Android phone musings and my switch to the OnePlus 3T

December 31st, 2016 | Categories: Android | Tags:

A personal Android history

My first Android phone was the HTC Hero which I wrote about all the way back in 2009. It was very different to anything I’d had before and I liked it a lot. I even compared it to 1980s supercomputers in an article that subsequently got slashdotted. Android has changed a lot since then and I’ve kept up with most of the changes although I quickly switched to Samsung after the Hero. I started off with the Galaxy S1 but upgraded to the Galaxy S2 relatively quickly when the S1 died.  The S2 was a nice phone. I remember I liked that one a lot.

I then switched to the Galaxy Note series of phones and was regularly mocked by my friends for owning such a HUGE phone; If I had a pound for every time someone referenced a particular Trigger Happy TV sketch I’d be a rich man!  The large screen was perfect for keeping me entertained on the regular train commute between Sheffield and Manchester that I endured at the time. The Note 1 gave way to the Note 2 followed by the  Note 3 — I upgraded fairly regularly back then.

Things are different now

For the first time since starting out with Android, I didn’t feel compelled to upgrade when the next version of my phone came out. The Note 4 passed me by and the next time I noticed a phone in the series was when my boss got the ill-fated Note 7.

Perhaps I’m just getting old but the truth is that my phone usage has stabilised around a few core applications — none of which require anything too fancy. Although I use my phone heavily, I don’t do anything that pushes its capabilities. Reading (Kindle, Guardian, Browser), Video (iPlayer, Netflix, YouTube), Audio (Music, DoggCatcher, Audible) and social media (Gmail and Twitter) are probably my most used apps. Other than that, it’s predominantly utility-type stuff such as Calendar, Camera, Maps, Coursera, Calculator and so on.  A slew of things I fire up occasionally such as Fitbit and Shazam and that’s pretty much it.

In the early days of Android, I used to play a lot of games but no longer do so. This is primarily due to a lack of time but also because most mobile games simply aren’t fun anymore. The industry switch to the Fremium model has changed game dynamics in a way that I don’t find palatable.

The Note 3 wasn’t just good enough for my usage pattern, it was better than I needed it to be! I’m perfectly happy with the HD screen resolution of my 32inch TV so having the same resolution on a 5(ish) inch phone feels like decadent luxury. There’s an awesome stylus I never use, more CPU horse power than I need and a ton of sensors that I don’t have time to play with.

I don’t need to upgrade my phone anymore

As a Research Software Engineer I find that whatever computer I have is not quite good enough. I could always do with more cores, a faster clock speed, better GPU or more memory (No burning desire for dongles or a touch bar though!).  Phones are different. They got good enough for me years ago.

Breaking out of the phone upgrade treadmill is great: I can reduce my contract down to almost nothing and put the money saved from handset upgrades to something more important like financial independence.

So, when I lost my Note 3 and found myself back in the mobile phone market earlier this year, I was gutted!

My Big Android Mistake – The Samsung Galaxy S5 Neo

The logic went like this:

  • The Note 3 was good enough but I never used the stylus and modern galaxy note phones cost a fortune. They also explode!
  • All I need to do is find a phone that matches the Note 3 performance.
  • I can probably do that by getting a mid range phone these days — saving me money.
  • I’ll stick to Samsung since they’ve served me well so far.

I reminded myself of the Note 3 benchmarks and discovered that the S5 Neo had slightly better performance. This review told me that the S5 Neo had an AnTuTu Benchmark result of 37,854. When I ran this on my trusty Note 3, the score was 35,637.

The reviews for the S5 neo were reasonably good, it was several hundred pounds cheaper than flagships such as the Note 7 or the Galaxy edge and performance was on-par with my Note 3. So I got it.

Big Mistake! Huge!

Without a shadow of a doubt, the S5 Neo was the worst phone I’ve ever owned and I’ve been around! I’ve had Windows Mobile phones you understand…not the modern Windows Phone that no one uses but Ye-Olde Windows Mobile that was around when the iPhone was a twinkle in Steve Job’s eye.

It did this thing where I’d turn it on and before I could finish typing my 4 digit pin, it would switch itself off again. Bear in mind that I am not slow at doing this! It would do this randomly so that at the point where I hit peak rage, someone would come over to see why I’m so upset only for it to work perfectly when I showed them.

Everything lagged like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Messages about checking the back cover popped up randomly, apps crashed all the time; it was a frustrating experience! When I mentioned these problems at work, one of the PhD students said ‘S5 Neo? Oh yeah, my mom has that….Worst. Phone. Ever.’

A geek friend suggested that I flash the phone with cyanogenmod but there wasn’t an s5 Neo version. Woes!

Oddly, it seems to be very much a Marmite phone. Some people love it while others have had the same experience as me. This forum shows the love/hate divide quite nicely.

An attempt at destruction

A few days ago, the S5 Neo managed to push all my buttons and, having lost my temper with it, I threw it hard onto the floor….something I’ve never done with a mobile phone before. Unfortunately, I was in the living room and the phone bounced off the carpet and back into my hand. My attempt at its destruction was futile!

The ‘check battery cover’ message popped up.

Damn thing was taunting me!


The OnePlus 3T – A New Hope

Having a mobile phone that drives you to acts of rage against the machine is ridiculous so I vowed to get rid of it that day. First step — find a new phone. A better phone. Ideally, one that didn’t break the bank.

I saw a review of the OnePlus 3T that looked great! A search through various forums and twitter suggested that this was a good, alternative choice. I couldn’t see a downside so I took the plunge. It cost around £450 pounds upfront and unlocked from 02 but they also gave me £55 for scrap value of the S5 Neo.

Just over a week later, I can report that I am very happy so far. This appears to be the Android phone I’ve been looking for!

Review articles and benchmarks coming in the new year.

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