Last update : 16/7/2022
Personal PDA recommendations of what you should get & what you should avoid.
For those who'd like to see the past article, here's the link.
Not recommended / avoid
First off, here's the rough list of devices / brands I recommend avoiding.
On paper, Huawei has an undeniably awesome spec sheet - enough to arouse my performance enthusiast side. However, as its bootloader are no longer officially unlockable, it is getting a veto from me, regardless of its mouth-watering specs.
In addition, while there are unofficial methods of unlocking the bootloader, they're either a paid service, or malware bait.
Sure, iPhones have those good build quality & record-smashing benchmark performance (breaking their own record obviously). They're also easy to use for the sheeple who's allergic to Android (or more specifically Samsung). However, even with those advantages, I don't think they're worth considering, considering the issues below :
- Apple offers limited privacy as per their "privacy-respecting corpo" image, though they're also compromising it - for example, in iOS 14, the App Tracking Transparency (archive.org) feature seems useless, since the "do not track" option relies on asking for them not to track - emphasize on 'ask' since it's pointless anyway - trackers will still track even if there's no consent, they'll find a way around it.
OK, there is another new example - CSAM. What seems like a benevolent act to prevent child abuse is actually a way to get in trouble just for storing a photo that someone else (in this case, Apple) thinks are "child abuse".
- Apple also serves their useds' data to various tyrants on golden platters, though they obviously won't be admitting it - remember, Apple is a part of PRISM. Once, they staged a show where they won't share data with a 3-letter spy group & it's what cements Apple's "privacy-respecting corpo" image - even though the data is still obtained.
In China, Apple also bowed to their requests by removing all VPN apps from the Chinese App Store, as well as some apps that could help Hong Kong protesters.
- App installations are limited to Apple's App Store, unless you jailbreak them.
- As for jailbreaking Apple devices, it requires you to rely on some vulnerability that might get patched at any time.
- Good luck repairing iPhones - the parts are programmed to bond with the board, which means replacing them without reprogramming the parts could screw their functionality.
Or any Apple devices in general, like iPad & Macbooks. While Macbooks seem easy to repair, it's not upgradeable. iPads, just like iPhones, starts repairs by removing the display, which is already a red flag IMO.
- In addition to injury of not being able to truly own your device by hardware (serialized parts) and software (no jailbreaks and/or external app installations), Apple also plans to make iPhones a device for rent.
- Stallman has a more detailed list here (archive.org), in case you're curious for more. But, my message is clear - avoid all Apple stuff!
By default, LG will not allow bootloader unlocking unless you're using the EU variants (officially supported) / US unlocked (might require screwing around with the site). With their developer website shutting down, bootloader unlocking is impossible except by using security exploits (such as the LG V30, which will be mentioned below).
However, the V30 is one of the few LG PDAs to be exempt from this list just because it has an exploit for bootloader unlocking (Archive). But still, development for the V30 is basically dead in the water.
7/12/2021 Update : LG is shutting down its developer website by 31/12/2021. Anyone still owning an LG PDA should try & get the bootloader key ASAP. As for anyone else about to get an LG PDA, don't bother.
Xiaomi (except Android One)
Xiaomi's official bootloader unlock protocol requires a Mi Account; a phone number; Mi Unlock, a Windows-only unlocker app; & takes at least 72 real time hours, if not more (up to 2 weeks AFAIK). In addition, EDL requires a Mi Authorized Account, something owned by either overpriced & probably shady providers, or service centers who don't know how to use them & instead charges you for a motherboard replacement. However, if you have a friend / family / relative with a Mi Account, you could ask them for a favor & have them lend their account & SIM card (obviously have to be tied to the account) to help you unlock the bootloader.
As for their Android One PDAs, their hardware may suck (except for A2, it's horrible), but at least the EDL & UBL methods are similar to Pixel & OnePlus.
Also, Xiaomi (and Redmi & Poco by extension) is a Chinese company. Any issues applicable to Chinese companies do apply to Xiaomi.
Similar to Huawei, Nokia doesn't officially allow bootloader unlocking (except for Nokia 8). However, unlike Huawei, Nokia releases their PDAs under the Android One program, which makes them even worse, since Xiaomi & Motorola's Android One PDAs allow bootloader unlocking. While there could be some unofficial ways to unlock a Nokia PDA's bootloader, it might involve tearing down the PDA (or, even worse, using paid shit).
In addition, Huawei also made it clear that there's no bootloader unlocking for their PDAs, unlike Nokia, as Nokia has a bootloader unlocking site (but it's only for Nokia 8).
The elephant in the room. The biggest Android manufacturer known to date. But not a PDA brand that I would take, use, & recommend without severe hesitation. However, after hearing a news where Samsung disables the Fold 3's cameras once the bootloader's unlocked, I decided that Samsung PDAs are simply not worth it.
General advantages of Samsung devices :
- microSD for all flagships (except the S6 & Note 5) (until Note 20+, S21 & further no longer included them)
- Inbuilt stylus (S-Pen) on Note series, I suppose? But then again, S-Pen has been converted to a separate accessory for the latest Samsung flagships, so it probably won't matter for long.
General disadvantages of Samsung devices :
- No headphone jack on flagships (and some midranges, such as A80 & the more recent A53) starting with Note 10 series (latest leaks indicate that Samsung is beginning to remove headphone jack from even the latest entry-level A33)
- Samsung flagships are hilariously overpriced for what they offer, when you're getting them as brand-new (this varies by the marketplace)
I'm not talking cameras, I'm talking overall hardware specs. Battery, SoC, display, the likes. Also, for the price, you might still get ads in the stock OS.
- OneUI (Samsung's latest stock OS) has some malware-like function
A good example would be Samsung Game Optimization Service, re-enabling itself every time it's forcefully disabled. Fully removing it requires root, which trips Knox.
- Bloatware & spyware aplenty on the stock OS
- Flashing anything not made by Samsung (such as Magisk, custom ROM, TWRP) will trip Knox. Once Knox is tripped, any warranty you have on that Samsung PDA is immediately void.
There are cases where Knox trips just by unlocking the bootloader, but so
- Samsung VaultKeeper - unless it's explicitly allowed, VaultKeeper will cause the bootloader to reject unofficial partitions - even when the bootloader is unlocked.
- Curved OLED on most flagships. Here's my issues on curved displays on general :
- 2 distorted display edges that impair viewing experience, with more accidental touches on portrait.
- Screen protectors are harder to install - especially tempered glass. There are tempered glass that uses UV-curing adhesives to deal with this issue, but they're more expensive & not as easy to install.
- As a general note, exposing more glass to the elements makes the display more vulnerable to fall damage.
- And, it's an OLED panel - battery-saving turned-off blacks in return for a risk at permanent display retention, which is also known as burn-in.
- Most modern Samsung (after S5 / Note 4) PDA batteries are glued in with plenty of powerful adhesive, making 1st-time battery removals risky without proper tools & ingredients.
- Unlocking bootloader on some models disables some of its hardware, such as the camera. Currently, the only known example of this practice is Fold 3.
Tips for getting Samsung PDAs if you really want (and have) to get one :
- Prepare to maintain your Samsung PDA on your own, & don't rely on the warranty, especially if you have TWRP installed.
- As for foldable PDAs, I'm not sure if I even want to recommend one - it seems cool at first sight & it has some practical advantages, but it lacks essentials such as headphone jack & microSD, is generally harder to repair, & more fragile.
Carrier-locked devices may not have the ability to unlock bootloader, putting their life at the mercy of the carrier & their maker. Once either deems them obsolete, you can't extend their life by installing custom ROMs, since there's no way to unlock the bootloader to begin with. Of course, some carrier locked PDAs (LG V30 is the only example I could provide) could unlock bootloader (by using an exploit), but they're rare.
PDAs with dynamic partition
This indirectly translates to any & all PDA released with Android 10 (and beyond) out of the box. Since PDAs with dynamic partition are currently unable to modify system, vendor, & product partition (aside from installing custom ROMs, for now), you can't just debloat it as you wish. However, there is work done to make super partition read/writeable, so you might want to wait & see.
These so-called "gaming" PDAs such as Xiaomi BlackShark, ASUS ROG, Lenovo Legion, & Nubia Red Magic. They're not really gaming PDAs - they're actualy just decent networking PDAs with some gaming flairs, such as :
- Fast displays, but mostly OLEDs
Sure, OLEDs do have that turned-off blacks. However, in my opinion, having a display that's vulnerable to eventual burn-ins can suck. Why no manufacturers (other than Razer AFAIK) make "gaming" PDAs with HRR LCDs will always be a mystery (unless some of the answers include planned obsolescence).
- No microSD - but dual SIM support. A good feature for "phone" PDAs, not so much for "gaming" PDAs (though most Android "games" tend to be online-only nowadays, unfortunately)
Razer's PDAs are an exception to this since those "gaming" PDAs support microSD. However, this still doesn't excuse the fact that Razer's PDAs only has 1 USB-C port (Razer 2 has wireless charging FWIW).
- Lack of active development - while there's ROG Phone II & III with some custom ROMs & official TWRP, you're lucky if a "gaming" PDA you own have official custom ROMs and/or TWRP.
Sometimes, you could use GSI to cover up the lack of custom ROM, but you'll also have to deal with issues that pop up while you're using it, & you could be the 1st person to face that issue. As for custom recovery - there's no other workaround for not having it, unfortunately (aside from making it yourself I suppose).
- RGB lights that won't be visible to the "gamer", but present since it's a "gaming" PDA.
- Flagship-grade SoC that can be found in flagship PDAs, just tuned up for extra benchmark scores.
- No inbuilt headphone jacks
This is currently found on ROG Phone III, Legion (both "Pro" & Duel), BlackShark (up to BS2; BS3 & BS4 have them), & Razer "Phone" (both of them). For a "gaming" PDA, this is not a good move. On the BlackShark & Razer, the USB-C's the only plug available, so you'll have to either search for compatible 2-in-1 dongles, immerse yourself in the game while risking running out of battery, or play & charge without the audio immersion a headphone can offer (or use Bluetooth & suffer from audio latency). The Legion doesn't fare any better, despite having an extra USB-C port on the side, leaving you at the testing table for dongles (but at least there's still one charging port, so you don't need to search for 2-in-1 dongles I suppose). The ROG III is arguably the best approach, by including a fan with USB-C & headphone jack. Unfortunately, the fan can only work on ROG "gaming" PDAs due to their proprietary USB-C-based connector.
Personally, other than the ROG Phone II (since there's some custom ROMs & the ever-important inbuilt headphone jack), I don't want to recommend "gaming" PDAs, at least until someone out there makes an actual "gaming" PDA, with microSD, HRR LCD, inbuilt headphone jack, & active custom ROM support.
PDAs without headphone jacks
This is my personal opinion - I cannot & will never (except for the Pixel 3 & Mi A2) use a PDA without a headphone jack (and PDAs without any kind of ports by eventual extension, should it exists) unless I have a very good reason to do so. Here's why I won't generally use and/or recommend PDAs without headphone jacks :
- First things first for those Bluetooth shills - having a headphone jack does NOT prevent anyone from using Bluetooth headphones. On the other hand, not having a headphone jack forces the user to pay up for either Bluetooth headphones and/or dongles.
- With PDAs without a headphone jack - USB-C audio is still a mess. Dongles may / may not work, depending on various technical factors. Also, most PDAs without headphone jacks (aside from the previously mentioned ROG III & Legion) tend to have only one USB-C port, so that one port's going to receive even more use, which leads to earlier port failure. Planned Obsolescence at their finest (and yes, it will get worse).
- Removing the headphone jack for more hardware features (bigger batteries, pop-up cameras, etc.) are bullshit - any manufacturer (or anyone with the required skills & resources) can always squeeze in a headphone jack if they want to. For example, Strange Parts has proven that you could technically add a headphone jack on an iPhone 7. (of course, this also comes with technical issues of their own)
Another fine example would be the Zenfone 6 (6z), as it manages to have a headphone jack while also having a flip-up camera, stereo speakers, a 6.4' LCD with thin bezels, & 5000mAh battery. This is an example that proves that manufacturers could always pop in a headphone jack if they want to. Unfortunately, ASUS retconned this by releasing the Zenfone 7 ("Pro"), which is basically Zenfone 6, with slightly bigger build & display, upgraded SoC, 1 more camera sensor, similar battery capacity, & no headphone jack.
- Bluetooth headphones are generally inferior compared to wired headphones in every way - let me list some of them.
- First of all - battery. Wired headphones never need any battery (unless it's a wired ANC headphone and/or has some sort of battery-powered audio processor), while wireless headphones need battery to run everything from wireless radios to the drivers. Over-ears will be able to last over 20 hours since their design allows them to put a bigger battery, but most truly wireless earbuds are not going to last more than 20 hours without a charging case.
- In terms of convenience - there's no contest. Wired headphones are a plug & play away from usage, while Bluetooth headphones need some initial connecting before usage, & a re-connecting in the likely case Bluetooth gets turned off on either device and/or Bluetooth headphone for any reason. Some Bluetooth headphones can automatically re-connect to the last PDA they're paired with (for example, AirPods with an iPhone, albeit using proprietary protocols), but there's plenty that don't. In addition, some Bluetooth headphones can be used wired, though you'll need to turn them on to make it sound like how they should sound.
I won't deny the mobility advantage wireless headphones offer (usually, there's no long cable to snag & break), but that still doesn't excuse its other flaws.
- Sound latency, something you don't want to have when you're playing games. That's currently present only on Bluetooth headphones, & even the recent Bluetooth "gaming" headphones can't really fix this issue with their "gaming mode".
You could bypass this issue if you're using the headphones' wired mode (if it's supported), but (again) unless you turn on the headphone (depends on the model, though most that I know does it), it won't sound as good as it's supposed to be. At that point, why not just use wired headphones?
- Lifelong hardness - both wired & wireless headphones aren't primarily designed to be repairable, as far as I know. With wired headphones, there's no batteries to replace (unless you're running one with ANC), so lack of repairability might not suck as much (it still sucks, but at least you don't have to risk destroying it every few years just to replace the expired battery). As for wireless headphones, good luck replacing their batteries on your own, as . Even if you managed to get one, actually applying it can be a challenge on itself (some headphones have soldered batteries).
- One obvious BS why corpos remove headphone jacks is waterproofing, but even that is disproved by the existence of Samsung Galaxy S5 - IP67, removable 2800mAh battery, & headphone jack... not to mention microSD, microSIM, & AMOLED display. Sure, it feels about as un-"premium" as the X3(N/P) (maybe less so due to smaller size), but the X3(N/P) is only IP53 & it has a 5160mAh battery that can only be removed by unsticking the back panel (and voiding the IP53 rating), unscrewing the motherboard cover, unplugging the battery module (and getting every other cable above the battery out of the way), & pulling the battery itself out, which is stuck by a solid adhesive.
Actually, I cannot universally recommend a device at the moment - there's just no "truly perfect device" out there (perfection is subjective). The X3P (assuming it doesn't have any QC issues) is very close to perfection, but held back by Xiaomi's bootloader unlock & EDL protocol (as well as that hole in the middle of the display). The ROG Phone 2 (and maybe 5) is probably better, if not for OLED display & lack of microSD (and QC concerns thanks to the 6z).
Hence, instead of truly recommending a PDA, I'd recommend what you should look for in a PDA, & in which condition as well.
This is the most important factor in selecting a PDA. However, many brands vary in their bootloader unlock protocol.
Avoid PDAs with non-unlockable bootloaders, since you can't install custom ROMs and/or TWRP without unlocking the bootloader.
Consider getting someone (a friend / family member) to help you if your PDA's bootloader unlock protocol requires an account & you refuse to make an account for it. This applies to plenty of brands, such as Xiaomi & Sony.
Bootloader unlock protocols can be divided into several types, such as :
- The good ol' fastboot oem/flashing unlock - the most ideal, but requires usage of PC & USB cable, & enabling USB debugging & OEM unlocking in Developer settings. This method is used on Pixel, OnePlus, & Xiaomi's A series.
- Company-released unlock code - this is similar to fastboot oem/flashing unlock, but with an extra step : getting an unlock code from the manufacturer. This requires you to manually send the PDA's identifiers (such as IMEI & device ID) to the manufacturer, who will send the code to your email. Most of the time, this requires an account with the manufacturer, which may allow them to abuse the data you give to them. Either way, this method leaves you at the manufacturer's mercy.
- PDA-based unlocker app, such as ASUS' UnlockTool. The unlocker tool is more convenient since you don't need to use a PC to unlock the bootloader, but this also means anyone can unlock the bootloader as long as they can access the app. Also, you're at the mercy of the manufacturer.
- PC-based unlocker app, such as Xiaomi's Mi Unlock. This one is the worst example I can provide, since you'll need a Mi Account (which requires e-mail and/or phone number) to log into the unlocker app.
Another (probably better) example would be Odin / Heimdall for Samsung, but I haven't used any Samsung PDAs, so I have no experience about it.
Custom ROMs & TWRP availability
Even if the device can be unlocked, it won't matter much if there's no custom ROM and/or TWRP to apply it. You could technically use adb sideload, but it's not ideal, especially if you're flashing on the move & away from a PC.
You could also make the mod support yourself if you wish.
Advantages of getting an used PDA :
- It's cheaper - imagine getting a flagship from a few years ago for the price of a low-end PDA, or something like that. Even if it had to be patched up to be functional, chances are it's still cheaper than the average brand-new midrange.
- The device has been generally used & tested, meaning you're less likely to get a defective unit, aside from the defects caused by the ex-user & such.
Disadvantages of getting an used PDA :
- Warranty on used PDAs tend to be shorter & harder to claim (or even nonexistent)... if you're even able to claim one. But then again, whoever's visiting this site might have forgotten anything about warranty claiming, so there's that, I suppose...
- If you're getting them from an online (read : honeypot / botnet) market (such as eBay, Tokopedia, that monopolist whose name makes the jungle & tribe with a similar name hardly pop up on search engine unless directly searched, etc.), it may arrive in a worse shape than advertised. This may vary depending on the courier though.
- Accessories (charger, case, screen protector) may not be included.
Advantages of getting a brand-new PDA :
- Longer & easier warranty, in case you have unwanted defects (assuming you somehow manage to claim them, after all the BS thrown by the company to avoid granting you anything).
- You can find them in shopping malls & such - making it easy to get for normie consoomers who has the "rights" to go there.
- Some guarantees on accessories (mostly chargers / cable at the very least; occasionally cases & screen protectors, depending on the brand)
Disadvantages of getting a brand-new PDA :
- More expensive
- By buying a brand-new PDA, you may have helped increase waste & pollution (from packaging trash to the box that's left behind, & the unused accessories).
Moving on to what most of us may have in mind - warranty, since we've probably been conditioned to take our device to the service center every time there's an issue with it.
While it's a good thing to have when your device fucks itself up, chances are it's going to be void - especially if you have unlocked the bootloader. So, in this case, don't rely on warranty - start learning how to fix your own PDAs. Only go to service centers when you're absolutely sure you can't fix it (just prepare to be ripped off).
Miscellaneous hardware stuff you care about
These includes "optional" hardware features you'd want to have in a PDA, such as headphone jack, micro SD, alert sliders, side buttons, & such. My preferences can be found in the personal recommendations section below.
As for more interesting hardware features such as kill switches (Wi-Fi, mobile, mic, camera, & such), you probably won't find them anywhere except for something like Purism Librem 5. While I'm somewhat interested in having this feature, chances are they either won't fully work like expected (disabling microphone won't prevent other sensors such as the gyroscope from recording audio, for example), or questionably useful (physical kill switches are fine & all, but someone with physical access could disable / enable it without you knowing).
Recommended with caveats
Here's the rough list of devices / brands I recommend getting, with a few caveats that can be (somewhat) easily bypassed for the most part.
I'll link my PDA list & PDA reviews for more details (read : what I've gotten & used personally).
Also, let me add in what I tend to look for in PDAs :
- Headphone jack - the primary decision maker for me. Refer to this section above for more details.
- microSD - not having it sucks, but it's fine as long as the PDA uses USB-C & has at least 64GB of internal storage. Of course, the primary storage has to be big (the bigger the better, even if there's a microSD slot), otherwise it won't justify the lack of microSD.
- USB-C port, preferably with USB Power Delivery compatibility (though Qualcomm Quick Charge are also fine, since there are plenty of PDA manufacturers that support it). I never cared about proprietary fast charging abilities that work on only one brand, such as Warp Charging & VOOC (both were BBK's proprietary fast charge protocol).
- Whenever possible, easy to remove batteries (like LG V20 & Samsung Galaxy S5). I've consigned myself to tearing down a PDA just to remove their battery, but I believe nobody should have to break open their devices just to replace a dying battery.
- Decent repairability, such as replaceable charging port & battery (at least without tough adhesives). I'm kinda against heat-gunning the display to start fixing stuff though.
- For displays, here's a good look of my preferences since there's plenty of ways for them :
- Due to the varieties of bezels provided, here's my bezel preferences.
- High refresh rates (>= 90hz) are preferred, especially if the SoC can push the framerate to match the HRR display. Otherwise, I'm fine on 60hz, albeit a little unsatisfied.
- Decent colors. Both LCD & OLED could make them, so LCD > OLED, even with OLED's turned-off blacks.
- I generally don't care for display resolutions, since I can't see any difference from 1080p to 1440p, let alone 4K. As a matter of fact, I watch (downloaded) YouTube videos on 720p - even on a 1440p display.
- Preferably good audio - stereo speakers are preferred, the aforementioned headphone jack is a requirement (save for some exceptions such as the Pixel 3). I'm fine with mono, but I'm not going to be satisfied. Picking USB-C to headphone dongles (or a USB-C headphone) can get pretty hard, considering the compatibility issues.
- Good development - Lineage, Havoc, Arrow, TWRP, etc.
- Unlockable bootloader - see the bootloader unlockable section above. No unlockable bootloader & I'm not going to get one - the SOV36 XZ1 is terrible enough that I don't want to think about other Sony PDAs.
OnePlus [3(T); 5(T); 6]
OK, let's face it: OnePlus is basically the US branch of Oppo (BBK by extension) in everything but name. However, this doesn't mean that their older (& unfortunately discontinued) PDAs suck. In fact, the 3(T) is pretty good (and less problematic than the more advanced Poco F1). 5(T) & 6 are probably fine, but I haven't used them & probably won't use them, considering OnePlus' rarity in the region I'm stuck in) is fine enough, provided that you could maintain it yourself (again, it's discontinued)
General advantages of OnePlus :
- Good 3rd-party developer support
- Alert slider (if you're not counting some Nord PDAs) - a feature I personally don't use that much, but is appreciated by most who has it, especially iPhone useds.
- Pixel-standard (best) bootloader unlocking protocol (fastboot oem unlock)
- Bootloader relocking support (I haven't personally tested them myself, but so far DivestOS confirmed bootloader relocking function on 5(T), 6(T), 7(T), & Nord.)
General disadvantages of OnePlus :
- No microSD (unless you're counting the Nord N10 & N100 which trades away the alert slider for microSD & headphone jack)
- Starting with the 6T, no headphone jack. This is the primary reason why I don't recommend any OnePlus PDAs beyond 6.
- All of my recommendations are discontinued, meaning you'll have a hard time encountering a brand new OnePlus PDA. Also, repairing these discontinued PDAs through OnePlus' service center can get dubiously expensive.
- Questionable official support quality
It's cool that the 3(T) is supported for a full 3 years & receives a somewhat stable final build, though its successor the 5(T) didn't fare better - currently, its final build's a buggy mess, from what I've heard.
- The return of OnePlus to their Oppo / BBK roots has spawned some questionable devices, such as the Nord series.
- Oxygen OS is a privacy hazard (but then again, so does every stock ROMs). I've only mentioned this now because I didn't use any OxygenOS online features.
OnePlus also have a history of user data leaks.
- Pro devices not "Pro" at all. For example, the OnePlus 7, 7T, 8, & 9 "Pro" are average flagships at their time without "Pro" features I expect out of one, such as headphone jack and/or microSD.
- OnePlus has fucked up enough that a Telegram channel is made just to document all of them.
- Firmware upgrades require flashing the latest OxygenOS (or ColorOS if A12).
Tips for getting OnePlus PDAs :
- Get them secondhand, since getting them brand new can be difficult (this depends on your region).
- Prepare to stock up on spare parts & get them from reputable sources. Learning how to fix your own devices are always recommended, if you don't want to pay the service center.
- Once it's updated to the latest stable stock ROM, get away from Oxygen OS ASAP. Using them is a privacy hazard, no matter how nice the OS feels.
By "stable", I mean "last stable version required by custom ROMs".
Xiaomi (with someone else who has a Mi account)
Ok, I seem like flip-flopping on Xiaomi. However, Xiaomi PDAs are generally popular for developers due to their relatively affordable prices, so you'll be guaranteed to have a decent selection of custom ROMs, at the very least.
General advantages of Xiaomi / Redmi / Poco:
- Good 3rd-party developer support
- Only available on the unfortunately discontinued A series : Pixel-standard (best) bootloader unlocking protocol (fastboot oem unlock)
- microSD support (for some devices)
- Competitively priced brand-new PDAs
General disadvantages of Xiaomi / Redmi / Poco:
- microSD availability varies by model
- No relockable bootloader for everything but Mi A2
- Pro flagships not "Pro" at all (the X3P is the only exception here). For example, the Mi 10(T) "Pro" lacks what I think are Pro features, the headphone jack & microSD.
- MIUI fucking sucks in more ways than one, but here's the privacy hazards :
- Ads inbuilt & enabled by default (they can be disabled, but you may have to dig into some apps' settings to do so.)
- MIUI Analytics
- Soter Service - probably some Tencent spyware, considering how the Chinese government likes their spyware & stuff.
- Facebook & Go-ogle inbuilt (non-Chinese variant)
- MIUI bloatware :
- MIUI Security - the prime bloatware :
- Integrated "optimizer" that might change settings when used
- Cleaning module on a security app (could be uninstalled without fucking shit up)
- The entire MIUI Security app can't be removed without causing the entire system to not boot & get stuck on a bootloop
- Again, Facebook & Go-ogle (spy / bloat)ware on non-Chinese variants
- Inbuilt games, just because.
- The aforementioned Soter service - probably not a bloat in China, but bloat everywhere else.
- User-hostile bootloader unlock protocol (except for A series).
- Anti-rollback "protection" has a history of bricking PDAs. I haven't encountered it, but still.
- Xiaomi has been inconsistent with kernel source code releases - for example, the Poco X3(N)'s kernel sources weren't delivered on launch day despite their promises. It's cool now that it's released, but, even so, the source code may have some differences with the prebuilt kernel.
- Poco branding is obnoxious, starting with the X3(N).
Well, shit. Here's Poco's India branch branding. Extreme cringe on logo & explanation alert.
- Ignoring the F1 & X3(N / P), most Poco PDAs are probably rebranded Xiaomi / Redmi PDAs.
- Xiaomi can somehow lock PDAs that are newly activated in some "unsupported" regions, if they run stock MIUI. (Link) (archive.org)
- Questionable QC in some PDAs, such as the X3P.
Tips for getting Xiaomi PDAs :
- Get someone else (a friend / family / roommate / neighbor / whoever else you know that also knows you) to help you by borrowing their spare SIM card (and a Mi account if available). If they don't have a Mi account, you're going to have to swallow the bullet, make a throwaway Mi Account (and a Goolag ID, but it's optional), & tie it to your borrowed SIM card. Also, use someone else's WIndows PC to use the Mi Unlocker.
Alternatively, if there's no one around to help you with this shit, get a burner SIM card with data (3G, 4G, etc) that lasts for approximately a month & bind it to a throwaway Mi Account (and Goolag ID too, if you need to). As for the PC, you might want to use a virtualized Windows instance, in case you're using your own PC (Ryzen PC users might need to seek for an Intel PC).
Doesn't apply for A series, but since that's discontinued... (discontinued as in no more new A-series PDAs)
- If you're getting a secondhand Xiaomi/Poco/Redmi PDA, try to get one with already unlocked bootloader - it will save you the trouble of having to deal with Xiaomi's bootloader protocol.
- Prepare to stock up on spare parts & get them from reputable sources. Learning how to fix your own devices are always recommended, if you don't want to pay the service center.
- As soon as you can unlock bootloader & get away from stock MIUI, do it! At least you can always upgrade the firmware without flashing the stock OS.
Here's the questionable recommendations - brands I'd like to recommend, but have enough flaws that even recommending them with a caveat sounded a bit too nice for them.
ASUS - once a brand I could recommend, now a questionable one. In a nutshell, good hardware with decent stock ROM (that's still bloated with Facebook bloat) & questionable quality assurance.
General advantages of ASUS :
- Easier than standard (but more annoying due to internet dependency) bootloader unlock protocol (ASUS UnlockTool)
- Zenfone Flip series advantages :
- A flip camera (starting with Zenfone 6 / 6z) - the camera has to flip up to take a selfie pic. Sure, the PDA's more fragile as a result (thanks to extra motors) - but there's no inferior camera module that gets to watch you at any time.
- microSD support
General disadvantages of ASUS :
- Zenfone 7 (as well as 8 Flip) & ROG III lacks an inbuilt headphone jack. The latter kinda tries to escape this by also including an extra USB-C based port for proprietary accessories (and a fan module with USB-C & headphone jack), but still.
- Zenfone 6 (6z) is basically a gamble - you either get one that works fine (more likely if brand-new); works somewhat fine (camera causes reboots once it's opened, my experience); or is an epic crapshoot (permadeath after some time, without any chance of resurrection other than being sent to ASUS).
- ROG PDAs historically had a questionable lack of microSD slot - instead opting for dual SIM. While this flaw seems minor considering the existence of the USB-C based proprietary port, I don't think I'd let them off the hook for that.
- While the UnlockTool is certainly easier than fastboot oem unlock, it's certainly more annoying - you need internet connection to make sure it works, & even then, there's a fair chance it'll fail for any reason (such as relocked bootloader). Also, this means anyone with physical access can unlock your PDA's bootloader & wipe your data without having to find a PC.
- Questionable custom ROM support for certain devices - for example, the 5z stands pretty strong with official Lineage & various cancer ROMs (curiously, no custom kernel), while the 6z is pretty much dead, with only OmniROM remaining (debatably) active.
- Questionable quality assurance; with my 6z being an example.
- With how ASUS releases their kernel sources (in a zip file instead of a git repo), custom kernels had to be rebased every firmware update. This slows down overall custom kernel development, especially if ASUS still supports the devices.
Tips for getting ASUS PDAs if you really want (and have) to get one :
- For the Zenfone 6, the only good way for them is to get them brand-new, test them for a bit to see if any issues appear. This is the only device I can recommend getting with a warranty.
- For the ROG II, get the Global version, not the Tencent version. Sure, it's outright more expensive, but you won't have to risk bricking it in an attempt to convert the aforementioned Tencent version to Global. Also, prepare to test it for a bit in case of issues.
- As for 2020 models (Zenfone 7, ROG III), I don't recommend them since neither had inbuilt headphone jacks. The ROG III tried to evade this issue by including a fan module with USB-C & headphone jack, but there's no microSD slot.
2021's models (Zenfone 8, ROG 5 series, Zenfone 8 Flip) isn't all that bad aside from a lack of microSD on all but the 8 Flip, which is just the Zenfone 7 with upgraded SoC.
- As always, prepare to stock up on spare parts & get them from reputable sources. Learning how to fix your own devices are always recommended, if you don't want to pay the service center.
In contrast to their Goolag & Go-ogle policies, Google's Pixel PDAs are surprisingly open towards modders... at first sight.
General advantages of Google's Pixels :
- Extreme ease in bootloader unlocking (Pixel-standard fastboot unlock) (well shit - they're the ones who made it)
- By far the only PDA lineup to ever receive GrapheneOS & CalyxOS support.
General disadvantages of Google's Pixels :
- All flagship Pixels (aside from the OG Pixels) don't have headphone jacks. The 6a is also expected to drop the headphone jack, unfortunately.
- No microSD support on ALL Pixel PDAs. OTG, internet storage, or risk losing data.
- No dual SIM support, in case anyone is concerned about that.
- OLED-only displays, with some models having various issues. For example, Pixel 2 XL's pOLED are quite vulnerable to burn-ins back in its initial release days (and there are actual cases). Software might have somewhat mitigated this, but keep in mind that OLED is OLED & will eventually get some kind of burn-in.
- Google could change partitioning with OTA update - for example, Pixel 3 series went from A/B to 2SI when they received an OTA from Pie to A10.
Personally, I don't want to recommend Google's Pixels since they are generally inferior to most PDAs at their price point (aside from their camera if you consider it). However, depending on your usage case, here is what I can recommend in case you really want to get a Pixel PDA :
- For starters, if all you want to do with your Pixel PDA is to use it with GrapheneOS, feel free to get one, but get the ones they recommend - you're guaranteed to receive the longest support period GrapheneOS can offer.
- Then, for the rest of the custom ROM users, unless there's something you absolutely value out of the Pixel (the camera, display, whatever), I can't recommend getting one - not only there are better options at their price range (and even below), Google could mess up partitioning (such as Pixel 3 from A/B to 2SI), causing further complications in installing TWRP and/or custom ROMs.
- If you already have a Pixel PDA & would like to continue using it for the foreseeable future, prepare to stock up on spare parts & get them from reputable sources. Learning how to fix your own devices are always recommended, if you don't want to pay the service center.
Not tried out yet / unknown
Brand(s) I haven't tried out yet at the moment (and have no plans on trying out unless there's a good reason for me to do so).
- Lenovo (Legion) / Motorola
- ZTE / Nubia / Red Magic
Just keep using your old PDA if it still works
I know that this page is supposed to tell you which PDA I'd recommend, but fuck it - if that thing still works, keep using it. If that thing needs repairs, do it as long as the costs are cheaper than buying another PDA. If that thing's beyond repair, only then you can come back & re-read what I would have recommended, and make sure that thing fits what you need.
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