The Inevitable

My humblest apologies for the lateness of this post. Sadly, my beloved smartphone passed away last night, and I’m in the throes of grief. Ah, Nexus 5X, we hardly knew you.

Well, okay, considering that I’d had the phone since April of 2016, I’d say I knew it pretty darn well. So did you all, for that matter, since 99% of the photos I post are taken with my phone. And I wasn’t spending (much) time weeping and wailing; I was trying to revive it.

The fatal disease in this case is the so-called “boot loop,” in which the device gets partway through booting, then starts over or shuts down–mine fell into the latter group. It’s a known hardware problem with the 5X. Apparently some component unsolders itself from its circuit board. And in retrospect, I probably should have seen this coming. The phone has been having increasing difficulty connecting to Wi-Fi for the past few months–which some websites suggest is a related issue–and the constant attempts to reconnect raise the phone’s temperature, which hastens the major component failure.

I have to give kudos to both Google and LG (the actual makers of the phone) for their handling of the situation. The Project Fi customer service representative had me do one simple test to confirm the problem, then told me that LG had extended warranty coverage to all devices that fail this way, so there would be no cost for a repair, not even shipping.

He then conferenced in an LG customer service representative and introduced us before dropping off the call. She was equally polite and efficient, confirming that the repair would be done under warranty and would take about two weeks. It took her longer to get my address into the computer than everything else combined*.

* To be fair, the address problem was not the rep’s fault, nor, really, was it LG’s. Blame the US Post Service. My zip code is shared between two cities. Companies that auto-populate the city based on the zip code using the official USPS database always get it wrong, and usually have to fight to override the default.

I’m currently waiting for LG to email me the FedEx shipping label; that should come today, I was told, but may take a little longer than usual because of the address override. Fine. What’s a day or so in a two-week process?

Because, really, two weeks without a phone? Inconceivable!

The Google rep suggested that if I have an old phone, I could temporarily activate it with Fi, but I’m not sure that’s feasible, since my previous phone was with Sprint, which didn’t use SIMs at the time. But I’ll try, because why not?

But I’m not counting on it working, so I’ve ordered a new phone. Yeah, I know. Bad timing: Google is widely expected to introduce the Pixel 3 series in October. But let’s face it, about 95% of my phone time is either listening to baseball games, sending email, or taking pictures of cats. And the Pixel 2 camera are still widely regarded as among the best phone cameras available. It’ll be a major upgrade over the 5X camera, certainly. And spreading the payments across two years makes it more or less affordable.

In the worst case scenario, if the Pixel 3 series renders the 2 series totally obsolete, well, I’ve got a phone that’s a major step up for what I do. By the time it’s paid off, I can trade it in for a Pixel 5 (which obsoleted the Pixel 4 that made the Pixel 3 look like trash).

If you believe Google’s estimate, the new phone could arrive as soon as tomorrow or as late as Monday. Four days is a hell of a lot easier to face than two weeks. With a bit of luck, next Friday’s cat post will feature photos taken with the new phone.

So why am I getting the phone repaired if I’m buying a new one? That Google rep again. He pointed out that the trade-in value of a working 5X is almost double that of a dead one and that I’ve got thirty days–four weeks, twice as long as the repair should require–to send in the old phone. Logical and helpful. Thank you, Google Support Guy!

Or, heck, I may keep it around as an emergency backup. Maggie has a 5X, after all. It probably won’t drop dead–it seems to be from a newer production run which may not have the same unsoldering issue–but keeping the old phone would provide a little peace of mind.

Rest in peace, Nexus 5X, secure in the knowledge that your resurrection is pending.


Have you noticed how much better the Friday cat pictures have looked in the past couple of months? No, I haven’t magically improved my photographic skills.

It’s been said that a bad workman blames his tools. Does that mean that a good workman gives the credit to his? Well, regardless of whether it makes me a good workman or not, I give my tools full credit for the improvement.

In mid-April, I got a new cell phone. The logic went something like this: “I’m paying for a metric buttload of data that I never use. I’m out of contract. Can I move to a new plan?”

To make a long story short, not really.

I was paying Sprint $90 a month for unlimited data, but both their tools and my phone showed I was using less than half a gigabyte. They do offer a one-gig package for $20/month, but that’s on top of a $45/month “access charge” (i.e. basic connectivity, voice service, and anything else that isn’t “data”.) The website wasn’t totally clear, but I was pretty sure I’d have to get a new phone as well in installments. Add another $15-20. Gosh, I might save a whole ten bucks a month. Whoopie.

Other carriers were similar. I was about to trash the idea when I heard that Project Fi was offering a one-gig plan for $30/month–including access, voice, and everything else. Not bad at all. But who the heck is Project Fi?

Project Fi is Google.

No, Google isn’t stringing lines and building cell towers. Instead, they lease service from multiple carriers–as of this writing, Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular. The phone automatically switches from one carrier to another, using whichever one has the strongest signal. And, to keep their costs down, the phones will aggressively switch to Wi-Fi. Yes, including doing voice over Wi-Fi.

Even better: if you don’t use your full gigabyte, the unused bandwidth is credited against your next month’s bill. (Data is $10/gig, so if you only use half a gig, you get a five dollar credit; if you use 1.5 gigs, you pay $40–but get that same five bucks back the next month.)

I had to buy a new phone–which brings us back to where this post started; more on that in a moment–but Google is keeping the price of their Nexus phones down. That’s the potential catch: the only phones you can use with Project Fi are the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P. If you’ve got to have a keyboard, iOS, or Samsung’s stylus optimizations, you’re out of luck. On the other hand, since Google is the carrier, there’s no nonsense about getting carrier approval for OS upgrades, including the monthly security updates. That’s not to be sneered at.

I went with the 5X, and since I knew I would be taking lots of cat pictures, I went with the 32GB model. Total price including tax, shipping, and all, $270.16. (You can buy the phone over 24 months, if you prefer time payments. That would have been a bit under $11/month.)

Financially, the move is working out well. I’ve paid for three months of service so far at a total cost of $87.09–less than one month’s payment to Sprint. That means I’ve saved enough to cover two-thirds of the cost of the phone. Even with the trip to Sedalia, which kept me away from my home Wi-Fi, I still used less than half a gigabyte–between the hotel’s wireless and the occasional public network, the phone was able to keep most of its activity off cellular.

Clearly, if I was a heavy data user, streaming music and video around the clock, Project Fi wouldn’t be as good a deal–but at $10/gigabyte, the break-even point may not be as high as one might think.

As for the phone, I’m very happy with it. As I implied, the pictures are much better than what my old Nexus 5 could do. Not so much because the resolution is higher, but because the low-light performance is significantly better. The white balance is greatly improved–I’m not seeing the orange tint that mars many of the pre-April cat pictures.

And yes, it’s better in its non-camera functionality too. The screen is brighter and seems sharper–though it is the same resolution and roughly the same size as the old one, so that may be a function of the difference in the screens’ ages. Calls are clearer–the speakerphone is about the same, but voices are less muddy when not on speaker.

The big difference, though, is the fingerprint reader. It’s…interesting. When it works, it’s great. I pick up the phone, my finger falls naturally on the sensor, and the phone unlocks before my other hand gets into screen-tapping range. However. Around a quarter of the time, the phone insists that I unlock it with my PIN, “For extra security.” It’s not just me–there’s speculation online that it happens after too many failed attempts to read a fingerprint; attempts that are triggered by the back of the phone bumping against the inside of a pocket or holster. I’m inclined to believe the speculation: I’ve had fewer “extra security” requests since I put the phone in a case. That keeps the fingerprint reader a little further away from the wall of the case. Perhaps Android N will make the reader a bit less sensitive. That would be a change I could support.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my phone and I need to go hunting. We need some pictures for tomorrow’s post.