” and turns off my lights as I leave the house. It’s unnecessary now that I have Google WiFi setup to work as it does, but having manual recipes for certain features is nice. It is not as seamless as HomeKit, but setting things up so you don’t have to use any devices manually to interact with your home is the goal. A downside to this setup is that the recipes only respect one device at a time, like my Pixel’s connection. Google doesn’t have a means to establish a pool of devices for your “Home”. Say a family has a phone for each adult and child. If any of the devices are online at home, the systems are set to their Home settings. If they’re all offline, Away modes are turned set. I live alone, so it matters little to me, but for anyone else they might need some workaround for that.

One of the easiest portions of the switch was all of my media. Google Photos works on both systems, so you can add all your iOS photos and videos to it and then they’re there when you move. Music was easier than that. All I did was cancel my Apple Music subscription and start using Spotify exclusively after I ordered my Pixel just to help curate better playlists on it and such. Downside is that I’m paying for YouTube Red which comes with Google Play Music in tow, so my Pixel will try to play GPM every now and then. I am still keeping my Apple TV though. The Chromecast is nice, but an actual interface works better for me unless I know that what I’m looking to watch is an option for Google Home to accomplish. The Chromecast is mostly an extension of Google Home for me. I haven’t been buying movies, only renting them, so I’m not losing much here and I have access to both iTunes and Google Play so no worries.

The final issue was the CarPlay vs Android Auto setups. Would Android Auto match up to CarPlay? Would it function at all? The head unit I have (Kenwood DDX9902S) says it supports both, but on the first day – it didn’t exactly measure up. It took some work and searching online to find a solution to my problem. The stereo would be fine for a few seconds or a minute or two, then it’d freeze up. Some Pixel owners found a similar problem when using the supplied cable. That it could be too long of a connection, especially if you’re using any other cabling between the stereo and that cable. I was using about 10-12 feet of cable between the stereo and my Pixel. I was hooking into my Subaru’s center console USB port that came with it, basically a huge connection length that is relatively unnecessary, but cleanly installed. Disconnecting everything else, shortening the overall cabling and reducing the extra connections solved it for me. I’m now down to about 3-4 feet of cable. As for how well it works, it works very well, considering I’m still in the adjustment phase. The interface is clean and for the most part it’s as functional as CarPlay was. I have had issue with the Google Assistant though. I’m chalking it up to Google making adjustments to their Android Auto app and to be honest, I’ve only had it working for a couple days now. Plus I’m not as comfortable with it as I was Siri. It needs more usage and I’m confident Google will only improve it in the car.

All in all, iOS and Android are alike enough that a lot of things are interchangeable nowadays if you know how to work it in your favor. Both offer a means to transfer from one phone to another when you switch. Apple provides an Android app, Google provides a USB-C to USB-A (female) dongle to plug in your iPhone Lightning cable and port everything over if you want. When it comes to hardware, they’re still similar. Aluminum and glass is in. It’s all down to your preference and it’s OK to mix things up every now and again. Will I stick with Android for more than a year, or will I stick with the Pixel lineup? Stay tuned for a fuller review of the Pixel and Android 7.1 later on after I spend more time with it.

By Josh Hearne

Red Five standing by…Josh is a more gadget, science and space centric nerd, focusing on the physical, tangible aspect than the media and fictional. A big Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan fan, he’s more at home watching COSMOS than Gundam or Dragonball. That said, Star Wars is easily his favorite series, in all its forms. Also a bass player, he enjoys music, nerdy or not. Winter is his favorite season, Orion is always visible then and the cold nights offer often clear views of the nebula within.