Hi, is this on?
Yes, so it's been a while. Turns out I'm sticking with Mastodon this time around, so a lot of random thoughts I'd have posted here now go there instead.
Also, my Japanese lessons involve a lot of short essay-writing nowadays. After I spent several hours writing something in Japanese, I'm not really in the mood to turn around and do more writing in another non-native language.
Meanwhile, here's something that happened.
Another winter holiday in Osaka. Midosuji is decorated with light from Namba up to Nakanoshima every December. Very cool, and lots of people stop to take pictures at dusk.
Ritsuko's phone was getting old. It's a Pixel 3a that's out of support by now. We've both long liked the Google Pixel series; they're the best unlocked phones you can get in Japan. The phone market here is still broken, with most new models available only from the providers, and only if you sign up for an account. Anyway, she picked the Pixel 6a.
It's a solid choice and a great mid-range phone. But unlike the earlier Pixel phones, Pixel 6 onward have an optical fingerprint sensor embedded in the screen, rather than a capacitive sensor on the back. That optical sensor works fine for most people, but is erratic or even unusable for some. It's seems related to having dry or cold hands, or shallow prints. Unfortunately Ritsuko is one of those people.
She understandably didn't want a phone without a fingerprint sensor, and we didn't want to return the phone — it's a good phone, bought at a nice discount. Our solution: she took my year old Pixel 5 and I got the 6a. The 5 is far more "premium" (and cost twice as much) and still decently new; and it has the capacitive sensor that works well for her.
Big Friendly Duck made another appearance! Rainy, but otherwise a fun evening.
So, I had a high-end phone for almost a year, and now a mid-range one for a few months. What's the actual difference between them?
So first the obvious things. The 5 is a bit smaller and shorter, a bit lighter and just a little thinner. The 6a has a larger screen and a larger battery. That's not a reflection on quality or price; it's just a design difference. Phones come in different sizes and which one you prefer is personal. I think I may prefer the larger screen on the 6a.
You do what you do with what you have. I hope they arrived OK.
Things that makes no difference at all. The 6a has a faster CPU, but I can't detect that in use. The Pixel 5 has a more premium screen, but when I put the phones down side by side, match the brightness and show the same image, I can't tell the difference.
The Pixel 5 supports one oddball satellite navigation option and some older wireless standards the 6a lacks; the 6a has support for Wifi 6. None of which matter at all to me (and I suspect most other people). The 5 has 8GB memory to the 6a:s 6GB, but Android is really good at managing memory use so again, I never even notice.
Stuff that differs but doesn't really matter. The 6a camera is slightly better to my eyes. They're basically the same hardware but the 6a has some newer tweaks. Bluetooth also seems to be a bit more stable on the 6a (not that the 5 is bad or anything). And the 6a speakers are louder.
The Pixel 5 sandstone-textured back looks and feels better, more premium. The 6a does look fairly striking in white with a black camera stripe. Either way you're going to cover the phone with a case anyhow.
Actually important differences. This is the points you'd actually care about when choosing a phone.
And finally, the fingerprint sensor. The back sensor on the 5 is reliable and fast, and great when you hold the phone in your hand. But it does suck when it's on your desk. The 6a sensor works fine for me, but some people have lots of difficulty with it. And the front screen location is truly useful — you can unlock the phone when it's sitting on a table without picking it up.
25000 yen, or 40%. That's how much more expensive the 5 was compared to the 6a. The actual difference is even larger as we bought the 6a on sale. That's a fair amount of money.
In the end, was it a fair trade? Yes, I think so. I'm as happy with the 6a as I was with the 5, and Ritsuko got a major — and much needed — upgrade. Would I consider getting another "budget" model the next time? Again, yes. Nothing about the 6a feels cheap or compromised in any way.
Phones are a settled product by now; for the most part they all do the same stuff, in the same way, as any other. And the 40% premium for a high end phone feels frankly a lot to pay for, in my case, wireless charging and nothing much else.
Reflections. On phones, that is.