Olli Thomson
Photography

Finding a Phone

Mobile phones are useful gadgets, but I find the world of mobile phone fandom a strange and disturbing place. I ended up in this world because my three year old phone was beginning to struggle with the ever evolving world of apps and I decided I had no option but to buy a new one. What struck me most as I scanned review and news sites was just how bizarrely designed these things are.

I wanted a relatively compact phone that would fit neatly in a pocket and could be operated one handed, but in Android world (and increasingly in Apple world) compact is hard to come by. The standard size seems to be 5.5″ — too big for my medium sized western hands to manage comfortably one handed. So I either use two hands or risk dropping the thing. That these phones are also designed to be skinny just adds to the problem.

Then there’s the materials most phones are made from — large areas of glass and, increasingly, aluminium. These materials have two things in common. First, they are slippery (presumably aluminium does not need to be though most phone makers seem to prefer shiny to functional). Second, they are rigid. So, being slippery and shiny increases the likelihood of dropping them, and being rigid increases the likelihood that when I do drop one of these phones it is going to sustain serious damage.

This latter problem is compounded by the obsession with ‘bezel-less’ phones with glass surfaces extending to the edges of the phone. No doubt these, now more vulnerable, finely shaped screens are even more expensive to replace when they do crack.

So we have a gadget that’s too big to be used one handed, to thin to be securely gripped, made from materials that are too shiny and slippery, and are too rigid to offer any protection when dropped. Yet people are still willing to pay $700 and more for them.

It’s not just me. There is clearly a huge after market in mobile phone cases, so there are obviously plenty of other people with the same concerns. These people take their big, thin, shiny, metal and glass phones and encase them in chunky leather, plastic or silicon cases. While it doesn’t help with the size, it does remedy, to some extent, all of the other design flaws in mobile phones.

The other thing that surprised me was just how difficult it was to find useful information. I don’t particularly care about the screen to body ratio, nor am I interested in how many frames per second the camera can shoot, but, as someone who travels a lot, I do care about how many LTE bands are supported, something that most manufacturers and retailers seem to treat as a state secret.

In the end I managed to acquire a phone that meets my requirements, one of only three that did so. It’s small (4.6″), quite chunky, made of plastic, works everywhere in the world and has huge bezels. Perfect.

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