This Pixel 4a is hands-down my favorite phone I've ever used, and by-far it has offered me the most performance with the least amount of hassle. Plus it was hilariously cheap: in total I paid $216 for this cute thing, not including the service, which was basically pennies compared to other phone plans when I paid a base $20 per month + $10 per GiB.

Device Pixel 4a (sunfish)
Hostname Palmtop-Tiger
Dimensions 144mm x 69.4mm x 8.2mm
2340 x 1080 (19.5:9)
5.8in screen, 443ppi
Weight 143g
ROM Lineage OS 19.1 (Android 12)
Owned February 2021 〜 Now
Notable Hardware 3.5mm headphone jack
Rear fingerprint scanner
Notes Rooted w/ Magisk (v25.2)
Ad-blocking w/ hosts file (AdAway)

Despite being marketed mostly as a "budget" phone there are very few features missing from this phone that I feel I'd want; it boasts some features over the Pixel 4 that I really like: the 3.5mm headphone jack, rear-mounted fingerprint scanner and a thinner bezel than both the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL all are features only the 4a boasts of the 3 phones in the Pixel 4 family.

Before this I used a Samsung S10e for about a year before technically downgrading to this phone; the difficulty of rooting that particular Verizon model of the S10e frustrated me as I desperately wanted to install AdAway as my system-wide adblocker as well as to uninstall the annoying Samsung bloatware apps. Though the hardware was nice for the time, I wanted a purer Android experience and the Samsung ROM was clearly not that. Plus, rooting a phone (and maybe flashing a custom ROM) makes me feel like I truly "own" my own device.

The All-in-One

Some lament that we no longer carry single-purpose devices like notebooks, stopwatches, flashlights or pagers as often (or at all) anymore. I was in this camp too for some time. To me, for a while, I considered phones as all-purpose tools and I used my Pixel 4a accordingly: I submitted to the easy modern lifestyle and loaded the phone to the brim with apps and used it idly, wasting time reading things I thought were important or relevant or communicating with people I've never meaningfully talked with anyhow, IRL or otherwise.

For reasons like this many people consider phones to be all-in-one devices. I argue that this categorization depends on the person using the phone; I've only recently become aware of (and have recently begun practicing) the ability to use my phone as many single-purpose devices. At times it is a way to communicate with the people I work with, other times it is a convenient way to jot a note down so I do not forget, and yet other times it is a tool to dump thoughts onto my Twitter feed in basically a write-only fashion. The important thing is that I use it for the purpose I intend at the time I pick it up and put it down exactly when I am done with the task I ventured to use it for.

Apps

When I flashed the 09.2022 build of Lineage OS onto my phone I took the opportunity to wipe my Pixel clean and install this set of apps and tools that would allow me to use my phone as I outlined above, ie as many single-purpose tools rolled into one:

Launcher Blue Line Console
Nova Launcher
Wallpaper Kustom Live Wallpaper (KLWP)
System AdAway
Magisk
File Sharing Primitive ftpd
Share via HTTP
VPN IVPN
Browser Firefox Focus
E-mail K-9 Mail
Chat Telegram
Discord
Twidere
Slack
Music Spotify
Japanese Language Anki
Jisho

GApps Powergap
Navigation Google Maps
Telephony Google Phone
Google Messages
Google Fi
Camera Google Camera
Keyboard GBoard
Meetings Google Meet
Collaboration Google Drive
Quick notes + lists Google Keep

I know, having so many Google services is shameful. I can justify some by the fact my work uses GSuite. Google apps also unlock hardware features of the Pixel 4a that open-source apps can not / do not. Others apps (like Google Maps) are just too damn convenient. Why would I add 20 minutes to my drive using some open-source navigation software (that doesn't understand traffic flow) when I can consult for the best route with the gods of data-mining themselves?

The biggest departure from typical UX is the launcher setup I use. Nova Launcher is the trusty app launcher I've used since I've been ricing seriously. Like in many rices I've done before here it is only providing the screens on which KLWP displays its Komponents. However, I've disabled its own app drawer (default swipe up from the bottom) in favor of using Blue Line Console, an app launcher driven by the keyboard and configured keywords. I tap the picture in the middle of the screen and the launcher opens. This way I engage my brain to think of what I want to run instead of slowly scrolling through all my apps in a drawer.

Note also how empty the KLWP wallpaper is; KLWP lets you rice your phone into oblivion but I've chosen only to show a tappable picture. Before I had cryptocurrency tickers, weather forecasts, RSS feeds, and many other things loaded onto the homescreen directly. I've reasoned now that these have no place on a phone which deliberately minimizes the opportunity for you to lose focus on something else.

I have also muted notifications from many applications (especially Discord) and added unique notification sounds for those apps which can still notify me so I do not even need to pick up the phone to check those notifications if I know they are trivial things like e-mail.