Google Pixel 7

The Pixel 4a was a fantastic phone for me. I bought it new from Google back in the fall of 2020 when it was a current model. The end of support date snuck up on me, had it already been 3 years? I noticed in October I hadn’t had a reboot (and thus a security patch) in quite some time. The 4a had a surprise extra update in November – but this was clearly the end of the line.

The 4a was a change for me, for the most part I’d bought gently used phones at around the $200 price point that were 2-3 years old, and then used them for a year and a bit. This gave me a new toy regularly, and was fairly cost effective. Still, I was probably spending about $500 over 3 years easily -this helped me justify the purchase of a new 4a. Little did I know how much I’d enjoy having the 4a and not doing the upgrade dance regularly.

In the first weeks of 2024, my Pixel 4a was still performing well. I’d generally only need to charge it every second day. Yes, over time the battery had gotten a little worse – but not by much. The camera continued to be amazing. And wrapped in a bumper case and screen protector the phone itself was in mint condition. If it was still getting regular security patches from Google I’d have no problem continuing to use it.

Of course, LineageOS is an option. Migrating to this would give me a community supported version of Android 13. A few worries kept from from this path. I use my phone for work, and have the mobile device management stuff installed, I wasn’t convinced this would work smoothly with LineageOS.. but it has in the past (honestly I think I was looking for reasons to upgrade). The migration of apps also seemed daunting. While most things have a ‘cloud’ story and are linked to various accounts etc, some of the games I have don’t have a backup/restore story. The other pain is the lack of SafetyNet support, practically this means only Netflix won’t work for me (again, I’m looking for an excuse).

Honestly, looking back, if I’d gone through the migration effort and moved to LineageOS it would have all worked out. I would have had my security updates but been stuck back on Android 13. The work device policy is good with support for devices back to Android 12 currently. There is also a good chance the WorkProfile is still properly supported in LineageOS (it was in the past). I would have lost state in a few games, but that is minor.

Post Black Friday and leading into Christmas and Boxing week there were some crazy sales on mobile plans in Canada. CostCo was apparently offering a plan that was very low and provided a Pixel 7 on a 2 year contract for $1/mo. This has the result of many BNIB phones showing up on the local used market.

The Pixel 7 still lists for $799 directly from Google. Many of the used market phones where listing between $350-$500 still with the security seal in place. Relative to Google the local pricing is lower for a BNIB or refurbished options from retail stores.

I found someone listing one for $300, and it check out as legit. He’d done a plan upgrade/renew back in October gotten a new Pixel 7 but already had one, so he had this sealed BNIB one to sell. I suspect he’d started at a much higher price, but the recent glut of new phones on the used market pushed his price down. There were other similar phones for $330 to be had. This price point made getting a phone upgrade a smart move for me as it still has 3+ years of support from Google.

There are plenty of phone comparison sites, but let me run down things that I see as trade offs.

  • I’ll probably miss the back fingerprint sensor, the in screen optical one is “ok” but not nearly as reliable.
  • The 4a has a 3.5mm headphone jack, this is a useful way to interrupt bluetooth connectivity nonsense with my car/ bluetooth headphones. I can use a USB-C adapter, but it’s not the same.
  • The Pixel 7 is bigger, there are pros and cons to a larger phone.
  • As stated above, the Pixel 7 is still currently supported. This is a big win.
  • The camera is better in the Pixel 7, but the 4a certainly held it’s own. Very minor difference.

The Pixel 7 is a very pretty phone, I’m not a fan of the all glass back, but it is very sexy. Of course, the first thing is to buy a case and screen protector before I even take it out of the box. I grabbed a case very similar to the one I’ve had on my 4a from Amazon. I headed to eBay to get a screen protector from a seller I’ve used previously. This meant a few day wait, but that wasn’t a big deal.

All good – now it’s wrapped and ready to roll. The bumper case has these nice extended corners which add protection, but also give you something to grip onto. There is a subtle roughness on the sides too, making the phone less slick. The screen protector doesn’t have any cut-outs for the camera, this is similar to the one I had on my 4a and it had no negative impact for my use.

The phones are significantly different in size, with the Pixel 4a on the left and the Pixel 7 on the right. I’ll point at a comparison article if you want to look at the specifications side by side. I was interested in the in pocket weight, including the case. The 4a is 175g vs the 7 at 231g – yikes, 32% heavier. This is enough that you notice the difference, but I’ve gotten use to the added heft and size.

Continue reading “Google Pixel 7”

Pixel 1 data recovery.. (backup your data)

Like many parents, my kids have hand me down phones. This is generally a great way to extend the life of a device, and teenagers can be tough on phones. Some more than others.

My oldest has been one of those kids who has been generally gentle with technology, and the devices tend to last. I’ve replaced a few tempered glass screen protectors but those are disposable. I have to admit that I didn’t take the signs of problems seriously when the screen on the Google Pixel 1 started to go black occasionally – a hard reboot often fixed things up. This was just some mysterious software issue I thought.

Nope. It was the early signs of the screen going bad. One day, the screen just stayed black no matter what I did. Did we have a recent backup? Nope, it was many months old. That’s also on me. At the first sign of any weirdness with a mobile device, checking the current backup status should be a high priority.

This device was running LineageOS, and unfortunately the default security is pretty good. Oh, I tried lots of things. Blindly, boot device into fastboot mode. Load a recovery via fastboot – connect to that via adb.. but just not enough magic to get through decrypting the filesystem via recovery without access to the screen. This was back in 2020. I would try from time to time to figure out a way to recover a screen-less Android phone running LineageOS, but it continued to resist my attempts.

The picture at the top of the post is the very busted screen from the Pixel 1. At one point in my recovery attempts I thought – maybe it’s simply that the ribbon cable needs to be re-seated? Despite being careful, I can safely report that removing the screen is very hard and you’re likely to break it. I pretty much destroyed that screen.

I had reached out to a local repair shop, but they only were interested in selling me a complete screen replacement – not helping me hook up a screen and recover the data. I continued to look for economical screen replacement options, but at this point I didn’t even know if the screen was the problem.

Just the other day, I found a pair of used Pixel1 screens for $30 + $10 shipping. This was cheap enough that it was worth the risk. I got lucky, the used screen was exactly what I needed.

Cool. There is hope. The phone battery was very dead, so it wasn’t allowing me to power it on. My initial attempts to power on were also scary, I kept getting “no OS found, corrupted data”. I was able to boot to the fastboot screen, but not able to start the recovery image (if there even is one?).

After a few minutes of charging, and more attempts to boot – it started to load!

I was so happy to see the LineageOS boot screen. Now I was crossing my fingers hoping I’d get a full boot without problems. This next image increased my joy.

The touch screen worked fine, and I was able to log in. I was so close to being able to recover the files from this phone, but I had to let it charge up.

Once it was charged, unlocking the phone and connecting a laptop to it was trivial. I was able to pull down the 900+ photos and push them up to my fileserver for safe keeping. In the end it took a couple of years to recover, but I’m glad I kept at it. I also was very lucky that it was only the screen.

Go backup your data. Better yet, invest the time to create a regular backup system. Test your backups.

Pixel 4a Screen Protector

The Pixel 4a continues to be my “daily driver”. I still mostly only need to charge it every 2 days, but by the second day the battery is well into the red and I’ve needed to top up to make it through. Using Android Auto in the car (wired) has also changed things a little, as my phone is getting charged while I drive. Still, on a full battery I can go all day.

Of course, battery life is completely related to usage. I have a very modest number of apps, and I spend all day attached to a keyboard so I’m not using the phone very much at all.

I’ve had a screen protector on the phone from day one. My preference, and it seems to be where the industry has gone too, is to have a ‘tempered glass’ screen protector. This particular brand doesn’t even have a selfie camera hole – it’s just a rounded rectangle of glass. I bought these on eBay way back in October 2020 – the listing is still active. I’d recommend this vendor as the product I got was very good, they also carry many other sizes for other phones.

I’ve also got a bumper case on the phone which has saved it from many a drop. I finally got unlucky and dropped it 4 feet onto ceramic tile and the screen protector cracked.

This wasn’t the first tumble onto hard tile, but it finally landed the wrong way and cracked the screen protector. I will say that after being tossed around and living in my pocket for years, the screen protector itself was still in good shape.

As you can see, the damage to the screen protector was pretty obvious.

Since this was a 2 pack of protectors, I had another one waiting to go. Peeling the old one off revealed the pristine 4a screen, exactly what I want to protect.

The protector ships with a couple of generic wipes. After sitting around for a couple of years the wet wipe had dried out. I didn’t need much cleaning power anyways so I just gave it a good wipe down with the dry one.

The screen protector itself has a protective sticker only on one side. This is the screen side. I like to leave it in the foam sleeve until I’m about to install as that helps reduce dust. The install kit comes with a couple of stickers that you use as a ‘hinge’ once you’ve placed the new screen on the phone (with protective sticker still on). Once the hinge is setup, you lift the screen and peel off the protective sticker.

Let the clean screen flop down on the clean phone, and watch the magic ‘bonding’ happen. If you’ve managed to stay dust free, it’ll be a nice clean match up and you’re good to go. I wasn’t so lucky this time.

Yup, a dreaded dust blob between the screen protector and the phone screen. Along with the guide stickers (hinges) you get a dust remover sticker. Gently peel the new screen up, it’ll stay attached due to the sticker hinges. Then dab at the dust blob – in my case it was stuck to the new screen protector, but you can do both sides (gently). The dust remover sticker should pick up the dust and leave a clean surface behind. Re-flop the screen and if you’ve not introduce more dust it should be good to go. Carefully remove the hinge stickers and put the case back on.

Here is a good youtube video on the hinge method for screen installs.

If you need to put a screen on without the stickers – just use scotch tape. It works exactly the same. You want to avoid touching anything directly with your fingers (which are slightly greasy). I’ve installed many screen protectors, and it does get easier – but even someone doing it the first time can succeed if you go slowly and try to be in a dust free location. One hint would be to do this in the bathroom just after you’ve had a shower – the moisture in the air tends to cut down on dust.

For me, screen protectors work well. I’d rather scratch/crack the screen protector than risk a ding in my phone screen. In the past, I’ve used screen protectors to cover up / mask scratches in the screen of a used phone I’ve bought – so even if you have a scratch, a screen protector can help make your phone seem new.