Getting a new phone

So, I’m getting a new phone. Here’s an insight into my decision-making processes.

I have, repeatedly and irritatedly, complained that phones now are too big. My beloved Sony Xperia Z5 Compact is the right size for a phone, in my opinion. I always, always use my phone one-handed; I never ever hold in one hand and touch the screen with the other. It is a loss to me why this, which was the normal way of using a phone for years, has been reclassified as a thing that nobody wants any more, but c’est la vie, I suppose. Anyway, said beloved Z5C finally threw a seven the other day and decided that it wouldn’t do wifi any more. Or, more accurately, that it was fine doing wifi when within about two feet of the router, and not otherwise.

That’s not ideal, I thought.

I mean, it’s five years old. So I probably did OK out of it. And the battery life is shocking now. So I’ve been vaguely thinking about getting something new for a while. I’m not sure that the wifi thing is sensibly repairable, and I read a forum post about a chap who took his Z5C apart to replace the (not-user-replaceable) battery (a process which involves heating it up to break the glue behind the glass, and a bunch of other stuff that there’s no way I’d be able to do without breaking the phone and possibly burning down the building) and while doing so managed to snap a tiny bit of metal which then broke the wifi antenna and made it exhibit the problems I’m seeing. So that’s probably what happened; it got jolted or something. No chance of me fixing that; if I have to solder anything, I’ll screw it up. This is the universe telling me to get a new phone, I thought.

Consequently, it’s off to GSM Arena’s phone finder. I don’t actually have much in the way of requirements for a phone. My original list of needs was:

  • not too big (for what exactly qualifies as not too big, read on)
  • not too expensive (flagship phones are now a thousand pounds! even non-flagship ones are £500! I don’t have a monkey just lying around)
  • NFC (for Google Pay, which I use all the time)
  • a headphone jack (because wireless headphones are pointless and expensive and worse in every conceivable way other than “the cable doesn’t get tangled up”, and I don’t like them and don’t want to buy any)
  • made in the last couple of years, since if I’m spending money on a phone I want it to last a while; there’s not a lot of point replacing my 2015 Z5C with a phone of similar vintage
  • and I like pretty things. Design is important to me. Beauty, vitality, and openness are all important.

This is not much of a strenuous list of requirements, to be honest. Or so I thought. I did some searches, and quickly established that I’d have to get something bigger than the Z5C; there isn’t anything at all that size, these days. So I wandered into town with the intention of picking up some actual phones to get a sense of what was too big.

This was harder than it looks, because basically every phone shop now bolts all their phones to the table so they can’t be picked up. All you can do is jab at the screen like a bloody caveman. This is pretty goddamn annoying when the point of the test is to see what a phone feels like in the hand. The O2 shop had a bunch of plastic models of phones and even those had a massive thing glued on the back with a retracting wire cable in it, as if I’m going to steal a non-functional plastic box, O2, for god’s sake, stop treating your customers like criminals, this is almost as bad as hotels giving you those crap two-part hangers like I’m going to spend £150 on a night in the Premier Inn and then nick the hangers, what’s wrong with you… but it did at least let me establish that the absolute outside maximum size for a phone that I’m able to tolerate is the Samsung Galaxy S10e. Anything bigger than that is just too big; I can’t reach the top of the screen without using my other hand.

A search on gsmarena for phones less than 143mm in height, with NFC and 3.5mm jack, from 2018 onwards lists three phones. The S10e as mentioned, the Sony Xperia XA2, and the Sharp Aquos R2 Compact. Now, I quite like the look of the Aquos (despite all the reviews saying “it’s got two notches! not even the Nazis did that!”) but as far as I can tell it just was flat never made available in the UK at all; getting hold of one is hard. And the S10e, while it seems OK, is a Samsung (which I’m not fond of) and more importantly is £450. This left me looking at the Xperia XA2, which was a possibility — it’s sort of a grand-nephew of my Z5C. Reviews weren’t very encouraging, but I figured… this might be OK.

Andrew Hutchings pointed out on Twitter (because of course I was bitching about this whole situation on Twitter) that there are USB-to-headphone-jack adaptors. Now, I knew this — my daughter uses one to plug her headphones into her iPhone — but for some reason I hadn’t properly considered that option; I’d just assumed that no headphone jack = stupid wireless headphones. An adaptor wouldn’t be that big a deal; my headphones just get thrown in my coat pocket (I have cheapish in-ear headphones, not posh cans that go ove the ear and need a bag to carry them around in) and so I’d just leave the adaptor attached to them at all times. That wouldn’t be so bad.

Taking the headphone jack requirement away from the search added two more options (and a bunch of smartwatches, unhelpfully): the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact and the Nokia 8 Sirocco. I liked the sound of the Nokia, but… not for very good reasons. My favourite ever phone from an industrial design perspective was the Nokia N9, which I loved with a passion that was all-encompassing. I like the Nokia brand; it says classy and well-thought-out and well-integrated and thoughtful and elegant. And “Sirocco” is a cool name; I like things with names. I hate that phones are just called a code number, now. So “Sirocco” is much cooler than “S10e”. None of these are good reasons, particularly the ones that revolve around my nostalgia for the Nokia brand considering that it’s been bought by some other company now. And the Sirocco only got fairly average reviews.

Ah, but then I read the reviews. And all the things that reviewers didn’t like, I either didn’t care about or, more worryingly yet, I completely disagreed with. “As the phone has a 16:9 screen rather than the now more popular 18:9 (or even 19:9) style, it already seems dated” says techradar, for which you can just sod off. Why, why would I want a phone a foot long? That’s the opposite of what I want! So reviews that complain that it’s not tall enough (which was a lot of them) got discounted. Complaints that it’s using an older chipset than some of its contemporaries don’t bother me; it’s quite some newer than my current phone, after all. Apparently the camera isn’t perfect, about which I don’t care; it’s got a camera, so I’m good. And they all agreed on two things: it’s Android One, meaning that it’s stock Android and will get updates (which I like, since my Z5C is stuck on Android 7 (!)), and that it’s pretty. I like pretty.

The price tag was off-putting, though. £475 on Amazon. That’s rather too much; I’d have to save up for that, and as noted I have a phone with no wifi, so this problem needs solving sooner rather than later. I don’t mind second-hand, though, so I checked eBay and it was still £250 there, which is on the very utmost outer edge of what I can just drop on a purchase and I’d have to be really convinced of it. I don’t like buying things on the knock-knock, and I am in a 12-month can’t-leave SIM-only contract with Three, so the idea of getting an “upgrade” from my carrier was a no-no even if I wanted to, which I don’t (the SIM-only thing gives me unlimited texts and calls and 6GB of data per month for nine quid. Not forty nine. Nine. I don’t want to lose that).

And then I checked CeX. And CeX had it in stock, online, class A, for £175.

What? A hundred and seventy-five quid for a phone which elsewhere is nearly five hundred?

So I bought it. And now it’s not in stock online any more, so I assume I have the only one they had. This means you can’t do the same. Sorry about that.

It’s due to arrive early next week (which is the problem with buying on a Saturday). I’ll let you know how it goes. I’m rather looking forward to it.

I'm currently available for hire, to help you plan, architect, and build new systems, and for technical writing and articles. You can take a look at some projects I've worked on and some of my writing. If you'd like to talk about your upcoming project, do get in touch.

More in the discussion (powered by webmentions)

  • Paul Freeman responded at twitter.com that's where I've come from. logged into twitter to reply. cos RSS feeds still work :)
  • Paul Freeman responded at twitter.com what I'm not sure of is why the sirocco didn't come up in the nearl exact same search I did
  • Stuart Langridge responded at twitter.com ha!
  • Stuart Langridge responded at twitter.com interesting. Don't know -- now I'm worried that you ticked a box which says "has a working screen" or something and I forgot to tick it...
  • Dr. Roy Schestowitz (罗伊) responded at twitter.com Those are not phones. They are tracking devices and you're not likely to use them much as a phone, either. kryogenix.org/days/2020/02/1…
  • Yousuf Philips responded at twitter.com I was really considering getting a nokia, until i watched this video - youtube.com/watch?v=SzNztV…
  • Paul Freeman responded at twitter.com might well have been the height. I've just tried to reproduce and got just watches. I didn't get any watches before so maybe they've changed their se…
  • Stuart Langridge responded at twitter.com heh, weird. The watches thing certainly happened to me too :)
  • Stuart Langridge responded at twitter.com huh, that's interesting. Bit late now, but useful to know nonetheless! My Z5C is still on Android 7, so I've got used to not getting updates, although…
  • Yousuf Philips responded at twitter.com like you, i wanted a mobile that had a relatively small size, headphone jack, nfc, so i decided to go with one with a ~5" screen and ended up last yea…