David Heinemeier Hansson

January 20, 2023

Another Android

It'd been a couple of years since I'd gotten a new Android phone. The last one was the One Plus 8 Pro. Nice phone, but I hated the screen water-falling over the edge. And I absolutely cannot stand the One Plus hijinks applied to scroll acceleration. So I've pretty much only used it as a spare Fortnite machine for the kids, except when I explicitly had to test some of our apps on Android.

But this week I got the Asus Zenfone 9, after MKBHD's glowing review. It's nice. First, it's smaller than just about every other Android phone on sale at the moment. Granted, that doesn't mean it's actually small, just smaller. It's almost as big as a regular iPhone 14. Much bigger than the iPhone 13 mini that's otherwise been in my pocket for the last year and a half. But at 169 grams, it feels way nicer in the hand than the iPhone 14 Pro does at 203. And closer to the 141 grams of the iPhone 13 mini.

It's also the first Android phone where the CPU doesn't feel like a total drag when it comes to web stuff. That One Plus 8 Pro I had before came with a Snapdragon 865 chip, which clocks in around 65 on the Speedometer 2.1 test. The 13 Mini does 365 on that test. The iPhone 14 Pro can hit 400. Eeks!

You can absolutely feel the deficit in real life. In HEY, we render a bunch of complicated newsletter HTML in stacks in The Feed, and just the pure rendering performance of Chrome is the bottleneck there on phones with chips like the 865. But the Zenfone has the new 8+ Gen 1 chip, which manages a far more respectable 115 on the test. Still miles off what Apple can do, but less noticeable day-to-day.

But what really pleased me about the Zenfone was how easy it was to install Fortnite on it! I remember trying to get Fortnite running on the One Plus, which, I think, had Android 11. Took forever. Finding the right permission hoops to jump to get an app banned from the Play Store onto the phone was an actual challenge, even for a techie like me. But on this Android 13 phone? Total breeze. I was up and running in no time.

Now, I'm no fan of Google in general. And I still prefer the fit and finish of iOS over Android, but there's something deeply appealing about having a phone where at least it's actually possible to install Forbidden Software, like Fortnite, without wild interventions like jailbreaking. The fidelity gap is real, but the freedom gap is bigger.

All the standard iOS lock-in still applies, of course. iMessage is the big one, but calendars, photos, and the other service hooks still make it difficult to just casually switch back and forth. But this is the first time in a long time that I've actually felt worth giving it a shot.

If you're Android curious, I'd recommend giving the Zenfone 9 a look.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.