I have a pretty bad record at keeping phones alive. To my defense, they tend to die easily when handed out to me. In the last two years, I killed a Sony Xperia Z1 compact (which fell down from a whole 20cm and broke its screen to death) twice (the second time was from 50cm). Then I downgraded to a Moto X Play, whose screen started blinking on the day of its first anniversary, to become entirely black a week later. I got the thing replaced by one of these craptacular shops you should never set a foot in, the thing literally imploded in my pocket 2 blocks later.

I decided to change my phone procurement policy for something new. The strategy is the following: I spend way too much money for something that eats my life and that I end up despising, might as well spend less to get something similar but that I won’t hate myself for breaking.

Introducing the Shit-Phone1. Also called an “Acer Liquid Zest”.

(My car put next to the phone for scale)

That beautiful thing is a generic 5” phone with an even more generic Mediatek chipset. That is a basic chipset of which they build all the basic phones. It’s fairly light, its screen is plasticky, its back case is polycarbonate, with an undetermined2 amount of glass-fiber reinforcement. It has a quad-core CPU @ 1.3Ghz, which still makes me dizzy when I think about my 386, and believe or not, a GPU. It embeds 8GB of memory, and 1GB or RAM. A more than decent battery, a blue-ish, but relatively high-def screen. A dual sim, one 3G, one 2G a slot for SD cards. And mostly, it costed me CAD100 + tax3.

By 2008 standards, the thing is a freaking rocket. Even its screen is of a definition close to the first Retina display screens. Such a thing would have been sold $2000, and you could have got it gold-plated with diamond inserts. Comparing it to my first Samsung Galaxy S, which was Samsung’s flagship, nothing stands. Characteristic Samsung Galaxy S Acer Liquid Zest CPU 1 core x 600Mhz -> 1Ghz 4 cores x 1.3Ghz RAM 512MB 1GB Storage 2GB 8GB Screen 4” 233 ppi 5” 294 ppi screen Battery 1500 mA 2000 mA Camera 5MP 8MP And when you use the phone “naked”, things are OK. But then, it’s Android 6.0. The phone suffers very dearly from its limited RAM. Thinking back, I would probably spend a few extra bucks to get an additional 1GB of memory. 2GB is a strict minimum nowadays. It remains usable under certain conditions, one of which is patience. I even have some positive sides, the battery is much better than a lot of other high-end phones, the dual SIM is useful when I’m in Europe, and it’s robust - fell a number of time and is still pristine. But it laaaaaaags. It laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaags so much. Somehow, I developed a form of love-hate relationship with the thing. Some days it just works, and I’m happy. Some days, it wears my nerves the same way my 2y old does. Most days, it kinda works, then the Bluetooth is going to do some weird stuff, or YouTube will crash, or some application will freeze. I just accept that it’s not perfect, reboot it, and things go back to normal. Just a shitty version of normal. I’ve considered a lot of times to replace the thing, but then, I would have lost. So I tried to find how to optimize the phone. As with popular topics addressing general population concerns4, it’s surprisingly hard to find advice that actually does anything. Searching for topics relevant to my problem, the articles will advise to reboot the phone, reset it, install some magic app (that does nothing but clock some more memory). The problem is that these are targeting phones that your semi-techie father bought. Probably a mid to high-end Samsung, with 45 versions of Sugar Candy Crush installed, each pumping the entirety of your father’s calendar, phonebook, photobook, call log, and porn library, so resetting it makes sense. In my case, it is an optimization problem, and no-one either cares, or knows how to do it. So I went on and started investigating issues, trying new things, applying continuous improvement to the setup of my shit-phone, all the while resisting to install a new ROM, partly because of the lack of it. There are a certain number of rules when you have a shit-phone, that you need to respect. It some form of an art, a discipline of self-control, a resistance to the dire temptation of taking the easy path to salvation through buying something cool. It is not simple, and I’m definitely not sure it is worth it. But if you ever end with a stupid-phone, you’ll need help, and I want to give you a jump-start. Therefore presenting you with my conclusive list. # How to carry on with you life when you have a shit phone 1. Accept that this is some form of failure. People fail from time to time. Therefore, this is just proof that you’re human. 2. Everyone has a better phone than you. But you’re way cooler than them, ‘cause no-one has the same phone as you. No-one knew that Acer was making phones when I got it. I proved them wrong. What a man I am! 3. You need patience. A lot of it. Just wait for it. And sometimes you’ll throw the phone against the wall. That’s ok. The phone’s plastic screen can handle it easy. Worst case scenario, you’ll have to buy a new phone. Poor you. Just don’t buy a shit-phone this time. It will do tricks on you. Random stuff you’ll discover. The Bluetooth will lag, applications will fail to install, lags, etc. Be patient, but know that the love you will put in the phone will likely not be returned. 4. If you’re in the choosing step of the process, go with at least 2GB of RAM. Problem #1 is being short on RAM. My Shit-Phone has 1GB, it definitely a Hassle, I don’t advise it for novice Shit-Phone owners. 5. Similarly, try to go with 16GB of internal memory. My Shit-Phone has only 8GB, and even if it has an SD slot, it remains a challenge. Problem #2 is the limited internal SD size 6. Be humble. You won’t have all the fancy stuff. Truth be told, you don’t need it. You’re simpler than that. You don’t need Google assistant to spy on you day in, day out. You don’t need 15 widgets on your screen. You can’t afford them anyways, background processes are the enemy (P #1), and Google Assistant is the worst of them. 7. Pick a simple, light-weight launcher. I advise Nova, this is the smallest I’ve found. 8. Don’t use Chrome, it’s too heavy. The lightest browser I found until now was Brave. 9. There are apps that you generally won’t be able to use, for either lack of memory (#1), too much internal storage space usage (#2), because they can’t be moved to the external storage (#2), or simply because they lag too much. The official Twitter client is way too heavy. Outlook as well. TuneIn takes a couple minutes to launch. Google Maps is heavier than Waze. 10. Some apps can’t be moved to external storage. Unless they’re critical, forget about them. Similarly, some apps can be moved, but then behave weirdly. I lose authentication in 1/2 the Microsoft apps installed on my external SD every-time I restart. 11. Kill all applications regularly. This is generally a bad advice because phones’ OSs are tuned to automatically optimise application scheduling, and killing all apps will in fact drain your battery. But the optimization is targeted at getting battery life. Your issue is not battery life, it’s memory shortage. When this is the case, killing apps make things better. Much, much better. 12. While at it, install a widget to force garbage collection (a.k.a. “Clear RAM”). I’m using One Touch RAM Cleaner. It works for a low memory budget. I’ve also used the one integrated to Microsoft Launcher, but I got rid of the launcher itself (fairly heavy, but loses its configuration when rebooting) 13. Restart your phone everyday. My Shit-Phone has a feature to auto-turn-off or on. This has changed my life, or at least the part related to my phone. Similarly, when things get bad (laggy, Bluetooth issues, …), reboot. 14. You’ll have to optimize the last 20% of the phone yourself. For such a pricetag, the company’s “enginerds” didn’t work on it much. The most telling example is the volume. The thing, at minimum volume, was already super loud. Using some apps, I was able to go into the chipset config and update the volumes myself to make things right. When tweaking, search for the chipset rather than the phone. A) there are more resources linked to a chipset embedded in 20 phones than to your phone that only 20 people bought worldwide. B) the help you’ll find will likely be much more technical and relevant. 15. Turn off push email. This is a major, major memory hog. Things got much better for me once it was off. Also, you don’t need it. Your life will be better. You’re your phone’s master, you decide when to check mail, not the opposite. 16. Use a light email client. K9 is not too bad, there are a couple material forks of K9 to feel like you’re in 2015 (still, not 2018. Don’t ask too much) rather than 1999. Use web shortcuts (i.e. shortcuts to web apps launched in the browser), this spares internal memory (#1), is usually lighter than actual apps (#2). 17. You’ll realize the worth of the apps you download. Some are optimized for shit phones. WhatsApp runs really well, weighs nothing. Netflix, Feedly, Audible, Waze, LastPass, and surprisingly, Skype for business, all run pretty smooth. Sometimes you need an app for work and realize it’s 50MB for nothing, and can’t be moved to external SD. Garmin Connect, HSBC’s app, TripIt looking at you! 18. It’s not only shit. I dropped it a few times on the floor, which is an ok experience - I feel no attachment to the thing, and, in fact, can’t wait for it to die. If it does, it’s only$100. And then, it’s resilient. The battery life is not bad, but then it varies significantly. With similar use (including streaming music in the car, GPS guidance, checking my mails, watching some YouTube, etc.), I sometimes end the day with > 55% battery, and sometimes 10%.

19. Carry on with continuous improvement. Sometimes you’re gonna crack and ask yourself why so much hatred. Come back to your root principles, and just investigate the problem. Uninstall un-used apps, deactivate the cache usage, look at battery use of applications, kill those unworthy of the prime estate that is your phone’s RAM. And start over. This is a war that never ends, what better metaphor for life?

Overall I don’t think the experience is worth it, but those extra \$100s are hardly justified. I think it’s definitely worth finding a slightly better alternative, I don’t think I’ll go back to a flagship though (if I have to pay for it - but you always do somehow, isn’t that how it works?).

# Notes

1. Note the brilliant 1* rating, from someone whose phone caught fire.

2. Household equipment, let’s ballpark 30%.

3. I even paid the Staples’ 20% insurance that gives you a free exchange in the next 2 years. With such a price tag, 20% is not much :)

4. I dread having to search anything related to Excel.