Saturday, April 12, 2014

In The Sweet Spot

Now how much would you pay ...?

Techies everywhere know a secret that can save you thousands of dollars in just a few years. All you have to do is avoid the compulsion to buy the latest and greatest gadgets until about a year has gone by. As soon as they're superceded by a marginally improved model, then jump on it.

I've been following this policy with hard drives, for example, for decades. There is a measurable price curve
with a point near the upward slope known as "the sweet spot," the most gigabytes per buck. Pay more and you get more capacity, but for a premium price. Pay less, and you save money but lose an increasing amount of capacity as you approach the absolute minimum cost for building a drive of ANY size. At the low end the price hovers always between $20 to $40, but the amount of storage you get keeps going up in parallel with the high end. It's just not worth it to build them with less space than that. And amazingly, in another year or two that minimum size may reach a full terabyte.

Which brings us to phones. After venting about the issues with my HTC Vivid, it was time to go shopping. Every two years around this month AT&T offers to subsidize a new phone for me if I promise to keep using them for another two years. Seems fair to me, as long as I get something good for it.

Last time I got the Vivid for free, in "certified refurbished condition." It wasn't my first choice, but the price was right. And with all my kvetching, it did serve me daily throughout its life, though it really did struggle at the end. This time I was in luck. HTC had just come out with its latest and greatest model of the One. It was instantly available from AT&T for the subsidized price of $199. But (see instructions above) the previous model of the One was still available for the price of ... ZERO.

I confess that I was tempted. Reviewers were oogling the new model and cooing about its aesthetics and improvements. But let's see ... $199 ... zero ... $199 ... zero ... Two hundred bucks is two hundred bucks. And a phone is a phone. You have to stick with this philosophy for it to work.

So I placed my order, which included FREE next day shipping from Ft. Worth, TX to my front porch. It arrived with a new SIM card preinstalled, and online activation was pretty nearly one-click. I mean I didn't even have to enter any numbers because they already HAD my numbers. How easy can it get?

Am I in heaven now? Too early to say, but having installed all my apps in the first couple of days I'm beginning to get the feel of it. One thing is certain -- the GUI is so much smoother it feels like it's been oiled and floating in water. I'm finally realizing how much I was suffering with the old phone.

Another pleasant surprise is the sound quality. I spend more time listing to music on my phone than anything else, and even on the commuter train I noticed a marked improvement in sound resolution and spacial separation.

Like the Vivid, the new (old) One came prepared to download an instant OS upgrade. This was a 619 megabyte download (equivalent to a full CD!) that took me painlessly from 4.3 to 4.4.2. Nice. Now if only those updates keep rolling in for the next two years ...

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