A New Phone, or, Overthinking Future Purchases

finding my forever phone before my current phone kicks the bucket

Posted: 2022-11-17
Stats: 1537 words / ~8 minutes

The Quest Begins

It pains me to even think about embarking on this quest. There is nothing wrong with my phone. I will keep it until it honestly and truly bites the dust. A series of things have led me to once again start thinking about replacing it. The first being that it looks like the phone is bent. I cannot tell if the battery is swelling, or if my son damaged it when he tossed it across the room (not to break it, he did one of those, “here daddy, catch” things…and I have the reaction speed of a sloth). The second is the battery. Only a week ago, by battery lasted up to four days. Even with lots of browsing. For me, battery life is one of the key aspects of a mobile device. Then, an upgrade was pushed to the device and that was that. Battery life is breakfast until lunch now. Quite a pain, to be honest.

I spend a lot of time pre-buying. I keep track of new devices and read reviews regularly, in the event that my phone dies. It is quite an ordeal if you even care a little about one or two features.

Do I want a phone with a nice camera? Should I try out an iPhone? Is there a screen size I want? What’s my budget? Do I need a headphone jack?

All of this is confounded in certain countries with SIM locking. Or how some models of phones will not work with some carriers. How can this be a thing? I know that this is the situation for some people in North America. I cannot imagine getting a new device only to find out it will not work with my carrier. It makes my blood boil thinking about it.

Luckily, there is a thing called the Internet and some kind people keep track of this on sites like https://willmyphonework.net/ in order to take the hassle out of things and leave the question of “what is a band?” to searchable databases.

This is something that I haven’t needed to worry about for a long time, though. Where I live I can walk down to a shop and test drive several dozen different phones. Well, they are all in demo mode, but at least I can have an idea.

I know I am digressing, but I want to underline again how different the purchasing experience can be with another example. Where I am from in Canada, many of the people I know simply get their phone through their carrier. They tell me that it is “free,” but they pay for it over two years on their bill. Worst of all, the lack of choice. My mother, an elderly person who uses her phone for phoning was talked into a flagship Samsung after being offered a selection of three Samsung devices.

Now, back to it…

What’s my thing?

Photo quality? Screen size? Removable battery? I already mentioned that battery life is important to me, so we can add that to my list of requirements. Despite being versed (notice I didn’t say well-versed) in the worlds of phones, I am ignorant to many things…

Take, for example, this review of a phone, where it states:

The Galaxy S22 Ultra runs on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor in the US and Samsung’s Exynos processors in some other regions.

You cannot see me, and reading a stranger’s words on a blog like this tells you very little about the person. But, if you could see me, you would be able to tell by the neutral expression on my face that I don’t know what that means.

Who is that review even for? I would love to make one of those hidden camera videos with an elderly person being sent into a store to buy a phone and see the reaction of the salesperson when grandpa says, “I want the newest Snapdragon, not that Exynos rubbish!”

I saved myself the trouble and didn’t bother reading that review. I don’t want a flagship smartphone. That is not my thing.

My thing, for the moment, lies somewhere within the Venn diagram of green, ethical, reparable, private, and bonus points for different.

My ideal phone was the BlackBerry. How awesome was the BlackBerry? The Hub — a simple feature presenting all messages and notifications in a single feed — was all I needed. There was nothing of note in the App Store on BlackBerry. Notifications could be customized. Shortcuts added to the keys. Touchscreen was there. The BlackBerry Classic was a great device, and before that the Bold.

Right now, there are two paths that I can take:

  1. Order a phone online.

  2. Avoid shipping costs, CO2 and pollution, and walk down to the shop and buy a phone in person.

Ordering online opens the possibility to green and ethical options like Teracube and their sustainable model with a warranty, Fairphone and their reparable devices, and Murena’s deGoogled devices. I could also acquire an oddity like the Jelly 2E and its 3-inch screen (gotta admit, I am tempted to have one, just because) or a device with a keyboard!1

Going down to the store limits me. I need limits. I even like limits. The world is bigger than Samsung, Apple and Xiaomi. I know which brand has a reputation for battery life, and it also meets another criteria I have yet to mention: Bloatware.

The Samsung phones I’ve tested come with extra apps that are baked into the device; they cannot be removed. And, it is not just Samsung that does this. This takes up space, and if you don’t use the apps, the most you can do is disable them. Motorola, for example, comes with the standard Google suite of apps, and very little extra. Nokia, Sony, and Asus also remain close to Stock Android. So, I would likely buy a recent Motorola model if my phone were to die, and I needed a swift replacement.

The Dilemma

My phone still works. I will let it charge again, and then restart it a few times. It is said that after an update it is worth a try when problems are encountered. In a perfect world I would root the device and install DivestOS or LineageOS. Alas, my cheap Nokia has an annoying locked bootloader and, while not impossible, rooting this device to run an alternative OS is a pain I am unwilling to endure. I do so want a deGoogled device, or a device that would force me to use my phone less. Murena seems like a logical choice, and I have tried /e/ on another device and the experience was not a problem. I would love to try it again, especially since I live in France and the founder of Murena (as well as /e/ and Mandrake Linux) is French.

I recently read an article (in French) that includes user testimony (not just of Murena) that at first seems negative.

Sophie’s phone switched itself off in areas with poor coverage. Matthieu’s suddenly lost the folder structure. Ilario’s banking applications do not work. Neither does Julien’s wide-angle camera nor the payment options from within applications — he even had to resort to an old smartphone to do that. Many have found workarounds, but not Anne-Sophie, an English teacher, whose phone keeps turning off without warning.

The article follows up with positive notes,

“I was afraid I wouldn’t understand, but it works like a charm,” says HervĂ©.

before doubling down on the geekspeak talking about frequent updates, NewPipe, F-Droid, Aurora, and MicroG (all without providing links to the projects, mind you!):

“I tried to do without MicroG for a fortnight, it was unbearable,” says Pierre. “Notifications didn’t go through, location didn’t work, applications wouldn’t start… I gave up, I’m not a fan.”

and finally concludes with pessimism:

“It’s annoying and worrying to see that a 100% alternative solution is so complicated to implement,” regrets Emilie. “I wonder if people aren’t idealizing the benefits of deGoogled Android,” wonders Gregory […]. The vast majority of users interviewed, however, are quite comfortable with these limitations. “Yes, there are contradictions,” admits Matthieu. “But, being 100% free would mean cutting yourself off from others. I prefer to take small steps.”

It remains to be seen whether Google will continue to tolerate Aurora and MicroG, which are essential to many users, if by any chance the popularity of /e/ or IodĂ© grows. “Google did shut down Vanced this year, an application that broadcast YouTube videos without ads,” notes Julien, for whom it is not impossible that the American giant will one day decide to ban these two valuable bricks. When asked about this, the company did not respond.

Right there is the question, isn’t it? A company promises a warranty lasting x years, but will the company be around in x years? My current phone was promised five years of updates, I don’t know if the poor thing will make it now.

Having typed all this out, a third path may have revealed itself:

  1. Become a tech journalist; obtain a free phone to test; keep that phone.

  1. or wait for the creator of the Pebble to start making his small Android phone! ↩︎

You can or contact me if you wish to comment or propose a correction.