“Feature bloat” has long been a complaint regarding new devices and software.The recent high profile security threat posed by Superfish, adware that Lenovo preinstalled on some of their computers, has vendors reassessing the issue. But are some tech companies going too far in the direction of taking away features that some users have come to depend on? Microsoft’s elimination of the Start button and Start menu in Windows 8 (a move they are undoing now, step by step) is an obvious example, but it’s not just Microsoft doing it and it’s not only about software; hardware vendors have been removing some favorite features, as well.
On the hardware side of the equation, Apple’s latest iteration of the MacBook has garnered criticism in some circles for abandoning the standard USB port and providing only a single port – a USB-C port – for both charging and connecting peripherals. This means that in order to connect any of your current USB devices, you’ll have to buy a dongle or a docking station (and that, of course, means extra revenue for Apple). There is also no flash memory card slot, as the old 13 inch MacBook Pro had. Sure, it makes for a sleek chassis, but is this an example of putting form over function?
If so, that seems to be standard operating procedure lately. Thin is in when it comes to devices, and one vendor after another seems to be sacrificing hardware features that many of us love and have grown to depend upon for the sake of shaving off a few millimeters. One of the reasons I’ve been loyal to Samsung throughout the last several years of the smartphone wars was because the Galaxy devices gave me what iPhones and many of the Windows phones didn’t: a removable battery and the ability to expand my storage capacity with a microSD card. Now, sadly, my love affair might be coming to an end.
Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S6 at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona earlier this month, and Verizon has announced its release in the U.S. on April 10. Unfortunately, the latest in the Galaxy smartphone line is less notable for new features than for what it’s missing, and some of us feel as if we got hit with a double whammy. Rather than ease us gently into this brave new minimalist world, they took away both the removable battery and the microSD slot at the same time. It might as well be an iPhone.
Now I know there are millions of phone owners who get along just fine without either of these amenities. However, judging by the number of aftermarket batteries for phones that are sold just on Amazon, it’s also obvious that there are a lot of people who, like me, want the ability to carry spares and swap out if a long, heavy-usage day drains the power before bedtime. Yes, you could carry an external battery/charger instead but they’re considerably heavier and bulkier than an extra stock battery or even two.
Still, I understand the rationale for building the battery in as a permanent fixture. It does allow for a thinner and higher quality build, and Samsung has long been the target of complaints about their “cheap plastic” frameworks. And in total honesty, with my most recent Samsung phones, I don’t find it necessary to swap out the battery all that often. Battery life has been getting better and better, and it’s at the point where I can use my phone a lot and still have a good 30 percent or more left at the end of the day.
For me, it’s the loss of the microSD card that really hurts. That’s mostly because of all the photos I stored on my phone. The phone cams have gotten so good that I frequently use it in place of my real cameras. Unless I’m doing serious photography, I leave the big Nikon DSLRs at home and rely on the phone’s camera, which in my Note 4 takes amazingly sharp photos even in fairly low light and has some pretty sophisticated controls to adjust for different photographic situations. I like being able to store those pictures on the card, and it also gives me the option of removing the card and popping in another if I happen to fill it up.
I know, I know: we’re all supposed to store all of our data in the cloud these days. Sorry, but that doesn’t work out so well now that all of the wireless carriers are killing their unlimited Internet plans and limiting users to a stingy two or three gigabytes of data transfer per month. I’m not even going to think about uploading and downloading all those large files full of high-resolution photos over my 4G connection, no matter how fast it is.
And it’s not as if taking away the microSD card saves a lot of space; that slot is tiny. I know its omission does save some money, but I can’t imagine it’s much. Of course what it does do is give Samsung a chance to charge a premium price for phone models with larger amounts of storage space. That is, if those are offered in the U.S. In the past we haven’t been able to get Samsung’s high capacity models here even though they were available in other countries.
If the Note 5 follows in the footsteps of the Galaxy 6 (which was usually the case with new features so it may also be true of their removal), I might break my usual habit and go to a Windows phone, especially if I can get a Nokia-technology model that costs less and has a great camera. I still have hopes that Samsung will recognize that Note users tend to be power users who are willing to pay more to have the extras that the regular Galaxy phones don’t have.
Meanwhile, I dislike genuine bloat as much as anyone but I’m not a fan of the increasingly cloud-dependent and limited choice model that appears to be the future of IT. Given the popularity of iDevices, though, maybe I’m just a dinosaur and nobody else feels that way.