Linux For Poets

Adventures with Cellular Telephones, (or, Google Pixel 3a vs iPhone 7)

I have done an Android vs iPhone experiment this last month and it has been a very silly goose chase. What started with simply getting an iPhone 7, to replace the old iPhone 5C, became a twisty episode of chasing the next problem, and wound up with me being happy to move away from Apple altogether. I will say that this won’t satisfy all of you privacy nerds out there. The phone I now have is still running regular, preinstalled Android, though I’ve done what I can to strip down and minimize the google presence.

Pixel phone in its new case. I decided it needed a lion. (What fingerprint sensor?)

iPhone vs Android Saga

To answer your question “but why would someone Linuxy like you even have an iPhone?”: I didn’t think there was a good option out there, as both Apple and Google are bad. So I used the cheapest, refurbished thing that would do the job for me. And I was used to Apple, coming from Mac before moving to Linux. And at least Apple is a hardware company first, making it (arguably) 1% less evil than Google which is an advertising company. I refuse to buy new hardware both because of the price, and because I don’t want to give those companies my money directly.

iPhone 7 / iOS 13.4: data hog

Anyway, the saga goes like this: I ordered an iPhone 7. It was a good phone, and I got a nice red case for it, and I liked it pretty well. Then I discovered that it was eating a ton of cellular data when I was doing only minimal stuff with it. I did some research and there are bugs out there with the current version of iOS 13.4, that use a shocking amount of data. I am not sure I have that exact problem, since it didn’t seem tied to the “uninstalled apps” category, but roughly one third of my data usage was going to System Services, which is not okay. We only have 1 gig of data per month, and don’t want to pay an additional $12 per month to get a plan with more. My old iphone 5c running iOS 10.3 did not hog data at this rate.

So after reading up on it, turning off everything I could find in the settings and still having problems, I started looking for other options.

Trying to restore iPhone 5c, and failing

I attempted to go back to my iPhone 5c, to do a comparison and give my data usage a rest. Turns out you can’t, if you want to keep your data - text messages in particular, which seem impossible to back up outside of a full system restore. I could make a backup of my data from the new phone, but since it was made with a later operating system, I can’t import it into the older OS. And I can’t upgrade the older phone to the latest version of iOS, thanks to planned obsolescence. The only hope for copying data over might have been buying new software to run on my Mac, to move that data around. I’m not even sure if that would work, and that made me mad too - having to buy a $40 piece of software to make up for what was just a crappy choice on the part of Apple developers.

Tangent: You can tell how inadequate a piece of software is by how many weird duct tape style solutions are propped up around it by other people. Such as the current iPhone dongle situation, all to make up for missing a headphone jack and having only one port to charge, run headphones, and do anything else. Or having to buy spendy pieces of software to manage your iphone backups. Like Red Green, but not so charming.

Trying to use a Mac to manage phone data, and failing

In order to manage my data on the iPhone at all, I had to dust off my old Macbook Air, update its operating system, do all this annoying stuff to try to make a backup, all a bunch of hassle. I refuse to use an operating system just to get along with my phone. If you use Windows it’s not quite so bad, because you can still run iTunes. But I’m clearly not going to change my operating system of choice for a phone. And the older my 2011 Macbook gets, the harder it’s going to be.

Looking at Android options

So I decided to try the Pixel 3a, which in specs is pretty similar to the iPhone 7 ($140 on eBay), and only a bit more expensive ($210 on eBay). And a minimum 30 day return policy on everything. My theory about the Pixel is that because they are the guys who make Android, it won’t have the bloatware that other companies put on top of stock Android. I can’t be sure that’s foolproof, but that was my thought process.

Transferring data to new Pixel phone

This moving from phone to phone was made simpler by the little USB-C to USB-A adapter that Pixels use to auto import your data from iPhone to Android. My eBay phone didn’t come with it, but I ordered one for a couple dollars, so I could use that functionality. I am not sure how awful transferring messages and contacts would have been without that.

A slight glitch when the first Pixel I ordered seemed nice but was locked to a different network, in spite of the assurances made in the description. Ordering a second one from a different seller turned out great. I have returned the iPhone and the first Pixel and am happy now with my second Pixel. Fewer scratches too. The battery life is better, and the data usage seems reasonable and rational.

Why I actually like Android.

Here’s the important bit. For starters, I am only a medium-weight nerd, and I am not brave enough to flash a new OS to the phone. I know that will not satisfy some people, but that’s where I am. Besides, I legitimately need to run some apps that may or may not work with a de-googled version of Android. Such as Square to run credit cards in my art show booth (once we are allowed to have art shows again anyway). That stuff is too important to my business to mess with, if I’m not sure it’s going to get the job done.

So I’m settling for running the pre-installed Android with as little Googliness as possible.

Some Plus Sides

I have access to simple things, such as import and export data to and from apps. I can do that with contacts, save backups of text messages with SMS Backup (and other apps too). Generally being able to access and manipulate my data is beautiful. And plug my phone into my computer annd access files there too.

In the next post I will list all the apps.