I went to Best Buy to buy a Pixel 2 and it was strange

Commentary: First the Verizon store, now this. It's an interesting experience, trying to buy Google's new phone.

Chris Matyszczyk
4 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

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The home of sales objectivity?

Best Buy

When Google's Pixel 2 and 2XL phones launched last week, I went to a Verizon store -- Verizon has the exclusive deal on the new phones -- and had an unsatisfying experience.

The salesman seemed far more motivated to sell me a Samsung Galaxy S8 than to enthuse about the Pixel 2.

After I'd written about my chat with him, I received many reactions.

There were those who had endured similar experiences in Verizon stores as customers.  

There was the Verizon store employee who explained, "Advertising may be heavy on a particular device because it is new, but that's only to drive new consumer growth."

He also insisted that the Pixel 2 XL was, in fact, better than the Galaxy S8, even if he didn't necessarily tell customers that. Commission can be a powerful influence.

In search of sales objectivity
Still, an employee from an east coast Best Buy wrote to me and tossed shade at carrier store employees who make commissions. He insisted that if I wanted true objectivity, I had to go to Best Buy.

"You've gotta go to the right place to get what you're looking for. I'm not sure why carrier stores still exist, honestly," he wrote.

So, being the obedient type, off I went to a Bay Area Best Buy on Friday, in search of this alleged sales objectivity.

I looked around for the Pixel display. There was a Verizon area, but all it had were Samsung phones, iPhones and prepaids. 

Yet a big electronic board featured deals for the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL.

I asked a salesman, who turned out to be a manager, whether the store had any Pixel 2 phones. 

"One," he said. 

He proceeded to unlock a cupboard beneath some computers, and he pulled out a Pixel 2 in a box. 

"We don't have any 2XLs," he said. "We're selling them as fast as they come in."

"But what about the screen issues?" I asked. (Some customers say some Pixel 2XL phones have blurry screens, bluish screens and even screen burn.)

"There may have been a few, but I don't think it's a big deal," he said, a touch dismissively.

I explained that I still had an iPhone 6, as Apple's newer phones have been a little dull, and that I was considering something different.

"So which one is better? The S8 or the Pixel?" I pressed.

He leaned toward the Samsung. In fact, as we chatted, it seemed clear he didn't know that much about the Pixel 2 at all -- a similar experience to the one I'd had at the Verizon store. 

I asked him whether the back of the phone was plastic (it isn't), and he didn't seem to know.

Indeed, there was nothing he could tell me that made the Pixel stand out -- other than that it was from Google. 

For me, though, handling the Pixel 2 without it being on a security cable (as it was at the Verizon store), made it feel more attractive than it had last week.

The manager explained that he owned both an iPhone 6 (for his personal life) and a Galaxy GS7 (his work phone). He preferred the Galaxy, he said, because he could customize it and simply do more with it.

"The iPhone is a phone for dummies," he said. "But my whole house is Apple, so it fits in easier."

Camera. Lights. Google.
I asked which camera was better, the GS8's or the Pixel 2's. After all, my colleague Lynn La -- who really is the fountain of objectivity -- had reviewed the Pixel 2 as being "all about the camera," and I was here to get the allegedly unbiased Best Buy verdict.

I was a little surprised by what happened next. The manager pulled out his phone and said, "Let's see." 

He Googled the comparison. As he did, he read out the specs of the two cameras. 

It was all quite entertaining. But then he offered an insight into why my comparative questions and my openness to at least learn about a new phone may have been, for him, peculiar.

"Around here, people already know what phone they want," he said. "They either walk in and ask for the new iPhone or the new Galaxy. They're just not interested in looking at a Sony Xperia or anything else."

We're all in our very narrow ecosystems now, it seems. And we're too far gone to turn back. That makes things harder for Google, a company that hasn't enjoyed much hardware success.

He added that the store had very few Pixel 2 phones because the number it was shipped was based on how many Pixel, um 1, phones the store had sold. Which wasn't many. He admitted -- with a hoarse laugh, it must be said -- that the store hadn't sold many iPhone 8 devices either.

I contacted Best Buy for its corporate view of my experience and will update, should I hear.

The manager had no idea when the store would get more Pixel 2 or 2XL phones, or whether there would be some for display. It does help when you can actually handle the phone yourself. The S8 phones on display looked lovely.

"But if you want one, I can get you one sometime between next Tuesday and Friday," he offered. Ah.

His straightforwardness was refreshing.

When I asked about switching from iOS to Android, he conceded that trying to transfer music was "a pain in the ass." He said he wouldn't do it himself because he had so much music on his iPhone. 

"So you're stuck with iPhones?" 

"Yes," he said.

"Which means you'll be getting an iPhone X?"

"Hell no. I can think of a lot better things to spend $1,000 on."

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