Undeletable Facebook, the last tolerable iPhone, and also some lens questions

Facebook is the new crapware:

The scandal-beset social media behemoth has inked an unknown number of agreements with Android smartphone makers, mobile carriers and OSes around the world to not only pre-load Facebook's eponymous app on hardware but render the software undeleteable; a permanent feature of your device, whether you like how the company's app can track your every move and digital action or not.

It's hard to get too worked up about this, though, since the entire Android concept is: "The world's largest advertising company has created a rootkit, and you are willingly carrying it around with you."

It's already only barely possible to use Android without being permanently logged into Google. It's only "possible" in the homebrew sense of, "it's possible to run AmigaDOS on a MacBook... I guess... If that's the hobby you choose to devote yourself to..."

So now the world's largest advertising company's rootkit also bundles a second rootkit from the world's second largest advertising company.


Apple is also a vile company, but they are not an advertising company per se, so advantage Apple, for now. However, "3.5mm headphone jack or GTFO" is a hill that I will die on, so about six months ago I purchased what I assume will be my last iPhone. (And I bought a spare.) The price has gone up a bit now, but when I bought it, you could still get a new, non-refurb 64GB unlocked iPhone SE for about $130 on eBay.

Now discontinued, this is the last good phone that Apple has made.

  • It is iPhone 7 hardware crammed into an iPhone 5 case. The iPhone 5 form factor is, in my humble but correct opinion, the correct size for a phone. You can operate it with one hand. It is not an iPad Mini pretending to be a phone.

  • It has a headphone jack.

  • But, sadly, it has a 3-year-old camera. So that's not ideal.

Which brings me to my question about lenses. I'd like to have a small, removable optical zoom lens for this thing, since the digital zoom is pretty crappy. I think even 2× would be helpful, though 3× would be better. These things seem to come in 3 varieties:

  1. The kind with the two inch butterfly clip. It's fiddly to get them centered properly, and if you don't, you get weird vignettes. But the real problem is that none of these clip-on lenses work at all if your phone is in a case.

  2. The kind where you glue a steel ring to your phone, and the lens attaches with a magnet. I tried one of these, and carved a hole through my phone case to accommodate it. It's almost ok, except that the magnet isn't strong enough so the thing falls off if you breathe on it funny. It's certainly not strong enough to stay attached if I have put my phone in my pocket, which means that "pull out my phone and quickly snap a picture, mid-show" is now an involved process that requires two hands.

  3. The cases with the lenses permanently attached, which means you have 5 lenses you don't need, and your case is permanently twice as thick as it needs to be most of the time.

So what I would like is: a thin-ish iPhone 5 / SE case that is threaded to accept the kind of lenses that screw into those butterfly clips. Does that exist? (If you answer "I don't know but here's one for the iPhone X", please shoot yourself thx.)

And is there standardization on these lenses? Are they all threaded the same, or does every manufacturer do it differently?

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45 Responses:

  1. I'm still clutching onto my iPhone 6s, but have been thinking about the SE as a replacement. I feel like the only good thing about the newer iPhones is the camera, which I am particularly jealous of, but the rest of the changes don't really seem that great. I just want an iphone that isn't super tall, has a headjack, and (most importantly) has a much better battery than my 6s.

  2. Dagon says:

    I presume you meant 3.5mm (standard, and what all older iPhones have), not 2.5mm (some hearing aids and very old phones). In any case, pick a better hill to die on. $12 from a company that's also big in advertising, but not primarily so gets you 2 fairly small lightning to 3.5mm adapters. https://smile.amazon.com/dp/B07M8FQRBM . Unless you'd rather carry lenses for a sensor that's pretty crapppy over getting a good lens and sensor in a new phone and carry an adapter.

    • J. Peterson says:

      Maybe choose one of the other brands listed under "Compare with similar items", given the solid streak of "*_ _ _ _ DOES NOT WORK" reviews.

    • jwz says:

      Yes, I meant 3.5mm.

      Yes, I am aware that dongles exist. No, I will not use one.

    • Joss says:

      $12 for a lightning to 3.5 adapter? Jesus. Prices start at $150, e.g. for the Ultrasone Naos. (If quality is important to you.) But hey, the real issue is: who needs cables?! ;)

  3. thielges says:

    If you go for add-on lenses it makes sense to pay for quality. I’ve tried two cheapo add ons and what was gained by the optical telephoto was destroyed by lens flaws. Digital zoom of equivalent focal length looked better.

    I know this is not the answer you’re looking for but in the great tradition of this blog I’ll go ahead anyway. Just get a cheapo 1” sensor pocketable point and shoot digicam. Those have far better image quality than any phone. And if you get one with a fast ( f2.8 or less) lens they also stomp what any phone can do in low light conditions, like a lot of your concert photos.

  4. Joseph Shelby says:

    Facebook's almost always been a pre-installed, can't-delete app (when turned off, it mostly treats it as ROM and really takes very little space). In fact, it can be interesting that way, because it means at times you can turn it back on and run it (before it tries to update it) and, as in the case of my HTC Evo still running Android 2.3, what Facebook was like 6 years ago...

    But it isn't the only app, just gets attention because "facebook". No shortage of those.

    Amazon's Fire boxes are similar - instead of being beholden to Google, you're beholden to Amazon.

    But the core is of the same root: the price for these devices is a LOT higher than we're actually paying. A Galaxy 9 is listed as 1500-2000 in costs, but contracts put it at 500-1000. Some devices are 'free' that shouldn't be. Previously the contracts were of an even larger discount from the price, but it got a little too expensive for the carriers to do it that way. To pay for it, you accept the advertising factor. You accept the bundled apps, just like we do when you get a new Windows 10 PC from Dell or HP and there's all the "bloatware" on it.

    The bloatware, like it or not, is worth $100-$1000 or more off the price tag. Complain and get the Feds to tell the carriers and makers not to bundle the bloatware, and you triple the prices and kill the market. Apple primarily handles it through the lock-in...but as more vendors try to avoid the subscriber percentage thing (a-la Netflix eliminating adding users through the IOS app), Apple will either start killing apps that are "killer" - apps that if not available, will hurt sales - or will start increasing advertising and bloat in the same way.

    Or raise prices.


    that said, can't help with the lens thing. Sorry.

    • jwz says:

      Facebook, Amazon and Google thank you for your service, citizen-unit. Surely the world would have collapsed into anarchy by now had you not come here to "Well actually" us with their party line interpretation of the economics of pocket-snitches.

    • Anthony says:

      There are at least a few people who would pay the extra money up front to be able to be rid of any or all bloatware, but nobody even offers that choice, afaict.

    • Biff says:

      The difference being you can get rid of unwanted programs on a computer, and manufacturers even offer models without anything but the operating system installed. Sometimes you have to pony up for the business models (Dell Latitude, for one of your examples) or wipe and reinstall yourself. If you try that with a phone, you're off to XDA land and have to go through various ROMs and hope that ICEcook458778 hasn't inserted something worse than Facebook's app in their ROM.

    • Not Frank says:

      How interesting. The four Android phones my wife and I have owned? None of them have had FB preinstalled. I suppose the Pixel might be considered an edge case similar to the Microsoft-certified laptops that come without crapware, but two Motos (not Google-owned Motorola) and even a Samsung?

      It's the carrier bundling Facebook in a number of cases, so the argument starts to come off its wheels a bit there -- if it was so necessary, why would the phones even get that far through the chain before the bundling was required? I'm pretty sure this is more just the "make extra money" not "the market goes to bits if FB is not installed."

  5. Jake Nelson says:

    I've been a bit stymied pondering upgrade paths myself. I made my choice and signed the devil's contract with Google a long time back, and have mostly made my peace with that, but current versions of the Pixel, nice as it is, have also succumbed to jacklessness. I haven't used mine recently, but used to a lot at work, might again in future, and while it's not as bad as the iPhone's (USB dongle is a lot smaller and you can make them yourself or buy them for literally $1) mostly it's the principle of the thing.

    Non-Google phones are right out because of the aforementioned crapware problem. Was so liberating getting off Verizon years back because it meant losing all that nonsense except Google's own, which I was largely stuck with anyway. One corporate overlord is bad enough, but I'm sure as hell not letting four or five of them in. Not only Facebook, but crap like the NFL app was un-uninstallable with them. So gross. Samsung is one of the worst (I got one of their tablets as a hand-me-down once a few years back) because they also cram it full of their homebrew equivalents to most of the Google apps, alongside the real thing, and besides being redundant, they're all the shoddiest, most resource-inefficient, ugly... yeah, I'll just stop there, you get the idea.

    Not feeling a rush because my old Nexus 6 is paid off, so my total phone bill (Google Fi) is $25 on average, and that sure is nice, but it's getting sluggish and the battery is slowly losing capacity, so I worry I'll need to suddenly bite the bullet one of these years.

    Hoping the rumors of a "Pixel 3 Lite" with a jack and lower specs but also price comes true...

  6. Karellen says:

    If you can wait a couple of months, you could look into the Librem 5:


    PureOS is derived from Debian, so it's GNU/Linux rather than Android/Linux. It will come without the crapware, and with a 3.5mm audio jack.

    • Karellen says:

      Oh, and although PureOS is Debian-based, I'm pretty sure it's a rolling release based off of "testing", so you shouldn't have to worry about it shipping 3 year old releases of XScreenSaver. :-p

  7. Marten says:

    I wonder if you could get away with cutting off the threaded part of the butterfly clip, and gluing that onto your phone? (Or alternatively gluing it into a cutout you make in a phone case?)

    • jwz says:

      Considered it, but it sounds really unlikely that the glue would hold for long if it hadn't all been manufactured as a single piece.

      • o.o says:

        There are some serious epoxies out there. If it's plastic-to-plastic (I don't know if the threaded bits you're talking about here are metal or plastic), Loctite Plastic Bond is stout stuff. It's suitable for aircraft use, and I used it to reattach a sideview mirror on my truck that's been holding like new for a few months.

  8. Mbourgon says:

    Jamie, you're looking for the "Moment" case. It appears to go back to the SE from what I can see online (their site only sell the 6 onward), and matches quite a bit of what you want. Actual quality lenses, it's not quite a screw-in (I think it's a half-turn) and you can use either their case or a "plate" that glues onto the phone.

    Hope this helps, man.

  9. Christopher says:

    Aliexpress offers a plethora of case+lens products, mostly in one of your 3 designs.

    Does a solution combining a case with an attachable lens, but somehow more riggid and faster to use, would be a good compromise?

  10. George Dorn says:

    LineageOS on a non-Google-branded device (OnePlus is a decent manufacturer here) with the F-Droid app store has come a long way in the last year. It's no longer in the same category as AmigaOS-on-a-MacBook. More like Linux-on-a-desktop.

    It's always been possible to have a FOSS* phone, but it's gotten a great deal easier.

    * for ubuntu+nonfree-level FOSS, not Debian-level. Level 5 Vegan FOSS options are scarce, but that isn't your goal anyway.

  11. K J says:

    Side note: take your spare phone, run the battery down to 40%, then put it in your fridge in an airtight container to store. https://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/how_to_store_batteries

    At least then when you need to pull it out in a few years to replace your current copy, it'll still have a brand-new condition battery.

    • Ben says:

      That's for a battery with no electronics on it. The battery in a phone is hooked up to a battery manager which will slowly drain the battery unless it is physically disconnected. A phone in storage will be discharged in a few months.

      • K J says:

        I don't know if newer iPhones are as good about it, but this worked well for me around the 4S generation, even with the battery still connected.

  12. dz-015 says:

    This case/lens mount should* work with iPhone 5/5s/SE:
    iPro Lens by Schneider Optics Case for iPhone 0IP-CASE-IP5S

    I too, can’t get over the loss of the headphone jack. With a jack you only need only one codec/amplifier. Without a jack you need 3:
    1) One for the builtin speakers and microphones that you need anyway.

    2) Another embedded in the Lightning headphones (useful only with iPhones and iPads).
    3) Yet another in the dongle to support regular headphones/headsets (I hear that this may not be included anymore).

    I currently use an iPhone 6.

    [*] I have not tried this myself. YMMV.

  13. osmarks says:

    It is kind of annoying to get working, but I use LineageOS with microG and the Yalp store. It runs fine, and I can install apps from Google Play, without proprietary Google bits.

  14. Not Frank says:

    Even though I'm pretty sure I know what he'll say, I would love to hear our host's thoughts on the open source phones.

  15. bobob says:

    If you can't find anything suitable, you could do it yourself fairly easily. Go to the hardware store and get a suitable piece of metal (suitable meaning round, preferably with a hole through the center which is smaller than the thread diameter on the lens and with an outer diameter that fits within the boundary of the phone case - like a thick washer). Drill and tap the hole. Epoxy (using good epoxy) the piece over the camera lens hole in the case to ensure it lines up. It's more effort than buying what you want, but it will probably take less time than finding what you want to buy and will probably be much sturdier.

    • jwz says:

      As someone who does not own a machine shop, your version of "fairly easily" and mine have some significant departures.

  16. jwz says:

    I think this is the case I was looking for: "Waterproof Shockproof Metal Case Cover" I was only able to find it on eBay, so I assume it's discontinued. Also, I couldn't tell you who the actual manufacturer is. It's a little bulkier than I'd like, and the built-in front glass screen arrived broken, but I just cut it out and it's still adequate. Possibly it's no longer waterproof but I don't care about that.

    It does accept the threads of several other lenses in my possession, so it has been touched by the hand of standardization. Possibly "M17 thread" is the magic phrase.

  17. "in my humble but correct opinion" - IMHBCO

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