Posted on Sat 23 January 2016

reflections on black mirrors

My first cellphone was insanely expensive: the phone was expensive, the airtime was expensive, and the voice quality was awful. It was large and heavy and needed to be plugged in about every other day, even if I had not used it. My workplace bought it and issued it for me and I was stupid enough to accept it as a 24/7 leash.

My second cellphone was probably insanely expensive, but work paid for all of it and I never even saw the bills. The voice quality was OK and it still wanted to be recharged every day or two but it only weighed a few ounces, maybe five or six, and it fit in my pocket instead of demanding a bag on my belt. On average I probably used it once a week.

There are a succession of phones in the late 1990s that I really do not recall clearly. Candybars, flips, CDMA, GSM, all moderately expensive but deemed worthwhile business expenses.

Then I got my first smartphone: a Handspring Treo 600. This was a PalmOS PDA that could also make phone calls and very slowly run a web browser. The screen was in color, but only 160x160. Icons are larger than that these days. It turns out that this is technically large enough to be used as an ereader, although not comfortably.

Next was a Danger Sidekick 2, notable for having a transflective LCD screen that pivoted out of the body up above a surprisingly useful keyboard, the ability to glow a notification LCD in a dozen colors, and the first useful SSH client I had ever used on a handheld device. I hear the Deaf community loved it for the low cost data plan, great keyboard and excellent multi-channel AIM chat client.

Naturally, Danger was purchased by Microsoft and burnt to the ground.

It seems possible to me that I reversed the order of the Treo and the Sidekick.

We now enter the era of the black mirror devices, starting with the original Motorola Droid, an upgradeable, unlocked Android device with a slide-out keyboard, 256MB of RAM, a micro SD slot, and enough battery power to get through most days. I decided I liked Android quite a lot. All my subsequent phones have been Android. Now, pay attention: at this point, Google had not introduced the Nexus program, and the Droid was effectively a Google-supported flagship.

I held on to the Droid until there was a clearly improved successor: the Google (Samsung) Galaxy Nexus. 720P AMOLED screen, overclockable TI ARM processor, and an astounding 1GB of RAM. All of those features were great for the time, and are in fact still pretty good. The fatal flaw of the Galaxy Nexus was battery life. Even with the extra-cost high capacity battery, underclocked/undervolted CPU and the brightness dimmed, 4 hours of screen-on time was the best that could be hoped for in a day.

My most recent phone is an LG G2, brother to the Nexus 5. The G2 had the best available battery life: I occasionally got 9 hours of screen-on time, and usually picked it up at 6:30AM and put it back down at 10:30PM with a good 30% remaining. CPU was fine, screen was adequate (1080P LCD, large and crisp) and I was very much satisfied with it… until about a week ago, when the touchscreen digitizer started to break down. I got more than two years out of it, but not by much.

It is now time for me to think about a new phone. I had hoped to put off the necessity until the springtime, when the Snapdragon 820 CPU would be available in a bunch of phones, but I cannot wait that long.

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