A Case for Analog

Sony DSC-F505There’s a rule of thumb that I’ve picked up in my ten years or so of buying digital toys of all sorts, from PCs to peripherals to PDAs: every device has its own quirky, unintended operational shortcoming that, if it’s not readily apparent at the time of purchase, will make itself known soon enough, and will drive me completely bats.

The latest evidence of this is my Sony Cybershot DSC-F505, a digital still camera that’s pretty long in the tooth now anyway, but has been repeatedly beset by a few infuriating defects over the three years or so I’ve had it. First, the battery it shipped with started failing to hold any meaningful charge, and I’d get only a minute or two of power from it.

So I bought myself a new battery to remedy that problem, but soon thereafter the restraining latch on the battery bay broke, and now I have to kind of wedge it in there and force the cover closed in order to get it to stay put. It’s not an elegant solution, but it allowed me to keep on using my camera at least. But now, this weekend, I’m seeing signs that my new battery, which I haven’t owned for all that long, is starting to fail as well.

The Sony Promise

This is completely infuriating, but confirmation that another of my theories — this one about Sony hardware — is true: what one really pays for when one buys a Sony digital product is a year’s worth of their incredibly sexy industrial design, after which point the device begins to fail in any one of a number of ways that requires expensive, proprietary Sony replacement parts.

I first began formulating this theory with the Sony PCG-SR7K VAIO laptop that I bought in 2000. Now that was a sexy machine; it measured less than an inch thick, weighed in at less than three pounds and was oohingly and aahhingly petite. For about a year, it ranked as the best notebook computer I’d ever owned or used.

But then in the fall of 2001, when the machine had passed its warranty period, the screen suddenly and completely died, rendering it completely useless. I paid a not-exorbitant but still unnecessarily large amount to have it sent back to Sony in California and repaired. But soon thereafter, it was stricken with the same battery problems that my F505 had: the battery suddenly became unable to hold a charge. In fact, this was worse than my camera battery; as soon as I’d unplug the laptop, the entire machine would shut down immediately, because the battery held absolutely no power.

I don’t want to single out Sony here, because I’ve had similar problems with tons of other products. In fact, in the interest of fairness, here is a brief listing of complaints against other technology purchases I’ve made.

A List of Grievances

  • The remote control of my iPod is often inoperable because its plug into the iPod itself is easily loosened, which causes me many headaches when I’m walking with the iPod tucked into my backpack.
  • The battery bay in my Apple PowerBook 3400c would not hold in my battery securely enough, causing random, immediate shut-offs. Luckily, Apple provided an incredibly kludgy solution for this early on: a strip of electrical tape to pad the bay.
  • My mobile phone, an LG TP5200 from Sprint PCS, often shuts itself off unexpectedly and for no clear reason. I often dig it out of my pocket to discover that it’s been shut off for long periods of time, leaving me intentionally unreachable.
  • The pen alignment in my aging Palm Vx often becomes so radically misaligned that I can’t even tap to the proper screen to correct it. Luckily, there is a very helpful fix for this.
  • The Griffin iMate USB adapter that allows me to use my old Kensington trackball doesn’t always register when I restart my PowerBook, causing the mouse to be useless until I unplug and re-plug it.
  • The left speaker in my otherwise great sounding PC speaker set from Monsoon Audio quietly stopped producing any sound whatsoever a month or two ago. To add insult to injury, Monsoon has apparently shut down its PC sound peripheral business, so I’m left with no recourse.