10 shocking lessons from using only Google products

For three weeks, an Apple fan used only a Chromebook Pixel, Nexus 10, Nexus 4, and all-Google software and services

Mobile technology is like language. You learn it best through total immersion.

As a former Windows and current Apple user, I wanted to understand the full Google platform experience firsthand. So I went all-in.

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Sure, I've used Android devices and even a Chromebook casually before. But I never tried to rely on them full time.

Boy, did I learn a lot about Google (and Apple). And my opinions on many things have changed. I'm going to tell you the 10 shocking things I learned and how my mobile computing buying and usage have been transformed.

The experiment

When I started, I packed away my MacBook Pro, iPad, and iPhone and used a Chromebook Pixel, Nexus 10, and Nexus 4 exclusively, which at my request Google loaned to me for the duration.

I initially intended to do the full diet for a month, but I dropped and broke the Nexus 4 a few days ago. So it turned into a three-week experiment.

I switched from Evernote to Keep for notes, from Apple's Pages to Google Docs for writing, from Dropbox to Google Drive for cloud storage, from Mailbox to the Gmail app for email, from a variety of Mac photo-editing applications to Google+ for photo editing, and from a wide range of apps on the iPhone and iPad to versions made by Google.

I was already a primary user but became an exclusive user of Gmail, Search, Google+, Calendar, YouTube, Latitude, Alerts, Chrome, Voice, Now, Hangouts, and (with sadness) Reader, Google's RSS reader that will be discontinued July 1.

Within my experiment, I also embarked on a Google Now diet -- everything you can do with Now I forced myself to do with Now instead of alternatives -- actions like launching apps on the smartphone, getting navigation, getting the weather, searching the Web, and so on.

Lesson 1: The Chromebook Pixel is a joy to use
The Pixel both boots and shuts down in a couple of seconds. Everything is in the cloud, so there's nothing to manage or configure or hunt down.

The screen, keyboard, touchpad, sound system, and clamshell builds are all very good. Still, the Pixel is generally slower and less polished than using a MacBook Pro. Performance is determined to a much larger extent by bandwidth speed.

People think it would be too limiting or confining, but it's far less so than I imagined. I could -- I did -- easily function using nothing but a Pixel as my main computer.

The Pixel is a great main computer for a wide range of people, from C-level executives to everyday businesspeople who want simplicity above all. And it's a perfect secondary computer for even power users.

Lesson 2: All-cloud computing is better
I've long been a cloud-computing skeptic, but living in the cloud for three weeks has changed my opinion. Like most users, I've used a mixture of cloud and non-cloud.

Dispensing with the non-cloud activity is liberating and reassuring, knowing that the device can be lost, stolen, or broken and work can continue on any other machine without a loss of data.

Lesson 3: Retina-quality displays are wonderful
After using the Pixel's incredible, 239 pixels-per-inch screen, I will never again buy ordinary pixel densities on any device. My 110 pixels-per-inch MacBook Pro screen looks terrible to me now.

Lesson 4: Apple makes the best hardware
Although the Pixel is higher quality than your average Windows laptop, it's not quite as polished and elegant as Apple laptops like the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.

The Nexus 4 is a very nice smartphone (made by LG), which is light, has a really great screen and other solid attributes, but its build quality is no match for the iPhone. The Nexus 4 is easily the best $300 unlocked smartphone on the market, though.

And the Nexus 10 tablet (made by Samsung) is nowhere near the iPad in hardware quality.

Lesson 5: Google Now is amazing
When you really use it as I have for the past three weeks, Google Now feels like the future. It's a constant presence watching out for you and helping you.

Lesson 6: Android smartphones could be better than iPhones, but they're not -- yet
I never liked using Android smartphones before this experiment. Compared with iPhones they seemed unpolished, clunky, and retrograde. But after my experiment, the iPhone feels that way to me and Lesson 7 explains why.

Lesson 7: The best smartphone is the one that best delivers Internet services
Let me explain. The thrill of using Google Now voice commands to launch navigation -- "Google, navigate home" is all you need to say to launch turn-by-turn directions -- launch apps, search the Web, and do many more things made me realize that the era of hardware and software primacy is over.

In recent years, hardware and software have become more commoditized and less differentiating. What's really important now is services. And there are a few services, such as Now, Search, Maps, and others that Google does better than any other company.

The right kind of Android smartphone (and most are not the right kind) can give you a "wheeee!" feeling every time you use it as you seamlessly and rapidly shift gears from Now to Search to Gmail to Google+ to Hangouts to Calendar and back. A simple gesture (which I can do even without looking at the smartphone) launches Google Now. I say "Google," then "navigate to Starbucks," "launch Gmail," "post on Google+" or "play 'Get Lucky' by Daft Punk" (which I don't own and which is not on the smartphone but which plays anyway from YouTube).

The ability to launch and interact with Google services and converse with Google's giant machine brain in natural language is the best overall experience in mobile right now.

Apple offers the best hardware, but it also offers a compromised experience with using Google and other services. This is especially problematic with Google Now, which on iPhone is limited in features. For example, you can't launch apps or initiate use with voice alone.

The only exception to this primacy of services is camera quality, which is very important to me. After using the iPhone's excellent camera, I would not be willing to use a Nexus 4 because the much lower picture quality is a deal breaker.

Lesson 8: Google makes the best Android smartphone experience
Companies that make the better Android smartphones, such as Samsung, HTC, Acer, and Sony create their own user interfaces, which are inferior to the one Google puts on its own Nexus 4 smartphone, specifically in the accessibility and integration of Google services.

This has been the central conundrum in the Android smartphone space. The best hardware and the best user interface are never on the same smartphone.

This will change soon. Google announced recently that an unlocked "Google Edition" of the Samsung Galaxy S 4 would become available on the Play Store on June 26 for $649. Rumors are also circulating that the HTC One will be released in a "Google Edition" version.

Lesson 9: Google's integration is the killer app
Google offers a dizzying range of Internet-based services. Some are mediocre, some are as good as the best competitors, and others are far better than anything else out there (examples include Google Now, Google Maps, Google+, and the new Gmail search). But Google's increasing integration of these services is becoming a compelling advantage. The ability to, say, launch turn-by-turn directions on Maps from Now, to search Drive from Gmail, and how Google Now reads your Gmail to give you reminders makes all the integrated services more powerful and usable.

Lesson 10: It's easy to use nothing but Google products
You can't get the ultimate mobile computing experience by using nothing but Google products, but it's possible and enjoyable to use only Google products. I had a lot of fun with this experiment.

How my Google experiment changed my decisions
As a result of this experiment, I've decided to buy a Retina MacBook Pro and use it like a Chromebook running almost everything via Google's Chrome browser for OS X. Call it a Machromebook Pro. I would love to own a Pixel, but I need my iPad and can't carry three devices in my backpack as I travel the world.

I'm going all-in on cloud services, and sticking with Drive, Keep, and Docs, as I found them to be better than the alternatives I used previously.

If the HTC One "Google Edition" rumor is real, I will probably give up my iPhone and switch. If the rumor is false, I might switch to the "Google Edition" Galaxy S 4 instead.

Ultimately, what's most important to me in a smartphone is high-quality build, great performance and battery life, full Google Now integration, and the best possible camera. A big screen would be nice, too. I've found the toughest choice in smartphones between the iPhone's camera and full Google Now and Google integration of the high-end "Google Edition" phones.

Getting off Apple and going all Google has increased my respect for both companies. I've come to realize that the very best mobile experience right now is built on a foundation of Google services on Apple hardware. I wish only that these two companies could get along better, and that Apple would allow more Google integration on the iPhone. If it did that, I wouldn't have to switch.

This article, What I learned using only Google products, was originally published at Computerworld.com. Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. Contact and learn more about Mike at http://Google.me/+MikeElgan. You can also see more articles by Mike Elgan on Computerworld.com. Read more about android in Computerworld's Android Topic Center.

This story, "10 shocking lessons from using only Google products" was originally published by Computerworld.

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