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My Google Pixel 9 wish list may upset some Android fans (but it'll be worth it)

If Google wants to show consumers that the Pixel isn't about to fade into obscurity, it'll need to focus on one particular area.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
The Pixel Phone 4.

The last well-designed Google phone, in my opinion, was the Pixel 4.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

I'm inching ever so closer to making the decision that the upcoming Nothing Phone 3 will be my next phone. Why? I outlined the two main reasons why this choice is looming, and I know I'm not alone in that position. And although AI isn't nearly the tipping point for most as it is for me, the other sticking point in that article is fairly universal.

Also: I'm a diehard Pixel user, but I'm considering a change for two reasons (and I'm not alone)

I also know that Google is neck-deep in AI and there's no going back from this point. As for the bland hardware designs, at least there's a little hope.

Like most Pixel fans, I've been following the rumors and leaks closely and I actually like what I see. One of the issues I've had with the design of older Pixel 6 and 7 models was the beveled edges. Google walked those back with the Pixel 8 series but left the metal edges still slightly curvy. That change at least made the Pixel slightly easier to hold. 

But then you compare the Pixel 8 Pro to that of the iPhone and you see a clear difference. Apple goes with a flat, clean edge on its devices, while the Pixel's edge is forever changing and always looking less than premium. That would be fine if the price of the Pixel 8 Pro matched the aesthetic -- only it doesn't. There are phones available that look the part of premium without the premium price. Of course, the performance of those devices do not match that of the Pixel.

Also: The Pixel 9 could offer two new emergency features, thanks to a new Samsung modem

But, no matter how much Google shrugs off aesthetics, they're important. One of the reasons why the iPhone is so popular is because of the way it looks. For many, the iPhone is as much an accessory as it is a device. It's iconic. The Pixel, on the other hand, is almost brutalistic. It's the pragmatist of phones.

Google Pixel 8a, 8 Pro, and Fold phones

The Google Pixel 8 Pro (left), Pixel 8a (middle), and Pixel Fold (right).

Kerry Wan/ZDNET

I expect the Pixel Phone 9/9 Pro will change that slightly. The leaked renders I've seen have the phones with a much flatter edge that looks premium, almost iPhone-ish. That's a good thing; not only because it improves the design of the phone but also because it makes them easier to grip.

Also: I love this iPhone case's physical keyboard, but that isn't even its best feature

I don't want to sound as if the look of a phone is more important than the functionality, because it's not. But the design of a device has the ability to bring new users to the table. If a consumer looks at a display table of phones and sees a boring, uninspired design, chances are slim they'll be willing to pay the premium. And as their eyes drift from the edge of the device to the camera bar, the turn-off is even greater. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course.

Looking past the hardware

Another aesthetic advantage iPhones have over Pixels is the smoothness of the UI. Outside of the garage sale of icons on the home screen, iOS looks fantastic. The tasteful blur, the use of transparency, and the buttery smooth animations make Android look like a child's toy whose batteries are just about to run out.

Even the Pixel 8 Pro, which is powered by Google's Tensor G3 chip, shows how inelegant the UI really is. Pull down the notification shade -- there's no transparency, no blur. I've been testing Android 15 and it shows very little sign of change with the UI, but hopefully Google will finally understand that change is necessary. 

Also: Here are the top five Android 15 features I love the most

Although I don't expect we'll see much in the way of change with the UI in the Pixel 9, I do believe the animations will be far smoother than they have been. I've already noticed an improvement in Android 15 beta. Even with the lesser-powered chip in the Pixel 7 Pro, the animations are smoother than they are on my Pixel 8 Pro.

Google Pixel 8a

Themed icons on the Pixel launcher.

Kerry Wan/ZDNET

Maybe Google finally realized that the way a phone's UI moves about on the screen is actually important. Could it be? I think so. When I pull down the notification shade on my Pixel 8 Pro (running Android 14), there's always a slight lag before it moves. Once it starts moving, there's a slight jump to catch up. On the Pixel 7 Pro (running Android 15 beta) it responds immediately -- there's no lag and no jump.

Also: Google launches Android 15 Beta 1. Here's what's inside and how to get it

In the end, if Google wants to prevent a mass exodus from the Pixel, it needs to start paying more attention to design and less attention to AI. If I had to take a guess, I would venture that consumers are more easily impressed with a better-looking phone over one that's steeped in AI. Just look at Apple. They've lagged in the AI category and their sales haven't suffered one bit. They keep cranking out the same, well-designed hardware and software, and users don't bat an eye. I hope Google becomes just as consistent.

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