Monday 28th September 2020 03.23 Published by

So, I’m gonna do a couple of reviews here today—one planned for a while, and the other somewhat literally thrust upon me. And they’re not entirely unrelated, I suppose: one kinda led to the other, after a fashion.

Let’s start with the phone.

Or…let’s start earlier….

As a member of GenerationX, I’m pretty much immune to advertising. Like, adverts annoy me to the point that seeing one for something I already want can actually talk me out of wanting it anymore. I am in fact a little extreme within my generation: in 1987, I got talked into going to a Def Leppard concert by a buncha people who listened to the entirety of Hysteria in the car on the way there; by the time the damned show got started, I was ahead of my time in being sick of Joe Elliott. Advertising is a war of attrition, and I tend to win by ignoring the whole ideology.

Then, we plummet into Current Year. And, apart from everything arguably more important, a couple of things happened: my phone, which I’ve repaired and replaced and made concessions and excuses for since Twenty Somethingteen, became more and more irrevocably useless to me; and Alphagoogle, or whatever they’re called now, started spamming me from all corners of the ‘net with implorations beseeching me to buy the latest renamed Nexus6 smartphone. As what they thought was an incentive, they bragged that it was only three hundred and fifty bucks.

Still being a little uncommon within my generation, I don’t usually see cheap prices for things as more of a feature than a bug. If I want something [in defiance of any adverts begging me to stop doing that], then money is no object: if I can’t afford something I want, I can work out how to start affording it or stop wanting it; lowering the price to fix the problem seems sickeningly charitable to me.

And yet, here’s Goophabeta throwing all this manipulation at me about a new phone—the Pixel 4A—which is reportedly a newer, better, cheaper version of the Pixel 4, which was presumably a newer, better, pricier version of the Pixel 3, which probably followed a Pixel 2 that was newer than a Pixel, which—again—must have replaced the Nexus6 at some point.

All of which is to say that I didn’t really know anything about the history of this phone and its branded lineage. What I knew about it, now, early in September, was that it was basically a dollar a day for a year, ran on an octocore chipset, and pretty much necessarily worked better than my moribund LG MurderPhone.

And also that I could buy it today—today being about three weeks ago—and receive it in maybe the first week of October. Because the supply underperformed the demand, and there weren’t any actually available when I deigned to respond to a damned advert.

On that topic, I couldn’t just get one through TMobile; I couldn’t even get one by giving in and returning to Verizon. The only place I could get one at all [and this may still be true] was through DoNoEvil, Inc.

So I did. And then I waited.

A few days ago, they gave the thing to FedEx. Which, in my experience, means that they may have thrown it into an active volcano. But then, yesterdayish [Saturday, at this point], FedEx managed to get me my phone without forgetting to not eat it; and here we are.

Box is boxxy.

Doing anything really resembling an unboxing proved difficult, since the first shot I got of this thing was on my old phone; so was the second shot:

It was unbranded enough that it couldn’t even guess whether I really had a carrier.

And then I was done getting shots of the thing, because the new SIM I’d got in the mail a few days ago from TMobile replaced the one remaining in my LG and knocked the MurderPhone offline.

About the SIM: That’s about all you can add or remove in the 4A. There’s no expansion slot for a MicroSD Card; the battery is irreplaceable in any useful sense. It’s not really a waterproofed phone, so far as I know; but, once it’s up and running, it’s a solid monolith of borderline fixability.

Meaning that all fixability is internal. Software updates. Which became immediately available:

The update took about half an hour to download and install and optimise on TMobile’s relatively disappointing 4G.

Maybe not immediately. I’d had enough time in Android10 to get the battery mostly charged and poke around the interface enough to get used to a couple of things that were about to change. In Ten, the missing AppDrawer was effected by swiping up from the southern bevel; in Eleven, the whole process got moved to swiping up pretty much anywhere on the homescreen, which is better—especially once you’ve buried the phone in a kickstand case to protect the slightly rubbery polycarbonate shell.

The plastic shell and GorillaGlass3 from 2013 were one of the common arguments against this phone—or one of the reasons cited for its inexpense. The whole device is light enough to get people thinking that Googlygoogle Cardboard might start sounding viable after all. Officially, the whole phone weighs 143g—about five ounces. In the kickstand case I’ve sealed around it, it’s still under half a pound. So that’s pretty different than the MurderPhone I’m replacing, with its massive extended battery pushing its weight up to a pound and a half.

Which leads to another difference:

I’m losing one percent of the battery per hour, unless I use the phone for the next nineteen

At this point, it’s pretty much my fault that I’m spoiled. While the phone I’m abandoning weighs as much as a Motorola DynaTAC, I’m still used to it holding at a hundred percent for the first twelve hours or so; seeing the 4A lose one percent per hour seems like a freefall, to me. For anyone else, running the phone unplugged for a total of twenty-four hours would sound pretty reasonable; but, about the time I need to recharge it tonight at 9.15, I might already be tired enough to contemplate sitting in bed until dawn on Tuesday while the thing charges up again.

One problem I don’t have—or, do, but it’s not what I’d call a problem—is that the cheapness of this phone becomes most obvious if you hope to charge it wirelessly. Personally, I’ve got a couple cats who’ll soccerdribble a phone as far as the charging cable allows; they’d have the thing off the charging platfom and onto the floor within seconds of people looking away. So, for all anyone else might want wireless charging, I have no practical use for it.

Also useless to me is the fingerprint scanner on the back. Apparently, that’s a reversion from facial recognition at a time when people are usually wearing surgical masks out in the world. I want neither: if I have my phone locked up at all, I’m fine with tapping in a PIN to get beyond the lockscreen.

My lockscreen, with a shot of Hunter from ten years ago, when she was wearing a surgical mask for reasons

The lockscreen itself is a bit novel, in that it can be always on—there’s a sorta lowpower clock mode thing telling me what time it is, and temperature, and any recent alerts, before I turn the phone on to see the time and temperature and, really, whatever else is already on my smartwatch. But, if it doesn’t hurt the battery—freefalling or not—to have the information available at a buttonless glance, then I’m good with it.

The camera’s good, as phonecams go. Apparently, what money did go into a phone costing a week of working for minimum wage [that’s twelve bucks an hour, where I live] was to keep most of the elements from the cameras in earlier Pixels. So, out of the box, the camera’s decent; then there’s a NightSight cameramode which I haven’t really managed to test much yet. Rumour has it that it’s really good at getting stars at night; but I live in Denver, where we can see upwards of one star—named Sol—during the day if the western half of the state burning down isn’t producing too much smoke at the moment. I played with video a bit, mostly to test image stabilisation and colour saturation and whatever; otherwise, Hunter’s been getting random shots of the cats while the lights are off….

Hey, El: wanna go drag phones around all night…?’

‘No point, Morti: it’s not wireless charging.’

The cats’ll be okay: they keep dragging entire pillows out the bedroom door and into the corridor beyond.

By default—and I’ve left it this way for now—the 4A lacks any softkeys along the bottom of the screen. Instead, swiping up opens the AppTray; swiping sideways from the edges goes back, though the kickstand case gets in the way a little; swiping down exposes recent alerts and things like WiFi and the flashlight thingy. That sideswiping goes back from either side is good, since swiping right to left with the phone in my left hand only works some of the time. And the softkeys can be added back in if I want them; I just don’t care that much either way.

The one really weird thing about that is that, without the softkeys, there’s no way I’ve found to cascade whatever apps are currently running in the background, and then shut them down. If I’m concerned enough, I can track down individual apps and force them to stop; but, at this point, I have several dozen things opened but never officially closed, and it’s not hurting performance at all. So it’s not really a problem until it is.

Things I’ve got that I haven’t yet used include the physical headphone port, endangered species though that is. So, if I’ve got headphones that aren’t my wireless LG Tones, or I wanna patchcable the phone into the stereo in the car, or whatever, then I should be able to do that. So, whether it’s all a bug or a feature in a phone costing my Monthly Starbucks Budget, this thing has a few retro elements that I’d say should never have gone away.

In any case, I’ve been playing with this thing for a large percentage of thirty-six hours now. I’ve never killed the battery down as low as it was when I took the phone out of the box—sixtysomething percent, I think. The screen being close to six inches at 2.167:1 makes it a little smaller overall than I’m used to, meaning that it still fits in a pocket; and the selfie camera I don’t much want is drilled through the corner of the screen in a slightly distracting spot—though, since it’s significantly wider than 16:9, stuff streamed from is a bit blackbarred already.

2.167:1 is somewhere between Jaws and Jurassic Park—which is itself a really good way of describing this whole phone.

And that’s pretty much the whole thing. It’s a phone that I don’t really regret buying, which replaced one I was regretting using; it’s got the advantage of costing too little to come prebloated with whatever branding and undeletable apps no one ever asked for—it doesn’t even remind me that TMobile is a thing in a startup animation. There’s no MicroSD to dump bloat onto, but it’s got 128gigs of space out of the box, and I was able to clone my MurderPhone over in a matter of minutes with a few dozen gigs of space to spare. The included USBC Cable is only a couple metres long, and getting more cables for this thing means making sure I dodge anything proprietised for Samsung or whatever; but it charges quickly and apparently lasts the entirety of a calendar day through common use.

Which brings me to my secondary review.

Because I got this phone. Got it all charged up and updated and full of little activities. I and LastPass and Chrome and whatever got through the thousand passwords to get into websites and games and whatever. And then I played with the phone until I got tiredish, at which point I kept playing with it. Until I finally passed out for an hour before waking up to go take a leak.

And then I came back and stepped up onto the waterbed as a shortcut; and the new sheets we just got slid perfectly out from under me, letting me fall what amounts to four and a half feet and smash my entire ribcage against the marginally padded wooden waterbed frame. There was some cracking. And, now, a dozen hours later, I’m still not doing too well at actually breathing without triggering an intercostal holocaust.

I’ll be okay. It should stop hurting fulltime by the end of the month; I can’t imagine it won’t be healed by Halloween. But here’s my strongly worded secondary review: Gravity Sucks.

Have a webcomic:

More later….

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