By Michael Fisher | January 14, 2014 6:31 AM
It’s a question familiar to anyone in the business of reviewing smartphones: “Nice review, but what phone do you carry?” Emphasis on the you.
From a personal perspective, no matter how many times it’s posed, I don’t mind being asked the question. It’s a constant reminder that my day job is in fact my dream job (literally; I still have dreams about meeting tech personalities whom I’ve long followed), and that people find my opinions worth something. So on a selfish level, I’m thankful for the validation.
I imagine the same thing happens most everywhere commentators offer product opinions in a given field. “Yes, but what car do you drive?” “Good points, but which washing machine cleans your jeans?” “All well and good, but which pumice stone adorns your own shower shelf?” Or whatever.
It’s a perfectly logical question. But it’s also a question I seldom, if ever, answer. Because I think the answer is almost totally irrelevant.
To be clear: I don’t think it’s a taboo subject or a question that’s not worth asking. We’ve had plenty of pieces here detailing what devices we plan on carrying for certain events, and my Twitter profile always displays what smartphones I’m currently packing as daily drivers. That kind of information is important for context. It’s crucial that people unfamiliar with us know where we’re coming from, so they can be assured we’re not just a loose assembly of fanboys. I get that.
The problem comes when the question carries an unspoken addendum: “What phone do you carry, since that’s obviously the best one out there?” Because while flattering (see above), that’s an erroneous assumption. The reality is, the phones I carry aren’t the best overall; they’re just the best fit for me.
On Star Trek, the devices our heroes used to talk to their orbiting starship were called “personal communicators” – not just because of Trek’s obsession with adjective-noun futurespeak, but because in that not-so-distant future, communicators were often slaved to their own particular user by technology like fingerprint scanners and voiceprint identification. And while modern tech is just beginning to catch up to that level of technical personalization, it’s already far surpassed Star Trek in terms of product diversity.
Modern phone manufacturers are just beginning to fully take advantage of consumers’ lust for customizability, but even in this embryonic state the amount of choice is mind-boggling. Nokia’s Lumia line and HTC’s Windows Phones have made Microsoft’s platform the most recognizably colorful in the world. The Moto X comes in literally hundreds of color combinations. Even typically staunch Apple has started dipping its toes in the multispectral waters with the iPhone 5C.
But casing hue is just the most obvious example of the smartphone world’s “different strokes for different folks” mentality. More subtle -but no less important- is the wide range of material selection and industrial design on the hardware side, and the huge array of interface choices in software. From Apple’s neon bubble grid to Windows Phone’s aggressively flat squares to BlackBerry’s webOS-like cards to Android’s monochrome pseudo-professionalism, the stock choices offer a world of options … and aftermarket modifications like Themer make the possibilities almost literally endless.
Bundle that together with specific needs (durability, camera resolution, min/max weight, battery endurance, etc) and it’s a wonder the modern-day buyer can make any sense whatsoever of today’s avalanche of options. So they come to sites like ours seeking guidance, which we strive to provide in the form of reviews, re-reviews, and special features.
Ultimately, it’s that catalog of unbiased content that I point folks to when I’m asked questions about a specific device. Because our “official” impressions of a device sometimes differ significantly from which ones we’d prefer to carry in our personal lives. I’d be very frustrated carrying a Galaxy S 4 or an LG G2, for example … yet those devices each received high scores in our official reviews because objectively they’re very capable products. What works for members of the Pocketnow team (one of whom even carried a dumbphone as a daily driver until relatively recently) will not work for everyone.
So I’m asking you not to ask this question anymore – at least, not as a prelude to a buying decision. Not because I’m sick of it (quite the contrary) but because the answer just isn’t all that helpful to you.
If, on the other hand, you’re just curious about why we carry what we do, check out Pocketnow Insider for a behind-the-scenes look at the most opinionated team in mobile tech – and then head on over to our forums to share your own thoughts with editors, readers, and everyone in between!