My smartphones

Similar to the post about my computers, I decided to share all the phones I owned with remarks on their pros and cons.

1998-2002: Motorola T2288

My first phone was a Motorola T2288. It was big, bulky, didn’t have vibration and I hated it with a passion. Nothing fancy, just voice calls and SMSes. The year was probably 1998.

I vividly remember how much I wished I had a Nokia 3310 instead. I’m not kidding. It was small, cute, didn’t have an external antenna and had the snake game!

2002: Siemens C55

This was the first phone I bought myself and I loved it! Internal antenna, GPRS and a lot of advanced technology inside it at the time: camera, WAP (not web) browser, MMS, Bluetooth, Java (yay)! I even wrote a pretty big blog post back then discussing its internals. The most amazing feature was that it supported J2ME/MIDP applications. This was the first glance of a handheld computer that could run different applications back then. Remember those JAD/JAR files? Anyone? Here is an example of a Google Talks app for C55. 🙂 That’s probably what excited me to steer towards Android development a decade later.

In 2003 or so I wrote a long and very detailed article how to make a DIY data cable (powered by two AA batteries) and how to patch Siemens C55’s firmware. It was quite successful and we formed a good community around this phone back then, unlocking many hidden features.

2006: Sony Ericsson K618i

I loved this phone! It was the first with a colorful display, even better support for J2ME apps and it could play MP3s! Of course I modded it heavily back in the day and turned it into a Walkman series phone!

Opera Mini was actually working and simple web browsing was possible!

2008: HTC Prophet, Windows Mobile 5.0-6.5

Two years after it was released, I bought an HTC Prophet/Qtek S200 with Windows Mobile 5.0. This was my first real smartphone. Having Windows CE in my palm was something I would have never imagined. It was Windows! It had a registry! It was a miracle. It felt so advanced! I could download real programs and run them. I was in heaven!

Back in the day Opera Mobile/Mini was the best web browser on such devices. I loved it!

This phone was very unstable though. The battery life was not very good and the UI used to hang or crash sometimes. Having voice calls was sometimes a challenge. I heavily modded it and I upgraded Windows Mobile several times to 6.0.x and 6.5.x. I also remember hacking on it the HTC Manila interface.

The hardware was clearly under-powered. The slow OMAP 850 200 MHz CPU wasn’t up to the task. Stability-wise the phone was a disappointment.

This was the phone that got me really excited about the future of mobile devices. I didn’t like Windows Mobile and the need to use a stylus. It wasn’t user friendly at all. It was time to try something else.

2010: Nokia 5800, Symbian OS 9.4 S60 5th edition

This phone was rock solid. Symbian wasn’t as sophisticated as Windows Mobile, but it was rock stable, the battery life was way better and MP3 playback was superb. It was the first phone I had that had a working Garmin GPS navigation and this was a revolution! Although a step back in some regards relative to Windows Mobile, it was a huge leap forward in terms of stability, usability and general day-to-day experience. It had the first real apps that actually worked and did something useful. I still lacked good calendar support, events and alarms support.

Opera Mobile was the browser king! And did I say that the battery life was awesome? 🙂

2012: Samsung Galaxy S2, Android 2.3 Gingerbread

This was the revolution. There was this new operating system Android that everyone was talking about. I couldn’t ignore it. It was super modern, had touch friendly interface (no more styluses) and had all the Google cool apps! I bought this phone, knowing that it will change my life. It did.

The apps were awesome. Symbian just couldn’t compete. The experience was so much better! The Play Store (Android Market back then) was an insanely cool idea! Google Maps worked great, although Garmin had better POI support in Bulgaria (which quickly changed). This is the first phone camera that actually took decent photos.

Of course I quickly rooted my phone and I began to understand how Android works under the hood. XDA Developers was my favorite web site and forum. I loved CyanogenMod and I engaged in countless custom ROMs and crazy modding. I was hooked.

Of course, I upgraded from Android 2.x to 4.x! Whoa! Ice Cream Sandwich, please! So much better! And so much worse at the same time. It was a bumpy road. At the end I ended up downgrading for stability reasons. Back then Android and various OEM drivers were… well… a work in progress to say the least.

The Exynos SoC was awful. The support was bad. The stability left something to be desired. The phone was terrible by today’s standards, but back then it felt like magic in my hands. The battery life sucked. Android back then sucked. The apps sucked, the stability was bad. But I had Gmail, Google Calendar, Maps, Docs and life was good.

I officially started to work on my first Android 2.x app somewhere in 2013 and I even migrated the app and the device I was working on to Android 4.x. Some things got better, some got worse.

HTC HD2

During this time I also bought HTC HD2, which was originally a Windows Mobile phone. I flashed it with Android and in some regards it worked even better than the Galaxy S2. Especially its audio output was stronger, sounded much better and for a couple of months I actually used it as my daily driver.

Hacking bootloaders, rooting Android and hacking various drivers from other ROMs became second nature. XDA Developers was again my favorite place to be.

2014: Samsung Galaxy S4, Android 4.2 Jelly Bean

TouchWiz UI. Solid feel. Large display with slim bezels. Excellent battery life. Awesome audio speaker! The upgrade was evident and Samsung did well in almost every possible regard.

This was my second Exynos SoC phone and I promised myself that it will be the last. It wasn’t very stable by my standards. I had issues with it. The most annoying problem was that the audio had clicks and pops both while recording and while playback. Some devices had it, some didn’t. I was unlucky.

The camera was so much better than the Galaxy S2 that I was stunned. The upgrade from Jelly Bean to 5.x Lollipop was mostly smooth. I never needed to downgrade as with the S2. The stability was much better, but not perfect. I engaged in custom ROMs as always and rooted the phone during the first week of ownership or so. It was fun. The phone was just okay, although not really good.

CyanogenMod releases weren’t very stable for this SoC and I had to use the stock ROMs as they at least mostly worked. Mostly.

At this point I became aware about PWM in device screens. My eyes turned out super sensitive, this screen used PWM, so I decided to change it. Being sick of Samsung Exynos related issues that were non-existent in their Snapdragon siblings and being tired of Samsung’s TouchWiz bloatware, I steered towards the most pristine Google Android experience – the Nexus!

2016: LG Nexus 5X, Android 6.0 Android Marshmallow

This was supposed to be the best phone I’ve ever owned! Straight from Google (well, from LG). Virgin Android. No bloatware. Image from Google, fast Android updates, good performance, great battery life. Right? Well, almost.

The battery life was worse than the Galaxy S4 from the start. Android itself had big issues back in those days. I was sick or wakelocks during the Galaxy S2 and S4 days and I thought with proper SoC drivers and no bloatware it would be better. But it wasn’t. Wakelocks all over the place. I often finished the day with an almost empty battery. The loudspeaker was worse. The camera was worse.

On the positive side, the audio playback quality was top notch and no pops and clicks from the S4. The screen didn’t use PWM and I could actually use it for hours without eye fatigue. Good! The overall software experience was also better compared to the S4.

But the hardware lacked. Near the end of its lifetime, the phone became super slow. Ultimately it turned out a famous hardware problem that wasn’t easily fixable. At least mine didn’t exhibit the other famous bug – bootloop. Many Nexus 5Xes entered a boot loop that constantly restarted the phone. It was a hardware problem again. The “solution” was to disable the big cores and leave the phone with the small ones.

After this experience, I decided to buy only flagship devices from now on. Subpar hardware just didn’t cut it for me.

Android updates came super fast and I tasted Android 6, 7 and 8 on this device. Sweet! I always rooted the phone, but I didn’t experiment with custom ROMs that much besides Lineage OS (formerly CyanogenMod).

At the end the device was painfully slow that I sold it and never looked back.

2016: Tablet: Samsung Galaxy Tab S2, Android 5.0.2 Lollipop

I wanted a tablet both as regular customer and as a developer. Unfortunately when I bought it, I still haven’t fully realized that I need a display without PWM and this one uses it. Deal breaker. My eyes immediately noticed it, but I kept it for one year just to see if this form factor is of any use.

It turned out that this is the perfect device for my kitchen for watching videos or reading while eating or cooking. Also on shorter trips I tend to take a tablet instead of laptop these days.

2017: Tablet: Google Pixel C, Android 8.1 Oreo

Finally! A tablet with no PWM! This was the last display in my home that was replaced with a PWM-less alternative. I installed Lineage OS 15.x (Oreo) and never cared to update it. I love this device for watching tutorials, YouTube, reading on my kitchen table and taking it on shorter trips instead of a computer. I have a foldable Bluetooth keyboard as well as bigger one when needed.

No real issues, I love it!

2018: Huawei P20, Android 8.1 Oreo

This was an experiment. I needed a flagship with great usability, thin bezels and no PWM. At the time only Huawei P20 ticked all the right boxes. I had no idea what to expect and jumped right in.

Whoa! What a great experience! Honestly, this was the best device I have ever owned by a wide margin. A very wide one. Almost flawless. And my standards are pretty high, mind that. Awesome loudspeaker, brutal camera(s), awesome battery life, great PWM-less display, thin bezels, performant SoC.

But probably the most important thing is how stable hardware and software-wise this device has always been. In those 2 years, I’ve probably restarted a couple of times. It restarted by itself once. It was never slow, jerky, or sluggish. It was the most rock-stable experience I’ve ever had with a smartphone. Ever!

I still enjoy this phone, but I changed its battery after two years as it has degraded.

The big fat negative is that its bootloader is locked. I can’t install custom ROMs. Some may say that this is the reason why it’s so stable, but it’s just false. All my previous phones had a lot of problems with their stock ROMs anyways. This one has none. Literally none.

I would root it only to disable ads, but I solved my problem by using the Brave browser and YouTube Vanced. Problem solved.

The other annoying problem is that Huawei by default kills apps in the background too aggressively and prevents core Android functionality from working. The fix is here.

The upgrades to Android 9 Pie and Android 10 were flawless. Everything works out of the box just perfect. I’ve never seen so polished overall experience so far.

Conclusion

What a journey!

It seems obvious to me how I used to mod and play with my earlier devices a lot more. Why? I was younger, for sure. But there’s another reason – they needed to be modded in order to work better. With my latest tablet and my latest phone? Nope. Almost perfect out of the box.

I will update this page with all my future handheld devices.

However, I think that in 2018-2020 I probably reached the point after which I’m not really interested in what’s next. My Pixel C and my Huawei P20 seem to check all the boxes I care about and probably smartphones and tablets are a solved problem now. For the first time in years, I’m not really looking forward to my next device. They just seem to have stopped to improve so much generation after generation. I doubt that any future progress will add any significant value to these kinds of devices. Yeah, the battery life might get a little bit better, the cameras will improve, but I think we’ve reached the point of diminishing returns and we’re closer to the asymptote of perfection as ever.

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