Visible’s Swap Program Now Offering Better Phones

I previously raved about Visible’s swap program. New customers used to be able to trade in almost any Android phone to get a free ZTE R2. In my case, I was able to trade in an old phone that was several years old for a much better device.

Visible recently made the swap program much better. The ZTE R2 has been dropped from the program, and customers now get to choose between the ZTE Blade A7 Prime and the Motorola Moto e6. I haven’t got my hands on either device yet, but from what I’ve read, both look like solid entry-level phones.

If you have an Android phone that powers on and isn’t already compatible with Visible, it should be eligible for the swap program. You can verify whether a device is compatible by entering its IMEI on Visible’s website. If you get a message that your device is incompatible, hit the “Next” button to continue with the swap program.

Xfinity Mobile’s BYOD Program

Xfinity Mobile has a bring your own device (BYOD) program, but only a handful of devices are eligible for the program.

BYOD-eligible Apple iPhone devices

The iPhone 6 and more recent Apple devices are likely to be eligible if they’re unlocked. However, iPhone models sold by certain carriers or in some regions of the world may still be ineligible. Xfinity’s online tool can be used to verify a specific device’s compatibility.

BYOD-eligible Android devices

Only a small number of Android phones are officially compatible with Xfinity Mobile. At the moment, all of the compatible Android phones are Samsung Galaxy devices:

  • Samsung Galaxy S8
  • Samsung Galaxy S8+
  • Samsung Galaxy S9
  • Samsung Galaxy S9+
  • Samsung Galaxy S10
  • Samsung Galaxy S10+
  • Samsung Galaxy S10e
  • Samsung Galaxy Note8
  • Samsung Galaxy Note9

Most models of these devices will be compatible with Xfinity Mobile if they’re unlocked and were sold in the U.S. I still suggest confirming compatibility on Xfinity’s website.

Official details about devices Xfinity Mobile permits are shared in the carrier’s FAQ. Xfinity Mobile has expressed an intention to expand the number of devices on its Android BYOD list in the future:[1]

Right now, not all Android devices are compatible with Xfinity Mobile, but we’re working behind the scenes on making this possible in the near future.

I hope Xfinity Mobile aggressively opens up its Android BYOD program soon, but I’m not sure it will happen. Here’s an excerpt from a complaint posted by a Reddit user in early 2019:

[Xfinity Mobile] promised that it [Android BYOD] was coming over and over and here we are over a year later and still nothing… We did finally get iPhone byop but not a peep about android. I feel a little lied to.

Xfinity finally started to offer limited Android BYOD support in July of this year. Since the beginning of the BYOD program, Xfinity has expanded its initial list of supported devices to include the Samsung Galaxy S10, S10+, and S10e.[2]

Unihertz Atom Review – A Postmortem

If you happen to stumble upon a tiny phone on the bottom of the San Marcos river, please let me know. It’s mine.

Towards the end of last year, I supported the Indiegogo campaign for the Unihertz Atom. The Atom is a tiny, ultra-durable phone. I have a habit of putting my personal phones through hell, and I hate how large most of today’s mainstream phones are. I thought the Atom might be just what I needed.

I used the Atom for something like nine months before losing it this weekend. The form factor of the phone is probably the most interesting thing about it:[1]

The phone is thick but otherwise tiny. Before buying the phone, I didn’t realize how much of a conversation piece it would become. If you buy one, prepare yourself for endless questions along the lines of “Is that a [pause] phone?” and “How do you text on that?”

Performance

I’m not going to dive into details about the phone’s hardware specs. Plenty of other reviewers have already done that. At a high-level, the phone has decent hardware given its small size and low price (about $250). I never had any trouble with sluggish performance. After all, given the phone’s small size, it’s not too tempting to multitask aggressively or use intensely demanding apps in the same way you might on a conventional phone.

Size constraints

Most apps were surprisingly good at accommodating the Atom’s small screen. Texting and emailing weren’t as pleasant as they would be on a larger device, but neither activity involved a lot of struggling. Android’s auto-correct features were pretty useful for keeping the typing experience fluid despite occasionally hitting the wrong letters on the keyboard. That said, I have small fingers and good eyes. Other people might find typing more painful than I did.

Despite the phone’s size, it still has basically everything I expect a normal phone to have. The Atom has a flashlight. There’s a rear camera and a front-facing camera. Both cameras are lousy, but they work.

Overall, I think most aspects of the phone can be described as: passable but not great. That’s sort of the point of the Atom. You can use the Atom to waste time on social media, but it’s not as pleasant as the same time wasting would be on another phone.

While using the Atom, I found myself being less responsive to messages than I usually am. Reduced responsiveness could be a good thing if you’re frustrated with how attached you are to your phone. In my case, I think reduced responsiveness was a bad thing.

Durability

Unihertz claims the Atom is IP68 rated, meaning that it is both dust-proof and waterproof. Neither the headphone jack or the charging port are sealed, so I was initially afraid to put the phone to the test. Once I got over the fear, my Atom survived plenty of time underwater.

I’m not sure how it happened, but I did manage to put a decent scratch into the Atom’s screen at some point. I don’t think the screen is especially fragile, but it’s less scratch-resistant than sapphire screens seen on some rugged phones.

Other issues

  • Call quality often seemed bad. I don’t think this was so much about the phone being unable to offer good call quality as it was about me struggling to position the phone so that my ear was by the speaker while the microphone was well-placed.
  • The Atom’s vibrate function is weak. I wouldn’t always feel it in my pocket. I see this as a substantial negative. I don’t like putting my phone on ring.
  • Unihertz’s communication between the time when I supported the Indiegogo campaign and the time when I received the device was not very good. The phone also shipped slowly. I would have got my device sooner if I had just purchased an Atom via Amazon after the release date.

Other positives

  • Unihertz has some accessories (an armband, a bike mount, a clip mount) built specifically for the Atom. Rather than charging a premium for these accessories since normal accessories won’t fit the Atom, Unihertz sells them for entirely reasonable prices in the $10-$20 range.
  • The Atom works with AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. However, it doesn’t qualify as what I call a nearly universal unlocked phone since it lacks whitelisting from Sprint and does not have complete support for all the important LTE bands used in the U.S.
  • The Atom has a dual SIM tray. You can attach multiple lines of service to a single device.
  • The Atom’s battery life is excellent. This may be more about the Atom being unappealing for frequent use than the battery capacity being especially good.

Closing thoughts

Would I recommend the Atom? I’m not sure. It was a fun experiment using it for most of a year. If you’re weird in the same sorts of ways I am, you’ll enjoy a lot of things about the Atom. It’s certainly durable, it doesn’t take up a lot of room in pockets, and it’s great for bringing along on bike rides. That said, the Atom was sometimes a pain to use as a primary phone. When I lost the phone while tubing down a river last week, I may have been more relieved than upset.

Evolution of cell phones

Phones & Keeping Up With The Joneses

People buy a lot of shit they don’t need to impress other people. The phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” often has a negative connotation. I’m not sure that’s entirely fair.

People care a lot about their social status. Status is helpful for everything from getting jobs to finding romantic partners. Like it or not, buying fancy things can improve people’s social status.

Products do a better job signaling social status when they are conspicuous. Product designers and marketers know this. You don’t see sports cars with fancy engines and subtle, Honda Civic-like exteriors. Sports cars are flashy.

Electric cars tend to look like vehicles Martians might drive. There’s no engineering reason why electric cars need to look goofy. However, carmakers know that electric car owners want other people to know which cars are electric. Unique aesthetics send signals.


Recently, there’s been indications that high-end phones aren’t selling as well as they used to. I’ve seen a lot of plausible explanations: innovations have been limited, cheap phones are awfully good these days, and carriers don’t subsidize devices the way they used to. I want to throw out another possibility: fancy phones are way less conspicuous than they used to be.

The first time one of my friends got a cell phone, I was in fifth grade. At that time, just having a cell phone was cool. But my friend didn’t just have a phone. You see, his phone could flip.

Flip phone photo

Even from a distance, you could tell my buddy’s phone wasn’t just any old phone. It was a flip phone.

When flip phones advanced, the fancier ones tended to look cooler. Remember the Razr?

For the next several years, top-tier phones continued to have unique aesthetics. In 2007, the first iPhone was released. At the time, you knew an iPhone when you saw one. Only the iPhone had a screen almost as large as the phone itself.[1]

A few iPhone generations later, Apple managed to keep its iPhone 4 conspicuous with a sleeker appearance than earlier models.

In the last few years, companies have run out of ways to keep fancy phones conspicuous. It seems like the goal has been to develop phones that (a) are thin and (b) have as much of the body devoted to screen space as possible. Almost every phone these days is rectangular, sleek, and almost all screen. The Motorola G6 Play is a budget phone. It’s still thin, sleek, and mostly covered by a screen:

g6 play

It used to be relatively easy to tell what phone someone was using just by glancing at it. Now that most phones look similar, that’s much harder.

Fancy Phones: Now An Even Worse Deal

About twelve years ago, Apple released the first iPhone.[1] It was an expensive device, but the original iPhone had all sorts of features that the competition lacked.

In 2012, the year the iPhone 5 was released, there were still significant differences between the latest, high-end phones and phones that were sold at lower price points.[2]

Today, things are different. Hardware has continued to improve, but it’s not clear that hardware improvements have had much to offer to the typical consumer. Today, you can get an unlocked Motorola G6 or G6 Play without any carrier subsidy for less than $200.[3]

The G6 performs well for the sorts of things typical consumers use their phones for. The phone’s cameras are pretty good. It has a fingerprint reader. Hell, the phone even does pretty well in terms of aesthetics. I’m struggling to come up with meaningful limitations it has compared to higher-end phones. It’s not waterproof?

Perhaps the high-quality of low-end phones these days explains why the latest iPhone models haven’t sold well. I don’t mean to suggest that higher-end phones don’t have some advantages. They do. Having a top-of-the-line phone these days may matter if you’re an Instagram star, you want to play intense mobile video games with top-notch performance, or you want to make your friends jealous. If you don’t care about those use cases, you can save a lot of money without forgoing many useful features.