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The Perfect Smartphone Doesn’t Exist, and That’s OK

by Brandon Russell | November 17, 2018November 17, 2018 6:30 am PST

The smartphone in your pocket is good, maybe even great, but it’s not perfect. Close, but not quite. Maybe it’s a little too thick, or the software is a little slow. Maybe you don’t like that the all-glass design feels slippery. Stupid phone! Horrible.

Have you noticed that when we talk about smartphones, the conversation inevitably turns negative, to a nauseating degree? The iPhone XS is amazing, but where’s the headphone jack? The Pixel 3 is Google’s best phone ever, with the best mobile camera ever, but its bezels are large. Bezels, they suck. Who’s the bonehead who invented bezels?

Look at any comment section of any tech website or YouTube channel and you’ll see complaints, some valid, many of them needlessly cynical. Let me scrutinize this incredible device because the battery, ugh, doesn’t last an entire week without needing to charge, rather than saying, “OK, maybe this is good enough.”

As someone who reviews technology for a living, it’s my job to objectively judge mainstream consumer products, ostensibly so people can make an informed decision. But I have a confession: even when a phone doesn’t live up to the lofty standards we set, that rarely dissuades me from enjoying the experience. As someone who loves technology, I’d rather celebrate each smartphone as the small miracle that it is.

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I probably shouldn’t have said that, but I did. I appreciate what a smartphone allows me to do, including but not limited to: staying in contact with family, taking pictures of my dog, learning, playing games, wasting time, exploring. I can be lazy and have food delivered to my front door, with just a few taps. It’s pretty incredible. And, yet, that’s never enough, because, and this is horrible, the screen resolution is low.

I know it’s important to hold multi-billion dollar companies up to a certain standard. After all, smartphones are more expensive than ever! We should demand progress and improvement. But always expecting perfection is pure insanity. I get that the Pixel 3 XL has a large notch—it isn’t pretty, I agree—but it’s not the end of the world. It does so many other wonderful things, and life goes on.

When we dream about what the perfect smartphone is, what it can be, we often take the ingredients from different smartphones and throw them together. The Pixel 3’s camera with the iPhone XS’s design and the Galaxy Note 9’s S Pen and etc. It’s unrealistic, unproductive, unfair. It creates contempt for what we have, and makes us want the New Good Thing. We’re perpetually unsatisfied.

The thing you have is already a good thing. Let’s appreciate good things, things that allow us to do so much at a moment’s notice. And let’s appreciate how much innovation there’s been to these good things over the past few years. In-display fingerprint sensors. Facial recognition technology. 4K video recording. Group FaceTime.

For me, it’s not about the specs or the size of the battery or the resolution of the screen (though those things matter). I’m more interested in how I connect with the device I’m using. I’ve fallen in love with the iPhone X’s gestures, for example. Even though I know there are more powerful devices available, I’ve stuck with it. I’m happy, ecstatic even, despite the iPhone X’s imperfections.

I suppose it’s a matter of perspective, the way we judge and scrutinize. I’ll continue to objectively consider new devices that are released, because it’s part of my job. But, if I’m being completely honest, I’d rather just tell you why something should be enjoyed rather than despised, because the perfect smartphone doesn’t exist, and that’s ok.

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Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell likes to rollerblade while listening to ACDC.

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