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Date: 01/03/18

Fun With My Fone

Contrary to the impression which I may give from time to time, I am sometimes capable of changing my views on things.

Long-time readers will recall my regular calling down the wrath of the universe on mobile phones and their users. They may also recall that I was forced by circumstance and sheer weight of evidence to moderate my tone when the phone bought for me by my family to provide emergency communication when my health almost totally failed me a couple of years ago proved to be an essential tool for maintaining what passes for my sanity during the unscheduled fortnight in hospital which was the consequence of my condition.

That phone - an Alcatel One-Touch 20.45x (seen below) - had been all that I had really needed it to be in most respects; I could make and receive calls on it and ditto for texts. But its limitations were most obvious in the web-browsing department.

Photo of a small, basic mobile phone

The One-Touch has a proprietory browser which has severe limitations. Apart from the obvious one of not displaying sites very well in general (the browser passes nearly everything via a Google doobry which re-formats the content somewhat less than adequately), it couldn't handle pages over a certain file size (telling the user that it had 'insufficient memory', and this despite my adding a 32GB SD card to the phone). More than that, it couldn't deal with secure sites with an https protocol, which meant that I couldn't log in to anywhere I needed to.

It was clear that I had to upgrade, but to what? I went on the site of my supplier to hunt around for something suitable.

Certain parameters were, to me, set in stone. I had no intention of getting any Apple product, largely due to my distaste at the domineering and restrictive conduct of that corporation, and with particular mind paid to the way that their own suppliers treat the people who assemble their products.

(There's an irony coming up, by the way; it shouldn't be difficult to spot, but I'll point it out to you anyway when it arrives).

What was also essential was that the battery had to be replaceable. I'll have no truck with a situation which requires me to buy a whole new product against my will simply for want of one part.

I finally settled on this one, the LG K4 (2017):

Photo of a smartphone

After a few weeks of my customary dithering, which was more to do with the fact that I'd never myself bought a phone before than anything else, I went into my 'service provider''s shop in town on the last Thursday of the year. I had only finally been jolted into action by the fact that they had the K4 at a hugely reduced price.

And so in I went, where I was greeted by a somewhat avid youth who of course tried to get me to sign up for a different tariff that I didn't want. I'm a lot better than I used to be at resisting such insistent blandishments than I used to be, and so I left the store with only that for which I had gone.

I didn't set the thing up until late on the Friday night, when I transferred the SIM and SD cards out of the Alcatel and - after a certain amount of confusion as to what went exactly where (which was caused by the included instruction leaflet being very basic and not very clear; the actual full user manual for the K4 runs to a .pdf of 111 pages, which I subsequently downloaded) - I had the thing powered up.

I then had to input my contacts list by hand (I had made a text file of it for this purpose), and in the process - through pressing (or as one has to say now, 'tapping') the wrong icon - not only inadvertently phoning my brother but being unable to stop the call before it went to his voicemail. This caused much jollification when he called me back on my landline wondering if there was something wrong (there was, of course; I'd cocked up again).

There were so many new things to get used to that, even now some nine weeks afterwards, I'm still prone to pressing (sorry, tapping) the wrong things in the wrong order. I tried to answer a call on it and wondered why nothing was happening when I was tapping the icon which said 'Answer'. After I had lost the call, I noticed that I should have swiped rather than tapped. "Well, tap me!", I exclaimed.

The first big task was to update anything which needed updating on it, because obviously the item had been on the shelf for a few weeks. And here's where I ran into a little obstacle. You see, my tariff had me paying 10 on the sixth of each month which bought me 250 minutes of calls, 1000 texts and 500MB of data transfer (i.e., browsing and downloading). It was now the 30th of December, I had eight days left before I topped up, and I didn't have enough Megs left to update the operating system and the apps I needed to use and have enough left to browse normally until the 6th of January. So I had to compromise and update only the things which absolutely had to be done to get the crucial bits to work.

(I resolved that problem later when I changed to a different tariff which costs the same but has 2GB of data).

The main problem with updating the apps was that (and here's the irony I foreshadowed earlier) it is an Android phone, and so I had become as much in hock to Google as I would have been to the Steve Jobs Memorial Cashcow had I actually gone for an iPhone in the first place. You can't update (or, at least, not without significant contortions) anything very much on an Android phone without using Google Play. Which in turn requires one to have a Gmail account, which I resent. In the end, however, and having searched in vain for some alternative method which wouldn't require a refresher course, I had to accept my vassalage to the Emperors of Mountain View and set up my account. Once I had my fresh data quota, I updated what I needed to update and not a byte more; anything else out of all these apps will be updated only as and when strictly necessary.

The following Wednesday I went to Manchester for my latest MRI scan (as reported here), and here's where the smartiness of my phone first became apparent, as I tracked my trains 'in real time' (or as near as Arrive Trains Wales ever gets to reality). Sending texts to family and friends was now far easier because I had a proper keyboard to play with, rather than the Alcatel's 'press this button three times to get the next letter you want, and then press it another twice because you've just gone past it' system.

Most of my use of the phone since - which is appropriate given the reasons I stated up there about the inadequacies of the Alcatel - has been browsing, which is now much better, as Chrome displays pages more or less as they should be (*) and allows secure connections. This has been a particular boon over the last three weeks when I have been laid up with what now turns out to be 'acute follicular tonsilitis', something which is being tackled by weapons-grade doses of antibiotics. I have been able to keep up with things on 45cat and 45worlds from the warm sanctuary of my bed, in addition to browsing my usual haunts from a recumbent position.

(I would rather not use Chrome, but Firefox for Android is irremediable shite and takes an age to work, something which the developers don't seem to be in any hurry to address).

Speaking of recumbent positions, I have found out something really annoying in the course of all this. Just in an idle moment, I tried to view one of the better-known sites for, 'ow you say, videos of an explicit nature...only to find that I couldn't. My 'service provider', along it seems with all others of their breed, automatically blocks any sites which they deem to be 'inappropriate'. This is, no doubt, 'to protect der lickle kiddies', but bear in mind that we are talking about totally lawful material here. The 'service provider' (and this issue is why, as you may have noticed, I haven't mentioned their name; I don't wish to give them the Oxygen of Publicity (hint)) will undo the block if you ask them to...except that you have to give them your credit card details first, which means you inevitably end up on a database somewhere that someone will inevitably hack. This is a problem which will become even more irksome in a few weeks time, when the State itself introduces a similar limitation for everyone, be they on a phone, a tablet or a PC/laptop, with the concomitant risk (is it a bug or a feature?) to our privacy and freedom as adults increased exponentially as a result.

I - an averagely sane and intelligent adult - strongly object to anyone treating me as a retarded ten-year-old; most especially those who have themselves more than amply demonstrated their own unfitness to make moral judgements or arbitrations on anyone else.

It's not as if it will work well in any case: whatever technology humans can devise, humans can also circumvent; and those who are supposedly to be 'protected' by such over-reach are amongst the most savvy in finding ways around such censorship. The real answer is education, of course; but that would involve being honest and truthful about the matter, and our legislators, our pastors and our masters would rather try to wall off the ocean than teach children how to swim, and where not to even try to.

This may even be a precursor to what extreme authoritarians such as Theresa May have been bursting to do for years, viz. the rendering illegal of virtual private networks (VPNs) for private non-commercial use (they can't make them unlawful tout court because that would make life impossible for business, including government departments).

So anyway, that's my new phone finally talked about.

(* Except that I find that this site doesn't display as it should: item titles are smaller than the actual text of the items themselves, for example; and the buttons on the navigation sidebar are ludicrously small. Some research needed here, I think).