As fun as it can be to marginalize and criticize them, smartphones are magical pieces of technology. From something as benign as an iPhone to a device as futuristic as a G Flex, today’s pocket communicators are modern miracles of miniaturized intelligence. As I say at the top of every Weekly podcast, these real-life tools are the manifestation of many childhood dreams, mine included … and it’s incredible to stop and think about just how complex they really are.
All of which makes it doubly frustrating when these supposedly “smart” devices screw up so spectacularly. Here’s five smartphone problems we deal with on a daily basis that should’ve been fixed a long time ago.
Putting your phone down rotates the screen
We’ve all been there: while holding your phone in your hand, you call up a webpage in the browser. In the middle of scrolling through the latest hot news from the world of alpaca farming, you decide to put your phone down alongside your computer so you can take notes on what to feed Tina while grandma’s out of town. You plop your phone down on the table, angling it ever-so-lightly to get your hand out from underneath, and: boom. Suddenly you’re in landscape mode and nothing about the world makes sense anymore.
It wouldn’t be such a big deal if it didn’t happen nearly every time you put your phone down, and if it hadn’t been happening for so damn long. But we’ve had accelerometers in our phones for over seven years now; it’s about time they got a little smarter.
Notifications ruin your music
This isn’t a problem on all platforms; iOS in particular fields this one pretty well, and Windows Phone isn’t far behind. With this one we’re looking squarely at Android, and we’ve been looking at it for years.
Anyone who gets a lot of notifications and listens to a lot of audio on the go (and does these simultaneously) should be familiar with the issue we’re talking about. When a notification comes in, the podcast, FM stream, or music track you’re listening to will suddenly cut out to accommodate the chime, then return just as abruptly. Like the screen-rotation issue above, it’s not the worst thing in the world when it happens every once in a while, but if you’re in the midst of a rapid-fire text exchange or you’re copied on one of those insufferable reply-all email chains, it renders whatever show or track you’re trying to hear unlistenable. To Google’s credit, this isn’t as big a problem as it used to be: both Google Play Music and Spotify will now intelligently duck the playing audio to accommodate the inbound alert and then scale it up shortly afterward. But if you use a service like Stitcher or TuneIn to stream podcasts or local radio and you get a lot of messages over the course of the day, expect to have your listening experience interrupted on the regular.
And Windows Phone’s not totally blameless, either: system sounds like the little raindrop screen-unlock effect result in a partial muting of playing audio for a few seconds after the sound playback is complete. We appreciate the concern for our eardrums, Microsoft, but c’mon. We’re more rugged than that.
Speaking of which …
Your phone is an overprotective nanny
Android, stop with this. One warning out of the box is enough. We don’t need to be reminded about potential hearing damage every time we want to crank up the volume on The Very Best of Enya. For God’s sake, let us rock out.
Leaving a WiFi hotspot gives it separation anxiety
Ever try loading a website, podcast, or Facebook page while you’re in the dreaded death zone between WiFi and a cellular data connection? Ever succeed?
Wireless carriers love to train your smartphone to prefer a WiFi hotspot above all else, because it takes the strain off their own overtaxed networks. We’ve seen this trend strengthen over the years with software “features” that command your phone to look for WiFi even when WiFi is off, timers that reconnect WiFi after a certain period of dormancy, and default preferences that force your phone to try to connect to every Starbucks and McDonald’s access point you get close to (despite not actually having enough signal to pass any data over that connection).
All of these actively diminish the experience of using a smartphone, and some actually prevent the device from fulfilling one of its primary functions: notifying you of inbound alerts. Because when your phone is ignoring the strong 4G signal shouting to it from a cell site down the street in favor of the unusable WiFi signal from the cafe in the building across the road, it’s not able to send you that Snapchat that tells you where the secret house party is. And that sucks.
No matter how clean you are, your screen is usually filthy
In the switch from small clamshells to tablet-sized cutting boards, we gained a lot of screen real estate and a much richer multimedia experience on our smartphones. But we also provided a much bigger canvas for all that skin oil to spread out on, and the result has been a world full of the filthiest slabs of oily glass ever countenanced.
Some phones do better at managing this organic oil slick than others; pick up a low-end smartphone like the Lumia 635 for a firsthand look at what happens when you skimp on oleophobic coating. But even the highest of top-shelf handsets on the market today have a tendency to hold on to finger and face oils with a grip that defies efforts to dislodge them. Even phones specifically designed to handle foreign droplets with “wet screen tracking” technology usually don’t work that well after the first good spray hits them. And if the all-glass front is mirrored on the back side for fashion’s sake, the problem is doubled. Don’t get me wrong; the all-glass smartphone is still a very hip look. I just wish it didn’t come with the caveat that I’d have to wear gloves every time I wanted to pick the thing up, or risk looking like the world’s greasiest man.
Think you’ve got a better list of the world’s biggest smartphone problems? Let us know about it down in the comments, then check out what else we’re shaking our canes at in our editorials on why Windows Phone shouldn’t be trying to ape Android and 8 ways to tell if your mobile app sucks!