Tech hates me

Rather than coming up with another catchy title, I figure I’ll just reuse this one as needed. Lord knows I’ve got plenty to write about to keep the title alive and kicking indefinitely.

The latest: I’ve recently written about some problems with my Pixel 5, but more issues have come up since then.

As a quick refresher: I got it this past December. It was second-hand from eBay, but everything–from the claims of the literally perfectly rated seller (100% with 27 reviews), to the flawless packaging down to the factory sealed wrapping around the cable and SIM card tool–indicated it was very lightly used at most, and was nearly an open box offer. The model was released in October of 2020, so even if the original owner bought it right away, I got it and started using it at most 14 months after it was first sold in stores. It would be 17 months old now. That comes into play later.

But the issues with it started happening pretty quickly, and haven’t stopped. Most of them are software issues I’ve never encountered in all my time owning Androids since they were first launched in Canada. This again revisits my assertion that for quite some time now, new OS versions change things just to change them to get out new OS versions to keep planned obsolescence active, and that new OS versions don’t always improve things and in some cases make them objectively worse than in previous OS versions:
– The volume button defaults to controlling media volume instead of ringer volume, which is impractical and frankly weird

– The automatic brightness has only started working in the last week or so, and even then only at times and never (which is key here) in full darkness. The result is unless I slide the brightness all the way down manually as I go to bed, any time I check my phone for the time when I’ve woken up, my retinas get scorched by the screen that normally hangs at around the 75-80% max brightness range

– In the last week I’ve started getting system UI (user interface) error messages. No idea what it’s talking about, let alone what’s causing it (hey, maybe it’s connected to the automatic brightness finally making an effort?), but I duly send in each prompted report to Google anyway, which I’m sure will result in a typically lightning-fast fix for whatever the problem is (he jokes)

– Lately I’m having odd texting issues (not the ones I mention here, but some dumb brand new ones) wherein I’m not being shown some text messages nor notified that they came in, which has caused a couple of embarrassing misses of timely information for me and the kiddo. Also, some messages I’ve sent to others are somehow showing as incoming messages that need to be read. That could be a flaw with the texting app itself, but none of that happened with the same app on my previous phone.

– When the phone goes or is put to sleep and then I later hit the power button to punch in my PIN to use the phone, it will occasionally, 4-5 times in total at this point, show a brief flash of whatever had been on the screen just as it went to sleep, and then that disappears and it brings up the keypad. Luckily this has never created an awkward moment (“Oopsy! Sorry, sweetie, you shouldn’t have seen THAT picture. That one’s just for Mommy.”), but could have some potential downsides, like what if I’d just been banking on it and all my account info blinks on the screen?

… but in the last few days I also discovered a genuine, and not insignificant, hardware problem.

We’re looking at getting our daughter a phone of her own, as she’s likely reinitiating going to and coming from school on transit with local friends of hers, and we want a reliable way to have her communicate that she got to school ok, or is staying for homework club after school, or is on the way, or needs a lift because something happened with the transit bus, etc.

My wife Jackie is half-interested in getting herself an upgraded phone, so she may do that and trickle down her current phone to our daughter.

But a friend of hers, whose work in part involves measuring up, and offering trade-in value for used phones, pointed out that if Jackie is going with a used phone someone else is offering, she wants to ensure that the “battery health” of the phone is at least 85%.

Battery health is basically how much of the factory-built charge a battery can still hold. It can (theoretically) hold 100% of its designed charge when it’s brand new. But of course batteries of all flavours become less effective over time, which limits how much of that initial capacity they can still use. 85% is, we’ve learned, the target point that should make or break a decision to buy a specific used phone or not. More than 85% battery health means the phone still has enough life in it that you’ll get some years of practical use out of it without needing to keep it constantly charging. Less than that and you’ll spend more time charging it and it’ll hold less of that charge.

Her phone, a handful of years old at this point, is still doing fine for its battery health. Turns out that iPhones make it dead easy to check what the battery health is, which makes it a convenient discussion point between her and anyone who’s selling their iPhone.

Androids, despite their entire history of saying they’re more flexible and accessible and modifiable than iPhones, don’t make battery health easy to check. It turns out you can punch an odd code into the phone dialler and it will bring up all kinds of granular, real-time specs about your phone, but battery health may not be among them.
In my case, it wasn’t.
Of course.

In which case the next step is to install an app that’s made exclusively for gauging stats about your battery.

I did some research and found one that was very well reviewed and is extremely popular and downloaded it. It required me to charge the phone–related side note: it has been and is still advised that cell phone batteries have an optimal charge range of between 20-80%; more or less than that and it can degrade the health of your battery faster–and use it, two or three times, before it was able to start giving me any particularly useful information about the battery, including its health.

So I ran it, and gave it a bit of time to do its thing, my anticipation slowly building.

What would the battery health be?

Jackie’s is still in the high 80s for a years-old phone. So at less than a year and a half old, the Pixel 5 battery health has got to be… what, high 90s? Mid-, at worst.

A couple of days later, I finally got the magic number, and the health of my battery is… (drumroll, please)…


Wait, what?

Yes, indeed! I double-checked that I was looking at the right information: 76% battery health.

The app states that its estimate is based on X number of charges for a cumulative Y% battery charge in total. Which suggested to me that its estimate of battery health may change over time. The more I used the phone, and the more I charged it, the better that app would be able to more accurately narrow down what the actual final number is for my battery health.

But after five charges of varying lengths, the app’s conclusion is holding steady, maintaining that a 17-month old phone has 76% battery health.

Wanting a second opinion (good reviews and millions of downloads be damned, mistakes can still happen), I downloaded a different popular, well-reviewed app to check on my battery health. So now I have two apps gauging the same information. And after about a day of charging and use, it told me my battery health was 86%.

Better, but still concerningly low for its young age.

So now I’m confused about a variety of things:

– Why are two apps that are reading the same charging, discharging and use information from the same battery providing conclusions that are 10% different?

– Why is the battery of such a relatively new handset still down at least 14%, and maybe as much as 24% of its factory charging capacity?* That shouldn’t happen until years of use.

– Did I get hosed on eBay? Did someone use the phone a lot (hence wearing down its battery capacity) and then polish it up and take the time to mimic factory perfection on the wrapping of the band around the pristine charger and the gluing of the flap closed around the SIM card tool and then sell it as just a barely used phone? Or…

– Is everything with the sale on the up-and-up and this just my trademark terrible luck with technology? After all, I did have that one phone years ago that was really nice but then turned out to spontaneously entirely drop its battery charge. Which I didn’t even know was physically possible, but definitely happened. More than once. I did some research and it turned out that that specific phone serial code happened to be among a production run made with a chipset where there were issues with… well, with the battery spontaneously losing its entire charge. Therefore, a battery that’s only been active for a year and a half at most, that’s now lost 24% of its original battery capacity, isn’t just not new to me, but ridiculously, it’s nowhere near as bad as I’ve had it before.

– Why doesn’t Android just have a quick and easy method to find battery health like iPhones do, which would let second-hand buyers have another metric to measure whether or not they want to buy someone’s phone? Given the vast level of detail you can get about the phone with that special code you punch into the phone dialler–data and wifi signal strength, further and more detailed wifi information, the ability to run ping tests, the voice connection type, upload and download data packet count… page after page of super detailed, very technical stuff–it seems unlikely that they would just happen to not make battery health one of the verifiable aspects of the phone. I’m not a conspiracy guy, but that’s suspicious. Perhaps they know the battery capacity will tank fast and don’t want to make the details of it available through even a detailed dive into the phone tech?

But whatever those answers are, the problem of the battery health remains.

All of which has left me in even more of a pickle for what to do.

If I’d purchased this at a store, I’d be taking it back immediately and explaining the problem and getting a replacement for it. A hardware issue this severe simply shouldn’t happen and is definitely covered by warranty. But I got it off eBay, didn’t I? From someone else. I’ve just reached out to that person to see if they could send me the warranty info in the hopes that it’s transferable and if so, go to the chain where they bought it (assuming the chain has a local branch) and get it replaced. But that all of that pans out in my favour is frankly a long shot.

What other options do I have?

Sell it to offset the cost of getting a different phone?
Maybe. Be it a phone or a laptop–I’ve had heaps of trouble for decades with both–it sucks to often be in the position of spending money we can’t really afford to replace something we also couldn’t really afford. Plus, with being the at-home connection for my daughter’s school–Jackie’s not often able to answer her phone during the day–I can’t do without a phone for the length of time that it would take to get something on eBay or local sales websites, sell it, and then buy a new phone and put my SIM card into it and get it up and activated.
Meaning, the best option would be to buy something else first, swap over the SIM card so I have an active phone, and then try to sell the Pixel 5 to offset the cost of that newer phone.

But that comes with its own set of problems.
First off, hoping that someone buys it. I could just drop the price to a crazy point and take the (additional) financial hit on it just to unload it, but that of course doesn’t appeal much. And then I’ve got to be honest about the situation with the battery. I’m not the kind of person who will just shut up about a problem I’ve found and sell it in the hopes that someone buys it and then it’s their problem. If it’s an issue I’d want to be informed about when buying something used, then I simply can’t sell it without being up front about that problem to potential buyers. Which is what I did with my phone two handsets ago, where the GPS stopped working properly. I put it up on eBay at an additional discount because of the issue and mentioned the problem with the GPS.
Surprising no one, it never sold (there’s a reason I have four or five previous phones in the house), so we got to eat the whole total for the newer phone I got, plus the full cost of the previous phone that I couldn’t resell to soften the financial blow. As has always been the case for me. Further loses all around.

So I could try to sell it, but that’s another long shot.

I’m very used to technology going sideways on me. But the recurring costs to keep replacing devices years sooner than I should need to is never not a downer.

And I guess the Pixel 5 could be the one that the girlchild gets as her phone, but if it’s glitching–not notifying about text messages coming through, etc.–then I wouldn’t want it being her primary (maybe even only) means of communicating with home. The three of us need reliable phones, though ideally not top-of-the-line ones that come with premium price tags.

The most likely scenario is Jackie gets a new(er) one, the kiddo gets Jackie’s current one, and I’ll hold out with this one for a while and then bite yet another bullet and get yet another phone and just have to hope it’s stable longer than most of mine have been for the last couple of decades.

Good times.

I should say that do of course fully recognize that this is totally a privileged problem to have (“Yeah, I know there’s a pandemic still happening and now a war on as well, but you don’t get it, man: My cell phone doesn’t work perfectly.”), but in the happily mundane life I’m lucky enough to lead, it’s still a stressor I could do without. Thus, here’s hoping it’s resolved soon.

*As of last night, after another quick charge, the first app said my battery health was down to 75% and the second one said it was down to 78%. That somehow changed just an hour later to 74% and 76% respectively. And the following day, to 73% and 72%. Then 72% and 70%. Meaning, assuming these numbers are at all accurate, the battery in my seventeen-month old phone has lost well more than a full third of its charge potential. Again, to those who poo-poo my claims that I have brutal luck with technology: Reality defies you.

Update: I’ve deleted those apps. I’m not saying they were wrong, but it seems crazy that my battery health was degrading by percentage points a day. That a) does seem a bit unlikely although again wouldn’t shock me given my experience with tech going pear-shaped on me, b) would mean that, at the rate it was dropping, it’ll hold zero charge inside the next two months–hey, stay tuned!–and c) I can’t do a ton about right now anyway. Meaning, I’d like a new phone already. Watching the battery health estimates revealed as so low and dropping isn’t changing that fact and is only becoming a point of added irritation and anxiety that I don’t need.
Good evidence suggests the battery may be in particularly bad shape.
Got it.
I’ll do something about it when I can. But stressing over it isn’t helping solve the issue or improve my mental well-being, so I deleted the apps and I’ll just deal with the phone as I can. Perhaps by using that same checking-the-apps-again-and-grinding-teeth-and-feeling-helpless-about-it time to hunt for a job to get some money coming in to help pay for a new phone. Crazy, right?
In any case, I’m done stagnating in self-imposed anxiety about the battery situation.