Am I the Only Person Here Who Goes Phone-Spotting?

I think about smartphones more than any normal person should. I could say it's part of my job as a gadget blogger to think of these things with irregular frequency, but that would really be a cover up, a convenient lie. The truth is I'm naturally obsessed, and I indulge that obsession to a creeptacular degree.


Like my British train-counting brethren or the more ornithological inclined, I also like hunting and identifying a certain thing. The truth is I'm a phone-spotter.

If I'm walking down the street, and I see someone clutching a phone to their face, I'm trying to glimpse the size, the logo, the shape, any clue really to solve my need-to-know compulsion. Standing in line at a coffee shop? I'm craning my neck over shoulders. On first dates, I'll take a quick glance down at the beer-soaked bar to see what kind of phone I'm working with.

iPhones are the pigeons of the phone-spotting world—they're boring, everywhere, and have a false sense of superiority. Samsung Galaxy Whatevers aren't much better. Chinese rarities, like the OnePlus One, are like peregrine falcons, and BlackBerrys the near-extinct California Condor.

I can pretty accurately pinpoint when all this smartphone peeping started—when I started riding the New York City subway.

Before moving to New York nearly two years ago, I lived in middle America. That meant commutes spent listening to my local NPR station while not trying to kill myself on a congested highway. In New York, I suddenly gained an extra hour and a half, every day, of just like... standing around... and not really doing anything. Sometimes I have a book to pass the time, but more often then not, I'm just listening to music and de-stressing.

My fellow commuters usually choose to kill those liminal minutes between point A and point B with their smartphones. Those packed trains became a smartphone safari zone. Over passing weeks and months, I began taking notice, more and more, until it became an obsession: iPhone 5, iPhone 6 Plus, Galaxy S4 or no wait an, no definitely an S4. A Nokia 1520, what the fuck?


When I'm stumped (cases always provided an extra challenge, often working with just the look of the camera lens and its placement), I'll usually hop on my phone, once I'm above ground, and check through a bookmarked Newegg smartphone listing for a clue. When one does escape classification, I'm more upset about it than I should be.

And sure, all of this helps with my work somewhat. In the last 8 months, I've used near 20 to 30 different smartphones. I no longer own a phone. I own a SIM card, and honestly, I've lost touch with how people actually use smartphones, ones they've had for years, not weeks. So phone-spotting is an effort to observe all these phones that I write about with such regularity in their natural habitat, which is basically a lot of cases, endless runners, and Candy Crush.


But sometimes all of this isn't just a harmless game or a smartphone fact-finding mission.

If eyes are the windows to the soul, then smartphones might just be the garage door opener to your personality. Or something like that. As humans, our brains are designed to make quick decisions and judgments. That's why first impressions are so important. I just happen to factor in your smartphone in the process.


If you do own a OnePlus One, I'll probably think you get phones, or at the very least don't make hasty iPhone purchases. If you have a Windows Phone in hand, you probably really like underdog films and enjoy being a bit of a contrarian. Ultra popular phones make it near impossible to make any kind of assessment. I guess I'd just have to talk to the person IRL. Imagine!

Does all this make me sound eccentric and a bit of an asshole. Most definitely. But I can't be the only one who does this, right? Right!?


So... anyway... ahem. What kind of phone do you have?

Illustration by Sam Woolley

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Kate Knibbs

I'm scared of what you thought when you found out I use an iPhone 4 with a cracked screen