The wonder of the free market of smartphones

1.5 billion smartphones are manufactured every year and they come from a 1000 different brands of phones. You would think that it would be easy to find a phone that fits my needs with so many options. Everyone keeps telling me that Capitalism gives me choice, so I’m ready to enjoy the wonders of the free market. Let’s be good consumers and go shopping for my new phone.

Here are my criteria for a new phone:
1. The phone must have a removable battery, so that I can replace it after two years when it can no longer hold a decent charge. My previous phone lasted me 4 years, and I would like to match that same longevity again. Unfortunately, that requirement cuts out 90% of all current phone models and every high end model introduced in 2017. See: https://www.productchart.com/smartphones/sets/3

2. The phone must have an external memory card slot, since I don’t want to throw it away once the internal memory fills up. That cuts out phones from Apple, Google and OnePlus, plus high-end Xiaomi models. You couldn’t pay me to use Apple’s iPhone or Google’s Pixel, but OnePlus phones do look nice, except for their planned obsolescence.

3. The phone maker must have a policy of allowing users to unlock the bootloader, since I want to be able to install my own operating system that doesn’t collect my personal information and send it to some company’s database. I hate sharing all my data with Google, and I hate using an operating system whose raison d’etre is to spy on me. Maybe some people like giving Google their data for targeted advertising which allows the company to earn $22 billion from Android every year, but I don’t.

Besides I happen to believe in free and open source software, so I don’t want all that proprietary garbage and spyware installed on my phone by Google and the phone manufacturer. Only phones from Motorola, HTC and Google’s discontinued Nexus line allow the user to unlock the bootloader. Of course, there are cracks to unlock the bootloader in some models, but I don’t want to support companies that make a policy of not respecting user freedom.

4. The phone must run Lineage OS, which is the open source core of Android without Google’s spyware and a some handy modifications. It is maintained by a passionate community of volunteers, rather than a company driven by the profit motive. There are only a couple dozen new models that work perfectly with Lineage OS, but many other models work to some degree with a few problems and missing features. Most phones that don’t have a Qualcomm Snapdragon or a recent Samsung Exynos processor are automatically eliminated, so no phones with processors designed by Huawei, MediaTek, Spreadtrum or Apple.

5. It must have a decent camera.

6. It must have a decent processor, so a Snapdragon 625 or better or a similar Exynos processor.

7. It must be relatively sturdy, so it can’t have a back panel made of glass like the iPhone X or the HTC U11; nor can it have a screen that isn’t protected by a bezel, so no Samsung Galaxy Edge. I don’t buy phones to make a fashion statement.

8. It must have a 5.5 inch or larger screen, since I use my phone to read the news while I’m on the bus.

9. At least 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage.

Is it possible to find a single current phone model which meet all these criteria? No.

OK, let’s get rid of the requirement that the manufacturer must have a policy of allowing users to unlock the bootloader. If I can find a crack, I can get around the manufacturer’s asinine policy of not letting me choose my own operating system. Any phones? Nope.

OK, Let’s get rid of the requirement that it needs to have a processor that is at least a Snapdragon 625 or better. Any phones?

Wow, I found one–the Samsung On8 with an Exynos 7580 Octa processor, which is roughly equivalent to the Snapdragon 617. The processor has 8 Cortex-A53 cores, which are optimized for low power, but their performance is also low. Usually these cores are paired with Cortex-A73 cores which have better performance, but the 7580 only has low performance cores and its graphics processor isn’t that great either. Honestly, I’m not that particular and I can live with a processor which isn’t that fast since the only time I will really notice it is when I’m trying to scroll through large PDFs. The camera isn’t great, but it is acceptable for my undiscerning eye. It doesn’t have fast charging or USB Type-C, but I can live without those conveniences. Lineage OS can be installed, but VoLTE doesn’t work and the camera doesn’t work in certain conditions. The camera not working reliably is the last straw for me. No, I can’t live with the Galaxy On8, so let’s keep looking.

OK, let’s get rid of the requirement that the phone be a current model. Any past phone models I can use?

Hooray! I found a couple of good ones: LG V10, LG V20, LG G5 and Samsung Galaxy Note 4.

There is not a single phone from HTC or Motorola, which are the two companies that I want to support for allowing users to unlock the bootloader, so I can’t reward them for respecting my freedom. Oh well, let’s forget about using my buying power to make a statement.

The Galaxy Note 4 is ancient and Lineage OS causes its camera to randomly crash and its microphone doesn’t work in headphones. Let’s scratch that one off the list.

The LG G5 is good, but the V20 is far better and it is very rugged so it won’t easily break. The reviews say that it feels like carrying around a brick, but I can live with that. Hey, it costs a third of the price of the new iPhone X. OK, let’s buy it!

Too bad I can’t buy the V20 where I live. Oh well, I will have to wait 10 months till my next trip to the US to get it.

Please, tell me again about the wonders of Capitalism. Please lecture me about all the benefits of the free market and how it is the perfect system that responds to the consumer’s desires and gives us so many choices in life.

What I see is an industry where every phone manufacturer is incentivized to produce phones based on planned obsolescence and restricting user freedom. In the name of generating profits, the software is designed to spy on us and collect our data in order to colonize our minds with advertising that convinces us that we can only be happy in life if we consume more and more.

Of course, little brother (Google) has all this data about us which he then shares with big brother (the NSA), so we have to fear that we are always being watched. Of course, we tell ourselves that it doesn’t really matter if the government knows everything about us, but we still have to wonder from time to time whether it is safe to exercise our political right to dissent. We still have to worry that maybe we should not express too loudly our disgust with the current system. It is safer to keep hidden our distant hope that we might see one day see this callous system overthrown.

Gee, why can’t I just be one of the mindless sheep that just wants the latest shiny gizmo from that fruit company? Why don’t my consumptive desires lead me to a techno wonder from a company whose logo comes in a splash of oblong blue or an infinitely large number? Clearly, my desire to not throw away my communication device every 2 years and consume again and again must place me beyond the pale of normal society. Clearly, I must be some kind of deviant if I don’t want to be spied on and my data monetized. Clearly, there must be no demand in the market for a device that I control, rather than one that controls me.

Clearly, I need to be reeducated, because I’m not buying any of the wonderful devices that all those Capitalist companies want to sell me.

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