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Google’s Android phone picker is pretty, but needs to listen better

By Michael Fisher June 17, 2015, 5:20 pm

Last week, we told you about Google’s new smartphone chooser, an online tool designed to help you pick the right Android phone for your particular needs. I was immediately taken with the idea, envisioning a web app that leveraged Google’s awesome knowledge base to ask you a series of questions that would gradually whittle down the vast pool of available Android devices until Your Perfect Smartphone appeared on the screen.

Yeah, my expectations might have been a little extreme … but then again, this is Google we’re talking about. So I pointed my browser to Android – Which Phone (which I’ll call the “Android Phone Picker” for lack of a better name) and began telling Google all about how I planned to use my imaginary prospective smartphone.

android phone picker 1

As you might expect, the interface is remarkably clean and simple, all of it done up in the nice Material Design aesthetic that defines much of the current look and feel of Android. The software offers twelve categories to help you narrow down exactly how you plan to use your new device: everything from voice calls to watching videos to “expressing my style” is covered, and while the system starts generating recommendations after you complete three of the sections, you can fill in as many as you want.

The system does better the more narrowly confined your interests. If you tell it you want a smartphone primarily for voice calls that also lets you watch videos and listen to music without using headphones, it returns a spread of suggestions including the Nexus 6, HTC One M9 and HTC Desire EYE – all smartphones with solid displays and front-firing speakers. If you tell it you want a phone with a curved display (surprise, surprise) the LG G Flex 2 and G4 pop up in the final list of contenders. And you can filter the results based on factors like price, size, release date and (useful if you’re shopping in North America) wireless carrier. It’s interesting to see how far the results narrow if you tell the system you want a “small” handset: only a handful pop up when this qualifier is added, reflecting just how far the market’s moved toward phablet sizing over the past few years.

android phone picker 2

Like many companies, Google has a tendency to roll out products and services before they’re fully baked, and that seems to be the case here as well. While the site is responsive and –again– very pretty, it’s not consistently good at fulfilling its core purpose. Hopping back into the system for another go at determining my perfect smartphone, I told Google that photography was a huge priority for me: that I took “over 40 photos per week” and that I valued “fast, high quality photos.” Despite this, it still recommended the Moto X to me alongside the One M9 and Nexus 6 … hardly a stellar lineup of Android camera stars. Another time, when I specified that I was looking for a phone with extensive customizability, it took a lot of digging to find the very-versatile Moto X in the results – and even then, it was represented by the wrong placeholder image. I understand that you’re not going to trash your own partners’ products when you build a portal like this, but recommending a Droid Turbo to someone seeking an excellent camera is as absurd as leaving out a category for people who need a ruggedized handset (which Google does here as well).

Android Phone Picker 4

Again, I probably came to the Android Phone Picker with some unrealistic expectations. I should have expected that, in this era of increasing commodification of smartphones, where nearly every device can handle the generic tasks the average person uses a phone for, the notion of a “magic smartphone chooser” was as superfluous as it was unrealistic. And like Android Wear, I expect it to quickly mature into something better.

For now, this product shines most brightly as an alternative to the bloated, complicated shopping portals that wireless carriers have been foisting on us for years. The Android Phone Picker is fun, clean, and informative – an oasis of simplicity in a landscape of complications. Here, you can pick a handful of smartphones based on a smattering of criteria and compare them side by side, without fear of an obnoxious pop-up “assistant” offering shopping help or a spinning 3D smartphone render crashing your browser. And if Google opts to continue its Project Fi experiment, as seems likely, the Android Phone Picker could eventually serve as a convenient portal for picking up your next Fi Phone. But that’s speculation for another article.

Michael Fisher carries a Moto X 2014 alongside a Lumia 1020 when he’s not reviewing the latest and greatest, just like it says on his Twitter profile. Itching to try Google’s predictive abilities for yourself? Try the Android Phone Picker here and let us know how it goes in the comments below! Then be sure to check out what else we’ve been up to at Pocketnow, from our HTC One M9+ camera test to our unboxing of the Pebble Time!



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