In The Beginning

I wish the Bible came with an introduction called “How To Read The Bible”. I really do. But it doesn’t. So we end up reading it a whole bunch of different ways, ways that we sometimes don’t even realise.

It’s important to remember that every act of reading the Bible is an act of interpretation. If you read a passage and say “God said it, I read it, it’s a science textbook”, you’re interpreting. You might feel like you’re taking the simplest possible approach, but it’s still interpretation.

When you read it, when you interpret it, you bring something to the table. You bring yourself, your worldview, your biases, your baggage, your affiliations, all that stuff. It’s a fish-in-water sort of thing. You don’t really feel it until you’re swimming upstream.

I’ve thought a lot about this. I mean, really thought. If you look at the posts on this blog (few as they are of late), a bunch of them are about scripture, about how to deal with the text.

Because we have to deal with the text. We have to deal with what it says and what our culture says. We have to deal with what is says and what science says. We have to deal with what it says and what our experience says. We have to deal with it because a simple (though I would argue not simple at all) reading of the text brings us up against some really hard stuff. We end up conflicted about reality.

Take the creation narrative.

Let’s touch that third rail for a minute.

The Bible starts with this (to our eyes) recounting of how the world was created. But do keep in mind that word “how”. I’ll come back to that later. Read it literally. God created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th. It’s not ambiguous. The timeline is a little confusing and some of it seems a bit out of order, but put that to the side for now. 6 days, 6 literal days. This is the simplest possible reading.

This brings us up against some facts about the world. The world is incredibly old. The fossil record, sediment records, rock, ice, all this stuff tells us the world is incredibly old. We see a history full of starts and stops in the story of life, blossomings and extinctions, all over the course of billions of years.

The story that science tells and and the story that Genesis tells us are in direct contradiction.

Here’s where you choose your side. Either you keep your Bible story or you keep your science story. You don’t get to do both. I mean, there have been lots of attempts to synthesise the two sides, but most of them fail the laugh test (a thousand years are like a day, anyone?).

This is an incredibly dangerous place to be. It’s a place of turning away. For many people, if you must–as the fundamentalist would say–accept the word of the Lord over the word of Men, the Bible ends up being the thing that goes. You go to university or simply get curious about the world and you find yourself swamped in evidence that the fundamentalist’s word of the Lord is in fact a bunch of fairy tales.

I’m sure some people can live in this tension. But most people don’t like to. I don’t like to.

For a long time I looked for a way out. I listened to a lot of stuff by hucksters like Ken Ham, people so desperate to reinterpret the world in light of their reading of the Bible, they will literally misrepresent the laws of thermodynamics.

I realise a lot of people will part ways with me here, but I felt that there was an intellectual dishonesty in denying the truth so I could accept the Truth of the Bible. I felt like all truth must be God’s truth.

And I thought about this for a long time.

I’m not in fundamentalist circles anymore. I’m not buffered by a group of like-minded people who can come alongside me and help me, tell me I’m part of the misunderstood minority who know the Truth, that the world is simply out to destroy God with their theories.

One day I started reading up on different approaches to Creation. Specifically the Roman Catholic approach. Now, being open to considering the Roman Catholic approach to anything was enough pretty crazy, considering I’m out of the Reformed church, which has a sort of Luke-Skywalker-in-the-dark-side-cave relationship with the RCC. That aside, it was incredibly refreshing to see an organization affirming (after some waffling, sure) that the truth we see in the world is God’s truth. That the story told in Genesis is not at odds with the story in the soil.

But how?

See, I was bringing so much of myself and my capital-M Modern worldview to the text. I wanted it to be true like a textbook should be true, not like a “true because it shows dragons can be beaten” true. I projected that desire onto the Bible.

And just to be very, very clear, this is not something Bible demands. The dichotomy between what I see and what I read is no dichotomy at all. This is a thing of my own making, a thing created by our collective desire to out-world the world, to out-fact the fact-finders. It is a constraint I put on the text, a dangerous and unnecessary constraint, I test of faith that no one should have to pass.

I’ve still got that inside of me, though. You grow up a certain way, you get conditioned a certain way, you can’t just think yourself out of. (I don’t like swearing on tv, but not because I feel some strong objection to it, but because part of me thinks “my mom would hate this”.) Reading the Bible a different way feels like a cheat, sometimes. I know it’s not. Trying to honour the text in what it was meant to be, in the context it was written, for the people it was written to, to take that and read it into my own life is a wonderful gift, a valuable thing.

But somewhere in the back of my head is that little fundamentalist golem who tut tuts while spinning fine guilt out of scriptural hay.

Anyways.

So how do I read the Bible? Well, I try to approach it by asking the text itself what it’s supposed to mean. Not to me. But to the people who it was written to. We’re talking a tribe or nation that didn’t have a scientific method, a group of people with a completely different cosmology–if you can call it that–and worldview, suffused as they were in the creation myths of other people. God chooses to speak into that context.

The word wasn’t written to me. For me, yes. But not to me. That’s a critical difference.

The text doesn’t describe how God created the world, not really. It doesn’t talk about processes. It says God speaks the world into existence, creating a world that he can dwell in, a sort of temple that he can inhabit. It’s not meant to describe process. It’s meant to describe purpose. What is the purpose of the world? As a resting place for the glory of God.

This isn’t an emptying of the text, some kind of liberal scholastic way of pouring out all the good stuff and filling it up with evolutionary nonsense. It’s a way to allow the spirit of God to use the text to move us thousands of years after the text was written, in our own unique context, as fish in our own kind of water. Because we need that; we are immersed in a world that only cares about process, drowning in its own materialism, unable to answer “why”. It’s all there in this magnificent prologue, the creation of a world to be a place inhabited by God.

We see that fulfilment of that in person and work of Jesus Christ, in the promise of reconciling to himself all things, of his victory over death and the grave, of his kingdom victorious.

This isn’t kicking out the bricks from under the rest of the Bible. The opposite: It brings forward a new dimension. It allows us to participate in the original intention of the text. The creation narrative stood in opposition to the creation myths of the surrounding nations at the time–you needed 10 gods to do this stuff, check out Yahweh–and it stands in opposition the spirit of our age as well. Your philosophy is nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s going to die, come watch TV? Have I got news for you!

You’re not doing God any favours by denying that he can use a process like evolution to achieve his purposes. I mean, think about the Bible. It was written and assembled by a bunch of scribes, anonymous authors, redactors, etc. And yet we have no issue saying that scripture is a product of inspiration, because of course God can guide those many people, God can inhabit that process of assembly. Or, more recently, think about how we arrived at the Bible as we know it now: A series of people sat in judgement of the various texts and tried to discern which ones were inspired. We don’t think about that too often, but there’s God again, inhabiting a process (which a sizeable portion of the church disagrees on, I might add).

I’m going to close this out by quoting William J. Webb: I might be wrong. I don’t think I am, but I’m human and I might just be wrong. I think I stand on the side of an emerging consensus seeking to free the Bible from the stranglehold of fundamentalism (and I don’t mean to be antagonistic if you see “fundamentalist” as a badge of honour) in the west. But, you know, I could be wrong.

Blindingly obvious

Assume there are infinite universes. You don’t actually have to believe this. Just… imagine. Infinite universes with infinite possibilities. We’ll call it the multiverse.

Let’s imagine we map all the moments in the history of our world to separate universes. So what happened five minutes ago? Different universe. And it might as well be, right? We can’t access the past in any real way other than looking at history and memories.

Take a universe from, say, 500 years ago. It’s not super important when, but a few hundred years seems good for illustrative purposes. It’s quite a bit different. Imagine being able to go from this universe to that universe and have a conversation with a someone. Anyone. Doesn’t matter who.

Think about all the things that are blindingly obvious to you. The earth goes around the sun. Stuff is made of smaller stuff. Time is relative. Democracy is the best form of government. Free speech is sacred. Whatever. Stuff you think is kind of axiomatic. Imagine explaining these things to that someone.

How might that go?

Well, probably not very well. Things aren’t blindingly obvious instantly. In fact they’re not even blindingly obvious from culture to culture in the here and now, especially when you move away from rigorously provable things like “the earth goes around the sun”.

Now imagine someone comes from a future universe to talk to you. They start telling you stuff that seems blindingly obvious to them.

How might that go?

Again, probably not well.

Why is that?

Dying is worse

It’s important to remember that solution to a lot of problems looks like enabling the problem. It’s OK to acknowledge this. It’s OK to be frustrated by this. But it’s important to not get locked into a “pure” morality—or, to put it another way, it’s critical to be flexible about solutions.

That’s not to say we can’t disagree about these things. Of course we can! But don’t disagree reflexively (don’t use the moral muscles you’re used to). Disagree reflectively. Think about whether or not there might be something else at play when talking about problems and their solutions. Is there a deeper problem? Can it be fixed or treated or dealt with in a way that seems unintuitive?

Take racism. Just for right now let’s put systemic racism aside and use the common “discriminating on the basis of race” definition.

We can all agree that discriminating on the basis of race is wrong. But then aren’t affirmative action programs racist?

We shouldn’t be afraid to say… yes. They are. They are absolutely discriminatory. Because we’re not trying to fix “discrimination on the basis of race” with affirmative action. That’s not the problem. The problem is something else, a deeper, more pervasive problem that has the effect of discriminating on the basis or race without seeming to actually do that.

We’re not trying to fix people; we’re trying to fix systems. The system is the deeply embedded discrimination built into our hiring practices, university selection processes, and so forth. Where qualified candidates are being denied opportunities because they’re a certain race. We do that by intentionally making space for these people. This has the local effect of discriminating against someone, but the system-wide effect of making a more just society for everyone. (And obviously this is just one thing that we do; there’s opportunity for lots more.)

Or take drugs. We can probably all agree that being addicted to drugs is bad.

So then aren’t safe injection sites just enabling addiction? Isn’t decriminalization just tacit approval?

I hope you can see where I’m going here. It’s important to say… yes. Safe injection sites do, on the face of it, enable addiction. But they do that in order to try to prevent worse things like disease and death. And decriminalization aims to treat addiction instead of punishing it. Both these initiative aim to create a path out of addiction. Dying is worse. Going to jail is worse.

These solutions aren’t super-intuitive.

But maybe that’s an indictment of our moral imagination. The idea that you can punish someone into not taking drugs, or that tut-tutting at racial slurs is going to fix racism… these shouldn’t be the first tools in our moral toolbelt. Sometimes it takes a deeper imagination (a more prophetic imagination) to seek answers to problems.

Words don’t have meanings

Seriously. Words don’t have meanings.

I mean, this sounds pretty silly. Of course words have meanings. You’re reading this blog post, it makes sense, you understand it, words have meanings.

So this is going to seem pretty pedantic, but let’s think about you think about when you think about “have”. I have an arm. The arm is part of me. What I call “I” contains this thing called “arm”. Think of any of a billion other examples (and probably some counterexamples) and it’s clear that to have something like a meaning, an arm, a temper, a wallet, is sort of to have that thing as an attribute, or to contain it, or to own it.

That’s what I think of when I think of “have”. You can probably find lots of other ways people use “have” but I’d argue my way is the first one that pops into your head.

Which is kind of the point. How can “have” have a meaning if there are multiple conflicting definitions. How can we disagree about the most common usage of “have” if it has this property of meaning?

You can probably see where I’m going with this. We give words meanings.

Or to put another way that will absolutely get some hackles up: The meaning of a word is a social construct. Just like… well… lots of things. Maybe everything.

We’re so used to words that we take them for granted. I forget that words aren’t blobs of meaning. I forget this every day. I forget that word are made up of letters (except right now, when I’m typing this; I’m acutely aware). I forget that letters are made up of curves and lines. I forget the words are arbitrary, the symbols are arbitrary, the construction is arbitrary. All that. Because frankly if I remembered it, I’d go a bit mad.

The important thing to remember is that words don’t have meaning. We give words meaning. We do. Not the dictionary, not grumpy old librarian, not your English teacher. There’s never been a time where proper English existed. There never will be.

Shakespeare used “generous” to mean well-bred. You don’t. It changes all the time and this is fine.

So anyways that’s why I call mean on a grill barbecue, and I call meat + peppers + tomatoes + beans chili.

Bullet Points for a (I honestly had to look this up) Thursday Evening

  • There’s so much wrong with Conservatism in the US it’s hard to know where to start. Buuuuut I’ve got an analogy. Republicans are like medieval doctors. They’re not wrong: The west has been sold a bill of goods. There’s a disease. So they reach for the only tool in their toolbox, only problem being that tool just makes it worse. Trickle-down economics might as well be bloodletting. You don’t get there via evidence-based economic policy. You have to get there sideways via ideological orthodoxy. Medieval doctors had their humours, Republicans have their trickle down economics.
  • The was probably more evidence for humours tbqh.
  • Lots of chatter re virtue signalling lately, not all of it absolute trash. Most of it’s aimed at progressives (projection, motl). Was talking to an anti-deficit person earlier, saying Ontario is within sight of balancing the budget. The response was to move “so what” and then a move to different topic. But if you’re really a deficit hawk this is fantastic news! We’re trying to get out of this hole, to un-mortgage our children’s blah blah blah. But of course the anti-deficit stuff is just theatre. I haven’t found no sincere anti-deficit folks but few. Very few. I kind of think a lot of this is outrage theatre: You just want a stick to beat the Liberals with.
  • Same for anti-feminists outraged at how feminists are supposedly not outraged about Saudi treatment of women. Outrage theatre. Virtue signalling. Performative morality. They don’t care, they just want a stick.
  • Which is, by the way, a big part of why online debates don’t work, and why centrism is doomed. The stuff people say they care about is never actually what they actually care about.
  • By the way I do think the West has been sold a bill of goods. I don’t like protectionism, I don’t like globalism, I wish there was a third way. Whatever we’re doing now really isn’t working
  • Trump is a symptom.

Bullet points for a Sunday evening

  • Here’s a list of places I’ve lived. Since people don’t seem to know:
    • Etobicoke (before it was Toronto) – Suburban
    • Rexdale (also before it was Toronto) – Suburban
    • Woodbridge (aka Vaughan) – Suburban
    • Brampton – Rural
    • Orangeville – Suburban (this is a weird one though, as it was a subdivision kind of in the middle of nowhere)
    • Bolton – Suburban
    • Mississauga – Urban (basement apartment, near Sq 1)
    • Mississauga – Urban (apartment, south end)
    • Mississauga – Suburban (house, north end)
    • Hamilton – Urban (feels suburban sometimes though, east end)
  • I love living in the country (like, 30 minutes from stuff, not deep country), but I also love urban. What I don’t love is suburban. Living in Mississauga was not for me. I know a lot of folks that just love it, but Mississauga is hella boring.
  • Played a show at the The Casbah this weekend. First gig in FOREVER. Part of what I like about living in Hamilton is there’s a scene here, you know? Like, people play music and other people go to hear them play music.
  • I should have bought a house here 5 years ago. Seriously. The price almost makes a commute worth it.
  • Felt like I was the only one who got the Westworld sermon illustration. Thought there were more people into that show? Or is it just me?
  • Making friends as an adult is hard.
  • I’m sick to death of plodding singer songwriters. Like, we have hooks for a reason, use them every once in a while. Otherwise everything ends up sounding exactly the same.
  • Sad to find out that people you know haven’t vaccinated their kids. I understand the left has their crazy anti-intellectual things like anti-vaxxers, and I know the arguments don’t really work because people have integrated these things into their sociopolitical identities… but that doesn’t mean I don’t lose some respect. We have 70+ years of concrete evidence that vaccinations work, that they save millions of children’s lives. The fact that you don’t see polio around anymore is a testament to that fact. Enough people stop vaccinating though… you’ll get to witness the horrors of polio firsthand at which point it’s a bit too late.
  • Laura texts me when she wants me to put laundry in the dryer. Technology is weird.
  • In the Reformed Church we never celebrated the Christian Year in any form. I wonder why that is. Perhaps it’s too Roman Catholic? In any case it feels like something I missed out on.
  • Speaking of things I missed out on, I took a picture of Audrey’s locker at school the other day and felt oddly emotional about it. Being homeschooled I never got the experience of going to school, having a locker, any of that stuff. It’s like I miss something I never had.
  • Baby # 2 (currently baking) has an intact spine and internal bits. This is good! There were some tests done that indicated a risk of spina bifida. I’m very thankful for socialized medicine right now, too — this situation in a less civilized country would be an absolutely crushing financial blow.

Bullet points for a Saturday evening

Haven’t done one of these things where I peer into a pool of water and admire my reflection for a while so here goes.

  • There’s a lot of hand-wringing about poor, uneducated white people right now. This is, of course, because of Trump. But I think the left is unfair to poor, uneducated white folk living in their little rural nowheresvilles. We want to talk about how black folk are trapped in a cycle of reinforced poverty and isolation but we don’t want to talk about white people in the same terms. This looks bad. We shouldn’t only seek to assist those who vote our way. “White trash” are people too, in the same way that urban poor are people too. Privilege isn’t enough to get you out of the dying company town when there are so many things keeping you from leaving.
  • Libertarians don’t have a chance in the US and they never will, at least as a separate political party. They’re too ideologically pure to be effective, and too laser-focused to appeal to more than middle class white men. And if a Libertarian party candidate ever gains mass appeal it will never be because of their policies, but in spite of them. Unless of course they abandon a bunch of (frankly crazy) policies. But there’s always going to be that (frankly crazy) hardline base trying to reel them back in again. Because if you’re not a general-purpose party you can’t have general-purpose policies. It’s like… the Liberal party in Canada can have a lot of different opinions and policies and platforms that can change to suit whatever. The Libertarian party can’t. Because the Liberals are the student government and the Libertarians are the AV Club. At some point, if the AV Club is organizing fundraisers some nerd is going to get upset that they’re not AV enough.
  • Speaking of Libertarians and Anarchists and all other manner of really crazy bullshit, Libertarianism and Anarchy (which, I mean, we’re talking 1 degree of separation here really) can only function with tyranny or extreme collaboration. And the people that seem most attracted to these philosophies… well, let’s just say they’re not attracted to collaboration. And for systems that end up being built around incentives, that’s a pretty perverse incentive.
  • My furnace fan has died again. Second one in two year, between two different houses. The last one I replaced myself because it was cheaper to do so. I learned a lot about furnaces. For instance I learned that it’s probably a better idea just to pay someone else to do it.
  • We got a new mattress and I just can’t get to sleep on it. I’ve always had trouble sleeping but lately it seems a lot worse. And if I can’t get to sleep before 12 basically I won’t sleep until 3 or 4am. Combine that with a 4 year old who will get up at the crack of dawn come hell or high water, I haven’t been feeling myself lately.
  • Down the street there’s this guy. You don’t know him very well. You notice a lot of smoke coming out of his backyard so you assume he’s burning garbage or something. You go on Facebook and find out a lot of other people in your neighbourhood group are talking about this guy too. Someone says he’s burning tires. Someone else says he’s burning neighbourhood cats alive. Another guy is always calling the fire department on him but the fire department says there’s no evidence of a fire. But the smoke keeps coming. Someone on the group insinuates that he’s been paying off the fire department. One day you’re walking down the alley behind your row of houses and you see someone throw something into his backyard. You look over the fence and see… a smoke bomb. You get to know your neighbour and he’s actually a really great guy, a little nerdy, but nice. He tells you this other guy from across the road really hates him and has been trying to turn the neighbourhood against him by throwing smoke bombs into his backyard and blaming it on him. The guy from across the street created the Facebook page to feed the rumour mill. A lot of people in the neighbourhood who don’t know the guy really hate his guts but the people who do know him think he’s great. So who do you listen to?
  • The people who owned this house (we moved to Hamilton, FYI) before use basically did all their own home improvements. And they did everything wrong. When we moved in there was an exhaust fan in the basement bathroom that you could hear but not see. You could hear it but not see it. It was sucking air up through the pot lights. We have a nice big garage with a sliding garage door. Thing is, they installed the sliding door on the inside instead of the outside. So when it rains, despite a bit of weatherstripping, the rain just runs right in. And now where the water pools (I’ve started mopping it up), the concrete pad is starting to droop. They also installed new downstairs steps but instead of using proper risers they kind of jury-rigged these shelf-like things with nails… which of course are NOT screws. And while they were doing that they cut through an obviously-not-very-important beam that just happened to be holding the upstairs staircase in place, so now there’s a steel pillar there but there’s like a 5 degree angle on the floor in that area. There’s just so much to do without having to redo a bunch of crap that they didn’t do properly… it boggles the mind. This is one reason I’d rather buy a house that is in its original condition rather than a house that’s been quickly buffed up to sell. No one does their home improvements well if they’re not going to live in that space.
  • People wonder why millenials don’t have cars, sex, retirement funds, etc, etc. How about because millenials are poor? That explains it all. All the advantages our parents had are kind of just… gone. If that makes millenials selfish or whiney to you maybe you don’t appreciate what you were given.
  • Canada is a massive failure in urban infrastructure design. It’s 2016 and only just now Hamilton is doing the will-they-won’t-they dance around light rapid transit? There’s still some debate that bike lanes are a good thing? Look, the mark of good urban design isn’t when poor people have cars, but when wealthy people use transit. Let’s get the ball rolling on that.
  • One last thing. I live pretty close to downtown Hamilton (within walking distance) and everything, and I mean EVERYTHING closes up before sundown here. If you’re looking to get a meal after 6pm you’re going to be 90% shit out of luck. It’s SO weird. I mean, I kind of get it, most of the shop owners are people with lives who don’t want to commit to opening their shop when no one is around. But still, I’d love to be able to buy a taco at 1am.

Baby I’m Fine

Baby, I’m fine. You know me, I’m doing alright.
I’ve never been better, on fire all night.

No you haven’t killed me,
I was always a skeleton.

Baby, last time you know how I said we were through?
I’ve never had control over something like you.

No you haven’t filled me,
I am ever insatiable.

You always find me,
You’re always somewhere behind me.
You always find me,
Bright as the sun, you are blinding.

Baby, I’m fine. There’s pills made to keep you in line.
I’d better take twenty, hope you don’t mind.

The Dunning-Kruger-Deboer Effect

Isn’t it strange how every theory about intelligence just becomes a stick to beat other (hypothetical) stupid people over the head with? I mean, I can’t think of a better way to make me feel better about myself or about the world in general.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is one of those things. Its popular formulation is something like “stupid people aren’t smart enough to know how stupid they are”, which is kind of a nice shorthand way to slag other people off: Just invoke the Dunning-Kruger effect!

But this kind of misunderstands what Dunning-Kruger is about. It’s not primarily about intelligence, but about skill. Sure, intelligence comes into the mix somewhere (genuinely stupid people will probably have a harder time learning skills and applying metacognitive filter to the skills they have) but that’s a related but different topic.

The point is that going from novice to amateur at anything is easy. This is because skills level isn’t linear to practice. If it takes, say, 10 hours of practice to graduate from novice to amateur, a linear relationship would mean 10 more hours of practice to go from amateur to expert, and then 10 hours more to from expert to master (and then grand wizard, etc, etc).

Of course we all know that’s not how skills work. If the relationship between practice and mastery were plotted it would probably be some kind of inverse exponential curve. It takes a lot more practice to get from level 3 to level 4 than it does to get from level 0 to level 1. (Makers of MMOs get this. In Eve Online for instance there’s a very tangible diminishing return in skill levels. Training from level 0 to level 1 is quick but training from level 4 to level 5 can take months, while providing the same percentile boost in attribute. This makes a certain amount of intuitive sense to people, as we’re used to real world skill working that way.)

So if you’re the guy on the guitar who just learned Wonderwall, it may see like guitar is actually pretty darn easy! Which leads you to overestimate your own skill level, underestimate the amount of skill you need, and (critically) underestimate the skill level of other more skilled people.

Anyways, that’s the Dunning-Kruger effect, a sort of cognitive bias that gets in the way of proper metacognition.

What I’m proposing is the Dunning-Kruger-Deboer effect, which is when your lack of understand of the Dunning-Kruger effect leads you to apply the Dunning-Kruger effect incorrectly. Which is to say it’s a metacognative bias that gets in the way of proper metametacognition. I’d wildly speculate that about 90% of mentions of the Dunning-Kruger effect online are actual examples of the Dunning-Kruger-Deboer effect in action.

The only thing left now is for someone named, say, Jonathan Smith to come along and coin the Dunning-Kruger-Deboer-Smith effect which is when the author of a blog post creating a new Dunning-Kruger variant hasn’t himself quite understood the Dunning-Kruger effect and is subject to a metametacognitive bias which gets in the way of proper metametametacognitive bias.

Or maybe the Dunning-Kruger-Deboer-XKCD effect where somewhere in a hovertext XKCD did it first.

Three Month Review: Nexus 5X

nexus-5x

So three months ago I got the Nexus 5X. It was an upgrade for my aging (and cracked and dented) Nexus 5. I really enjoy the form factor and size of 5″-ish phones, having had both larger (Samsung Note 2) and smaller (HTC Desire). I tend to use phones for about a year and a half or so before I feel like I really need to upgrade, though I’ve found myself using newer phones longer and longer as they tend to be just better devices over the long run.

Before I say anything about the 5X, let’s talk about the 5 for a bit. It was a good phone, not a great one, for several reasons. The most glaring defect was the terrible camera. It couldn’t really take good photos even in broad daylight. Every photo I took was very clearly from a phone, when what I’m looking for is parity with a point and shoot camera. It also had just average battery life and a fairly unimpressive screen resolution. Especially approaching the end of it’s usable life (for me), I was getting very little screen on time.

I liked the Nexus 5 but didn’t love it. What I really wanted was a newer, better version of the Nexus 5 with upgraded camera and better battery life in roughly the same form factor.

When the 5X was announced, I was excited but a little cautious. I wanted to wait for some trusted early reviews to get their hands on it and give me a real impression of what I was in for (MKBHD first and foremost on that list). What I heard made me pull the trigger, I bought the phone from the Google store, and got it next day, which was nice.

Display

The phone itself is basically an upgraded 5 form factor. The screen is larger and much, much prettier. Mind you, it’s still and LCD screen and I was hoping for an AMOLED display for some of the neat things it can do. But the LCD looks nice. So that’s good. It’s nothing super special but it’s leaps and bounds above the quality of the 5, which had a terribly display even for its time. Colours are crisp, it’s nice and bright, and the display even goes down to a fairly decent don’t-disturb-your-partner-in-bed level.

Form Factor & Design

The back of the phone is made from rubberized plastic, but it’s important to note that it’s not nearly as grippy as the Nexus 5. It’s gotten less slippery over time (good) but still isn’t anywhere near as rubberized and non-slippery as the 5.

The camera bulge is new too. I wasn’t that excited about the camera protruding from the back of the phone, but it looks like that’s something we just have to deal with if we want a thin form factor with a large camera sensor. Then again, the 5X isn’t really that thin. It feels very solid in the hand, a really physical object, and the camera bulge isn’t very pronounced. It doesn’t rock when you set it down on a table. The corners are all nicely rounded, but not rounded enough to make the device more slippery than it already is, and not enough to throw off the geometry of the phone (a complaint I have with the more recent iPhone industrial design: too much rounding just looks… dumb). All in all after using the phone for 3 months it really feels like a lot of thought went into the device’s design, reflected in a really nice package that’s a pleasure to hold and use at first and in the long-term is unobtrusive and most importantly not annoying.

The only bit of industrial design I don’t know if I love is the placement of the fingerprint sensor, a feature new to this phone by the way. The fingerprint sensor is located on the back of the phone. For being on the back it’s in a really good place, falling almost exactly where I would normally put my finger. 90% of the time this is great but there’s that other 10% of the time the phone is resting on its back and needs to be picked up to unlock. From what my friends with iPhones say, they often use their thumbs to unlock their phones (as the iPhone fingerprint sensor is on the front of the device), a motion I know would annoy me. On balance I think the fingerprint sensor on the back is a lot better if you have to pick one. The solution here is of course put a fingerprint sensor front and back which could be a selling point for the phone. This would change the speaker placement too, but I’m sure that could be gotten around.

Sound

Speaking of speakers, the 5X looks like it should be a stereo device (as it has identical grilles above and below the screen), but it’s definitely not. The sound is good and front-mounted speakers are a definite improvement from the bottom-mounted speakers of the 5 which I ended up blocking like 50% of the time, and having to rearrange my hand hold to suit the placement of speakers and buttons and whatnot isn’t something I want to think about.

Internals

This phone could really use is a little bit more RAM. It’s currently at 2gb, which isn’t really enough to do intensive multitasking and stuff like that. I haven’t run into that issue too many times but enough for me to notice apps having to be reloaded from disk and stuff like that. Other than the RAM issue, I haven’t had any problems with the speed of the processor itself. Everything seems buttery smooth. None of the interface artifacts I got on previous devices and versions of Android are present, and I only get slight hiccoughs when doing RAM-intensive stuff. Again, I would really have liked 4gb of RAM in this thing.

Android

Since this is a Nexus device it’s loaded with vanilla Android, my preference. I’ve used vendor skins and while some are okay most can die in a fire (I’m looking at you, Touchwiz). There’s not much to say here except to mention the Doze feature, probably the best thing about new Android versions. It senses when the device is at rest (eg when you’ve put it down somewhere like a nightstand for extended periods) and batches all those annoying wake requests together instead of allowing apps to randomly send wakelocks anytime they like. This means that the Nexus 5X just sips battery overnight instead of chewing through it. It’s really that good: I’ll lose only 1% of battery or so over an entire night. Other than that there’s not a whole lot more to say about the Android experience. There’s some new stuff baked in like Now on Tap, but that feature isn’t really ready for prime time yet.

The cool thing with Android now is the OS is in a place where I can just say “Yep, it’s Android, it’s good, nothing too annoying here”. I could not say that a year or two years ago. Android has come a long way. I think it’s actually better than iOS now, especially the latest versions. I don’t see anything about Android that gives me iOS envy, let’s put it that way. Again, that was not the case a year ago or two years ago. (In fact I think the latest versions of iOS look a little too… I dunno, cartoonish? I used to really envy their interface design; that’s no longer the case.)

So pros and cons time. This is stuff I really like about the phone versus things I really hate.

Cons

I have a couple nitpicks that really annoy me. First they changed the button layout so the power button is directly above the volume toggle on the right hand side of the phone. This is a decent concept because I can reach all the buttons with my thumb, but practically it means I accidentally power off my phone all the time when adjusting the volume. I’d like the power button to be absolutely anywhere else. Seriously, top of the phone, left side of the phone, anywhere else.

Second, the headphone jack is on the bottom of the phone, quite close to the edge on the right side. This makes it really, really awkward to hold when you’ve got headphones plugged in. Every time I have headphones in it just bothers me where this jack is located. I understand some people like the jack on the bottom so they can pull their phone out of their pockets naturally without having to flip the phone around, but if the jack had been located just a couple centimeters closer to the center of the phone it would have been way, way easier to hold.

Speaking of headphones, you don’t get any out of the box. This is annoying, as I basically trashed my last pair and needed new ones. I’ve never had a phone not come with headphones before, and I’m disappointed that they didn’t throw some in-ears or something in there. This is kind of a small thing, but it still annoys me.

The camera doesn’t have optical image stabilization. I get it, at this price point we’re probably not going to see that, and I expect the next generation of this phone will have it. But taking shots in low light conditions without HDR mode is only okay. Movement with definitely screw up your shots.

USB C means all those connectors you have are pretty much obsolete (well, except for the raft of devices that use the old connectors still). The package comes with a USB C-compliant charger and cable which is a good thing because compliant cables and bricks are pretty darn hard to find. There’s lots of dangerous USB C junk on the market right now.

Pros

The camera is great. Like, really great, especially for a Nexus device. In daylight I wouldn’t be able to say if the photos it takes came from a phone or a point and shoot. It has a larger and better sensor than Nexi past; in fact this is probably the biggest upgrade in this device. The Nexus family has always had terrible camera quality and it’s nice to see that boat being turned around. It’s not perfect, but it’s leaps and bounds better than any camera on any other phone at this price point. Low light still struggles a bit, but HDR mode will help out with that at the expense of slowing down your shots. The camera is nice and responsive too, another huge pro. I hate missing shots because shutter speed is an issues, a problem I’ve had so much with Android phone. Thankfully that’s almost never the case here.

USB C, apart from having to buy new cables and whatnot, is just so much better than USB-whatever-came-before-it. The plugs are reversible, small, and fit snugly, so no more turning your USB plug around 3 times to orient it correctly in whatever 4-dimensional space old USB occupied.

Fast charging is just… this is the standout “I wasn’t expecting this” feature for the Nexus 5X. I knew it charged faster, but I wasn’t prepared for just how fast. Not having to wait around for two hours to get a fully charged phone is amazing, and plugging this thing in for 10 minutes will net me a ~50% charge. Excellent. I hadn’t noticed how annoying having to charge my phone the old way was, but trust me, I don’t ever want to go back.

The fingerprint sensor has changed the way I interact with the phone, too. I wasn’t expecting to care about this, even though I knew it existed. But it really took away some of the annoying friction of unlocking a secured device. I should have known I would like a fingerprint sensor, as I’d always just kept my old Nexus 5 unsecured to get around having to type something or draw a pattern or whatever. The fingerprint sensor is fast and accurate, and setting it up is super easy. I use it all the time, and I just love it. The only thing it doesn’t like is when you have any moisture on your finger, like if you’ve just washed your hands or been doing some dishes. Other than that? Awesome.

Verdict

So for a long time every Android phone I’ve had has had some significant downside that would make me second-guess recommending it to your average user. The Nexus 5X is probably the best all-around Android phone I’ve seen, ever, for what it is. It’s a very simple, very good, very well-thought-out package with no really big downsides. I would be absolutely comfortable recommending this phone to anyone except maybe a power user. This is the kind of phone that the Android market has really been missing for a while. Just a good, good phone. And at half the cost of a new iPhone or whatever, sure it’s not as fast, but if you drop it on the ground or accidentally throw it in a river you’re not going to have to empty your savings to get a new one.

The real question is: If I lost this phone tomorrow, would I go buy a new one? And the answer is… hell yeah. And I can’t think of another Android phone that’s made me say that in a long, long time. Maybe ever. This is a great daily driver, a well-rounded experience, and just generally a wonderful phone. There’s nothing on the market right now that makes me say… “I want that instead”.

So the verdict? Good to great. Very happy with the purchase.