May 15th, 2014

Tina Roth Eisenberg (aka SwissMiss) recently asked her readership about swag, on Twitter and her blog.

I was surprised by the strength and length of my opinions on the subject in the comments. I think it’s due to the fact that, while I’m a hippie about our earth and a minimalist design snob in theory about possessions, I’m a complete sucker for free stuff. So rather than rail against swag as wasteful, I think companies can strive to make it awesome in all the right ways:

Useful or solves a problem.

The only swag I’ve ever enjoyed is stuff that’s well made and useful even if you wouldn’t think to buy it. I’ve seen several customized Field Notes notebooks; those are amazing. Expos like Penny Arcade often have people giving away enormous sturdy reusable bags for people to cart around their swag in—I like that model of being helpful and solving a problem. I’ve also received custom etched pint glasses that bore the logo of a fictional pub in the game I was working on; that was cool. I much prefer a glass I can pour beer into over a poster or a stuffed animal.

Be careful, though—most of us have an excess of cheap free water bottles and mugs and commuter coffee cups and such. I feel like you’ve got to make sure your useful product is actually better made than the industry average if you want people to appreciate it and use it—which of course you should, because why else are you creating it? So no cheap BPA-laden leaky water bottles. Make it count with quality materials and an attractive base design.

Fancy pens never lose.

Everyone needs a pen, right? I mean, at some point in life. Pharmaceutical companies make the BEST free pens, with gimmicky weird tricks when you click them or twist them, etc. They always have playful design even if the playful element is pointless—and they’re usually well-made pens, sometimes in metal and usually refillable. I had a student in Mexico City who was a psychiatrist specializing in ADHD; he used to save up pens for me from ADHD drug makers because they so delighted me. Little tricks like if you clicked them the colored dots exposed under the brushed aluminum would change from gray (sad?) to yellow and orange (happy?) and such. It was delightful to have a toy embedded in a pen. (Doesn’t hurt that it was a really nice well-made pen with good heft, a metal body, and smooth ink flow.)

Legal services/conferences follow closely behind in Pen Swag Awards—my favorite pens to this date are ones from ten years ago when my law student roommate snagged me Lexis Nexus pens with integrated tape flags, and even this one pen that has a light in the nib for taking notes in a darkened room during a presentation. (Annoying to your neighbors, perhaps, but I’m still a sucker for a gimmicky pen.) They’re again well crafted, ergonomic, and they usually pack some kind of extra-useful feature beyond that of a standard pen. Can’t lose being useful.

Quality materials that show good taste.

I also love swag made from lovely materials—a Korean video game conference yielded a pen made of bent wood veneer. So cool. I’ve gotten swag made of glass or wood or even concrete once or twice; interesting high-quality materials set you apart.

And of course, a decent sense of aesthetics matters. This is more subjective to define, but I usually see decent overlap between people who choose natural materials and people who have an excellent product design aesthetic. And natural materials can sometimes even elevate mundane items, IMO.

Make it a true gift with minimal branding.

I also think it’s thoughtful and respectful when your swag’s branding is minimal. It’s more “generous” and less “transparent and borderline desperate marketing attempt.” I think more kindly of a company if they just made me something cool but didn’t force their company name down my throat in the process, you know? It also allows for a longer tail.

For example, a business card holder is nice conference swag, but it’s more likely to be used at OTHER conferences if it doesn’t say ADOBE in huge letters on the back. A small mark in the corner is more in keeping with the theoretically generous gesture of giving someone a free little gift, if you ask me.

One exception is when the overall look is custom, even though the branding is minimal—XOXOFest gave out awesome hot pink Field Notes notebooks; when I see someone else writing in one of those I basically know we share the Secret Code of XOXO. (Full disclosure; I was not an official attendee but I was in town visiting with folks who attended. They gave me pity notebooks, I suppose, haha.) Recognizable traits like that are OK if you pulled off good taste and subtlety in the actual brand name being stamped somewhere.

Everyone hates pointless cheap tchochkes.

Stuff like buttons, patches, glasses, keychains, and cheap plastic cups or tchotchkes are what I think it’s best to avoid. Those are all ugly and disposable feeling; they just seem like an utter waste. You’re better off doing nothing than spending money on crap.

No paper products.

Any paper products (fliers, brochures etc.) are an even graver utter no-no. It’s like you missed the memo about what swag is supposed to be, and it’s purely harmful to the environment without the redeeming “fun” factor of swag as a gift-like object.

My only exception to this was in Tokyo, advertisers often gave out packs of toilet paper with ads printed on the outside, because many public toilets there don’t have paper available. I never actually wound up using it, but I respected that idea and count this as more “useful/problem-solving” than “paper product” in my mind.

Don’t overspend

I’ve never actually been to the kind of event that gives away crazy spendy swag like free iPads or headphones or battery cases, but I see a bunch of mixed/disappointed reactions from people on the receiving end of higher-end swag. It feels wasteful; the gesture of having spent $200 per person on bulk Microsoft Surface pricing is crazy. People start thinking, “Couldn’t they have just lowered the ticket price, or let me at least pick my specs, or donated this to charity, or ___?” It’s such a personal thing, choosing what tech we spend hundreds of dollars on. When someone else makes that call for you (and engraves it to diminish potential resale value, heh) it just feels, I don’t know, like that generosity is misplaced and telegraphs poor judgment.

Maybe I just know a bunch of ingrates, but I think everyone would agree that it seems like the money could have been put to better use. So if you offer something pricey, make it also a problem-solver—like Tina’s commenter Daniel who said his company gives out mobile battery packs because people are always stressing about battery life at conferences. THAT is the right idea!

May 14th, 2014

Get on that, Internet.

May 08th, 2014

I’ve had a recent epiphany about website design. I’m blown away by how much I’ve fought usability in order to shoehorn in certain design quirks or trends or ideas that were utterly out of sync with the goal of delivering a useful and easy to navigate website. I’m hanging my head in CSS shame here.

Anyway, don’t freak out. New site coming soon, which will involve a new look. It might go through a few new looks. It’s still me, though! <3

January 07th, 2014

My husband’s pal Ian started a fun game on Twitter. I joined in. Hilarity ensued, at least as far as the three of us were concerned. I thought you might also find it amusing.

And then we all went to bed, I guess.

December 31st, 2013

Wow, I haven’t written anything here since my last Medium post. I sense a new trend!

Not really. I almost wrote a thing about One Star App Review Gate (kill me for saying that; I mean the stupid -gate suffix ironically, in case it wasn’t clear). But then I didn’t. So here’s my latest Medium post, about New Year’s Resolutions! A phrase which I’m not sure should be title case like that! Oh well! Happy new year! Or, if you prefer, Happy New Year!

When I empty the Roomba, I will finally remember to disassemble it over the counter instead of the trash can, even though I know that will make an annoying mess on the counter, because that one tiny fucking piece always falls out and then I have to root through the trash with my bare fucking hands like an animal. Or maybe I’ll just by a new Roomba, because WHO DESIGNED THAT PIECE.

A Roomba.

My other resolution is to start using unironic header images for my Medium posts.

October 25th, 2013

Check it out; I finally wrote my first piece for Medium! It’s about how I hate default text and crappy auto-tweets and generally bad non-human-like behavior on social media.

What should the next one be?

October 19th, 2013

I just got this as a single spam comment on one of my less-used sites. My jaw kinda dropped. I thought someone out there might find it as interesting, disturbing, amusing, and/or useful—perhaps if you develop anti-spam products, you’ve just been handed a useful template to add to your filtering system. Anyway, enjoy! <3 VA

 

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{Perhaps|Maybe} you {could|can} write next articles referring to this article.

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Wow, this {article|post|piece of writing|paragraph}
is {nice|pleasant|good|fastidious}, my {sister|younger sister} is analyzing {such|these|these kinds of} things, {so|thus|therefore} I am going to {tell|inform|let
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{Saved as a favorite|bookmarked!!}, {I really like|I like|I
love} {your blog|your site|your web site|your website}!|
Way cool! Some {very|extremely} valid points!
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Money and freedom {is the best|is the greatest} way to change,
may you be rich and continue to {help|guide} {other people|others}.|
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It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s {very
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blog loads {very|extremely|super} {fast|quick} for me on
{Safari|Internet explorer|Chrome|Opera|Firefox}.
{Superb|Exceptional|Outstanding|Excellent} Blog!|
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{great|enormous|impressive|wonderful|fantastic} ideas in {regarding|concerning|about|on the topic of} blogging.
You have touched some {nice|pleasant|good|fastidious} {points|factors|things} here.
Any way keep up wrinting.|
{I love|I really like|I enjoy|I like|Everyone loves} what
you guys {are|are usually|tend to be} up too. {This sort
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own} blogroll.|
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I’m {book-marking|bookmarking} and will be tweeting this to my followers!
{Terrific|Wonderful|Great|Fantastic|Outstanding|Exceptional|Superb|Excellent} blog and {wonderful|terrific|brilliant|amazing|great|excellent|fantastic|outstanding|superb} {style and design|design and style|design}.|
{I love|I really like|I enjoy|I like|Everyone loves} what you
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{incorporated|added|included} you guys to {|my|our|my personal|my own} blogroll.|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hey there|Hi|Hello|Hey} would
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P.S {My apologies|Apologies|Sorry} for {getting|being} off-topic
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{Howdy|Hi there|Hi|Hey there|Hello|Hey} would you
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{I love|I really like|I like|Everyone loves} it {when people|when individuals|when folks|whenever people} {come together|get together} and share {opinions|thoughts|views|ideas}.
Great {blog|website|site}, {keep it up|continue the good work|stick with it}!|
Thank you for the {auspicious|good} writeup. It in fact was a amusement account it.

Look advanced to {far|more} added agreeable from you!

{By the way|However}, how {can|could} we communicate?|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hey there|Hello|Hey} just wanted to give you a quick heads up.
The {text|words} in your {content|post|article} seem to be running off the screen in {Ie|Internet explorer|Chrome|Firefox|Safari|Opera}.
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The {style and design|design and style|layout|design}
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{Kudos|Cheers|Many thanks|Thanks}|
This is a topic {that is|that’s|which is} {close to|near to} my heart…
{Cheers|Many thanks|Best wishes|Take care|Thank you}! {Where|Exactly where} are your contact details
though?|
It’s very {easy|simple|trouble-free|straightforward|effortless} to find out any {topic|matter} on {net|web} as compared to
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{Hola|Hey there|Hi|Hello|Greetings}! I’ve been {following|reading}
your {site|web site|website|weblog|blog} for {a long time|a while|some time} now
and finally got the {bravery|courage} to go ahead and give you a shout out from
{New Caney|Kingwood|Huffman|Porter|Houston|Dallas|Austin|Lubbock|Humble|Atascocita} {Tx|Texas}!
Just wanted to {tell you|mention|say} keep up the {fantastic|excellent|great|good} {job|work}!|
Greetings from {Idaho|Carolina|Ohio|Colorado|Florida|Los angeles|California}!

I’m {bored to tears|bored to death|bored} at work so I decided to {check out|browse} your {site|website|blog} on my iphone during lunch break.
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{A great|An excellent|A fantastic} read. {I’ll|I will} {definitely|certainly} be
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I visited {multiple|many|several|various} {websites|sites|web sites|web pages|blogs} {but|except|however} the audio {quality|feature}
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{Howdy|Hi there|Hi|Hello}, i read your blog {occasionally|from time to time} and i own a similar
one and i was just {wondering|curious} if you get a
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If so how do you {prevent|reduce|stop|protect against} it, any plugin
or anything you can {advise|suggest|recommend}? I
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Greetings! {Very helpful|Very useful} advice {within
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changes. {Thanks a lot|Thanks|Many thanks} for sharing!|
{I really|I truly|I seriously|I absolutely} love {your blog|your site|your website}..
{Very nice|Excellent|Pleasant|Great} colors
&amp; theme. Did you {create|develop|make|build} {this website|this site|this web site|this
amazing site} yourself? Please reply back as I’m {looking to|trying to|planning
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{blog|website|site} and {would like to|want to|would love to} {know|learn|find out} where you got this from or {what the|exactly what the|just what the} theme {is called|is named}.
{Thanks|Many thanks|Thank you|Cheers|Appreciate it|Kudos}!|
{Hi there|Hello there|Howdy}! This {post|article|blog
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{Reading through|Looking at|Going through|Looking through} this {post|article} reminds me
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{Pretty sure|Fairly certain} {he will|he’ll|he’s going to} {have
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{Wow|Whoa|Incredible|Amazing}! This blog looks {exactly|just} like
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{Excellent|Wonderful|Great|Outstanding|Superb} choice of colors!|
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{I like|I love|I really like} {all the|all of the} points
{you made|you’ve made|you have made}.|
{You made|You’ve made|You have made} some {decent|good|really
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{Hi|Hello|Hi there|What’s up}, I {log on to|check|read} your
{new stuff|blogs|blog} {regularly|like every week|daily|on a regular basis}.
Your {story-telling|writing|humoristic} style is {awesome|witty},
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{I wanted|I needed|I want to|I need to} to thank you
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I {definitely|certainly|absolutely} {enjoyed|loved}
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{Hi|Hello|Hi there|What’s up}, just wanted to {mention|say|tell you}, I {enjoyed|liked|loved} this {article|post|blog post}.
It was {inspiring|funny|practical|helpful}.

Keep on posting!|
I {{leave|drop|{write|create}} a {comment|leave a response}|drop a {comment|leave a response}|{comment|leave a response}}
{each time|when|whenever} I {appreciate|like|especially enjoy} a {post|article} on a {site|{blog|website}|site|website} or {I have|if I have} something to {add|contribute|valuable to contribute} {to the discussion|to the conversation}.
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{passion|fire|sincerness} {communicated|displayed} in the {post|article} I {read|looked
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Seattle. I {{was|was actually} moved|{was|was actually} excited} enough to {drop|{leave|drop|{write|create}}|post} a
{thought|{comment|{comment|leave a response}a response}} {:-P|:)|;)|;-)|:-)} I {do have|actually do
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or linkedin profile}?|
{Hi there|Hello}, I enjoy reading {all of|through} your {article|post|article
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I {always|constantly|every time} spent my half an hour to read this {blog|weblog|webpage|website|web site}’s {articles|posts|articles or reviews|content} {everyday|daily|every day|all the time} along
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October 18th, 2013

This is a whale tale. It’s a father-daughter story. It’s also a lesson about a design job gone wrong. It was inspired by a recent blog post from Seth Godin, soliciting a narwhal logo for the Krypton College project he started. (You can see the logo they ended up with here.)

When I was in second grade, my class studied whales. We each got to pick a specific whale to specialize in, but we also studied whales in general. We took some really cool field trips to areas where we were supposed to see orca whale pods that never actually materialized—but we had loads of fun, and we played with jellyfish and tidepool crabs and generally managed to still learn a lot. Much of which I still remember, if you feel like quizzing me!

My whale was the coveted narwhal—coveted of course because of its similarity to a unicorn. In case you were wondering, most second-grade girls LOVE unicorns. (Heck, the boys probably liked ‘em too, but I was the big Unicorn Whale Winner that year.) I was SO STOKED! I think I liked narwhals EVEN BETTER than unicorns!

On one of our educational field trips, we went into a whale-watching museum gift shop. There was this cool little toy of a curvy orca impaled with a dowel, who could be spun along this track of two pieces of wood. You’d spin the dowel and the little orca would somersault in flip after flip; it was delightful, kind of like a Pacific Northwest executive toy for a desk, you know? (I’ve tried and tried to find an example to show you, but it’s elusive.)

I of course wanted one, but in a narwhal instead of an orca, duh. I wanted this badly, despite my not considering the factors a) that the narwhal was much longer proportionally, especially when you included its horn; and b) that in fact the cool toy-rendered spinny motion was not a natural behavior for either species of whale. No matter; I wanted a spinny narwhal toy, and my father was a hobbyist woodworker who was delighted to potentially grant his daughter’s wish. So Dad and I set about making our own narwhal version of this toy.

Well, first of all, I failed to articulate that the orca toy had been painted, so all of its black and white detail showed. The narwhal isn’t nearly as high contrast or recognizable in its markings as the orca is, but I still probably envisioned a dappled gray end result with a stained ivory tusk. Instead we did the whole thing in some sort of soft wood, with a walnut stain effect. It turned out lovely, but eight-year-old me was probably confused as to why it didn’t look more like the toy I had remembered and (to my mind) faithfully described.

Second of all, there was no internet. This was in the late 80s, and we couldn’t just Google up a narwhal’s dimensions. So I think we either winged it, or *maybe* dug around trying to find a relevant National Geographic before winging it. Some sort of Encyclopedia Britannica or Commodore 64 action may have been involved as well. In the end, the narwhal we produced had a tusk that was much shorter than a faithfully realistic narwhal model’s would have to be. I don’t think I even noticed this as a kid, but I can’t help noticing it now, haha.

Lastly, I thought I had described the orca toy’s spinning and flipping and catapulting well—in hindsight, its motions were actually more like that of a seal than of any whale family member I’ve seen in action. But anyway, it spun. Like, all the way around, somersault style. Multiple times from one push. It spun from either the rightmost point on the tracks all the way to the left, or vice versa if you flipped the toy around, and it completed MANY revolutions in that distance with minimal user effort; this was greatly satisfying. We, ah, we may have miscalculated that part. (I’m guessing I didn’t fully articulate the spinning nature, nor did I pipe up authoritatively during the manufacturing process when I realized that there was no way this non-curved narwhal with its lengthy tusk was going to be able to spin around on its own competently.)

Our end product was a gorgeous walnut-stained narwhal with a short tusk, straight body, and tracks that could accommodate only a faint rocking back and forth motion. Furthermore, we failed to take into account the balance of the whole narwhal’s body, so its head leans forward significantly when at rest. (The orca is pointless to compare to here since its shape was totally different, but I believe my young self would want the balance to be even or slightly favoring the head, if she had to give up on the spinny action. Just a hunch. Because, you see, the head comes up for air. I was weirdly kid-logical even at eight.)

Interestingly, Dad actually added in a few improvements. That textured detailing on the horn was pretty painstaking, I’m betting. That’s true to form and outside the scope of my original vision/request. And see how he used a router to round out the edges of all but the tail and fin spots? That gives the whole thing more depth and dimension than I had envisioned; the orca I was modeling my request after was more 2-D. It was flat on both sides and maybe a centimeter and half thick in the middle. None of the edges were rounded like this; any dimension on the orca came from paint rather than actual texture or form.

My little narwhal
I absolutely treasure my adorable little narwhal model now, and I’ve had it on display in every home I’ve lived in as an adult. It (he, I think) gets lots of compliments. But I still think it’s an amusing window into how the design process can go very wrong. (Note that I’m not a designer at all, and neither is my dad; I’m just amused to ponder this as a Pretend Case Study.) I want to make clear that I don’t intend to take away from the awesome work of my wonderful father, whose generosity and joy in creating cool woodworking items lives on. But let’s put on our Design Hats break down where we went wrong if this had been an official modern adult design transaction.

1) I failed to articulate my needs. I wanted some very specific elements to be included, like paint and functional motion, but I didn’t specify them, and my dad as a non-designer didn’t know how to ask questions that would draw out a complete spec. He worked with the vague picture I painted and he created a mental picture from scratch based on my youthful ramblings.

2) We failed to adequately research. Between the two of us, we probably could have come up with some data point indicating that the narwhal’s tusk would have to be n percentage of its body length; we then could have figured out how much space it needed to clear in order to turn an orca-like revolution.

3) I didn’t speak up or halt the presses when I saw things going wrong. This is assuming I even saw things going wrong or had any ability whatsoever to compute this; really, I have no recollection. I was eight. But I think I could tell that it was shaping up differently than my mind’s eye when I saw Dad at work. (I would watch and learn as he created things.)

4) We both allowed design assumptions to be made, without checking in. Dad actually did something much more elegant than the orca; he rounded the edges of all but the tail on our narwhal. This is way more sophisticated and realistic-looking than the more 2-D orca toy which inspired the project. But he also assumed stain was fine, he assumed the dowel placement didn’t matter, and he assumed the piece was more for display than for toy-like use (I think). I assumed he could read my mind.

These are all interesting problems that I imagine actual design professionals face. I myself am learning to define my intentions, articulate them better, and check in more regularly when I hire creative vendors for my online dating coaching company. What say you, Actual Design Professionals? Have you run into anything like this with a grown-up client?

Leave a comment
October 01st, 2013

A blogger I love, Andrew Kim, recently reviewed a couple mobile phones. Andrew is a very different person than I am. I’m design-picky, for sure, but I’m far more obsessed with pragmatism, ergonomics, and comfort than with aesthetics, minimalism, and polish. We have different careers and backstories that inform our different values, and I’m WAY less savvy about photography than he is. I’ve been reading his blog (thanks to Grant) for a couple years, and I find his tech reviews the most fascinating of all his content, because I’ve never read anyone whose love of design tips the scales so heavily. I respect it even if I don’t get it.

Image sourceAndrew recently reviewed the Nokia Lumia 1020, and he praised it highly. VERY highly. Especially the photography. So I was very eager to check out one of these devices. 1 A few weeks ago, when some strangers at a nighttime event asked me to take a pic of them using their Nokia Lumia 1020, I was stoked to check it out.

My impression of that phone was colored by Andrew’s glowing review, and I was immediately disappointed. I was surprised by how heavy yet cheap the chassis felt. That camera bump was AWFUL. The gal who owned the phone kept explaining to me that you touch anywhere on the screen to take a pic, which I understood but I guess I seemed like I didn’t get it as I spent too long analyzing her phone, because I was inspecting the device and I think she was like ‘WTF is wrong with this chick,’ haha. So: press anywhere. Nice feature! 2

But the pics SUCKED; or rather, the ones I could see sucked. The phone took forever to actually shoot after my press, and it kept jumping around in regards to focus and lighting and color while it was trying to shoot. After this awkward jumpy delay cycle, the shots it ended on each time were distinctly green-tinged and didn’t look all that high res at all. Maybe the Nokia’s screen just isn’t as amazing as Apple’s retina screen, because the exported Nokia pics Andrew posts in his 5s review definitely look higher-res and crisper. This was not at all apparent on the device’s screen. They were grainy, greenish, barely-in-focus shots that took several seconds for the phone to render. It felt incredibly backwards and laggy and shoddy given that Andrew set my expectations sky-high. Granted, this is one low-light, biased encounter. But still.

Yet when I see the output from Andrew’s shooting, the Nokia fares indisputably better when it comes to graininess (definitely) and focus (I think). In his iPhone 5s review, Andrew shows a number of side by sides, which I’m not posting here outright because I feel like he’s the kind of blogger who would strongly prefer that I not do so, even if I linked back to him. You’ll just have to go read his full post. He does point out that, while the iPhone 5s seems to incorrectly over-warm shots when the flash is used, the Lumia 1020 seems to over-cool them so neither choice is perfect. But I’ll be damned if nearly every Lumia shot doesn’t look better the way he presents them (his captions indicate the settings).

I wish I could follow up with those Night Market stranger girls and ask to see the output of those photos, you know, the enormous high-res versions that I’m pretty sure you have to use a cable to transfer off your phone. That would be, pardon the pun, ilLUMI(a)nating. (I’m so sorry. Please feel free to remove me from your RSS reader.) But I can’t; all I can say is that for much more casual photographers like myself, the 5s felt like a more natural photography experience.

I’d love to toy around with a Nokia Lumia 1020 more. Heck, I’d love to have a shoot-off with Andrew himself, though I’m sure he has many more interesting social and press-ish requests. As a lazy photographer consumer, I’ve been obsessed with having a great camera on my phone for many years now, because it drastically affects the number and the quality of photos I take. (I was one of those people who came home from a vacation with nothing to show until about the 3GS.) I’ve never had a natural talent or affinity for photography, but I sure feel more competent with a powerful cell phone in my purse or pocket. I can totally see gravitating to whatever hardware has the best camera in a decade, when all operating systems are totally different than the current weirdly forked Apple/Android/Windows marketplace. That’s what it feels like Andrew was doing, but prematurely, since the market in my eyes is still so much more favorable to Apple customers.

Andrew makes a very good point about how emotional we get in relation to our phones:

Phones are fascinating. They live closer to our body than any other device other than the watch. And if your job doesn’t involve working on a PC, you probably use it more than any other “computer”. Because of our intimate relationship to these glowing bricks, we seem to become very emotional about what device we chose. I don’t think I’ve gotten more dramatic responses than when I praised Windows Phone or bought an iPhone 5S.

I’m not declaring war between platforms or saying that one approach is superior to the other. Android, iOS, and Windows Phone all have their strengths and weaknesses. We seem to get carried away trying to pick a singular winner. To be honest, it really doesn’t matter what you – or I – use at the end of the day. It’s just a window into services or information you’re looking for.

He’s so right. I wouldn’t be moved to write this long-ass post or deeply examine a stranger’s device if these things weren’t increasingly important in our lives, you know? There are fewer more vitriolic debates amongst the tech geeks these days. It’s no longer “I’m a Mac; I’m a PC;” it’s all about the respective choices in our pockets (or, in the case of Glass or that watch, worn on our bodies).

In parting, I’ll point out that Andrew is annoyed by a few aspects of the iPhone 5s leather case, but he doesn’t seem bothered by any of the same frustrations that bother me. As I said before; very different perspectives. I agree that the 5s battery life is surprisingly meh, but I use the CRAP out of that thing so I’m hardly surprised.

 

  1. I had briefly played with some hTC Windows phone when a sidewalk spammer approached me to demo one. (That’s what I call them. They’re probably called Foot Traffic Ambassadors or something.) This sidewalker (?) showed me a demo last year when the operating system first came out. I was really interested in many of the features, such as Local Scout, but I was frustrated that whatever she showed me was unsurprisingly a demo and not really on par with the operating system in the wild. This poor girl was super duper helpful; I told her straight out that I was wildly hostile to most sidewalk marketing people, that I was a die-hard iPhoner, and that I was a picky as hell software tester about to ask her a bunch of frustrating questions. She was totally game.
  2. It’s worth mentioning that it wasn’t in any way likely that I’d accidentally take the shot; something about the Nokia’s bezel prevented this.
September 30th, 2013

I got my iPhone 5s, and I LOVE it. (Space Gray, 32 GB, ordered via AT&T because the Apple Store hated me at preorder o’clock.) 1AT&T did a good job with all this; surprisingly, much better than Apple. 2 I was debating getting a larger hard drive, because I love having a massive music library on there and never having to think about space management when I shoot HD video or what have you. But after some research we decided to stick with AT&T as our carrier, and as such, we’re grandfathered into an unlimited data plan. So I decided I can rely more on streaming services. 3

As soon as I knew I had a phone en route, I went ahead ordered the yellow leather case and an extra two-meter Lightning cable from Apple. 4 I forgot to pay for fancy shipping (as I usually do when a slower but free option is available), so I just recently got this package. I’m glad I have them, but I have seriously mixed feelings about this case.

Just as I feared, the headphone jack takes you back to iPhone 1 days when nothing fits in because the hole is too deep. (Har har; go make the That’s What She Said joke and come back when you’re done.) I do still have some headphoney accessories designed to work with my original iPhone, but the vast majority are now defunct because they’re much more cheaply manufactured than Apple’s cables. 5

The headphone stuff is annoying on its own, but gets worse when coupled with Lightning cable aperture issues. Because that hole is also too small. I’m mostly OK with only buying Lightning cables that have a smallish aperture from now on. But how, HOW could apple design their Lightning adapter at 30-pin width, and then make a case that doesn’t accommodate said adapter? Argh! Because the leather case is incredibly difficult to remove (and who wants to constantly have to remove a case anyway), this is very irritating to me given our plethora of 30-pin items. I’m going to have to find some janky-ass third-party Lightning adaptor with a small enough girth (shut up) to work with them, or suck it up and spend a lot on new Lightning cables. 6 And as my Internet Pal Keith pointed out, the opening is too small for even non-30-pin choices. I’ve long thought Amazon Basics cables were WAY too bulky, but this still sucks:


Anyway, aperture frustrations aside, here are some not particularly well sorted hardware and accessory musings:

  • I hate how the bottom headphone holes are asymmetrical to make room for the headphone jack. Yes, I realize I’m insane. But it’s ugly, you know? And that much more obvious with the leather case.
  • The whole jack on the bottom thing takes a while to get used to, coming from a 4S! I don’t have strong feelings about this, but I certainly haven’t adjusted yet.
  • So does the TouchID sensor. I mostly remember to use it now, but gosh do I wish it worked from a sleep state.
  • I keep running into circumstances that still require me to enter my full AppleID password. Bummer! I thought I’d be freer of that. It feels like I still have to enter my AppleID password like 50% of the time. I need a less-mobile-keyboard-annoying password, I guess.
  • I’m sad to report that I don’t see a huge difference in the allegedly warm amber flash. I need to try it out on more humans instead of just cats, though.
  • Burst mode is FANTASTIC. But don’t you dare import into iPhoto before you remembered to clear a burst! I wish there were an iPhoto prompt about this. Maybe in Mavericks, but I doubt it.
  • Again, I know I’m insane, but it irks me that the inside of the camera aperture is black plastic, whereas the Lightning and headphone jack openings are just that crappy same-color yellow plasticky sealant. It’s inconsistent looking and less cleanly applied and yes I already said I know I’m insane. Look, you knew what you were getting into reading this. It doesn’t look “Apple,” OK?
  • The yellow leather case is a much greener yellow than anticipated. It looks positively chartreuse compared to my more goldenrod-colored lamps in my office. Looks greener than the yellow 5c too, though I haven’t compared in person.
  • The leather feels lovely and seems to hold up well to dirt/scuffing despite not being all that shiny or glossy a finish.
  • The top button is *significantly* harder to depress, but I’m hoping this softens up over time. The volume buttons are fine. The NY Times Symphony Scandal switch still feels easy enough for me to access, though Grant was annoyed by it being harder for him to get at. I’m not bothered.
  • I really, really like how the entire face is completely naked in this case.
  • I tried a Titan screen protector and I want to set it on fire.
  • Apparently Apple didn’t really plan ahead with the 5s dock. Read the comments about how it obscures the Home Button and how the jack doesn’t work for calls.
  • Despite all this kvetching, I really do like the leather case and plan to keep it. I just wish it felt better planned.

 

 

  1.  I went to bed, forgetting it was preorder night, and woke up with a start and scared my pal Jean who was kind enough to host me while I was in Portland pretending to be at XOXOfest. Jean sympathised and calmed me down after Apple said it hated me, and she helped me figure out what were reasonable choices to make (i.e. don’t go get in a line in the cold, dummy; just order it online via AT&T and wait a COUPLE days. You’ll hardly be the only one. Jean is so smart. And it’s amazingly helpful to have  a buddy in that frenzied moment!)

    So that’s how that all went. Let’s see how this works, embedding tweets in footnotes.

  2. The order went through, their site functioned as intended at midnight (unlike Apple’s confusingly punitive error, heh) and the phone got to me WAY sooner than their original estimate of mid-October. (I received it the Monday after the preorder.) Of COURSE I only articulate this thought after I receive the damn thing, but I must say, we should really be thankful of all the logistics-level workers who pitch in every time around, from China right on through to US warehouses and delivery services. It must be such an absolute pain in the ass clusterf*ck every damn year. I hope people get overtime pay AND a free iPhone for their hustle.
  3. Especially since I spent that extra hundred bucks on AppleCare(+?) this time around instead, as it now covers accidental shatterings. I considered getting gold, but it mattered more to me that my phone get here sooner, especially since I always planned to slap a case on it anyhow. (I’m a menace so the AppleCare and the case are just non-negotiables for me.) And I’ve missed having a black screen surround.
  4. I like the extra length for awkward coffee shop outlets; very glad you can get that first-party now. Was this also available for Apple brand 30-pin cables and I just never noticed?
  5. Apple brand cables always last me a good couple years, even if they look like this at the end. Seriously, part of why I’m so whiny about all this noise is that the multiple ten-dollar solutions I’m going to buy to make this new case work are going to crap out after about a month of light-to-medium usage. Happens every time. And I haven’t found a single “high-end” third-party provider to solve this. Yet I keep thinking it’s worthwhile to order cheap-ass Hong Kongian cables on Amazon; go figure.
  6. In browsing Amazon options, I see many comments noting that third-party Lightning cables don’t work with iOS 7 which seems bonkers but what do I know. So shop carefully.
© Virginia Roberts 2013 and beyond, duh. Affiliate links may be used, but only for stuff I'd endorse anyway.