Thirty One

I wasn’t particularly looking forward to my thirties. But as I look back at my most recent trip around the sun, I realise it’s actually been a great year.

Got back in shape

  • Lost 10kg+ since January 2018. I’ve written about my progress earlier.
  • Weight is now consistently at the 66 – 68kg mark on most days.
  • Progressively overloaded my weight training regimen. Now bench-pressing over 70kg and leg-pressing much more.

Started working remotely

  • I joined Unmetric in July last year and it has changed my life! True story.
  • I love the flexibility to get work done on my own schedule while still making time for fitness, hobbies, family and community.
  • I honestly think remote is the future of work — folks will soon realise there’s little sense in spending precious hours each day in commutes and other distractions.

Serena!

The best birthday present I could ever ask for came exactly a month in advance. She’s been sleeping for 16h+ straight everyday for the last month, and both Sasha and Sofia are crazy about her!

Onward and upward!

My wife asked me why I was speaking so softly at home.
I told her I was afraid Mark Zuckerberg was listening!
She laughed. I laughed.
Alexa laughed. Siri laughed.

Jean Marc Dieu

Google Pixel 3a: Initial impressions

This is not a professional review — there are plenty out there who have already said great things about the Pixel 3a. This post is opinionated, and deliberately so. I am not an average user — I design digital products for a living and thus have high expectations of the user experience. I have a certain set of requirements from a phone, which may differ wildly from yours.

I’ve been using Google’s new Pixel 3a for 72 hours a couple of weeks now, so I thought I’d share my perspective as a user based in India.

For full context, I bought my Just Black Pixel 3a off Flipkart the day it went on sale. Though the selling price was 40K, I got mine for 28K by trading in my old Nokia, and using a combination of discounts from HDFC Bank and Flipkart Plus.

Keep in mind I’m coming from a Nokia 6.1 Plus, so that’s my reference standard going in. In the past, I’ve also had the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the Motorola Moto X Play, among others.

Here we go.

Build and ergonomics

Very decent. My old Nokia was metal and glass, and apart from the lighter weight, I couldn’t tell the difference. I wouldn’t have thought this was plastic if I hadn’t read about it earlier.

Buttons are very tactile, although my volume rocker has a slight horizontal wobble.

I can use the phone comfortably with one hand. It’s tall and narrowish. If the phone is in my right hand resting on my curved pinky, I can sweep my thumb from the bottom left corner to about 80% to the top without readjusting my palm. I don’t think the XL would afford the same.

I’m a fan of all-black phones, so this one matches my aesthetic preferences perfectly. I plan to get a nice sturdy case from Spigen or UAG to complete the look, once those hit India.

Aesthetics

This is subjective. For one, I absolutely love that there’s no notch here! I still don’t get why all OEMs are chasing 100% screen-to-body ratios at the expense of putting obtrusive notches and cutouts.

Sure the bezels could have been thinner, but I don’t have too much of an issue with them.

The two-tone finish and single-camera placement at the back is unique and you can easily tell even from a distance that this is a Pixel. Can’t say that about your average Chinese OEM these days.

Display

The gOLED panel is good! Colours are punchy at the Adaptive display setting, but that is just too over the top for me — I currently have it at Boosted. Some Reddit users complained about a yellowish gradient on the non-XL model (even The Verge mentioned this in their review), but I couldn’t spot anything even after trying.

There is a very slight blue shift off-axis — a characteristic of OLED panels. You won’t notice it unless you really try.

I don’t trust the Dragontrail glass used here as much as Gorilla Glass, so I’m going to be using a screen protector for sure. The Dragontrail glass seems pretty sturdy.

But the biggest difference I noticed on the display was the superior haptics — miles ahead of anything I’ve used so far.

Cellular and audio

So many professional reviews don’t say anything about this, although it’s one of the primary functions of a phone.

I’m on Reliance Jio here in Goa, and data speeds are good. Call quality seems fine, which means the microphone also functions well. Phew!

Speakers work great. No muffling or distortion. The bottom-firing one is louder than the earpiece.

At this point you may ask why I’m mentioning all these things — the Pixel 3 had lots of issues of this sort, so I’m relieved none of them are present here.

Performance

From initial bootup, the software experience has been very smooth. I always prefer a clean install on a new device, even though the Pixel allows you to migrate your apps, SMSs and more from your old phone.

The 3a breezes though everyday tasks like social media, taking photos and videos, chatting on Whatsapp and Slack, and occasional tracks on Apple Music.

But this phone will probably frustrate those who spend most of their free time playing PUBG or other intensive games — they are simply not the target audience for this phone.

Software

Absolutely gorgeous, and very similar to Android One devices. No bloatware to be seen at all, which is a relief from Samsung and other past phones I’ve used. The phone ships with standard first-party Google apps like GMail, Calendar, Contacts, Messages, Maps and so on.

One issue I’m seeing right now is that the last security patch reads 05 March 2019, but I’m sure that’s something Google will fix in June.

Other small things make a difference too — like the subtle, tasteful wallpapers and ringtones the 3a ships with. Nice.

Camera

So much has already been said by so many reviews about the phenomenal camera this thing has! It consistently nails the dynamic range, details, colours and exposure. Every. Single. Time.

Portrait mode is absolute fire.

Let me just say that it’s difficult to get a bad shot with this camera — in fact, I’m now pressurised to take my photography game up a notch to fully realise this camera’s potential.

QA issues and after-sales support

Pixel phones have been infamous for QA issues in the past. Seems like every generation of devices had some significant issue — lens flare on the OG Pixel, display issues on the Pixel 2 and microphone/RAM issues with the Pixel 3. Many Reddit users in the US have had multiple Pixel phones exchanged but still experienced the same issues.

However, here in India, all my friends who’ve owned Pixel phones had nothing to complain about. Some of them had got the Pixel 2 XL on Day 1 and had zero issues. Which leads me to believe the Reddit brigade is just an understandably vocal minority.

My 3a so far has exactly zero issues — and I’ve been minutely inspecting every aspect of both the hardware and software as I type this. It seemingly has none of the issues previous Pixel phones have reported.

So take your own call.

After-sales support in India is handled by a third-party entity called B2X in Mumbai. While they have doorstep pick-and-drop, this may affect your decision in case you ever need to service your phone. I’m generally super careful with my devices. I can’t remember the last time I had to visit any phone service centre, so this didn’t bother me too much.

Who is this phone for?

Folks who value a consistently great camera experience — night or day.
Folks who hate waiting months to get software updates.
Pixel fans who don’t want to pay full price for the regular variants.

For me, it’s all of the above. My search ends here.

This phone excels at photography — that is its raison d’etre. If you don’t value this, the 3a is not for you. Plain and simple.

If you use your phone heavily for gaming and other intensive multitasking, you’d be better off with a OnePlus or Pocophone.

A common comment seen on forums everywhere is that you could just slap GCam onto any budget phone like a Redmi Note 7 Pro and get comparable results. Yes, sometimes you do get very decent images and they may suffice for you; but I’ve used these ported apps on my Nokia and I’ve seen firsthand how broken the entire experience is. Tread with caution.

For me personally, the software on all of the Chinese OEMs (barring OnePlus) is garbage — I would avoid them even if they had great cameras.

Pricing in India

Those looking to buy the Pixel 3a should do so in the initial launch period (which AFAIK ends mid-June) as there are plenty of discounts and offers to sweeten the deal.

As a rule, never ever pay full price for a Pixel, especially in India.

As mentioned earlier, I got mine on Day 1 for 28K INR which was pretty sweet. You can get it for ever lesser if you currently own a flagship phone.

Do I wish it was priced less? Of course! But we could say that about any phone now, couldn’t we?

To conclude, I absolutely love my Pixel 3a and — barring something catastrophic happening to it — can honestly see myself using it for the entire 3 years that Google has promised support for. It feels great to finally be onboard #TeamPixel.

I don’t know what my purpose is”

F*** your purpose.

Ask yourself:
What am I curious about?
What holds my attention?
What fascinates me?
What do I want to know more about?
Who do I enjoy helping?

Find your interest first.
Pursue it. Become competent.
Purpose will develop.

Fateh Singh
Serena

Serena is here!

Our beautiful baby girl finally arrived today at 04:12pm, weighing 2.6 kilos.

The experience of being in the labour room for the third time never gets old. Vinnie is such a warrior! I’m relieved she pulled through labour much faster this time.

I’m now a father of three girls — such a great blessing and responsibility! As I type this, I turn around and glance at Serena and she’s sleeping peacefully, making the cutest faces.

Rest my child, tomorrow you meet your sisters.

It seems likely that a designer’s inner life is comprised largely of failure. Concepts, patterns, interfaces, styles — all of these have to be seen, tried and rejected repeatedly to make progress. Our talent is a bloody war between the viable and the inelegant.

Ben Pieratt

Thoughts on buying an Android phone in 2019

My requirements from my Android phone have always been simple. Here they are, in order of preference.

  1. Great point-and-shoot camera
  2. Bloat-free software experience
  3. OS updates for at least 2 years

Of course, my ideal phone would also have these.

  1. Notch-free display
  2. Decent battery life
  3. Headphone jack

It’s weird that just a handful of phones fit these requirements in 2019!

Camera

I mean, lots of phones have great cameras these days — it’s no longer limited to just the iPhone and Pixel. The G7 and V40 from LG, the Mate 20 Pro and P30 Pro from Huawei, the S10/e/+ and Note 9 from Samsung — the list goes on. Huawei in particular has suddenly made huge strides in smartphone photography with the array of telephoto and wide-angle lenses they’re packing in their phones.

The Huawei P30 Pro is seriously versatile. Photo by AndroidPIT.

Samsung too has thrown its hat into the ring with the S10 series offering multiple lenses to frame your perfect shot.

Software

Software is half of the user experience when it comes to personal devices like phones. Personally, I like my experience to be clean, minimal and customisable as I please. I’ve mostly stuck with this formula with my purchases.

Galaxy S7: great hardware, poor software

The only exception would be the Galaxy S7 that I got in 2017 at a great deal, just to see what it would be like. I put up with Samsung Experience for almost 2 years — hacking everything from the launcher to the duplicate apps — that I eventually got tired of it. One UI is a breath of fresh air though.

But having my phone minimal under the hood is super important to me. For this reason alone, no force on earth would ever make me buy a Huawei / Oppo / Vivo / Honor / Xiaomi device in their current incarnations, no matter how enticing the hardware may be.

Nokia’s Android One — check.
OnePlus’ OxygenOS — yes please.
Google’s Pixel Experience — hot damn.

OS updates

The less said, the better. I’m looking at OEMs like LG that sell flagship phones without any promise of even one major Android version update. Motorola used to be pretty slow as well back in the day. Most Chinese OEMs are lacklustre too.

Apart from the Pixel — Nokia, Essential and to some extent OnePlus do a great job here. For the amount of money consumers pay for mid-range phones, the least they could do is get updates for at least a couple of years.

So what are my options?

I’ve been keeping one eye on all upcoming phone leaks for the last few months, and the other on my wallet — I don’t want to spend 50K on a phone. The way I see it mid-2019, I have a few options launching in the next couple of months.

  1. Google Pixel 3a
  2. OnePlus 7
  3. Nokia 8.1 Plus
  4. Xiaomi Mi A3
  5. Motorola One Vision

I am genuinely intrigued by these three though — Google, OnePlus and the new HMD-fronted Nokia. Possible future posts about them.

For now, I watch and wait.

We’re in the endgame now

Man, I cannot wait for this!

Here’s how I think the plot will pan out, based on the numerous leaks from Reddit.

  • The Avengers along with Captain Marvel go straight for Thanos in the first 30 minutes (“You could not live with your own failure…”).
  • They defeat him, because he’s weakened and the Gauntlet doesn’t work at its full potential anymore.
  • They return to Earth and years pass, but they are haunted by their failure to prevent the Decimation (“Some people move on, but not us”).
  • Ant-Man emerges from the Quantum Realm and tells them about time vortexes and the potential for time travel.
  • They go back in time and undo the Decimation, possibly creating an alternate timeline and setting up the future of the MCU (similar to the Star Trek reboot in 2009).

The design of Apple Card

Arun Venkatesan’s blog turned up in my Panda feed this morning, and I really love the detail he gets into here — analysing the tiny details behind Apple Card.

His writing style and design aesthetic are very reminiscent of Andrew Kim, whose blog I absolutely used to love.

You’ve got a new subscriber, my friend. Keep it going.

The storm does not know its own strength nor that of the sailors. The captain must determine both.

Luke Sequeira

Great quote from my ex-boss on adversity, and the role of a leader therein.