Ghosts of Christmas Past: Finding Your Future Device
Everyone has fond memories of their first device: the joy of the first purchase: the awe of the first boot, exploring the features you were promised, and finding those that were not mentioned. It’s a wonderful journey, and we all loved ours. The feeling of getting a new device and being elated with it is something we at the XDA office can relate to well.
But then, the honeymoon phase of the device starts waning. At first, you notice the odd stutter. That split second lag on pulling down the notification shade. You start noticing how unusually the battery behaves when it shouldn’t otherwise. You see the weird frame drop every now and then. You find that one combination of taps that makes a particular system app crash.
Slowly, little by little, piece by piece, your imagery of a perfect device gets tarnished by the air of reality. You snap out of limerence from your newest purchase and see that it regularly takes three seconds before a call is initiated. You start feeling the discomfort in your hands in holding a phone with dimensions you are not accustomed to, and realize that they are simply out of your comfort zone. “Hmmm, that’s a very bizarre positioning of the power button, I just can’t seem to hit it reliably, ever”, you wonder. You also have people pointing out things that you were oblivious to at first, like that dead pixel on the top corner. And now that they have pointed it out, that is the only thing you notice, all the freaking time. Over time, the issues keep mounting and mounting. You’re out of warranty, but still have almost a year before you can get a new phone. You bear the burdens as long as you can. Until one day, when you decide to take things into your own hands.
That’s how a lot of our stories begin over here at XDA Developers. We purchase phones after we were sold by the marketing of the company, only to realize that the other side of the coin was cleverly hidden. No sane company mentions the problems of their own products, but the customers are the one who ultimately have to live with the issues and limitations. As a gathering of like-minded individuals who all aim to get the best use of their device, XDA Developers fills in the void of long term support that we very rarely see OEMs provide.
My personal story on XDA started off back in 2011, after I finally joined the forums to reply to someone who had a question with the Samsung Galaxy Fit S5670. I was a lurker for around a month before that, as I accidentally stumbled onto a knowledge trove of Android while trying to troubleshoot some of my phone’s issues.
“Q: Guys, I wonder, can our Fit can play 720p videos?
A: Try QQPlayer from the market…though as said above, it will lag…but its worth giving a shot… ”
When I started off, I was a normal, typical XDA user that one would expect to find in 2011. The Android revolution had just started, and the smartphone goodies were starting to make their way to India. I started off with a phone gifted to me by my parents, a low-end Samsung Galaxy Fit S5670. The phone was marketed as an “in-between” phone between two popular devices: the Samsung Galaxy Mini S5570 below it and the Samsung Galaxy Ace S5830 above it. Samsung did not spend too much into promoting my device, but it invested a sizable chunk into advertising the other two. The Mini was among the first budget offerings of Samsung to release on Froyo and be promised an upgrade to Gingerbread, while the Ace featured a better processor and improved camera. The Fit kinda just hung in the middle, featuring the same processor as the Mini, but the improved camera from the Ace.
The problem with these offerings from Samsung were how they were advertised as coming with expandable storages. Analyzing the Android scene back in 2011 (the Galaxy S II was launched in that year) and the pricing strategy adopted by Samsung for these products, it was no surprise that a lot of people would be picking one of these three devices as their starting launchpad into the world of Android, and quite likely, the world of smartphones itself. These would be the people who would have very little idea about what worked how, much less have knowledge to look for the fine print about some of the more technical details of the device.
The Galaxy Fit S5670 came with a paltry 160MB of internal memory. Once you boot the device, the system clean swipes 30-40MB of that storage for various needs, leaving you with 120MB of storage. Then the apps on your phone, which came pre-installed on the system partition, receive updates via the Play Store (Android Market back then) and these updates land on your data partition. Depending on which apps you update, and the update to Android Market itself, one usually had only 60-70 MB of internal storage left for user applications! That was a very poor state to leave the consumer in after just unboxing the device.
Whilst you technically had “access to tens and thousands of Android apps and games via the Android Market and Samsung Store”, you could have at most 5-7 apps at any one point on your device. Games? Forget about those unless you wished to be haunted by the constant “out of storage” notification and never wanted to receive a new text message or save a new contact ever again. It was a constant struggle finding the right combination of features that you enjoyed with features you needed — too much of one, and you had to give up the other.
The one takeaway that I had from this experience was that I vowed to never get another device with such limitations on internal storage. Even if it meant not getting a new device at all, I simply would not have purchased another phone with poor internal storage. Going through those same issues all over again was something I did not wish upon myself, and when I did purchase a phone, I plopped in some more cash and went with the 64GB variant (which had over 54GB available for the user, if I recall correctly) over the 16GB variant (which had 12GB for the user, too less without sd card support).
The same scenario extended over to the RAM side of things. Understandably, the low end device that I started with had limitations with RAM right off the bat (280 MB RAM on TouchWiz, you get the point), these only worsened as Gingerbread evolved and Ice Cream Sandwich came into the picture. Apps started getting richer, while TouchWiz on the device stagnated. Coupled with the non-existent future proofing on the actual RAM capacity, the experience was one that you would wish upon your enemies.
Not everything was negative with my first phone experience. I went for the Galaxy Fit on the notion that an improved camera will help get me better pictures. And the camera did perform well, getting some shots which would have been hampered if it was of inferior quality. But, after assessing my usage, I realized that I simply did not use the camera to the extent that justified my choice. I could have easily went with the Galaxy Mini with its inferior camera and not regretted it. In the process, I would have enjoyed better developer support (by sheer quantity, as the Mini was wildly popular) and saved some cash as well. This “non-experience” shaped my future device: it did not matter if the camera was second in class, I could live with that without regrets.
What started off as a means to fix issues evolved into a means of setting my device apart from the rest
Perhaps the most important takeaway from my first phone experience was my need for root. The Galaxy Fit was an innocent choice when it came to Android modding and beyond: I knew nothing about its existence, and at the time of purchase, I couldn’t care less about it. This reason had no influence on my purchase whatsoever. But the experiences that the first purchase led through escalated this on to one of my top current priorities.
Once I fell into the puddle of problems with the Galaxy Fit, all solutions to get out of it required root. Fixes to even the smallest of issues needed administrator privileges. The jump into the modding scene became inevitable: it had to be done sooner or later. The progression from root to custom ROMs and kernels came naturally, as the Galaxy Fit came with an unlocked bootloader out of the box. What started off as a means to fix issues evolved into a means of setting my device apart from the rest. And I haven’t grown out of it ever since.
“What mattered were things hidden in the fine print, things that were brushed up under the rug by the marketing”
The Desire S coincidentally, came through on all the above mentioned factors. Not only did the phone come with 1.1GB of internal storage (and expandable storage as well), it also featured 768MB of RAM. This was a device that launched in the same time frame as my previous device, but was miles ahead in the specifications owing to its mid-end nature at a time when the spec race was gaining momentum on Android. Granted, the device was a pain for root, but I inherited the device in an unlocked, rooted and ROM’ed up state. This thoroughly affirmed the need for root in my personal use flow.
The Desire S also gave me the freedom of trying on new things without giving up what I already had. I could try out various modifications for personal use, like Sweep2Wake for waking up my device and putting it back to sleep. This quickly became one of my favorite “features”, so much that I looked forward to having it across all custom ROM’s that I tried for the Desire S. The effortless light sweep across the capacitive buttons may seem trivial to many, but it was an immense improvement over physically pressing a button on the top of the phone. Then came other root apps like Titanium Backup, Tasker and Greenify. Combined, they allowed me to use the Desire S like it was a phone still competitive in 2014-15, making the best possible use of the hardware at/in hand. The existence of unofficial CyanogenMod 12.1/13 nightlies for the Desire S also helped.
The purpose of the long autobiography is not to recount the details of my life. It is to highlight how experiences in the past shape up your decisions in the future. Features and specifications that I thought were cool, like the good camera and the “latest” Android 2.3 were overshadowed by the experiences I had. Their inclusion was not justified by my usage, as their existence barely affected how well I could use the device. Instead, what mattered were things hidden in the fine print, things that were brushed up under the rug by the marketing mechanics of the company.
Now, when I did actually purchase a device, I looked for the best combination of these factors. What I was looking for was a comfortable amount of RAM and storage and the ease of root. These pretty much directed my stance towards the purchase, as functionality was now preferred over form. Things like the camera, the processor and the build materials come down in my priority list, as we are now at a point where most mid-end devices are good enough for daily tasks on these fronts. Thankfully, all of my current devices fall good on all three point as well
The next purchase, which will happen when it happens, will still have these three – RAM, storage, root – as priority points. Bonus points on the other specifications will what set devices apart in my shortlist, but to reach this shortlist, they will have to pass through the priority points with flying colors. As such, I look forward to the OnePlus 3 and the next Nexus.
What are your past purchase mistakes, which you vow to never make in the future? Which features are of utmost importance to you? What is the top feature you look for in a modern Android smartphone? Which device are you looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below!