And I Feel Fine…

October 23, 2008

There’s a lot of buzz in the pseudo-scientific community about the possibility of the world coming to an end on the final day of the Mayan calendar, which happens to fall on the Winter Solstice, 2012. A Friday. Wouldn’t you know it.

For those who might glean some sort of mystical self-righteousness from assuming that the universe is disposed towards a base-ten number system, and who see portent and disaster in the arrangement of digits in the date 12/21/12, I offer the following advice; get over yourselves. I know for a fact that the hubbub over the 2012 thing is so much manufactured tripe, because I’ve got the most dire harbinger of Armageddonous calamity right here on my desk, and it’s got nothing whatsoever to do with the Maya, Y2K, or the approach of Apophis in 2029.

It is the Samsung Sway, and surely it foretells the End of Days.

The Sway is a slick little slider from Verizon, a company with which, thanks to our rancorous parting back in early 2003, I thought I’d do business again only when it began to rain frogs amidst widespread wailing and gnashing of teeth. I said some things, they said some things, they got the dishes, and I got the dog, but in the end it all turned out okay; they recently sent a spiffy arrangement of 1900 MHz antennae atop a long-stemmed tower about a mile away, which was the finest gesture of apology I’ve ever received. So we’re good, Verizon and me, and I finally know what Peaches and Herb were talking about all those years ago.

As I’ve noted in previous posts, the CDMA technology used by Verizon, Sprint, and various MVNOs and regional carriers in the US is unquestionably superior to its GSM counterpart when viewed from the business perspective. It offers much higher call capacity per channel than GSM, which allows carriers to service a greater number of users with less equipment, and the very fact that such a complex system could even be engineered to work reliably is truly one of the technological marvels of the 20th century. That said, from the consumer’s standpoint, I’ve always preferred the flexibility of GSM and the SIM card, which allowed me to switch phones at my leisure.

So for a provider and a handset manufacturer to lure me away from the world of instantaneous SIM-swapping would have required some seriously potent mojo, which the aforementioned tower and now the Sway have provided in big, sloppy buckets. The fact that I was willing to switch providers, pay the ETFs on three phones, and hop off the Happy Handset Museum-Go-Round speaks Tolkienesque volumes about how poor the previous service was in my neck of the woods; AT&T was the most reliable provider, and that’s stretching the word “reliable” to its vermicelli-thin limit. Having to move the phone around the house to find a signal strong enough to simply send a text message got rather old in a hurry.

Verizon offers a wide selection of impressive hardware, from the LG Dare to the new Motorola Krave and the unique switch-flip Samsung Juke, but the Sway won me over with a simple yet elegant form factor, a startlingly crisp QVGA screen, and clear sound. Strictly as a bonus, it’s got the most customizable menus that I’ve seen on a Verizon handset, including options for list, grid, and tabbed views, and five separate color schemes for each. The keys are constructed of a flat, brushed metallic material that offers superior tactile feedback and solid, creak-free construction. It lacks EVDO (high-speed data) and a 2.5mm headset jack, but it’s got a 2.0 megapixel camera and a microSD slot on the outside of the phone, not buried beneath the battery.

The phone that I returned in order to get the Sway, the Motorizr Z6tv, had a bad case of rattles and a sticky clear key, along with a smaller screen and a much less customizable interface. Not a bad phone, really, but if you’re going to live with something for the length of a contract, it’s important to get something you like. Also, the shiny bastard was a fingerprint nightmare, which drives me absolutely crazy. 

So the world didn’t come to an end as I picked up the Sway, slid the face up and down a few times, played with the keys and tested the call quality before deciding that this was the phone for me, but I think it might have shuddered a little. Not only is the Sway on a network I never thought I’d use again, it’s based on a technology that I swore off only months ago in favor of versatility over function, from a company whose handsets have traditionally given me a headache with their arbitrary design decisions and spotty reception. I no longer have to seek the signal hotspot simply to make a call or send a message, and the effect is a startling feeling of normalcy. 

It’s strange that no one is interviewing any Maya scholars to interpret the meaning of the end of their calendar – all the doomsaying has so far come from professional doom mongers – but what can you expect from a society where mysticism and fear are prized above reason, logic, and knowledge.  I don’t know what phone I’ll be using on Friday, December 21st, 2012, but I’ll wager it’ll get better reception than the metaphorical radio o’ willful ignorance from which some people glean their entire philosophy.

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