The most exciting development at Casa Jaquandor of late is this: I got a new phone! Yay!
There it is, on the right: my brand-spanking new Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, with 512gb internal storage and 5G capacity (which will go along well with the microchip I got from m COVID vaccine*). Yes, I went big. Yes, I went expensive. Yes, I’ve been saving shekels and quatloos** for quite a while to pay for this. Yes, I usually am more frugal than this, but yes, this one time I wanted the best shiniest thing that’s out there.
My previous phone was a Samsung Galaxy S8 that I had been using for three years. Its performance was still holding up, but I have noticed that the battery life has started suffering in the last six months or so. I used to be able to get through an entire day without having to charge, but more and more I’d been needing to plug it in mid-afternoon or risk dying at night. More pressing was that Samsung had announced earlier in the year that it would be ceasing support for this model phone later this year, which meant no more security updates. The S8 model had been out for a year when I got that phone, so four years of support really seems reasonable to me. My goal with each smartphone I get is at least three years of use, which I got with the S8; my phone before that was an S4, which lasted me four years until it got to the point where apps couldn’t even update anymore because it was out of date. The S21 is now my third smartphone in seven years. I’ll take that. (I know folks who upgrade their phones yearly, which seems frankly insane to me.)
So I knew earlier this year that I would be switching to a new phone, and I did some waffling between staying with Samsung, whose products I’ve used almost exclusively in the “mobile gizmo” area (my three tablets have also been Samsungs), Samsung isn’t perfect, by any means. Their devices do tend to get bundled with a lot of extra crap that you may not really want, which can be a bit frustrating–especially when the apps the thing comes with can’t always even be removed. I do not need a Netflix app on my phone, for example–I would never stream something I really want to watch on a screen this small, even if by phone standards the screen is actually pretty big. Also, Samsung’s digital assistant, “Bixby”, takes up space that I’d rather use for something else. As digital assistants go I’m fine with Google’s, which is pretty much on there anyway, since Android and Google go hand-in-hand. There tends to be a lot of duplication with Samsung devices: Samsung Pay and Google Pay, for example.
I can live with all of that, to be honest. I like the ease of transferring stuff from one phone to the next, and since I already have a Samsung account it’s easier to just keep using a Samsung account than port stuff from one platform to another completely different platform.
But the final factor that really got me to buy this phone was the cameras. Now, even that was not a slam-dunk, because Google’s Pixel phones are also possessed of fantastic photo-taking ability. Their cameras may not have the biggest or best sensors out there, but Google’s camera software somehow does magic stuff that takes up a lot of that slack. This S21 has a giant set of lenses: there’s a wide lens, an ultra-wide lens, and two telephoto lenses. I’m not going to get into the nuts and bolts of it all here, because I’m not that knowledgeable about it all and because I still have a lot of playing with this phone to do. Articles reviewing this phone’s camera performance abound online. I’ll just say that the 108 megapixel main lens is pretty amazing, and I love that the front-facing “selfie” camera is better, all by itself, than the main camera on my old S8.
Here are a couple of selfies I took using the front-facing camera:
And here are a couple of “general” photos, using the main camera:
Now here’s where it gets interesting: zooming. Phone cameras have historically not been able to do much in the way of optical zoom; there’s just not room in the phone’s casing for the mechanics needed to make a lens zoom. Phones have relied on digital zoom, which is OK at low-levels but at higher zoom multipliers results in photos that start to take on a Claude Monet kind of look.
This phone has a lens set at a 3x zoom, and one more at a 10x zoom, so I can stand in one place and take photos with multiple grades of zooming. Note the following trios of photos: in each case I was standing in the exact same place to take each shot!
Night photography is also fascinating with this phone. I’m not sure how this works, but I think it’s a combination of long exposure and overlaying of multiple images to composite one image. I might be wrong, though. These photos were taken at night, when things were considerably darker than they appear:
And all of this is just scratching the surface! I haven’t even attempted anything with video yet on this phone, after belatedly discovering that my old S8 was pretty damned good for video. I’ve also read that astrophotography is possible on this phone, by manipulating the Pro settings in the camera. That’s an exciting prospect.
Not everything is rosy: apparently the newest version of Android limits the use of the phone’s cameras to the native camera app, which is kind of a bummer because I’ve been using the CameraMX app as my default camera app all the way back to my S4. I was used to it and to its interface, and it had a pretty solid on-board editor. I suspect it’s hard to make a third-party app that takes proper advantage of all the various lenses that are available from one phone to the next, and I read that there are some other technical reasons for this as well, though I didn’t quite understand them. Also, this phone is my first of the post-headphone jack era. Now, I’m on board with Bluetooth earbuds, but I do still want that functionality, particularly for plugging in an outboard microphone for video making. I’ll need to get a USB-C adaptor for that, at some point.
All in all, though, I am quite happy with this phone and I look forward to getting several years out of it. I can’t imagine right now how the S24 or S25 will blow my mind, but hey, I’ve got time to get there.
* Yeah, I made the joke. Deal with it.
** Quatloo: a Star Trek reference.