Pixel phone may be dead?

My “current” phone (4.5 year old Pixel 3a) may be dead. I now can’t get it past the login screen and have moved to my previous phone, my Moto X. That buys me some time until I can figure out what to do. It started late Friday night and has been my weekend project.

Friday night, just before bed, I noticed a strange bar at the bottom of my phone’s screen, just a solid bright grayish color. As I got ready for bed, I went to turn the phone on to put in that I took my pills, but the screen wouldn’t turn on. I held the power button in for a while until it finally restarted and showed a “G”, but it didn’t go past that. I left it for a while with no change. I held the power button again and it restarted, got past the “G” to a “Google” logo and showed a back and forth progress bar, but never made it past this. Left it for a half hour. Restarted and it finally got to the login screen. Was able to get in but it was going really slow. Out of concern stuff had gotten erased, I check my photos. They showed briefly, then disappeared and it said there were no photos. I checked my text messages and they were gone. Call log and most other things were still there, but so it hadn’t erased everything, but the whole thing was running very slow, until it froze completely. I force restarted. Luckily, my photos came back, but not the texts.

I left it overnight, and woke up late because it had shut itself off / froze over night and my alarm didn’t go off. Made me late to a Bird Nerds event I was going to. When I got back, I restarted again. It was running a little better, but I was worried that it could die again at any moment, so I hooked up to my computer and moved over the 4.5 years of not-backed-up photos. At the time I wondered if maybe it was running out of memory, so I cleared off all the photos and some music from the phone. I changed the wallpaper, and the weird bar on the screen disappeared. Apparently it had somehow become part of the image.

I got a list in Google Play of the recently updated apps. Four had been updated Friday, including Fastmail, Google Keep Notes, Google Chrome, and one other I don’t remember. But booting into safe mode still had the problem, so I’m not sure it was an app update, unless one of those Google ones still caused a problem in safe mode. It took a while to figure out how to get into safe mode, so I’ll share what I had to do: Boot up phone to login screen, hold power button until a popup appears, hold “Power Off” button on that, then press button on next popup to restart into safe mode.

It seemed to be mostly working once I rebooted back to normal mode, just occasionally going slow or freezing and needing to restart. It stayed alive over Saturday night, making me feel like it would last at least long enough to take my time deciding on a new phone, and maybe long enough to mostly work. It worked just fine up until lunch time Sunday, when it started going slow and then froze completely. That’s when it started freezing quickly after logging in. Soon it would freeze at the login screen sometimes or as I tried to log in. I tried pulling the SIM card, and between that and booting to safe mode, it somehow ended up stuck in airplane mode. Even with me switching that off from the login screen, it would no longer connect and would be back in airplane mode on reboot.

I tried booting to the boot-loader by holding down power and volume while booting. Selecting “Recovery Mode”, I then had to hold the power button, press volume up, and release. It had an option to wipe the phone, to re-flash the phone over ADB or SD, a log that had no useful info, and a couple of tests that seemingly were just for developers relating to some functionality. No real diagnostics or crash logs, ability to boot into a disk mode or even to safe mode from there, or really anything that might help me unless I wipe the phone.

I found a thing online that said I could go to pixelrepair.withgoogle.com to actually do something useful, but when I finally got it connected in a “Rescue mode”, it said the devices software was too new. Looking online, apparently that’s all it says for everybody. They all said just to get Android SDK to try to work on it. That will be a software download and setup and I’m not even sure what I can do with it, but it may be worth a try, because: I have some somewhat important data on the phone.

I haven’t backed up the phone beyond stuff that’s explicitly in the cloud, like emails, plus probably the contacts. I haven’t really trusted Google with a lot of the personal info that would be on a phone. I luckily was able to get the photos off, but I have other stuff on there. It seems I’ve already lost the text messages, but I have a lot of note files on various topics that I’d really prefer not to lose, plus I have the OTP 2FA credentials for a few websites, including one for work. There’s also call logs, some downloads, and other stuff like that, but I don’t think any of it is really important. The notes and 2FA are what will make me put some effort into extracting data. I wish Android had a better solution for my situation.

I luckily was able to just swap my SIM card over to my old Moto X phone and, once it finally booted up, it connected to 4G just fine and was able to make a call and send an SMS. I re-connected my Google account, so I get that email, but don’t have a number of other apps, including my other email account, which I’ll have to check through webmail much more frequently now. My Moto X has a very cracked screen with a protector over it to keep from abrading my fingers. It is a nice small size that I miss with the Pixel. I haven’t tried the battery or carrying it around yet, but I’m hoping it’ll be good enough for the moment.

Anyway, I’m not sure what phone I want yet, so this will buy me some time to figure it out. I’m kinda excited about Minimal Phone, which is an e-ink Android phone with physical, but it is just a crowdfunding plan at this point and won’t even be released, in perfect conditions, for months if it gets funded. Not gonna work in my new situation. Also, it doesn’t support video out over USB C, which I want to be able to do a lapdock. I also like the idea of the Librem 5 a Linux phone, but it can’t run Android apps and is expensive, among other things. Phones have gotten huge, and it’s gotten hard to find one of reasonable size to operate with one hand and fit in a pocket comfortably. I’m tempted by the Jelly Star which is tiny with a 3″ screen, but that may be too small, especially typing on, isn’t that well known of a company, and may not be that great of quality. I’m also looking at the Samsung Galaxy and Fold among others, but they’re expensive. I’ve even considered a “dumb” phone that can do 4G hotspot, where I’d use another device when I wanted to do more than just calls and text, but I’m not sure if that’s enough for me.

Hopefully I can figure something out and get back to fully operational. But it’s a relief to have a working phone after not having one for much of the weekend, where I can at least receive calls, get texts and some emails, and get the SMS 2FA that I have on some accounts. This whole episode has made me want to be less reliant on a single device, even if that just means having to trust third party services to put more stuff in the cloud to be able to easily transfer between phones.