On Phones

Updated 2020-01-24 / Created 2018-06-01 / 737 words

My (probably unpopular in general but... actually likely fairly popular amongst this site's intended audience) opinions on smartphones today.
  • Why notches? WHY? Just because Apple used them doesn't mean every single manufacturer needs to start making their screens have ugly black bits on them.
  • Really, why Apple at all? They sell uncustomisable and locked-down stuff at higher and higher prices with fewer and fewer nice-to-haves (e.g. headphone jacks) each year. And the vendor lock-in (Lightning headphones, iVersionsOfMostOtherSoftware) is also bad.
  • It would be nice to not have battery life ruined to get slightly slimmer phones.
  • The complete lack of updates after a year or so is annoying. Custom ROMs kind of fix this but many aren't available (or even aren't possible due to locked bootloaders) on many devices[1]. This is probably just planned obsolecence.
  • Most of the stuff manufacturers preload (their own UI skinning, apps) is just useless bloat. Especially the preloaded, unremovable, probably-spying-on-you Facebook apps which are annoyingly common.
  • The lack of SD card slots is, again, probably just planned obsolecence.
  • Proper physical QWERTY keyboards would be nice, though as they're such a niche feature that's probably never going to happen except on a few phones.
  • The screens don't need to get bigger. People's hands aren't growing every year. And they don't need more pixels to drain increasingly large amounts of power.
  • Removable batteries should come back. When I initially wrote this in 2017 or so, they were pretty common, but now barely any new devices let you swap the battery, despite lithium-ion batteries degrading within a few years of heavy use. I know you can't economically do highly modular design in a phone, but this is not a complex, technically difficult or expensive thing to want.

It's now the future (2023) and things have actually improved slightly in some ways but generally remained about the same:

  • Notches mostly gave way to punch-hole cutouts for cameras, which are somewhat more tolerable.
  • Manufacturers have started offering longer software service lifespans, and Project Treble has had the convenient effect of making it possible to run GSIs on all new devices. While I think this means you don't get updates to vendor firmware components, you can at least get OS-level security updates[2].
  • Battery technology has incrementally improved over the years and SoCs are getting made on better processes with better core designs. This has, of course, been mostly cancelled out by dumber software or something[3], but you can get a few devices with really good battery capabilities.
  • Headphone jacks and micro-SD card slots remain mostly gone, but it turns out that wireless headphones are good now and flash is cheap enough that most phones ship with lots of storage anyway.
  • A few highly niche products with physical keyboards still exist. Unfortunately, they're bad in every area aside from having the keyboards so I don't have one[4].
  • Displays are still unreasonably large on most products I guess. At least they can make them much brighter and unnecessarily high-resolution.
  • Everyone wants high-refresh-rate displays now. I am told that once you get used to them you can't go back, so I'm avoiding them in order to be able to keep using cheaper display tech.
  • We have 5G now, which allows me to use up my entire data plan in mere minutes (assuming the theoretical maximum link rate is achieved, which will never actually happen). I've heard that it's simpler and neater internally, but I don't trust telecoms people to ever get this right.
  • Foldable phones are cool but I dislike, both aesthetically and for reasons of durability, compromising the solid-brick-of-microelectronics nature of modern phones with (large) mechanical parts, and don't really get the usecase.

  1. Also, they don't fix the firmware, which probably has horrible security problems in it. ↩︎

  2. Assuming Android doesn't drop compatibility with something the vendor code does. I think it actually does that quite a lot. I do not agree with most of Android's design decisions. ↩︎

  3. It's funny and sad to read old phone reviews which praise the performance of devices running single low-IPC cores at 1GHz or so. ↩︎

  4. The most practical right now, inasmuch as BlackBerry/TCL haven't released anything relevant in years, is the Unihertz Titan (Pocket). It has some cool features aside from the keyboard, but it also has awful cameras, an undersized-by-my-current-standards battery, a bad LCD display, and a MediaTek SoC (according to legend, they're worse at GPL compliance so custom ROMs are lacking). ↩︎