Google had received a bit of criticism lately when it revealed that the Pixel 6 wouldn’t be seeing any improvements as far as Android updates are concerned. It’s business as usual for its older models, and the Pixel 3 just got its last maintenance update, at least until the promised last bundle next year. Of course, that’s not stopping other people from taking over where Google has stepped back, and some development on the even older Pixel 2 shows one of the things the Android platform has over Apple’s iOS.
Pixel 2 Legacy
The Pixel 2 was more than just the first Pixel’s successor in name. It was a test of whether Google could recreate the magic of the OG Pixel, especially when it came to computational photography. To some extent, it was successful in being almost exactly like its predecessor, though with some notable hardware upgrades.
By today’s premium flagship standards, the Pixel 2’s spec sheet looks almost ancient, especially with that 4GB of RAM and a paltry 2,700 mAh battery. The rest of the hardware, however, like the Snapdragon 835 and especially the 12.2MP camera that has almost never changed, has stood the test of time and is still quite capable of supporting the latest Android features. Unfortunately, Google set the limit to three Android updates, ending with last year’s Android 11, even if there wasn’t a critical technical reason to do so.
There are many reasons to desire a Google Pixel phone, and most of them revolve around the software experience. Google’s flavor of Android on its own phones represents its ideal scenario, putting it in control of almost all aspects of its development and deployment. That, in turn, should mean that these phones, more than any other Android phone, can get software updates faster and longer. Unfortunately, only the first one has always been true.
Android has always been criticized for either the slow rollout of updates or dropping support for phones too soon. In contrast, Apple has been lauded for supporting even five-year-old iPhones, bringing not just bug fixes but also new features. Google has had the chance to make the Pixel phones the shining example of how to do Android updates right but stopped short of delivering that with the Pixel 6.
Fortunately, the Android community isn’t completely at the mercy of Google or even of other smartphone makers. Although it does take some work, it is entirely possible for other more advanced users and developers to take up where Google left off. For example, an Android 12 custom ROM for the Pixel 2 is already in development, giving the well-aged phone the same chance as its successor, the Pixel 3.
In fact, many phones considered to be obsolete by their manufacturers have found new leases on life thanks to these custom ROMs. Although they don’t make as many headlines as they did before, the custom ROM community still exists, despite the increased security complexity in every new phone. The Android platform has even made it possible to install other operating systems on Android devices, like the upcoming Ubuntu Touch OTA-20, which does use pieces of Android underneath.
There are, of course, some tradeoffs, like potential security vulnerabilities or the work that needs to be done to even install a custom ROM on an old phone. These, however, seem minor if it means being able to use a favorite device to the very end. That’s not even something Apple can do for business reasons, but Android phones can continue to live on, as long as there’s someone willing to do the work to get future versions running on them.