A humbling gadget-handling lesson

The past four weeks have involved four work trips that took me to events in two other countries and two other states, with travel fatigue compounded by unchacteristically bad sleep in hotel rooms and jet lag from going five time zones to the right, twice, and then three to the left–so of course the place where I would break my phone was less than a mile from my home.

On my walk to Metro to go to Saturday afternoon’s Nationals game, as a drizzle started to turn into real rain, I thought I’d check to see if the team had announced a rain delay. I grabbed my Pixel 5a, opened Twitter, checked the Nats’ Twitter feed and saw an announcement that the game would start half an hour late, and one-handed the phone back into my pocket–except the rain-slicked device slipped free and fell to the sidewalk with a sickening little splat.

A Pixel 5a's screen shows a wide-ranging web of cracks, with trees above reflected in the glass.

Cursing too loudly at myself, I picked up the phone and saw a web of cracks sparkling out from the bottom right, plus a smaller crack on the right above the power button.

First thoughts: You dumbass! You couldn’t have waited until you were in the station and out of the rain?! I mean, I had somehow never shattered a phone’s screen before; the worst I’ve done is drop my Nexus 4 years ago at just the right angle to put a crack in its glass back cover.

Second thoughts: Now what?

The phone that I bought barely 10 months ago not only looks hopelessly janky but makes any sort of onscreen interaction a trying experience. It is usable only under duress.

(Having my phone borderline offline did at least force me to experience the game much more in the moment, in between hearing my friend Anthony recount his recent experience hiking to the top of Kilimanjaro.)

Then I remembered the deal Google announced with iFixit in April to provide “genuine parts” for Pixel devices. Alas, that DIY hub’s $99.99 Pixel 5a repair kit is out of stock at the moment. And while I could obviously pay any third-party shop to fix my phone, that would probably cost more and certainly wouldn’t yield any how-to recap for me to sell somewhere afterwards.

Google no longer lists the Pixel 5a in its online store, and while the Pixel 6a that replaced it seems to be a fine phone in its own right, it lacks a headphone jack and otherwise doesn’t represent a huge advance over the 2021-vintage 5a. There’s also the upcoming, also headphone-jack-deprived Pixel 7–but as I trust I’ve made clear, I’m not a fan of buying the next high-profile phone on the day it ships.

Speaking two weeks ago at a conference hosted by the refurbished-device marketplace BackMarket reminded me that buying a refurb Pixel 5a is an option as well. But unless my phone abuse inflicted injuries beyond my 5a’s screen, I’d feel a little dirty spending a large fraction of the original device’s purchase price when it only needs that one major component replaced.

(No, the iPhone 14 is not an option. Neither is any other iPhone until Apple kills off its Lightning cable. I am so done needing proprietary charging cables.)

Fortunately, I don’t have to decide just yet. My old Pixel 3a continues to gather dust at home as a backup device, and I also still happen to have too many of the budget-priced phones I tested for CNN Underscored at the start of the year. And since it’s been a while since I’ve drunk deeply of Samsung’s flavor of Android, that makes my temporary decision for me: I’ll spend a few weeks, hopefully not more, with a Galaxy A52 A13 5G (I forgot that I’d already shipped back the A52) as my daily phone. And I will do my utmost not to drop the damn thing.