Smartphones

I’m in the market for a new smartphone. Sorta.

I originally bought a Google Nexus 4 about two years ago because it represented a convenient (and relatively inexpensive) consolidation of devices – I was carrying around both an iPod Touch and basically a flip phone, and wanted to have a camera again. Win-win-win, right?

And it was. Until Android update 5.0.

I don’t know what the hell happened in 5.0, but ever since then, my Nexus will randomly shut off. As in, total shutdown without warning, regardless having a full charge and/or having no apps running. In the past eight months or so, this has caused me to be late to work four times, as the alarms on my phone would not go off. Around the internet, the issue seems to be called “Black Screen (of Death)” and is otherwise a known issue. Unfortunately, none of the “solutions” I have found have worked.

Even more frustrating however, is how my Nexus will sometimes go weeks and weeks working fine, but then start acting up again for no reason. If the phone did this constantly, that’d be one thing. But it precisely because it works fine 98% of the time that it achieves maximum anguish.

Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.
–Friedrich Nietzsche

I don’t want drop a ton of money on a brand new smartphone when I have one that works… most of the time. But if I get a similarly cheap replacement, how will I know the same thing won’t just happen again? And besides, this almost feels like one of those “expensive is cheaper in the long run” situations; a used, clunker car costs less upfront, but more over time.

In any case, I’m open to suggestions, and not just with specific models, but review sites too. My criteria is that it has to fit in my pocket (no phablets), have GSM capability, and ideally have at least the same specs as a Nexus 4 of two years ago while being sub-$300. Having a MicroSD would be gravy.

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Posted on November 3, 2015, in Miscellany and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. I had the same experience with Android. I went from an HTC Desire to a Samsung Galaxy S4 and finally an ASUS Zenfone 2 and they suffered from what I call “Android Bullshit”. The bullshit being randomly getting hot, randomly draining my battery in as little as an hour, randomly locking up and needing a hard reboot.

    I got tired of it. Android reminds me of early Windows systems, it runs great if you throw a ton of hardware resources at it but on anything less than a flagship phone it runs like shit and gets worse over time.

    My suggestion would be prioritize what you want from a phone and see which platform fits your needs. Each one has their strengths. Android is incredibly customizable and has 99% of all apps, but you sacrifice battery life and stability. iPhone is incredibly stable, every app under the sun is available but they’re expensive, and you do things Apple’s way, no customizing. Windows phone is inexpensive, has great battery life but it’s very stripped down and is pretty lacking in apps.

    Personally I use a Window Phone. My priorities were calls, text and battery. I need to be reachable and not worry about my battery. My phone goes two days without needing a charge while all of my Android friends carry battery packs or have to plug in everywhere they go.

    An iPhone would be my second choice because it’s also quite reliable though the battery life is not as good but I couldn’t justify $900 for a new iPhone, that’s insane in my mind.

    TL;DR … make a “top 5” of what you want out of a phone and use that to narrow down your choices. And remember, it’s a phone not a lifestyle.

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  2. Seems like a software problem to me. And software can be fixed. There are many ways to do that.

    I have Sony Xperia Acro S, which the manufacturer updated to Android 4.1.2 years ago. I wanted to get something better so I turned to firmware compiled by other people. Android 5.1.1 now. Works smoothly. And rather fast.

    If you follow instructions to the letter, no problems are likely to occur. Besides, AFAIK Google Nexus 4 represents a product in the line of products, which are supposed to get the latest firmware like Android 6.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nexus_4#Software
    In November 2014, the Nexus 4 received an Android 5.0 “Lollipop” update followed by an update to Android 5.1 in April 2015, and an update to Android 5.1.1 in May 2015.

    If you are still on Android 5.0, try flashing to up-to-date versions first?

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  3. The Nexus line is always the best bang for your buck. Google sells good hardware for no profit and sometimes at a slight loss. The Nexus is their flagship and usually receives the best updates. Android also typically runs more stable on it than with the other vendors who pile crap on top of it.

    All that said Android in general is kind of a mess. If you want stability you would do a whole lot better with an iPhone. Apple has a whole lot more experience writing system software, their developer tools are more mature and they have a much smaller set of hardware they are targeting.

    Apple’s philosophy on things is also typically more of an “opt in” as opposed to an “opt out”. Something like running location services in the background will be a prompt to the user. Contrast that to Android where you likely have to download some other app that blocks background activity from certain apps.

    Apple devices are typically solid for 3-4 generations after which they start experiencing slowdown. It usually becomes a good idea to not download system updates after that and if you don’t they can last longer.

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    • Apple’s philosophy on things is also typically more of an “opt in” as opposed to an “opt out”. Something like running location services in the background will be a prompt to the user. Contrast that to Android where you likely have to download some other app that blocks background activity from certain apps.

      I refrained from putting a lot of apps on my phone till I got 6.0, which fixed that pretty well. It’s one more reason I won’t go back to anything pre-6.0. Now if I just had the microSD slot to take advantage of the new memory formatting I’d be a really happy camper.

      Apple devices are typically solid for 3-4 generations after which they start experiencing slowdown. It usually becomes a good idea to not download system updates after that and if you don’t they can last longer.

      9.0 has been much better, bricking few phones and actually reducing the OS footprint, so anymore it’s probably more than worth it. It’s probably going to be one of the last updates for anything older than a 5S.

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  4. Sub $300 is hard, these things seem to be built for planned obsolescence. If you did want to go more expensive, you might be able to buy it with a no interest loan. Carriers are offering them so as to not have to subsidize the phone cost. I used one, 25 a month for 30 months or something like this.

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    • To me, it’s not really about the money – I can straight-up buy these phones without impacting my budget. The issue is the question of what $500+ (either immediately or spread out across 2 years) buys me. When it’s working, my Nexus has everything I need sans MicroSD slot. Reliability is clearly worth something, but does it really cost an extra $300? I have my doubts.

      …but I’d also like a phone that’s actually going to work.

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  5. The Motorola Moto G is looking to be a good phone, in your price range. If I was absolutely sure they were going to support it deep into Android 6.0 territory, it’d be a go-to phone, but they have a bad habit of promising support and not following through. It does have the microSD slot, has a 5″ screen, decent battery size, some waterproofing features, customizable cosmetic features, and no bloatware. I’d say the biggest issue is that it’s not guaranteed to get those updates ( I will never go back to a pre-6.0 Android phone) and how much you trust Lenovo after what they did came to light last year and early this year. Definitely go with the 16GB version ($220) if you do buy it, simply for the extra ram.

    Another good phone is the OnePlusX. Similar size, but a better processor, more ram and solid specs, but it’s a OnePlus phone, so getting one can be a huge pain in the ass. Good deal at $250 if you can get it though.

    The Nexus 5X and the HTC A9 would both be good phones, but are outside your price range by about $100, and an iPhone 5S is even higher, while being 3 generations old now.

    Windows is putting out a new budget phone at about $140 in December that seems decent, but technically the specs are under the Nexus 4, and their two flagship models coming out are again higher than you are looking to spend.

    One thing to do as you are looking at phones that helped me a lot was to use GSMArena/PhoneArena to compare phone specs. It’s not 100%, but it does let you compare up to 3 phones at once.

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  6. I was also going to mention the OnePlusX. I read this piece from Wired the other day on my Facebook feed about it:
    http://www.wired.com/2015/10/oneplus-x/

    Since it’s not exactly emergent that you get a new phone, you probably have the time to screw around with trying to get one.

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  7. Hmmm when I read this kind of discussion I feel like I’m from another planet.

    I only bought a smartphone because I needed a camera which didn’t attract too much attention (don’t ask), so I settled for the cheapest Samsung I could get. Taking advantage of a time-limited offer (the kind you always find, weirdly), I think I ended up paying 70 or 80 euros. It’s some version of Android and it has a small screen, but it makes phone calls, takes pictures, sends texts, works fine as alarm and it goes something like ONE WEEK before needing a recharge (ok I admit I don’t use it much….). So if you’re not looking for a device to play games or do intensive internet navigation, this could be a good choice. I can dig up the model number if you want, I don’t remember it at all, but I still have the box, so I guess it’s written on it somewhere…..

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    • Before I actually had the Nexus for a while, I’d have agreed with you. However… I feel like I need Reddit (etc) on the go now. Although you may have a point about not necessarily needing something fast, with a bunch of RAM, etc. My phone makes calls, playing music, and is a browser pretty much exclusively. Other than Clash of Clans, I basically never run any apps.

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  8. Are you poor? You can’t get an iPhone.

    Aren’t poor? iPhone.

    Pretty simple.

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