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Android feeds my constant yearning for something better

Grado's SR125e, a newer version of the classic.

When I was a teenager, I bought headphones. As many internet-addled 15 year-olds do, I found gaming (Diablo 2) and I found forums, one of which was head-fi.org. It's still running today — it's great, you should go! — but back in the early 2000's it was home to a few thousand people really obsessed with pairing great music with equipment that evoked its Platonic ideal, its highest fidelity.

I got hooked. I started small, as obsessions often do, but at my peak — and remember, I was 15 or 16 years old, with very little disposable income — I had seven or eight pairs of very good, carefully-picked headphones to pair with music tastes that, in retrospect, were not that discerning. I wasn't particularly interested in listening to Brahm's Violin Concerto on my Sennheiser HD600s, nor test the soundstage of a deluxe pressing of Miles Davis's Kind of Blue on a pair of Grado SR125s. My musical world was small and fragile, but I kept yearning to find ways to eke the best possible sound from Radiohead's OK Computer and Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick (I inherited my dad's taste for weird, early 70's prog rock). I would replace one set of headphones with another, constantly trying to contrive the perfect three-minute window to whatever profound truth was awaiting me on the other side.

Being dissatisfied with what you have isn't good, but trying to improve what you have is empowering.

Today, that same quest for perfection continues to propel me forward, but my canvas has changed: the perfect cup of coffee; the right watch; the ideal phone. In fact, I turned that longing for something better into a career (I'm a lucky guy), and the disorder that is my office will attest to that fact that I don't remain contented for long. Part of that is the job itself — I'm always testing a new phone — but part is something else, a driving need to find the right phone, the right experience to fit into my life.

What I didn't realize until now, though, was that with every new Android phone I now immediately try to recreate the same experience. Call it the minimalist in me — really, call it getting older — but I've pared down my digital life to 20 or so apps and services, and now use the same home screen layout (a saved Nova Launcher backup) on every phone.

You'd think that would be where creativity goes to die, but of course, being me, I've found a new canvas to obsess over. Because I have unified the look and feel of my homescreen across all devices, I have turned to wallpapers and icon packs as a new outlet. I've spent more money on icon packs than I have on apps this month as I, predictably, try to find the perfect combination of 15 icons that, without speaking, says everything about me. Here's the thing, though: minimalism is hard, and it takes a lot of work. A finished canvas is as much about the silence, the empty space, as it is about the music or the paint. I keep thinking I'm finished with this little project only to find that I have just started, and am far less satisfied than I was at the beginning. (My favorite icon packs right now: Dives (opens in new tab), Pixel Icon Pack (opens in new tab), Glim (opens in new tab), Orbit UI (opens in new tab), and Polycon (opens in new tab).)

And I'm fine with that, because playing with headphones, with phones, with the minutiae of icon packs, all fulfill the same psychological purpose: to strive, to tweak, and to discover something better. I know enough about myself to channel that nervous energy into small projects, so the big ones — building a good life, raising a family — feel a little more manageable.

A few other thoughts for this Sunday:

  • You may have caught a Galaxy S8 post that was taken down. I'm happy to explain exactly what happened once the phone is more widely available, but it's pretty easy to read between the lines: Samsung is very excited about this phone.
  • We recorded a really great podcast this week all about the Galaxy S8 and what it means for Samsung's future products, including the Note 8.
  • I got some pushback over the article I wrote about how OnePlus is doing everything right lately. Namely, that I didn't address in detail the company's propensity to discard its old phones as soon as its newer ones are released. I've spoken to the company about this numerous times, and while the OnePlus One is likely dead in the water due to the complicated relationship with Cyanogen, the OnePlus 2 is very much alive, and the newly-consolidated software team is working to make Nougat happen. After that — who knows.
  • This phone is ridiculous. I got to play with it briefly when the AC team converged in New York, and my goodness — the excess is real.
  • I don't really know what to make of Comcast's opening salvo into wireless. The company will never take on the Big Four directly — even if it buys spectrum in the 600MHz auction, it will never have enough to launch a wireless network of its own — but the move feels inevitable, if only because when you're a bloated, vertically-integrated, pseudo-monopoly like Comcast, you have to offer the proper connectivity bundle of internet, TV and wireless or you can't call yourself a true enemy of Net Neutrality.
  • I'm kind of bummed this isn't coming to the U.S. I've been using the Huawei P10 Plus for the past few days, and I really like it.
  • Jerry has a very smart take on the future of Android, why its open-source nature is becoming less and less aligned with Google's business goals.
  • Feels good to write about the Canadian wireless market every once in a while. It's so different (and less exciting) than the American equivalent, but it's home, and home feels good.

Hope you're all comfortable in your home today. Have a great Sunday!

-Daniel

Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central. 

56 Comments
  • Can you offer your Nova backup?
  • While Nova backups are shareable, they usually aren't very useful to share with others unless they have the same apps installed (including the same icon packs to make sure the backup is properly executed). It's a large part of why I don't include Nova backup files with my themes for easier execution. I wouldn't push my app arrangement on other users, especially with my folder-laden dock.
  • Is it possible to just get the widget thats used above the icons?
  • Prog rock/metal is the best, hands down. Daniel try these if you haven't. IQ
    Symphony X
    Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree
    Dream Theater
    Neal Morse band
    Spock's Beard
    Ayreon
    Anathema Pixel icon pack is excellent
  • Will do, thanks!!
  • Dream Theater are one of my favorite prog bands hands down.
  • Hear hear! From one prog-head to another, Daniel, wear your prog love loud and proud! Seconds to Erik's recs: IQ's The Road of Bones is fantastic, love SymX (Underworld was excellent), all of Wilson/PT (and I can't stop listening to the new Blackfield), DT, and Anathema (We're Here Because We're Here is perhaps my favorite record of all time). Can't wait for the new Ayreon, though I think I might like Star One and The Gentle Storm better than the main project. May I also add: Anekdoten, Riverside, Haken, Big Big Train, and if you're feeling adventurous, Opeth and Enslaved.
  • Thanks Dan. I'm just recently over to Android via a BlackBerry DTEK50. Spent years with Apple followed by a Short stint on Windows10 phone to say I tried it. I too am now looking at the best launcher/icon packs for me. The possibilities appear endless in Android. Sometimes overwhelming. But enjoying the tinkering. Cheers.
  • What was the taken-down post about?
  • They can't exactly say that
  • Say what?
  • They can't, but someone in the comments can :>
  • The post was saved on r/Android
  • Which post on r/Android?
  • I won't link to it here, but search for "galaxy s8 photos" in the sub. It should be the second result from a few days back.
  • It's likely about something mentioned in the article that Samsung doesn't want out there yet, and if they explain why it was taken down then it would draw even more attention to the info they don't want out there.
  • I still resist installing launchers. My Galaxy S6 seemed to slow down when I used them. I have the HTC 10 now but their theming engine has kept me happy.
  • I purchased the G6 and had it for about a week after owning an iPhone 7 Plus since the Note 7 debacle. When I was playing around the G6, one of the things that irritated me about Android in general is that it's ugly. I absolutely hate tweaking it to try to make the icons look good. It's annoying and it can become an unnecessary obsession. The great thing about iOS, to me now (and that should be stressed), is that it looks good right out of the box and I don't need to do anything to it, mainly because I can't. But I'm really okay with that. All I need to do is download apps from the App Store, organize them into folders, and be on my way.
  • Android isn't ugly by default, but LG's Android certainly is...
  • I have never found an Android skin that I actually liked right out of the box and I really grow tired spending money for icons. It's a bit much and unnecessary.
  • Well, my favorite three packs are actually free packs, but once you build up a small collection of good packs, it's easy to go back and forth as you desire.
  • If you haven't checked it out. I thinking the pixels style of Android is probably the best looking I've ever seen. I had the G3 and the V10 and on those I definitely preferred different icons. They didn't seem very interested in making it look good at all. Personally I always do end up going back to Nova launcher if only for swipe actions on icons and the ability to hide apps in my app drawer. But I leave the system icon pack on
  • I agree with you. The Pixel's icons do look the best.
  • You chose the wrong phone in the G6 to judge amdroid's aesthetic by. Stock or near stock ROM's are on a different level. One Plus made a flagship better than the pixels for hundreds less. Get one and try it out and you'll see. It's faster, smoother than anything else with the same.e or less hardware, has more RAM, the slickest software, and its built like a tank
  • I'm on Verizon. One Plus doesn't work on Verizon.
  • Really? I wasn't aware of that
  • All this is totally subjective
  • Same issue for me. Probably would've gone one plus 3 but no Verizon support so not an option. Also I didn't buy the pixel straight up. Got it on a 2 year payment plan that ends up with the phone costing $480.
  • Even Google doesn't have all their icons match size wise, so I agree with the OP above. 
  • About as ugly as you!
    I swear how is it that unattractive people always want to call something ugly!
  • How very adult of you.
  • Indeed, without icon packs, Android icons can be a bit mismatched because Google and each manufacturer have their own icon guidelines, in addition to the fact that many apps just use the same icon from their iOS apps in order to keep things consistent across their services. That's the consequence of a more open system. I personally don't think iOS icons look that good out of the box, but without a means to change them, caring about how the icons look isn't as productive, as they are what they are.
  • And I purchased an iPhone 7 Plus to try and returned it after 2 weeks because I found that iOS was ugly. I don't like the huge icons in a grid where I can't even choose where they go as they will auto bounce back to line up at the top. The nice thing about Android is that you can do with it whatever works for YOU as a user, rather than how Apple decides.
  • I try to recreate the same experience on my new phones, too. I have to have my icons and widgets in certain spots, but I change themes, wallpapers, and icon packs often. Sometimes multiple times a day (I tend to go for a different look during the day vs. at night). My launcher is sort of a combination of minimalist and ornate, though.
  • "I've spent more money on icon packs than I have on apps this month" It's a problem icon addicts understand :D
    That said, with all the icon packs that have gone on sale for over the past month, it has saved me from digging into Google Rewards. lol
  • Vivid V2 icon pack ftw here . . .
  • Daniel, did you use LPS, tapes, cds, mp3s with your equipment? One icon pack that I discovered quite accidentally is Space Z. Quite nice. I liked this article.
  • At the time, it was mainly CDs and FLAC files, but now it's all streaming. I'm less discerning these days. ;)
  • Yes, I know that the cassette tape was vital to the music industry in the 80's but, man they are unbearable today. I think our ears change as we age, or maybe just our expectations. If I could veg for a couple of hours just listening to music I'd want the best. But no time for that, streaming while on the run or working is going to have to do.
  • You should try Darkon icon pack. Best.
  • Daniel - What's the first phone, the white one with the fingerprint home button?
  • I think that's the new Huawei phone
  • That's it, the P10. Thanks!
  • Great article! Definitely a refreshing read...
  • kkq
    1
  • Really well articulated Daniel. Perfectly captured that inner craving to refine and crystallize our experiences through the eye of tech.
  • It's one of the reasons that I love Android over IPhone. I'm Android, but my brother and sister-in-law are both Apple and IPhone users. Aside from the case that my sister-in-law carries her IPhone in and that my brother doesn't, you'd never be able to tell who's device is who's. I work for a hotel, we've got a lost and found drawer and it's usually got a couple of IPhones any given month. They all look a like and you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference. Meanwhile my Android device is decidedly mine, whether the specific make and model is likely to be unlike anyone else's but also the canvas that is the home screens is likely to be unique only to me. I may not theme, I may not spend an inordinate amount of time on my canvas, but I've got a picture that's important to me - girls, architecture or landscapes - and a layout that allows me to show it off. How old is the IPhone and they're still using the same launcher with the same limitations??? I use Nova Launcher Prime, the 3K SR Black icon pack and the Player Pro music app and widget along with the Moto Z clock widget called the "Commander Center..." (I'm using the Moto G5, nice phone, but I downloaded the clock widget apk when I was using the G4 who's clock I didn't especially care for...) Speaking of threads and communities, there's a whole forum dedicated to folks showing off their layouts and what they used to put them together over at Androidforums.com available at https://androidforums.com/threads/post-your-android-desktop.4425/page-39...
  • Substratum seems to be good, there are a lot of options. Just starting to really get into it, and you can have a lot of fun playing around with it.
  • Outstanding article Daniel. It's nice to know I'm not the only one who arrived for minimalism and continuity on my phone. Cheers and have a good week!
  • If you're really a minimalist, use Nova, and only use 20 apps, why do your home screen icons have labels? Looks much better without.
  • Samsung Themes satisfies my customization needs.
  • What phone is used in the hero shot? The one with the black bezel?
  • Is it pretty certain the Honor 8 Pro will never come to the US? Is there any chance it will be released to the US later? Really like what I'm hearing about it.
  • I'm probably as minimalist as they come. A solid purple color wallpaper, Google Now launcher, and that's it.
  • Personalization is overrated
  • 20 apps?? I feel like an addict. My last titanium backup was 145.