Another decade of phones
tl;dr: All black slaps with some increasing numbers, broken promises and hopefully my final phone.
This is the second A decade of phones I write, but last time I still called them cell phones. What prompted that post was the arrival of my then brand new LG Optimus 2x, my first Android phone, which had an absolutely glorious weather widget.
When I read through that three page post, what obviously stands out most is how different all those devices look. Yes, they’re all more or less rectangular and much bigger then their respective screens, but some are bend, some are compact, some are blue and all have different hardware keyboards.
I like it for having a Linux kernel, a big screen, a 3.5 mm earphone jack, convenient volume buttons, a slick design and because I can greatly expand its usefulness by installing apps.
The above sentence is from the aforementioned last post in this series and pretty much conveys my feelings when I first encountered Android, back in 2011. Since then, screens and phones have only become bigger. I still own the LG, and I would love to have a small phone like that again. My current phone, a Fairphone 4, has a huge screen, no earphone jack and certainly no slick design. It does have convenient volume buttons though. These days, I have a fairly minimalist approach when it comes to expanding the phone’s usefulness with apps but it’s a given that without a fair number of them one runs the risk of getting marginalized, and as long as my kids don’t own phones, so do they. My oldest son’s hockey club has a dedicated app and two mandatory WhatsApp channels. His music group uses a Signal channel. I recently removed all the socials from my phone and only use those services on my PC now, but banking is really inconvenient without a banking app and there’s simply no way to use a car share service without the app provided.
Another thing I liked about the Optimus, was the fact that it sported a Linux kernel, which hinted at an open source future. Sadly, that was a promise that was not delivered on. When I bought the Optimus, Google had already bought the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) and has since 2012 slowly but steadily been moving functionality from AOSP into its own Play framework. Note the Android Market app in the Optimus, but the Play Store in the Google Nexus 4 below. While AOSP is still open source, Google Play most certainly is not.
Below are the phones that were designed, created for and then shipped to me, for which valuable minerals, rare earth metals and other resources were mined and lots of CO2 was expanded into the air and the oceans since I bought the first successor of the Optimus in 2013:
Google Nexus 4
The Nexus 4 was also made by LG, hit the market in 2012 with Android 4.2, had a quad-core Qualcom Snapdragon S4-pro SOC with 2GB RAM, an 8 Mp rear camera and a 1.3 Mp front camera. It could charge wirelessly but I don’t remember ever having done that.
I do distinctly remember going into one of those phone shops in the Kalverstraat in Amsterdam with my then girlfriend to shop for a phone for her, when one of the employees’ eyes popped out of their sockets when he spotted my Nexus phone. “Is that the new Nexus?” he Gollumly inquired. He made me awkwardly proud by asking if he could hold it for just a moment, upon which his colleague, the one who had been helping my girlfriend selecting a phone, forgot what he was doing to start hovering near my phone as well.
The phone was quite decent, if I remember, even though the glass back made it too slippery. It wasn’t too big yet and it was noticeably faster than the LG. However, it couldn’t be connected to a PC over USB, which annoyed me. One of the hardware touch-buttons below the screen had disappeared since the LG, but at least they were still below the screen.
The Fairphone 2 (2015) was my first dual sim phone, another very useful function I didn’t recognize at the time. It was modular and the back was made of transparent plastic that could easily be taken off. It came with Android 5 then and when they stopped producing them in 2018 that had become Android 10, a feat that is all but unheard-of even today. It had a quad-core Snapdragon 801 SOC at 2.26Ghz with 2GB RAM. The back camera did 12Mp and the front camera was also a step up from the Nexus with a 5Mp sensor.
I remember a colleague owning one of these and telling me he had expected me to own one as well, based on my ideas about fair trade and sustainability. I don’t remember if the Nexus was ready to be replaced then, but I did buy one and didn’t like it. It was really unstable. I remember the TomTom navigation app crashing consistently at a specific point on the motorway just outside my city.
One thing it had going for it was that it too slipped from my hands but didn’t have scratch. I sold it to someone in Germany within a year. It wouldn’t be my last Fairphone, though.
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