The Nexus 5X and 6P: The Dark Android Take
It’s that time of year again when companies are pushing their flagship phones on everyone, trying to convince them that they really, really need the newest polished block of sensors–more popularly known as “smartphones”–that Alphabet/Google, or Apple, or whatever company is schlepping. Frankly, I find the whole “upgrade cycle” to be ridiculous at best, and an insult to humanity at worst.
I’m reminded of a piece of advice I would give to a lot of people not so many years ago when they’d ask me about what new computer they should get. Facts are, most people just want to get on the internet and check social media and their email, and maybe play some Flash-based (*facepalm*) game, store some photos, maybe do some word processing, and play a song or two. The irony that I would tell these kinds of people (which, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with them) is that they could do just fine with a system that was running Windows 95 (!). It’s true. In fact, one of my favorite services–PortableApps.com–would let you run modern versions of software, and it was backwards compatible with Windows 95 for a long time. Windows 95 (Plus!, in particular) had web browsers and media players built-in, anyway, and Windows operating systems haven’t really innovated beyond those abilities since then (minus security upgrades and abilities).
Seriously, Windows 95 could do nearly everything a modern OS can do (unless you’re talking about hardcore gaming, but then all the rules change when you’re talking about that).
Bottom line, the “upgrade cycle” that people have literally bought into is a racket. A scam. I wouldn’t be surprised if the security flaws that need updates were left there on purpose just these companies had something to sell you. Computers and smartphones “go bad” over time, no doubt about it, but most of the time there’s nothing wrong with what you’re carrying, and you’re just feeling a need to “keep up with the Jones'”, not in actual need of an upgrade.
But, hey, who am I to talk? I’m just a tech journalist with an annoying sense of history that won’t leave me. So what I will talk about are the two new phones from Alphabet/Google that has so many jizzing in their pants like they just ate a bag of celery. And I’ll talk about how they fit within the Dark Android Project.
Here’s a breakdown of the specs to get those out of the way:
Nexus 5X (LG)Nexus 6P (Huawei)
What do these phones look like? Does it matter? They’re a plastic slab (the 6P is aluminum, actually) that comes in white, gold, or black, and that’s about it. There’s a picture of them at the top of this post if you’re really that curious to see them again. So the specs are good, the prices aren’t bad, and some of the forward-thinking aspects of them (like USB-C) are nice additions. One of the real advantages of Nexus devices from Alphabet/Google are that they get the latest versions of Android first, and they will get those updates for a good chunk of their potential life cycle. Also, Nexus devices are either already unlocked, or easily unlockable, and thus can be rooted pretty readily. This also means that the modding community (like CyanogenMod) support these devices quickly and do so for years. Those are some huge advantages to buying any Nexus device, whether it’s the 5X, the 6P, or the Nexus 7…whichever one you choose, you as the user will likely have a lot of control over what you can do with the device. Again, that’s a huge plus.
I do think both of these phones have at least four major flaws that, honestly, affect a lot of new phones when it comes to usability, security, and privacy.
First off, the battery. While both of these phones have respectable batteries by the numbers, the fact that they have these insane and worthless screen resolutions just makes it all pointless. In my opinion, no device (phone, tablet, or computer) needs a screen greater than 1080p. Once you get past that, I think you run into diminishing returns, particularly with battery life. And on a phone…c’mon, that kind of pixel density for such small screens? I’ve talked about this before on this blog–and on my tech show Sovryn Tech–and it’s frustrating as Hell. If these phones had 1080p screens and those batteries, you’d probably get three days out of them without needing a recharge. This is just unforgivable, in my opinion.
Second flaw is the inclusion of fingerprint readers. I recognize so many people love these things in mobile devices, but I think they are (and they’ve been proven to be) security disasters. Remember the whole “nipple unlock” trick? Or the Samsung fingerprint flaw? Or how you can be legally forced to give up your fingerprint by law enforcement (as to where a password or pin would be protected by US 5th Amendment rights)? Or the fact that these companies are creating huge fingerprint databases that used to only be collected if you were a criminal (but who isn’t these days, I guess)? It seems like most companies will be including fingerprint readers in their mobile devices from now on, which is unfortunate. As I understand it, yes, you can turn off the fingerprint reader, but why have one more potential security hole, and one more thing that jacks up the price on the device? Fingerprint readers are a waste.
Third flaw is the voice co-processor. This is an extra chip that allows Google Now and other voice-activated and voice-navigated services to always be available, regardless of the mode that the device is in. What that translates to in non-consumer speak is: Your phone is ALWAYS listening to you, whether you want it to or not. Technologies like this (or worse, the Amazon Echo) are a privacy nightmare and people will likely soon have no idea that at one time their devices never did this. But these dolts are so doe-eyed over unimpressive “voice assistance” by creepy sounding computer voices from Alphabet/Google and others that they just think they’re living in the future and so how could it be bad? Well, it is, and this ability isn’t necessary to do the things you normally do on your smartphone, anyway.
Fourth flaw (not to say there aren’t more), is the lack of inclusion of a MicroSD card slot and not having a removable battery (which makes a lot of the “openness” of Nexus devices a little extra difficult to take advantage of). While not having a removable battery has become commonplace and is almost moot to gripe about anymore, the lack of a MicroSD card is just stupid. Granted, no Nexus device in recent memory has had a MicroSD card slot, but it’s still a pain in the ass to not have one, and it’s really just part of Alphabet/Google’s plan to have you rely on their Cloud services more and more, in my opinion. I think the only flagship phone left that still has a removable battery and a MicroSD card slot is the LG G4 (a fine phone, and a much better pick than Alphabet/Google’s offerings out of the gate). But the lack of these two things is becoming so commonplace that it’s barely worth taking points off for it, but I found it important to mention.
In conclusion, both of these phones–in purely dunce-consumer terms–are well built, well-spec’d, and solid offerings. From a Dark Android perspective, however, they have the unforgivable flaws of a fingerprint reader and the voice co-processor. So I consider them a nonstarter, no buy, kaput. If you’re looking for a powerful phone that doesn’t have the aforementioned problems (it even has a 1080p screen, though it doesn’t have a removable battery), grab the ASUS Zenfone 2 phablet. I just picked one up recently and it’s an insanely powerful and capable device, just make sure you get the version with 4GB of RAM in it (can you believe that amount of RAM is in anything less than a laptop?) to get the full effect. And the Zenfone 2–which I’ve recommended on this site before–can be had for cheaper than both the Nexus 6P and the Nexus 5X.
I wish things were different on this. I had Samsung Galaxy Nexus that I used for years, and it was a great forward-thinking mobile device. I only stopped using it because the RAM in it just couldn’t handle the unnecessary memory-hogging effects of the newer versions of Android and its apps (which is exactly the same situation between Windows 95 and its successors, things were unnecessarily made hardware intensive). And I still recommend the ASUS-built Nexus 7 as the #1 Dark Android device. But anything else to come out of the Nexus line as late like the 6P and the 5X…I wouldn’t recommend them.