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January 6, 2021
🔦 Good morning! A friend switched from her OnePlus 5T to the new Google Pixel 4a 5G, and has been struggling with losing her quick gestures, especially drawing a W on the lock screen to turn on the torch. I did think suggesting saying "Ok Google, Lumos" would've been a nice Harry Potter inspired solution that works, but it's mostly for use at night when you want to be quiet...
JRE phones awards

Once upon a time, Android Authority would be one of the world’s first to buy a new device and then immediately film a drop test to see how the latest and greatest would hold up. (Here’s a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 being dropped from back in 2012)

Also taking a robust approach to durability over the years has been YouTuber JerryRigEverything

  • Zack Nelson with the luxurious voice has made a name for himself, among good deeds and interesting tech videos, by being the home of durability tests on his YouTube channel.
  • Those generally include bending, scraping, burning, opening, and mostly being a hazard to devices with poor build quality.
  • But the videos of new devices are always interesting in order to see repairability, connectors, battery designs, and more.

Anyway, once again, JerryRig has released awards for 2020 for smartphone durability, and there’s a range of awards here for durability, repairability and more:

  • Most durable smartphone: Google Pixel 4a
  • Least durable: OnePlus Nord, with the display breaking entirely under pressure.
  • Most repairable: Google Pixel 5, with zero screws needed to get inside and replace the display.
  • Least repairable: BlackShark 3, due to all its heat pipes and fancy build to keep it cool for gaming. Which is great as long as you don’t break it.
  • Best looking smartphone on the inside: iPhone 12 Pro Max. Not much to say, it does have nice looking internals which ideally you never see.
  • And the other award I wanted to mention: Most delusive smartphone: Google Pixel 5. 
  • Yes, “delusive,” an award handed out for bad or sort of misleading marketing. The Pixel 5 won it because Google more or less promised over and over, including in its spec sheet, a “100% recycled aluminum enclosure,” …while not mentioning that metal is under a thick layer of plastic resin. Not a huge problem, but this is an attempt to keep manufacturers honest.

The Pixel 4a winning the most durable, despite the plastic finish and light feel, surprises a little, but it makes sense.

  • Without being encased in glass on both the front and the back, the Pixel 4a was strong enough to withstand durability tests. 
  • It also has an easy to swap screen, it kept the headphone jack, wasn’t overly slippery, and remained solid right out of the box without a case, even at the attractive price.
  • Our (second) review of the Pixel 4a mentioned that you don’t need a case, which is the opposite of the usual problem where a gorgeous looking new smartphone with glass and metal everywhere needs to be tucked away into a case, and maybe with a layer of protective glass added, just to keep it safe.

🎁 Galaxy S21 Ultra video leak offers a peek at One UI 3.1 and S Pen support (Android Authority).

🤑 OnePlus Nord N10 and N100 come to the US on Jan. 15th, through T-Mobile: $180 for the N100 with 90Hz display (at ahem 720p), and $300 for the N10 5G. The sacrifices are many for the N100 but at least it is truly affordable for many (Android Authority).

📸 Honor reportedly resumes ties with chipset kingpin Qualcomm, with US regulatory approval not required (Android Authority).

📞 The guy who made the first mobile phone call wrote a book about it: “Cutting the Cord: The Cell Phone Has Transformed Humanity” (Android Authority).

📶 Verizon puts 3G shutdown plans on hold indefinitely — first planned for December 2019, now not planned (Engadget).

🕵️‍♂️ Tile’s fighting back ahead of Apple AirTags and Samsung Smart Tags, with a next-gen product with UWB tech to help find the stuff you’re missing. I still use my Tile Mate (TechCrunch).

💻 Dell has some fresh new monitors it’s showing off ahead of CES 2021 including a 40″ ultrawide curved 5K (5120×2160) monitor with Thunderbolt 3, 90W charging, loads of ports, and a hefty old $2,100 price tag (DPReview).

📹 Google confirms plans for new Nest Cam lineup this year, with the Nest Cam IQ Outdoor discontinued for now (The Verge).

🤖 OpenAI has turned GPT-3 onto image generation from language and categorization, with two new models: DALL-E and CLIP. They’re completely remarkable — CLIP less so at first glance, but DALL-E is shockingly good. The end of stock images? Maybe, it depends on compute time and data (and therefore, costs) used to achieve the results, which we don’t know yet (OpenAI).

🎨 Microsoft planning a sweeping visual rejuvenation of Windows according to a job listing, quickly removed. Anyone know where Windows 10X is at? Anyone? Anyone? (The Verge).

💳 Trump bans Alipay, WeChat Pay, QQ Wallet, and five other Chinese apps (BBC).

💵 A 25-year-old bet comes due: In 1995, a Wired cofounder challenged a tech doomsayer to a wager on tech and civilization’s fate. The bet’s up. And you bet you can guess the outcome! (Wired).

🤖 Here are the robots taking the virtual stage at (entirely virtual) CES 2021 (CNET).

🌠 This unusual star is unlike anything astronomers have seen before(Gizmodo).

🛰 NASA reveals how its SPHEREx space telescope will search for big bang clues. Quite the object. (Engadget).

🌍 US spy satellite images from the Cold War era are being used in environmental studies(The Verge).

👍 “Can you rhyme in sign language?” (r/nostupidquestions).

Wednesday Weirdness
Hasselblad 907X Hero

Hasselblad’s new $6,400 camera is weird and wonderful, writes Popular Science, and good lord, the photographs out of this thing are incredible. The sunset! The seagull! The shadows and light through glass. Wow.

The almost unbelievable quality of these images make you appreciate where we’re at with smartphones, why tiny little sensors and lenses can only get us so far. There’s so much work being done by some of the world’s brightest minds to improve hardware, lenses, computational photography, but imagine if they had some Hasselblad tech to start with. 

The physical imaging sensor size alone (at 43.8 × 32.9 mm) is some ten times bigger than what’s used in the Google Pixel 5. The 50MP resolution delivers options galore. You can attach old Hasselblad glass. It’s a whole thing, if you’ve got the money.

So, to the theme of today, why’s it weird? It’s such an odd form factor — “it feels like you’re holding a chunky Rubik’s Cube with a lens stuck on the front,” not helped by the fact it weighs 1.6 pounds without a lens:

  • “After a few weeks with the 907X, I still find the camera slightly confounding. It’s a genuinely fun camera and it offers a truly unique shooting experience. But, for most shooters, it won’t be terribly practical. That’s usually not a problem, but when the camera body itself costs more than $6,000, you need a concrete reason to lay down a credit card.”
  • It’s weird, and I still want it. Or at least, someone I know to have it and be with me all the time taking photos.


Tristan Rayner, Senior Editor

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