The Right Device Isn’t Always the “Best” Device

20150417_162356The other day, I wrote that I felt the Nexus 6 was not the premium piece of hardware it has been billed as. I called it “chintzy,” citing issues with the camera, battery, and more than anything else, heat.
I have on a couple of occasions called the Galaxy Note 4 the best phone available (that I know of), due to its amazing display, powerful innards, removable battery, great battery life, expandable storage, excellent stylus, and almost unsurpassed camera.

And despite all this, I can’t bring myself to stick with the Note 4, and I’m instead – finally – ending my phone quest with the Nexus 6. What the hell is going on?

I should say that since my tantrum about the Nexus, I checked in with some smart folks on Google+, and generally got the sense that I wasn’t giving the phone enough time. And I have to say, they were right. Yes, it’s still warmer than I want it to be, and the battery isn’t as good as the Note’s, but the warmth is now tolerable, and the device is now becoming undeniably compelling to me again — which I suppose is why I keep coming back to try it again and again.

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the irrational feelings of affection one can have for a piece of technology. (It doesn’t have to be technology, of course. Humans feel affection for all sorts of inanimate objects, but for some reason I think there’s an alienation people feel when they think about affection for something like a smartphone as opposed to something like an old book or tchotchke of some kind.) I talked about how the actual capabilities of a given device do not necessarily translate to attachment. I was thinking of the Nexus vs. Note comparison, among other examples, when I wrote it, but it’s applied to all manner of device categories in my life, especially since I became a Mac user, when the question of raw utility versus “style” or “design” really came into focus for me for the first time.

IMG_20150417_162438I remember how I described my choice to move to the Mac from Windows to people back in 2004, when doing so was still kind of a weird, niche thing. I said that the 12″ Powerbook I’d settled on drew me to use it. I wanted to spend more time writing blog posts and recording music, and I therefore wanted a computer that would make me want to do those things more. I wanted my machine to feel inviting; not just a means to an end, but a joyful part of the experience. So despite the limitations I may have run into, I was delighted with my choice. I never looked back.

The Note 4 is an amazing piece of technology, a real milestone in function and power. But it is by no means inviting. It’s not unattractive. In fact it’s rather striking, a very serious-looking bit of power-user hardware. Almost sleek, but also business-like, like it belongs in a Fortune 500 board room. But I am not drawn to it, other than by my default to be drawn to the screen in my hand.

The Nexus 6, in contrast, is simply lovely, particularly the white one. Tastefully sloped and curved, it sits happily in my palm, with enough of a border around the screen for me to grip its bezels (which you can’t do on a Note because of its annoying capacitive buttons). It runs stock Lollipop unburdened by Samsung cruft, and does so more smoothly with far fewer instances of lag or stuttering. Its display is only 0.26 inches bigger than the Note’s, and yet somehow, because of that slight difference, it is much more immersive and, well, inviting. I am drawn to use it.

(Seriously, you’d be amazed what a difference that tiny difference in screen size makes. When I’m reading a book or a comic, doing so on the Note feels like reading off a very large phone, which is nice, while reading off the Nexus feels like reading, well, a book or a comic, which is fantastic. The feeling of “I’m staring at a phone” disappears and becomes “I’m reading a book.” To me that’s a tremendous value.)

I think that the feeling of being drawn to the Nexus 6 is part of what makes the heat issue so aggravating for me. It’s like the device is asking me to use it, a lot, but then gets tetchy and demands to be put down again. (One of the things recommended to me from my Google+ inquiries was that within a few days of use the heat becomes less of an issue, though I have no idea why this would be other than these Nexus 6 owners simply getting used to it, or some kind of confirmation bias, which might wind up being the case for me as well.) The Note gets warm as well, of course, though not quite as easily, but it doesn’t bother me in the same way. Perhaps this is because I feel generally more ambivalent about it as an object. I’m not attached to it, so it doesn’t affect me when it becomes less comfortable. It was never “comfortable” to begin with.

The Nexus 6 is a flawed device. A so-so camera, a so-so battery, and other quirks. I was all but ready to click the submit button on Swappa to sell it in order to forego those flaws in favor of the superior-on-paper phone. But I couldn’t pull the trigger. One phone may be better in terms of what it technically offers, but the other seems to just suit me. It’s time to find a buyer for the Note.

The Nexus 6 feels like, for better and worse, my device. The Note 4 feels like I’m borrowing someone else’s, someone who is nothing like me. I think I will expend less energy and anxiety if I just accept all of this, and finally, finally, begin to obsess over something else.

Not headphones, though.

Update, May 27: You know, the Nexus 6’s heat was manageable for a time, and then the summer weather started kicking in. Now it feels like it’s always freshly out of the microwave no matter what I’m doing. So much for the right device! Maybe I should have stuck with my first true love.


I’m thinking a lot lately about what draws a person to a particular device. As you might know, I’ve been trying a gazillion different different phones, in some possibly futile attempt to settle into the “perfect” device, or in other words, the thing I’ll stick with for about a year as opposed to a month or so.
Not too long ago, I was convinced that, despite its drawbacks, the Nexus 5 was my one true love. But I was convinced I needed something with better specs. After a few million switcheroos, I landed on a Galaxy Note 4. It’s by many accounts the Best Phone Available, but it’s nonetheless failed to win my heart in the same way the by-all-measures inferior Nexus 5 did. But why?

Think about that brand new MacBook, the one I know I can’t make use of due to its single port and low-end processor. It’s not winning on points, but by the looks of it, it’s going to hook folks on an emotional level.

A couple years ago, I was trying to decide between the 15-inch MacBook Pro (pre-Retina) and the 11-inch MacBook Air. These computers could not have been more different, and based on the idea that the 15 was “better,” I agonizingly went with that. But I was pulled, oh was I pulled to the 11. I mean, it was just so damned adorable. I returned the 15 and went with the 11, and I was delighted. It was capable of less, its screen was scrunched and wee, and yet I had a palpable emotional attachment to it. I hugged it! I’m certain the SSD was a huge factor there, but it was also just something about its size and, well, cuteness.

The same happened when I first switched to Macs with my first 12-inch Powerbook in 2004. I could have gotten yet another Windows laptop for far less money and with more power or screen real estate, but the Powerbook wooed me with something intangible. I was drawn to it all the time that I owned it. I think the iPod halo effect had something to do with it, because I had a similarly fluttery heart for my 3-button 2003 iPod. Obviously the iPod brought me the wondrous ability to carry my music collection everywhere in a svelte little cigarette-pack-size object (that glowed!), but I think it was more than that.

All things are not equal here. Often there is more value and utility to be gotten out of one device that doesn’t tug at one’s heart strings than the one that does. I’m typing this on a 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina, and it’s definitely the right machine for the work I do. But I don’t feel much for it other than satisfaction from its usefulness.

The 2013 Moto G was on some flash sale at Best Buy for $25 today. It’s Verizon-only, and I don’t have Verizon, but I grabbed one anyway. It seems, I dunno, cute.


This we know to be true: I have something of an unhealthy enthusiasm for gadgets, currently focused on smartphones. (Sometimes it’s tablets, though not now, sometimes headphones, and it goes on.) When I find the one I like, it becomes a rather precious thing to me.
Remember when I was without a mobile device for a whole day a couple months ago? I didn’t do well.

A few days ago, a tripped while attending to a whining child at the breakfast table, at which point my Galaxy Note 4 flew from my hand, and though it was in a very good case, landed screen-first onto the rim of a cereal bowl. Though the bowl had some milk in it, there appeared to be no liquid damage (time may tell otherwise). But, alas, there was a chip in the glass of the screen.

A tiny, tiny, wee chip.

My wife couldn’t even see it herself without help from me to point it out.

But I couldn’t bear it. The phone was very expensive, and I’d sold three other devices to afford it: my previous phone, an iPad and a Kindle. I’d only had it a few weeks. I kept it in a chunky Speck case to minimize any chance of accidental damage.

But I never liked screen protectors. I may be changing my position on them.

So there was that chip. That tiny, tiny chip. Not a scratch, mind you, not a thin line, but a small piece of the glass, now gone. A tiny, tiny piece that many would probably not even notice.

But I noticed. Always noticed. My eyes were always drawn to it. I see you there, distorting and discoloring the underlying pixels into a rainbow of pain. I see you there.

So I’ve sent the phone away to be repaired. (All the local repair places only do iPhones. All of them!)

Because I need some kind of phone for work and keeping in touch with my wife throughout the day, I was able to borrow an old, abandoned iPhone 4S from my wife’s uncle. The WiFi on it doesn’t work, but whatever.

Photo on 3-9-15 at 3.18 PMAnd it’s so small. When I had my own 4S back in 2011, I adored it. It was my favorite device ever. When the iPhone 5 came out, I thought it was a little too big.

Times have changed. The 4S now seems comically miniscule. It’s like a Fisher-Price phone. It’s small enough to be my Apple Watch that actually does useful things. And since the WiFi doesn’t work on it anyway, I’m using it as little as possible, only when necessary.

So without a tablet, without an e-reader, and without a phone I get any pleasure from using, I’m experiencing what I have to admit is a kind of withdrawal. I’m refreshing status update pages obsessively. I’m bemoaning my state on Twitter ad nauseam. I’m twitching.

How long will this take? According to FedEx, as of this writing, my phone hasn’t even yet arrived at its place of repair. Then days for it to be evaluated and fixed. That’s assuming they have the parts they need. It could be days for them to order and then recieve the parts. Then a couple more days to be shipped back.

All this for a tiny, tiny chip in the glass.

I don’t know if I’ll make it.

I’m told they once printed books on paper, bound into a kind of codex. I may explore that as a stop-gap.

I should say that my 5-year-old son, unbidden, and based solely on his perceiving my disquiet, offered me the use of his Fire HD 6 tablet “whenever you want.” He’s such an angel.