09-24-14 - Smart Phone Advice

Errmmm... I think I might finally get a smart phone.

I don't really want to waste any time researching about this because I fucking hate them and want as little as possible to do with this entire industry.

Definitely not anything Apple. I abolutely don't want to deal with any headaches of doing funny OS flashes or anything nonstandard that will complicate my life.

I'm thinking Google Nexus 5 because I understand it's the most minimal pure android ; I hate dealing with bloatware. I've already spent more time on this than I would like to. I actually prefer something smaller and lighter since I will only use it in emergencies. Galaxy S5 Mini? Not actually significantly smaller. Jesus christ.

It looks like "Straight Talk" is probably the right plan option for someone like me who will rarely use it. (?). I can't use anything T-Mobile because their coverage sucks around Seattle. Too bad because they seem to have the best pay-go plans.

One thing I have no idea about is how much bandwidth I need and whether paying per byte is okay or if I'll be fucked. If I accidentally browse to some web page that spews data at me, will that cost me a fortune? I don't like the idea of having to worry about that.


Chris Hamilton said...

My opinions on mobile devices:

-If you get an android device, get one with unmodified android. Nobody else seems to be able to make their custom stuff work, and even when it does work it never gets updated.

-One of my phones is a Nexus 5. It's a great device. It has a reasonably large battery but it can consume it at an incredible rate while the screen is on and you are interacting with it. The 1080p screen looks fantastic. The software mostly works. Google actually sends out software updates.

-At $349 unlocked it is way cheaper than everything else.

-Some devices do "HD Voice" on T-Mobile. Nexus 5 and new iPhones included. It makes an enormous difference. Sounds better than almost anything else I've ever used. Being able to actually hear someone on a call is some kind of technological revolution in cell phones for some reason.

cbloom said...

Hmm, interesting. It is kind of bananas that voice quality and reception in general is still so terrible. In fact it's weird that voice, text, and data are considered different. It's all data! And let me use high bit-rate voice if I want to!

Ben135 said...

Yes, I've had a Nexus 5 since launch and just got one for my wife too. It's powerful and straightforward (relatively speaking). If I wanted a smaller, cheaper phone I'd look at the Moto G.

Fabian 'ryg' Giesen said...

Got a Nexus 4 (Nexus 5 predecessor - tiny bit smaller, tiny bit heavier) last year. No complaints.

Stock Android is definitely the way to go.

Switched to T-Mobile from Verizon because a) the latter had shitty coverage near RAD (T-Mo is fine), b) their pre-paid plans are good, c) unlike Verizon's CDMA BS, T-Mobile also works in Europe, and particularly works in Germany without roaming fees, which was an important factor for me but won't matter to anybody else. :)

Aaron said...

Concur with Nexus 5 (don't know much about the Motorola G but I've heard it's a pretty solid budget device). If you're not going to try to 'push it' (don't need a giant screen, removable battery, or removable sd card), Nexus is the way to go. I think a new Nexus is coming out pretty soon... like next month. That said rumors are it'll be in the 5.5 inch screen range, so you won't want it anyway.

Battery-wise the Nexus 5 is a pretty solid step down from the top tier android contenders (HTC One M8 and Samsung Galaxy S5). But... tbh if you're not really using it that much, battery life won't matter.

As for data, that'll depend radically on how you use it, and you won't know that until you have it for a few months. So... don't lock yourself into anything. Android can cap your data usage so that you don't exceed it (it'll just shut off data if you go over your limit), and you can set a warning level lower than that and stuff too.

Aaron said...

There is a push for higher quality voice calls (HD Voice), but rolling out really slowly. You can do high definition voice calls now if you use something like Skype or Google Voice. Reception is kinda a physical problem. Those services tend to have more lag too, which feels really odd and kinda worse than the regular phone (which may glitch, but at least doesn't have much of a delay).

Plus, with a smart phone you almost never call anyone anymore anyway. It all becomes text messages cuz really who has the time for a phone call.

Sylvain V said...

If you're going to use only the phone part, and you're rarely going to browse the web, a small < 4 inches phone will be perfect: easier to throw and forget in your pocket, usually less fragile, and if it breaks, it's still a "no f... given" cheap phone.

But if you plan to use internet on it, 4.8" to 5.5" will be much more comfortable. Also pick one with a decent battery, as the screen will become the highest energy consumer.
Also a 720P screen is good enough; a 1080P will be more comfortable, but that's not a must-have.

Nexus are good choices. Also LG, as Nexus 4 and 5 are clones of the "Optimus G" and of the G2 (The future Nexus 6 also seems to be a clone of the G3). Plus LG doesn't bring loads of crapware like Samsung. Sometimes they can be found cheaper than the Nexus, otherwise the Nexus is a no-brainer.
For something smaller: Motorola Moto G, LG G2 mini; Sony seems to have nice stuff too...

Jean-François Dubé said...

"I abolutely don't want to deal with any headaches of doing funny OS flashes or anything nonstandard that will complicate my life."

New update arrives, click on a button, update installs. This is far from complicated.

Jean-François Dubé said...

"I abolutely don't want to deal with any headaches of doing funny OS flashes or anything nonstandard that will complicate my life."

What's complicated clicking "Install new update" ?

cbloom said...

@ JFD - I was mainly thinking of people who reinstall the OS on the phone to eliminate crapware, or people who un-tether their phones, and then wind up with bricked phones if they update, etc. etc.

I'm sure you're quite aware of people frequently having their phones screwed up by updates so I'm not quite sure why you're being intentionally dense.

Another way of saying it is I don't want to deal with a phone that I have to spend time customizing to make it behave the way I want. I want something that's okay out of the box. That way if I ever have to do a factory reset on it, I don't lose a ton of time.

cbloom said...

I've been using phonearena to compare phone sizes -


- and from the specs the Moto G and LG G2 Mini don't look significantly smaller. The Moto G is heavier than the Nexus 5. Maybe it's hard to tell from specs how they actually feel size-wise.

Galaxy S4 Mini is the only thing I see that looks noticeably smaller.

Fook it. Nexus it is.

Ben135 said...

I should have mentioned, I wouldn't get the white or red nexus 5 because they're a bit slippery to hold, whereas the black is slightly rubberised.

Cat said...

You've never owned a smartphone, you don't want to do research, but you've immediately ruled out Apple? I'm confused.

I owned the first consumer Android phone, and have had several since. I also have an iPhone. The iPhone will be significantly less frustrating unless you plan to do heavy tethering. T-Mobile is great for the Seattle area and provides free WiFi and USB tethering on Android. I'm not sure what the state of free tethering for iOS devices is.

Tom Seddon said...

When I was looking for my phone, I couldn't figure out the Android size problem either. Why are all the decent phones so massive? Why are the Mini phones so non-Mini? Do people actually want these monstrosities? How large are people's pockets? And now Apple seems to have jumped on that same bandwagon too, even though they solved the phone size conundrum pretty much perfectly with the iPhone 4.

I ended up getting a Moto G. It's still a little bit larger than I'd like, but good value for the price.

cbloom said...

My opposition to Apple is based on moral grounds, not on the quality of their devices. I hate them deeply for what they've done to computing.

"T-Mobile is great for the Seattle area"

not in my experience. There's zero T-Mobile reception at my home in south Seattle. That's pretty much a deal breaker right there. I know that my friends with T-Mobile who live in the standard yuppie neighborhoods are fine with it. (T-Mobile hates black people!) (just kidding)

Also the event that sparked this whole "I need a new phone" was my car breaking down on the Olympic Peninsula. I again had zero T-Mobile reception, and had to wave down cars to borrow their AT&T phones to call AAA.

So yeah, I really don't think T-Mobile is okay in the Seattle area.

It's hard for me to imagine wanting to use "Tethering". In fact if I lived closer to work I might try not having a computer at home at all. Just leave it in the office. Mmmm that sounds mighty nice.

Cat said...

Weird. I spend a lot of time in Beacon Hill and Columbia City and haven't had problems. I agree that outside of the city the reception is terrible. I would just get the OnePlus One. http://oneplus.net/
You should have enough friends in the tech industry to get an invite before the October launch.

cbloom said...

Hmm. One plus is pretty sexy. Also kind of big. Can I have a "OnePlus Minus" please?

Yann Collet said...

It really depends on the budget you are ready to spend on your smartphone,

but looking from your comments, I presume you are not a "heavy smartphone user", so a good non-hyped device would do.

In the category "cheap but solid specs", Moto G is pretty hard to beat (180$, without subsidy). I'm recommending it to my own family members, especially when combined with "SIM only" GSM offer, with great feedback so far. It comes with some Moto App crapware, but the OS is vanilla, and you can flash that out if you wish.

Michael said...

I switched from Samsung to Sony phones, my Z1C is smaller and better than anything in the stores. It's an eBay import. I always root so I can modify /etc/hosts. Not even google is good about updates (poor Galaxy nexus always waiting), If you want flexibility there cyanogenmod isn't bad at all, although I've been so happy with the Sony camera I've kept stock.

My favorite of the big new phones is the LG G3.

Eugene Lazutkin said...

I want to second Yann Collet: Moto G by Motorolla is hard to beat, and it can be as smart/dumb as you want it to be.

Blaine Allen Brown said...

I have the Nexus 4. My sister has the Nexus 5 and I set it up for her. They're fine devices, and while I find it almost necessary to have a Nexus device so that I only have the vanilla android setup, I wouldn't say it's free of bloatware. It still has the Google bloatware.

So if you don't use Google Plus, Chrome, Google Search, Google Hangouts, Google Drive, Google Maps, Google Music, Google Play Movies and TV, Google Play Newsstand, Google Wallet, and manage your contacts through Google, you're gonna have a lot of useless apps taking up the drawer. That said, getting punched in the face by Google is probably better than getting punched in the face by HTC or Samsung who impose a lot of weird custom UI things on their phones, often making them clunky.

I have Firefox for Android installed on mine (with ad-block plus, even!) and a real email app (called K9 Mail). Also a warning: Google integrated the regular texting app with Google Hangouts now. Maybe that's annoying to you or maybe it's convenient.

The hardware holds up and is about as cheap as you can expect (except for the Moto series which cheaper models lack faster internet hardware (no LTE, etc.)).

It's a shame you can't use T-Mobile because they have a cool situation where you pay for a certain amount of 4G, in my case 500MB/month and after that you can get unlimited 2G speed data which is enough for an email or whatever. That way there are no overages. Android apps often use data in the background and it's possible, but not easy, to manage.

You could wait a bit for Ubuntu Phone to come out, although that will probably suck just as much as android.

cbloom said...

BAB - thanks.

It is incredibly hard to use the internet these days without just giving in to some corporate overlords complete co-opting of your freedom. You can sort of choose whether you are a serf to the masters of Apple or Google, but to actually reject them and try to be in control of your own device is so incredibly onerous that almost noone does it.

In other words, I'm sort of resigned to being a slave of Google's fuckage because I don't see that I have much of a choice.

I've been holding out for a long time, but it's getting to the point that normal web sites that I want to use won't allow me to because I don't have enough of the right internet accounts all tied together.

won3d said...

I know it is outside of your parameters, but root + CyanogenMod sounds like what you want. There is even a turnkey installer now:


Of course you have to sideload the Google apps on there, if you use them.

I have an old Nexus 7 tablet from '12 that no longer gets official software updates, but works pretty well with CM (although, no software will correct the janky flash hardware on that thing).

As an Ubuntu desktop user, LOL @ Ubuntu phone. Nice idea to have freaking native code on a hardware-constrained device...but yikes! Too bad Sailfish isn't getting any traction.

Aaron said...

Also, you can remove absolutely everything from your home screen and app drawer (without rooting or anything... that's a huge android win). You can be as spartan as you want :)

You do have the 'bloatware background app' stuff to worry about, but in practice it doesn't amount to much. Really the main advantage to me of stock Android is that the basic experience is just way better than the carrier-enhanced ones. They keep trying to fix things and make it easier, and they just make it worse because they don't know what they're doing.

cbloom said...

Yeah, the problem these days is that everything is linked.

If I use Hangouts for SMS it really only works if I go through my Google Account and tie it to my Google Voice. If I use the Google Camera, then it uploads to Google+ Photos, so now I'm in Google+, etc. etc.

There's a point where you drop the soap for the tenth time and decide that rather than get another beating it's just easier to let them rape you.

Aaron said...

True, though practically speaking, you can replace the sms app and camera app with one of the many better alternatives out there (which you'd want to do anyway, cuz Hangouts is a slow, crashy abomination (how do you mess up a texting app?!!?! it's a coding miracle!)

I think you get in trouble if you think of the phone as a 'fixed device with stuff on it that you must use'. Think of it as a computer with a freshly-installed OS that has some uninstallable bloatware (which is exactly what it is), and it's your job to put the apps on it you want. Yeah there's some crap you can't uninstall, but... shrug, it just sits there in your list of installed programs.

Make it your own. Put what you want on it. Use it how you want :)

Sylvain V said...

> that has some uninstallable bloatware

... unless your phone is rooted, and this app will remove the crap: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.jumobile.manager.systemapp

Steve Healy said...

I know I'm a bit late on this, but if it's available (and you haven't heard terrible things about it in your area) Metro has been pretty good for me (in Florida, mind you).

I started with Straight Talk but found its renewal process to be so bad that it wasn't worth it. Sometimes I'd call and get connected to the renew automated service, sometimes hung up on. Sometimes the renew service would understand my spoken words, other times it wouldn't even register keypresses correctly. And god forbid you try to use the website. Somebody definitely had a kid who claimed to know HTML make that site. Half the time the renew page doesn't exist/doesn't load, other times it loads a blank page, other times it loads your account page and clicking the renew link sends you to the main page. You get the idea. Maybe it's changed since then, but I doubt it.

Metro has been great with good coverage and no real problems I can complain about. I don't use it often but the one thing I can mention is that you get a 5GB/month (I think it's 5GB) allotment at the 4G/LTE speed and then it kicks you down to 2G. Not a big deal for infrequent users.

cbloom said...

Yeah the Straight Talk support and web site is awful.

Bleh I hate my smart phone. It just doesn't solve the problems that I want solved in a phone at all.

Oh well.

old rants