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Beyond the bull: Smartphones

The not-so-smart ways in which smartphone are marketed to you

This article was first published as a part of the cover story in the April 2018 issue of Digit magazine. To read Digit’s articles first, subscribe here. You could also buy Digit’s previous issues here.

Technology has pretty much invaded every single aspect of life there is, just as we told you it would over a decade ago. Sadly, along with this popularity of technology, comes the tendency to misuse tech jargon and obfuscate the truth. It’s not just individual companies you can blame, it’s the industry as a whole because no one wants to be left behind… However, the result is that you are bombarded with what we’re calling “bull” but is really a polite shortening of the term bullshit, because often, you’re being sold exactly that as an added feature, or sometimes, even being sold it at a premium. So we asked ourselves what we could do to clean up the poo that’s being thrown at you, and the answer was this series. We’re going to tackle a few features that we think are, essentially just bullshit, and rate them on a turd scale between one and five turds (obviously, five turds being the worst). We’re merely scratching the surface here, and we’re sure you might come up with some suggestions of your own. If you do, write to us and let us know. Now to the dung-mobile pooman, we’ve got turd ratings to give away! (We hope you will forgive our shameless toilet humour this one time).

Specifications wars

Rating: 💩💩💩

What’s the first thing you do when you hear that a new phone is being launched? Most will probably say, “look up the specs”, and that’s a wise move, usually, but in the past few years, there seem to be some turds creeping in. For one thing, all specs are just being raised, and that’s not always a good thing. Sure it feels like it’s better to have more RAM, battery life, megapixel count, processor speed, amount of storage, etc, but is it worth the extra money you’re charged for it? That’s debatable. The problem is that the difference between the specs sheet and real-world performance is increasing. Having a CPU with more cores isn’t really worth it unless the software can make use of them, or else you just paid extra for useless cores. Sure, the software or apps that use 8 cores properly might be here in a year or two, but by then everything else about your phone will be old and you will need to upgrade again and spend premium once again! It’s why a phone made by a company that writes their own software might perform far better with 3/4 GB of RAM than another phone with 6/8 GB of RAM. Sometimes “on-paper” phones look good, but really the spec sheet is only good for wiping you-know-what.

Wireless Charging

Rating: 💩💩💩

Wireless usually means no contact, but this isn’t that. Wireless charging involves you spending even more money than your already expensive wireless-charging-capable-phone to buy a mat that uses a wire to connect to a power source, on which you then place your phone, and rub your hands in glee while your phone takes far, far longer to charge than if you’d just connected the wire directly to the phone instead. Hooray for this wireless crap! Because you can sometimes also charge some wireless headphones and a very limited set of devices on the “wireless charging” pad, we’ve given it three turds, or else it would get more… much more!

Look! No wires! Oh wait… nevermind…

Slow Motion Video

Rating: 💩

Don’t get us wrong, we like the idea of cellphone cameras being capable of higher frame capture rates, which means lovely slow-mo playback. We’re not pooed-off by that, we’re complaining about the fact that there’s just no standard for it. Whether you buy a top of the line flagship from a global giant or a cheap Chinese knock-off, they’re both being sold with some ridiculous spec of slow-mo being advertised. What’s worse, some of the phones market it as a hero feature, and they turn out to not be too great at it anyway. A terrible video shot with a terrible camera, in slow motion, is torture! Besides, it’s something you will probably rarely use and will tire of pretty quickly. There’s only so many slow-moving shots of your dog or baby that people will look at before they unfriend you. Instead, look at reviews and look for a camera that has better low light performance, or offers bokeh effects in portrait mode, or something you will actually use more than six times. We call BS, but it’s hardly the worst offence here, so it’s just a lonely, solitary turd for this feature.

Biometric Security

Rating: 💩💩💩💩

We love fingerprint readers, because they’re accurate, fast, secure enough, and were pretty simple to use. Then came all the design changes, and the fingerprint scanner got relegated to something on the back of the phone. This is when the problems started. To us, it feels like all these fancy face readers and iris scanners came along as a way of getting you to forget that your trusty fingerprint reader was now impossible to find. But aren’t face detectors and iris scanners harder to bypass than fingerprints? Actually, no. Security researchers have demonstrated various ways of bypassing these biometric security measures using something as simple as a printout, to more elaborate hacks that involve 3D printing. No current biometric authentication system in the world is 100 per cent accurate.

So futuristic!

In fact, you’re probably compromising your security by jumping on to the newest methods without letting them mature first. Even fingerprints can be hacked by what’s called a smudge attack, which can often also reveal your passcode or pattern unlock. Fingerprints are still considered more secure than others though, especially when linking to a store for purchase confirmations. But why are we giving biometrics four turds? Because once your security is compromised, it’s forever compromised. What are you going to do? Change your fingerprints or your face? You could change a passcode though… just saying.

18:9

Rating: 💩💩💩💩💩

This one is a five turd winner! How do you show that your new screen has a greater aspect ratio than 16:9? Why, call it 18:9 of course, and let’s all forget that it actually equals 2:1, because math sucks and marketing rocks! Let’s not even start the whole “there’s no content for this stupid aspect ratio” rant. Add to this the fact that some phones say 18:9 but are more like 18.5: 9, which would actually make them 37:18 phones… but who would ever remember that, so instead just pretend the extra .5 screen ratio doesn’t exist… Shh!

Design

Rating: 💩💩💩💩

Most of those turds should belong to Apple. They’re the ones who keep going ga-ga over design, which results in everyone else copying them.
Let’s forget for a moment that in technology good design is usually something that is invisible. If it is so good, you don’t need to scream it from the rooftops, we’ll figure it out, thank you. What really lights our farts are the wild claims. Next, we’re going to be told that the ashes of dead fairies were added to pure moon dust in order to polish the back of your smartphone, in factories where little Chinese children work their fingers to the bone for you… OK, that last bit might actually be true…

Consumers neither need to nor want to know about special smartphone polishing mixtures

Anyway, let’s say you’re the type to be impressed by the fancy names companies give to what’s essentially plastic or aluminium, and you decide to spend the better part of a lakh on the latest and greatest flagship phone that was designed just for you in a whiter than white toilet that some guy called Ive calls home. You wait in line, kissing the pavement outside your favourite company’s shop, get the device, show it off on social media, and then realise that the super smooth metal and curved edges make the darn thing slippery and drop it just a few hours in. No? Are you too smart for that? So you probably paid 70k for a phone that charged you at least 10k premium for the design, only to immediately buy a case that promptly makes all of the design totally pointless. Are you sure you’re the smarter one?

Aditya Madanapalle

Aditya Madanapalle

An avid reader of the magazine, who ended up working at Digit after studying journalism, game design and ancient runes. When not egging on arguments in the Digit forum, can be found playing with LEGO sets meant for 9 to 14-year-olds.