The Search for a New Phone

So it’s time to find a new phone. Autumn, my trusty old Nexus 4, has served me well, but it’s been acting up lately and the battery life is dismal.

nexus 4

Actually, that’s my second trusty Nexus 4. This is my first trusty Nexus 4.

nexus 4 broken
This is what happens when you chase after pretty girls and your pockets are too loose to hold your phone properly.

Yep. Those are some pretty nasty cracks. It was so bad that the screen stopped responding to touch input effectively rendering the phone useless. I take good care of my phones, but let’s face it: they go with us everywhere. They’re bound to get into trouble now and again.

I still think the way it happened was stupid though. I was running to catch up with some people on a walk and the phone flew out of my apparently shallow pants pocket. That incident prompted me to get a nice, big case which remains on my current phone to this day.

Unfortunately, smartphones just aren’t made to last regardless of how nice you keep them. Battery technology being what it is, they lose capacity over time. It’s a racket, I tell ya. If they made user-replaceable batteries then this wouldn’t be nearly as much of an issue, but the manufacturers want us to all buy new phones every two years (or less!)

I picture somewhere on earth a pile of old cellphones. Every day there’s a giant dump truck that brings a fresh new load of them. It’s kind of awful.

Finding a new phone is tricky for me. I’m one of those unlocked phone hippies. No contract for me, man. I pay $30 a month for service on my terms. That’s it. $30. Just me. That price isn’t my part of a family plan or “framily” plan or whatever. It’s my individual plan. That part rules.

The downside is that I have to buy unlocked, full-priced phones. And phones are expensive. If you’ve always been on the traditional 2-year contract before then you might not have seen this. You probably think a new iPhone costs $200 or $300, but that’s because carriers subsidize the purchase.

Basically, the cost of your phone is hidden in the fee you pay for service. With an unlocked model, you pay a bunch of money for the phone upfront and then you can pay less for the service over time. It comes out to being cheaper for some people. Plus it’s nice to be able to change carriers whenever you like without fear of cancellation fees.

But like I said, phones are expensive unlocked. For example, the iPhone 6 unlocked costs $650 – and that’s for the absurdly low-storage 16GB model. Other “flagship” phones are fairly pricey as well. We’re talking upwards of $500 – usually more.

I had an iPhone back in the days when iPhone 4 was the new kid on the block. It was a really great phone, but it died the death that all iOS products do. New versions came out and slowed down the device until it was insufferable. Again, they want you to buy a new one every other year.

I thought I’d maybe jump back on the iPhone bandwagon. I borrowed my sister’s 5S for about five minutes just to see how I liked using the latest iOS.

I just couldn’t do it.

Where was the back button? Where was the app-switching button? Why does this dumb phone still have a physical home button taking up space?

Congratulations, Google. You’ve made me dependent on the way Android works. I guess I can’t go back. I’m too used to Android.

Ah, but there’s another problem. I’m used to a particular flavor of Android – Stock Android.

See, most manufacturers like to make their own custom version of the operating system. That’s a fine idea in theory, but in practice… well, there’s a reason these companies are hardware manufacturers. Software is best left to software companies.

There are only a handful of phones running stock Android. Google’s sanctioned line of Nexus of phones has always done that. That’s why I got the Nexus 4 to begin with. I thought I’d just get the latest Nexus model, but then last fall Google announced the Nexus 6, an utter monstrosity of a phone. It’s phablet big and I don’t think I want that. It’s also a lot more expensive than previous Nexus phones.

So having been cast out of the Nexus family into the cold, uncertain world beyond, I’ve been bouncing between a couple different phones that have caught my eye.

Initially I was intrigued by the Moto X. It was relatively inexpensive unlocked and it came with pretty-much-but-not-quite stock Android. So I got one.

moto x broken
This phone is less obviously broken than my Nexus 4. It refused to turn on and acted like it wasn’t charging properly. The body is still perfectly intact. The screen protector it came with from the factory is still on it.

It was an okay phone… for about a month. Then it just decided to die on me and I ran back into the arms of my Nexus 4 where I’ve been ever since.

The field of contenders is tricky to navigate. There’s a big con to just about all of them and no clear winner.

The OnePlus One is inexpensive and has good hardware, but it’s the first device ever from that manufacturer and is reportedly buggy in ways most phones aren’t. I don’t fancy being a beta tester for them.

The Moto X (2nd Generation) apparently suffers from a lousy camera and doesn’t have great battery life. Plus I had the bad experience with the first generation Moto X as noted above.

The HTC One M8 seems like a solid phone all-around but it’s pricey and the software is plagued by HTC’s Sense UI running over the top of Android. I’ve seen this in operation on friends’ phones and I don’t care for it.

HTC and Samsung just announced new flagship phones but they won’t be out for a month or so and there’s no pricing info yet.

I usually don’t agonize over decisions too much, but I am cognizant that whatever purchase I make will be my daily pocket computer for the next two years or more. First world problems, right? What a crazy society we live in.

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