Wow, y’all came hard with the questions for Volume 53 of Q&A Sessions, but don’t worry, that’s a good thing!
This time, we were asked a few more personal questions with regard to the job (Android blogging) itself, Smart Displays, if you should be upgrading your Pixel, and something about a giant hamster(?). Look below to see our complete responses to your fabulous inquiries.
Reminder: K is Kellen, T is Tim.
What’s the background for you (Tim and Kellen)? How did you meet? What inspired you to begin Droid Life?
K: This is like an 18-part question that would take too long to answer. But DL was inspired by me just liking to share stuff on the internet and had great timing in writing about the original DROID. It was obvious early on that people were like me and had a really cool new toy to play with and wanted to know how to get the most out of it.
T: I was once a commenter on Droid Life after I got my first Android phone, the “OG” DROID. Represent! I was always commenting on posts and I think one day, Kellen put up a request that he was looking for contributors. I did ROM reviews and interviews with developers and things, then after a while it became a full-time position and I’ve been with Droid Life ever since. I’ve always been drawn to the community aspect of Droid Life and I still think it’s as kick ass as it was back in the day.
It feels like the openness we were all drawn to is starting to go away. Do you like the direction Google is going with regard to hardware and software?
K: Well, Android is still the platform for choice. Android is still open enough that everyone can use it and customize it to how they think their customers will enjoy it. We all get to decide which version we like the best, which is something you don’t get on iOS. If we’re talking bootloaders and rooting, I just don’t care. We did that stuff years ago because phones needed improvements. Now, phones are pretty good without all of that access.
T: I feel that this was going to come eventually. We had OEMs making devices and never shipping updates and providing support, so I feel that what has taken place so far in the ecosystem is a good thing. When people buy a product, they should be assured to receive timely updates and support. As far as Google’s concerned, I suppose it’s their OS and hardware so they’re free to do whatever, but as far as the company’s direction, I suppose I’m for it.
Do you see any reason to upgrade from the Pixel 2 XL to a Pixel 3 or 3 XL?
K: If you want wireless charging, like glass, want an improved display, and like “not pink” phones, then yeah, sure. But really, if your Pixel 2 XL is still running great, there isn’t really a need to upgrade.
T: If you own a Pixel 2 XL, I’d say you’re fine holding onto it another year. If you have the means, I wouldn’t not recommend trading the phone in towards a 3 XL, but I would not go from a 2 XL to a Pixel 3. Other than slight things, 2 XL is basically the same as 3 XL.
Would you rather be a giant hamster or a tiny rhino?
K: What in the…hamsters are worthless. At least a rhino has a horn.
T: Gimme that giant hamster life. Sounds like fun!
At this point do you get tired of reviewing all the new phones or does it still excite you?
K: Reviewing phones is somewhat exciting still, but not like it once was. That’s not because I’ve lost a passion for phones, it’s because phones don’t change very much these days. All phones are good and there are only minor differences between most. That means we just sound like whiny tech bros who complain about the smallest, most nonsensical stuff. In the early days, we saw dramatic improvements from one month to the next. Now, we kind of know exactly what we’ll get with only one or two new things to try and get excited about.
T: There are certain phones that are not fun to review, whether it’s because certain aspects of it are really bad or you’re burnt out from doing other things, but for the most part, I always love playing with new things and doing the reviews. It’s a time consuming process, but that’s the job!
What is your daily driver and what is the longest you have used one phone in particular?
K: Jumping between Pixel 3 and 3 XL at the moment, but I used the Pixel 2 XL for most of the past year. I typically switch phones a couple of times a year, but I just kept going back to the 2 XL. The past year of phones hasn’t been anything special.
T: I’d say my daily driver is Pixel 3 XL, as soon as I wrap up all of the other phones I’m working on. There’s RED, then there’s OnePlus 6T. It’s entirely possible 6T becomes the new daily, but I’ll have to review it first and see if it’s better than Pixel 3 XL. Google’s camera experience is just too sweet, though. For longest period I’ve used a phone for, I suppose it’d be Nexus and Pixel devices. I always seem to gravitate towards those for the longest when I’m not busy using other phones.
Has any carrier and/or device brand tried to sway your opinion in less than ethical means?
K: The short answer is “no.” With that said, we’ve been threatened legally by a device maker you all know very well, because we leaked a lot of their stuff. That certainly wasn’t fun, but didn’t change the way we reviewed their products. It did cause enough stress in my life that I’d probably punch the head of their legal department in the face if I ever saw him in person. And recently, a company (who I’m not going to name) asked us to pull an unfavorable story on their struggles because they think it’s hurting their future prospects. They offered exclusive details on their next move if we could make that happen. We laughed at them and stand by our reporting.
T: Thankfully, no. We get asked how much it would cost to write up an app review or something, but we just ignore those requests. I can honestly say, though, no company has ever tried to pay me for positive press.
Which Smart Display would you recommend?
K: Probably Lenovo’s smart display. Google’s Home Hub is cute, but it’s also really small, lacks a camera, and has a lousy speaker. The Lenovo version at least comes in multiple sizes, probably has a better display, and is very much like a mini TV you could put in any room. I’ve had Google’s Home Hub on my desk for most of the week and haven’t used it once. My Lenovo smart display still gets used almost daily because of its bigger screen and better speaker.
T: I use a 10″ Lenovo on my desk. I really like the size of it and the speakers are pretty darn good. I haven’t used a Home Hub, but I hear they’re rather small and that doesn’t sound like an enjoyable experience when you’re trying to watch something.
Do you miss the early days of Android, like running custom ROMs with overclocked kernels and skins?
K: While fun at the time because you were always playing with something new, I don’t really miss it. I like where phones are today. Everything runs so good and I never feel like I need more that rooting or a custom ROM would give me. I no longer have to worry about backups and what kinds of bugs there are and which version of a recovery I need and how I’m going to downgrade to get off the ROM and on stable. I don’t miss those headaches.
T: I suppose I miss the excitement of that, sorta like the Wild West of Android. However, I don’t miss the potential of hurting my phone and the negative affects some would have on battery life and performance. I’m just happy Android is at a place where all of that stuff isn’t really necessary.
Do you use a launcher when using phones for review? Do you use a launcher on your daily driver phone? What launcher is it?
K: When reviewing, we use the phone as presented by the company, so no launchers. They obviously feel like that’s the best experience, so we test it that way. Since I typically use Google’s phones when not reviewing, I stick with Pixel launcher. If some other phone grabs my attention for a bit, then yeah, I’d probably throw Nova on. But I haven’t really liked a Samsung or LG or Huawei phone enough to get that far in quite a while.
T: For reviews, no. We always use whatever the company ships out of the box. Once a review is done, it depends on the phone. LG and Huawei phones, I always switch to Nova Launcher Prime. On Samsung, Google, and OnePlus devices, I use the launcher they provide because they’re solid launchers.
Do you believe Google Play Editions will ever return?
K: I wrote a piece not long ago about how Android One was basically the new Google Play Edition. I still think that’s mostly true, so like GPE phones, it’s up to manufacturers to decide if they want to participate and give that idea a shot. LG did with the G7, which is awesome. Now, we just need Samsung to do it again.
T: Sadly, no. I think those times are long gone.
Who do you think does the best phone/tech reviews outside of DL (either written or on YouTube)?
K: I often checkout Ron’s stuff at Arstechnica, because he’s such an Android purist, has deep knowledge of the platform’s changes over the years, and isn’t afraid to tell companies how dumb they are. I also used to look to Anandtech’s hardware reviews because of their technical deep dives. That’s pretty much it. The rest of the reviews are just opinion-based word vomit like ours, heh.
T: I always try to read the larger site reviews, as well as watch the major YouTubers. I like to see how my opinions differ, but for the most part, it’s all about the same. I also like to look at formatting, like how it’s written or presented, seeing if I can tweak things in the way we do our own reviews to make them more enjoyable.
What are the most/least rewarding parts of running Droid Life?
K: This is starting to feel like a Q&A job interview. Ummm, rewarding stuff has been being a part of a really cool community that has been here for the 9 years we’ve been doing it. Getting emails from people or seeing comments that let us know that we really helped them out always feels great. Being able to do this from my own house, where I get to see my wife and kid all of the time without hours of commuting is something I’ll never complain about. This job has allowed some traveling too, which I both appreciate and hate. As for least rewarding, having to act like I think Samsung makes good phones? I’m kidding! I don’t know, there aren’t many bad things with this job.
T: Well, I’d say the most rewarding part is getting to meet all sorts of people at events. For example, you get an idea of how someone is online via their Twitter or their work, and maybe you don’t much care for them, but then you meet them in person and they’re always very nice and you share a beer and things are great. As for least rewarding, I suppose for me it’d be the pressure of needing to have an opinion on basically everything related to Android/Google. Honestly, there are some things I just don’t care about, but because of my position, it feels like I have to have a hot take on everything that happens. That can be stressful because while I’d love to share my insight on something, it’s possible I have absolutely no care to comment on it.
Check out all of our past DL Q&A Sessions!