Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

02 Nov 2011, 9:45 a.m.

Free, Good, And Durable

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2011 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

I want to buy a smartphone. Help me decide.

I care about:

  • Freedom (I want root on my phone without having to jailbreak it)
  • Hardware quality
  • Operating system quality (random crashiness is not acceptable)
  • Operating system longevity & upgradability (Maemo and Meego went away pretty fast, and I don't want to buy a device that will never see another OS upgrade)

I'd rather have a physical keyboard, either in addition to or instead of a touchscreen, but I can stand not having one. And I have basically no hope that I could get a device made under fair labor practices and with any attentiveness to the environmental impacts of its manufacture, but am willing to be surprised.

I really do not care how many apps are available for a phone -- I'll be fine if it browses the web, makes and received phone calls, and it would be lovely if it takes mediocre photos and plays music. And it can be big and heavy and ugly and I don't mind as long as the hardware is robust.

I am planning on buying a device, that is, buying an unlocked one separately from getting a data/voice plan from a carrier (see again: my interest in freedom). I acknowledge that I am being picky here so I'm fine with spending commensurately.



02 Nov 2011, 10:11 a.m.

Posted to Ask MetaFilter. Also I'm curious now about the Geeksphone Zero.

Brion Vibber
02 Nov 2011, 11:52 a.m.

If you're willing to live without the keyboard, your safest bet is probably to stick with the Google-branded developer phone series (so the Nexus S or the upcoming Galaxy Nexus) -- you should be able to buy it unlocked and you know it'll be well supported by various customized Android systems and at least some alternate OS experiments.

(Mozilla's 'Boot to Gecko' project is doing initial boot testing on the Samsung Galaxy S II I think, which is relatedish to the Nexus S.)

In an ideal world, phones would be a little more like desktop computers in that drivers would be effing standardized and distributed so you can just plop on a second OS from a generic installer and dual-boot...