New Phone and an Old Anecdote

My Home Screen

Got a new phone this week, the Moto G4 from Motorola.

Let me provide some context here. I was an Android early adopter. I couldn’t wait for the Future – as long as the Future wasn’t built by Apple, mind you.

But the first five or six years of smartphones were a consistent disappointment to me. They felt like a technology rushed to the market before it was ready. Batteries ran down in a handful of hours (or less), apps glitched or crashed your phone, every provider loaded you down with gigs of bloatware you would never, ever use for anything but which ate half your device’s storage, and here came Facebook to bog everything down to the point where my last smartphone – a Samsung – took over a full minute to do anything.

So I chucked it in the sea and went back to a flip phone. My flip phone and I were very happy together for a number of years. But then it broke.

I’ll tell you what I think of the new phone in a bit, but first I realize this is an utterly boring post and I want to make it up to you. So here is an old post about an even older story, reprinted for your amusement:

Atypical Phone Usage


It is the fall of 2003, and I have just taken the picture that will wind up being the cover image for the short run of Something that Happened. It’s a photograph of Greg, sitting on the steps of the house in Old North Knoxville where six of our friends live. He’s a bit out of sorts – and for that matter, so am I – because we have both consumed hallucinogens unwittingly. (That’s a tale of its own.)

Walking down the street toward the Kenjo to buy some drinks and maybe one of those crazy Grandaddy sandwiches, we are talking nonsense when an idea strikes me. It seems altogether too important to let slip away, as is wont to happen with ideas that come upon you when not in your right mind. I have no pen and paper; not sure I could write legibly if I did. I could tell Greg, but he’s as bad off as I am.

But I have a cell phone.

Remember, this is 2003. We don’t have smart phones yet. My cell phone doesn’t even flip open. It’s one of those flat black, little rectangular Nokias that every pot dealer was carrying in the first few years of the millennium. You remember. The antenna always broke off.

I placed a call to a friend of mine in New York. She was out somewhere with friends, drinking. I told her my thoughts and she wrote them down on a cocktail napkin. Three days later, she found the napkin in her jacket and e-mailed my thoughts back to me.

For several months, Greg introduced me to people at parties by saying, “This is Underwood. He’s vague and mysterious and he has a secretary in New York.”


It is 2011, almost eight years after I called my friend in New York, and I have an Android smartphone with an app called VocaNote. I speak to VocaNote, and it converts my speech to text and immediately sends that text to my Gmail (which makes a light on my phone blink and I can read the text within moments of having spoken the words.)

This is Underwood. I’m weird and drunk, and I have a robot secretary somewhere on the internet.


A little over seven years before 2011, I use my utterly basic cell phone – and how archaic does it now seem, in 2011, that my phone had a tiny monochromatic screen that displayed the time and caller ID information and nothing else? – to perform a task that will one day be automated by my smartphone. I don’t know that yet, but I am anticipating the Future in which one can use a cell phone to dictate notes that will then appear in one’s inbox.

In 2011, I do not use VocaNote very often. It no longer seems impressive.


So the Moto G4 … you’ll note it’s not the latest generation. I was a bit leery of coming back to the fold, and so I went with a slightly older, cheaper model than the absolute latest. I did spend an afternoon comparing specs, on the assumption my new phone wasn’t going to completely suck and get returned within the week.

Anyway, so far I’m loving it. The interface is smoother than older smartphones ever dreamed of being. Apps open quickly. I can talk to it, and it will respond. It calls me “Human.” I have not yet detected condescension in the term. It’s properly slim and lightweight. It does not grow hot when I use it for more than 45 seconds.

For the first couple days, I restricted myself to light use – a little less than normal for me, a lot less than normal for most people – and the battery lasted a full 39 hours. After a full recharge, I gave it a day of extremely heavy use and it gave me about 10 hours. So that makes the battery life about 400% better than was standard 5 years ago.

It does the things I want it to do. That’s the key factor, really. Things are better integrated than they used to be. I can speak aloud to my phone and tell it to perform simple tasks, and things get done. Yesterday I told it to order a pizza. This morning, I had it wake me with a customized newscast.

I’m still getting used to the phone. But I’m excited. Because the Future finally feels like the Future.

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