Missing the point reviewing the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

Samuel Gibbs used the latest foldable phone from Samsung for four months, and today published a second review. Despite being short by today’s standards when it comes to reviews — around 800 words — I found that two things were especially worth mentioning.

First, the hardware seems to be excellent and quite durable. It should not come as a surprise that Samsung makes great pieces of hardware, especially great high-end phones.1 In the foldable devices area though, their reputation suffered quite a lot with the Galaxy Fold. It is therefore impressive to see that they managed to crack to code — and not the screen — on their second-only try.

Second, I think it is disappointing to not see Gibbs give more details on how it is to use the phone, you know that thing you do with yours? What does it mean to have a folding device in terms of checking your messages and emails? Putting it in a pocket a million times a day? How often do you really need to open and close it? I am convinced that the answers to these questions are what people need to know about a folding phone, and something we don’t really learn from this review.

The durability after only four months should not — in a perfect world — be a concern, not to the point of focusing a reviews on it anyway. Especially considering that during these last four months, people were safely stuck at home half of the time. I get that we don’t live in a perfect world, and that people may only have questions about the durability of such innovative phones, especially at that price, but it feels like a missed opportunity.

A few months ago, this is what I wrote about foldable phones like the Galaxy Z Flip, or the Motorola Razr:

If you thought first generations of Face ID and under-the-screen fingerprint sensors were slow, think about having to physically unfold a device every time you want to take a quick photo, reply to a message, or maybe just glance at your list of groceries.

And below are the only three sentences — four lines — where Gibbs writes about this matter:

I can open the phone with one hand, but rarely do.

So most of the time two hands are needed to open it?

Snapping the phone shut to end calls is very satisfying.

Oh damn, I did not know about the main key selling point.

The notification panel on the outside is enough to show me there’s something important waiting or the time, but I wish it was slightly longer so scrolling text was easier to read.

Sounds to me like a terrible experience for a phone that cost twice as much as a regular Samsung Galaxy S20, but it shows the time so I guess everything is forgiven.

On an average day, we unlock our phones more than a hundred times. Maybe we do it less often while using these devices, but the folding/unfolding part of the story is barely something to be overlooked, yet it is barely mentioned in the review. Too bad it focused solely on durability and not user experience; not unlike when the first iPhone reviewers where complaining about the lack of a physical keyboard or the lack of Flash.

  1. When they are not catching fire that is.

“I would love to ignore racism and focus all my attention on climate. But I can’t.”

Great read from Ayana Elizabeth Johnson on The Washington Post. Johnson is, among other things, a marine biologist, and it happens that I started to follow her just a few days ago mostly for that reason.1

She writes:

Toni Morrison said it best, in a 1975 speech: The very serious function of racism … is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being.” As a marine biologist and policy nerd, building community around climate solutions is my life’s work. But I’m also a black person in the United States of America. I work on one existential crisis, but these days I can’t concentrate because of another.

There are so many good bits on this piece that I could have quoted every paragraph.

  1. I studied marine biology back in 2004-2005 at the university of Heriot-Watt, Edinburgh, believe it or not.

Beautiful illustrations and a peculiar Instagram description

Earlier today, my Twitter pal1 Daniel Benneworth-Gray tweeted this excellent story on the New York Times Magazine, by Claudia Rankine: I Wanted to Know What White Men Thought About Their Privilege. So I Asked. Before I had the chance to read it, he rightfully praised the illustrations made for the article by Nabeejah Al-Ghadban, which immediately got me curious about what other works had been done before by this artist, which brought me to Al-Ghadban’s website. Besides the usual-for-an-illustrator Portfolio and Biography pages, there is also an unusual Collage page, which consists of a collection of illustrations seemingly not featured on the portfolio. This is how she describes it on top of the page:

An experimental feed: often where instant thoughts, ghosts, and ideas materialize, and co-exist through back and forth visits in time and medium; where the hand occasionally becomes illogical, nonsensical.

In other words: Instagram.

I love this. It reads like the pitch Instagram founders gave to VC funds in an awesome, alternate universe.

  1. We need a word for this kind of acquaintances.

UK National Parks photography competition shortlist

A few weeks ago, The Guardian shared a few entrants of the UK National Parks and Campaign for National Parks photography competition, and I believe that all of these pictures are gorgeous. My favourite is the one of Wistman’s Wood in Dartmoor, by the photographer Debra Smitham : I find it has some kind of a Hound of the Baskervilless vibe that I have loved since I was a kid.

The Guardian published those pictures on the 13th of March, which is the day I started working from home, a few days before the official confinement measures here in France. After now almost three months stuck in Paris, I cannot wait to rediscover nature with my own eyes this summer, and appreciate the beauty and peace of it all. The year 2020 as it is can surely use more of it.

When your PR services appear to be like the devices you sell: refurbished

Chris O’Brian, quoting refurbished gadgets company Back Market’s cofounder, Thibaud Hug de Larauze, on Venture Beat, following a new round of venture capital funding:

We want customers to find a very fast and easy solution to either repair or swap the product,” Hug de Larauze said. Ultimately, you want people to say there is no point in buying new because refurbished is just as good. And it’s better on price, it’s better on quality, it’s the same level of warranty, and it’s better in terms of ecological impact.”

Good for Back Market to succeed, good for them to raise money, I believe they deserved it just for the clever company name and the smart marketing campaigns I have seen in Paris last winter, so congratulations are in order.

But a few things are bugging me in this quote.

If the ultimate goal of the company really is that people” buy a refurbished device instead of a new one, they will very soon have a problem: if nobody buys new products, the refurbished market might become very, very difficult. I understand the ambition of the company, I understand the wish to grow big and grow fast, but using the word ultimately” here is just weird when you operate in the second-hand market.

Second, how can a refurbished device be better on quality? Better on price I get it obviously — this is the main selling point of a refurbished device — but quality? If Hug de Larauze had said same quality” or comparable quality” I would have let it go (even if it is also wrong), but better” is an overstatement to say the least, or maybe it is a crude edit made by Venture Beat. Better quality than regular used” devices, I could understand, but better quality than a new device is just ridiculous.

I won’t go deep into the whole better ecological impact” part, because it is obviously much more complicated than what three words can say. If they replace the battery in the devices they sell, meaning ordering new batteries and getting rid of the old ones — arguably the worst part of a computing device environmentally speaking — the extra carbon costs of transport needed to refurbish” the device and ship the batteries, and the new steps of packaging may eventually temper quite a bit this better ecological impact” argument, shamelessly qualified as infinitely greener” on the French website. I think it may be eventually better, but, since they provide no data or study on their website (unless I missed it), I can only assume.

Also interesting that in France, some warranties only last six month instead of the twelve months you get when you buy a new device, so not really the same level of warranty” either.

I hope Back Market is more careful with the quality of the devices they sell than they seem to be with their PR agency, otherwise many buyers will end up looking for better value instead of better price next time they buy a new phone, as they should.

On decision, perfection, and better translations

Daniel Benneworth-Gray, writing about the classic Voltaire quote The perfect is the enemy of the good” and how his own decision process relates to it:

This is how I spend my days, in a state of constant indecision. The debilitating belief that all options but one are incorrect could generously be called perfectionism, but a more accurate term would be option paralysis — the tendency, when given unlimited choices, to make none. An interminable mull over whatever trivial options lay before me, every action bogged down by a fear of choosing unwisely — what to write, what to wear, what to watch, what to eat (my sincere apologies to anyone who has ever sat with me at a sushi conveyor belt), what to anything.

Despite hearing it a lot at work, I believe it is the first time that I encounter this quote attributed to Voltaire in English. I became rather intrigued by the translation as the French sentence would translate as The best is the enemy of the good,” but I personally always understood it as something more in the likes of The better is the enemy of the good.”

In French the two words le mieux” indeed translates as the best.” The translators were absolutely correct obviously, but I cannot help but think that my wrong assumption, where the use of the single word mieux” — the one that would translate as only better” and not best” — is closer to the reality of it all, as better” clearly implies an unfinished process of improvement, whereas best” sounds like the project or product is already finished, which in my mind1 kind of goes against the meaning of the aphorism.2

Browsing on Wikipedia, I found another quote on this topic from Robert Watson-Watt, which I absolutely love:

Give them the third best to go on with; the second best comes too late, the best never comes.

  1. If I understand well, the best” in this quote doesn’t apply to the end result, but to the goal of the process itself, which indeed is a, well, better way of thinking about it. My mind more easily thinks about the end result, hence my preference to the better” — albeit wrong — translation.

  2. I learned this expensive word earlier today, so I might as well use it now: An aphorism is a concise, terse, laconic, or memorable expression of a general truth or principle.”

List of 68 unsolicited tips to improve your life

Last week, writer and Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly turned 68 years old, and listed 68 unsolicited pieces of advice. Usually, I am not a big fan of such life-guidance lists, but I’ve read the whole thing twice already, it is that good. I suspect the word unsolicited” featured in the title of the post helped a lot with my level of appreciation.

My favourite bits:

Being enthusiastic is worth 25 IQ points.

Don’t be the best. Be the only.

Learn how to take a 20-minute power nap without embarrassment.

Over the long term, the future is decided by optimists. To be an optimist you don’t have to ignore all the many problems we create; you just have to imagine improving our capacity to solve problems.

Seriously, go read the whole thing, you won’t regret it.

Beautifully written story about the closure of a famous New York restaurant

Moving, beautiful, sad, wonderful piece of writing by Gabrielle Hamilton — chef and owner of New York restaurant Pruce — on the New York Times magazine, about what the lockdown means for her and her restaurant, but really what it means for everybody in New York and big gentrifying cities, and what it means for everyone working in the food industry. An incredible piece of writing that really deserves all the buzz it is getting. My favourite bit:

Prune is in the East Village because I’ve lived in the East Village for more than 30 years. I moved here because it was where you could get an apartment for $450 a month. In 1999, when I opened Prune, I still woke each morning to roosters crowing from the rooftop of the tenement building down the block, which is now a steel-and-glass tower. A less-than-500-square-foot studio apartment rents for $3,810 a month.

The girl who called about brunch the first day we were closed probably lives there. She is used to having an Uber driver pick her up exactly where she stands at any hour of the day, a gel mani-pedi every two weeks and award-winning Thai food delivered to her door by a guy who braved the sleet, having attached oven mitts to his bicycle handlebars to keep his hands warm. But I know she would be outraged if charged $28 for a Bloody Mary.

And this one:

And God, the brunch, the brunch. The phone hauled out for every single pancake and every single Bloody Mary to be photographed and Instagrammed. That guy who strolls in and won’t remove his sunglasses as he holds up two fingers at my hostess without saying a word: He wants a table for two. The purebred lap dogs now passed off as service animals to calm the anxieties that might arise from eating eggs Benedict on a Sunday afternoon. I want the girl who called the first day of our mandated shut down to call back, in however many months when restaurants are allowed to reopen, so I can tell her with delight and sincerity: No. We are not open for brunch. There is no more brunch.

Read of the week, hands down. I am sure many people already told Hamilton the same thing, but I believe there is enough talent here that we can expect a second successful career in writing if indeed the restaurant remains sadly closed after all this.

MacBook Air 2020: Thoughts from an average user

I’ve received my 2020 MacBook Air a few weeks ago already, and I thought it would be a good time to write down my first thoughts about it. For reference, from early 2015 to earlier this month, my main computer was an 11-inch MacBook Air: obviously the new one is getting compared to it a lot.

  • I wanted the Silver colour for this laptop, and received the Space Gray. When I opened the box I immediately thought Oh shit, they made a mistake” and started thinking if I should send it back and wait longer, or just accept the Space Gray that was delivered to me and enjoy my new computer right away. Turns out I ordered the Space Gray instead of the Silver, like an idiot.
  • I find the new Retina design (2018 and 2020 basically share the same design) to be a bit bulkier than before: Maybe it is because I owned a 11-inch model before, but I don’t find it that thin, and the thin parts all around don’t really trick me to think it is an ultra thin” laptop. Again, maybe it is unfair to compare it with the 11-inch from 2015, but I also find it heavy, not just heavier. Weird to think that Air” doesn’t imply thinnest, lightest laptop of the lineup, even if it probably is now, since the 12-inch MacBook has been discontinued.1
  • The black bezels around the screen seem to pick up more dust and fingerprints than I would like, but the display is very nice: sharp Retina details obviously, extremely good colours and contrast, nothing unexpected from an Apple laptop really, but still a nice upgrade from the 11-inch. The lid opens and closes by using only one finger, and the bottom of the laptop doesn’t move, a big little detail that I truly love about MacBooks.I would have liked to have more brightness available from time to time, but it is more than fine as it is. Also, it is my first Retina display Mac, and there is no going back. When I look at what is now my wife’s computer (which is now the 11-inch Air2), it feels way older than a five-year-old laptop.
  • The keyboard is very close to the standalone Magic Keyboard — which means excellent — but slightly better: the keys are more stable and the sound is more satisfying: more of a hoomf” than a teeck.” The backlight is also very good: the light almost doesn’t leek outside the keys which feels very premium — something I ended up disliking about the 11-inch keyboard. No regret on the keyboard so far, only great satisfaction. Having Touch ID ready at any time is for me the best feature and works wonders with 1Password for instance.
  • I was surprised to find that the trackpad is moving when clicked. I am pretty sure that the latest MacBook Pros and standalone Magic TrackPad seem to simulate the actual movement with haptic feedback, but this one definitely moves. There is a haptic feedback, but I can see it moving up and down when clicked, even if it is very subtle, unless it is pressed all the way down. I wonder what is the story behind this: maybe the MacBook Air are not as premium as the MacBook Pro. Regardless, the big trackpad is a joy to use, and I like that I can click on it everywhere and have the same clicky feeling. On my 11-inch MacBook Air, the trackpad was only diving down on the side facing me, which made clicking on the upper-side of the trackpad — the side facing the screen — difficult and not efficient. Nothing like this on the 2020 model.
  • As you already know, I have very few apps installed on my machine, so I cannot really judge yet its level of performance: for what I do with it, my 11-inch was already good enough so I can only think that this one will last me for six or seven years, which makes this MacBook Air an extremely good deal. I also know the shitty white rubber material of the non-magnetic charging cable will not last me more than a year or two, and I find it a little too hard to unplug. Apple can and must do better with these cables.
  • Did I mention how I just wish it was Silver like my iPhone 11, my previous 11-inch MacBook Air, my Magic Keyboard, my first 2007 iMac, my first iPhone 5 and basically all my Apple products ever, and not Space Gray? New era, I guess.

In the end, I am extremely satisfied with this machine. I wondered if I made the right call by picking another MacBook instead of going full iPad, especially with this new Magic Keyboard accessory. Price-wise, this MacBook Air costs around the same as an iPad Pro with the Magic Keyboard, so it was not a question of money for me, but rather a question of how I use my main computer. In the end of day, for me, MacOS wins versus iPadOS, and the perfect laptop wins versus a perfect tablet able to turn into an OK laptop.

  1. Well, at least for now.

  2. My wife mostly uses her iPad Air and barely needs a laptop, so we thought it would be a good afterlife for the 11-inch to become her laptop.

Logos, memory, accuracy: pick two

In an already-seen-before exercice, 100 different people from the UK were asked to draw motoring logos purely from memory:

We analysed over 1,000 drawings, that took over 60 hours to draw, noting everything from the colours used, to the shapes remembered, the styling of the font and the impact of the smaller details. Our research revealed many memory mishaps, but also demonstrated which motoring legacies are seemingly engrained in our memories forever.

The results are either hilarious, impressive, or just plain weird: my favourites are the eye” for Peugeot, and the Olympics sign for Audi. Interesting how the BMW and Ford blue and white colour patterns were well memorised by people, while the Citroën logo appeared for both Peugeot and Renault. As a car geek, I think I would have done very well, except obviously for Vauxhall, which is the brand under which Opel cars are sold in the UK, and only in the UK.

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