1809: xkcd Phone 5

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xkcd Phone 5
The phone will be collected by the toll operators and mailed back to you within 4-6 weeks.
Title text: The phone will be collected by the toll operators and mailed back to you within 4-6 weeks.


This is the fifth entry in the ongoing xkcd Phone series, and once again, the comic plays with many standard tech buzzwords, and horribly misuses all of them, to create a phone that sounds impressive but self-evidently isn't to even the most ignorant customer. The previous comic in the series 1707: xkcd Phone 4 was released almost 8 months before this one.

The slogan beneath the phone, "We're trying to catch up to Apple but refuse to skip numbers", is a reference to inconsistent product numbering, such as Samsung releasing the Note 7 after the Note 5, likely in an attempt to catch up to the numbering of either the iPhone or Galaxy S series, both of which were already at 7. Similarly, there was also no official iPhone 2. But there is an xkcd Phone 2 available. The trademark sign behind the word "numbers" possibly indicates a reference to the Apple spreadsheet app with the same name.

This phone seems to have a curved display. But the edges are curved down and not up, as they are on other curved phones.

The title text that says that the phone will be returned to you by the toll operators is a reference to E-ZPass partnership feature; see explanation in the table regarding that feature.

List of features[edit]

Hook shot
In The Legend of Zelda the Hookshot is a recurring weapon/tool. It is a machine consisting of a chain and hook. When used, the chain extends and sends the hook which is attached to it. It is used to bring items to Link or bring Link closer to a goal (Link is the name shared by the main protagonists, each possessing the Spirit of the Hero). Likely a reference to new video game The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which was released a week prior to this comic.

In the comic the hook shot is shown as a small port upon the phone's top; the hook itself is not visible, suggesting it is contained in the device until use. Most Hookshots in the game series are large enough to be grasped in or encompass the hand, with the hook being large and extending out of the tool even without use. The size of the port and absence of the hook before use implies a very small hook and a very thin chain, making it impractical for use in either of the tool's functions.

Bluetooth speaker
Bluetooth speakers are often used to play audio from a smartphone wirelessly, usually with more volume and better quality than the phone's small built-in speaker can provide. Embedding a bluetooth speaker into the phone would allow the phone to play audio from outside sources through its built-in speaker, which could be useful if no better speakers were available but would generally be avoided given the previously noted limitations of phone speakers. This is perhaps a jab at the current trend of playing music or Internet content audibly in public through the tiny, tinny speaker embedded in most phones. The Bluetooth speaker is located in the normal place for a phone's speaker.
Stained-glass display
Stained glass is colored glass, traditionally used for decorative windows in buildings most often churches. It is generally much thicker and because of the color much less transparent, especially for some colors, than the glass types normally used for touch-screens, making the phone difficult to use as it would remove some of the colors shown on the screen below the glass. A typical feature noticed about the glass for real phones would be its strength, as in work phones for construction workers.
Gallium chassis remains solid up to 85°F
Many high-end electronic devices have chassis made of alloys of light metals such as magnesium or titanium rather than steel or plastic. Besides being lightweight and of superior quality and durability than ordinary sheet steel or cheap plastic, these are often perceived as bragging points by the users, boasting about 'rare' metal chassis.
Gallium, however, is an uncommon metal with a very low melting point of 85 °F (or 29.8 °C), making it one of only four pure metals (along with mercury, rubidium and caesium) that can be liquid around room temperature. Because the melting point is lower than the average human body temperature of 98.6 °F (37 °C) a gallium smartphone chassis would melt in the user's bare hand, assuming it hadn't already done so due to heat produced by its internal components. Even if the electronics had good heat management, cooling in smartphones is normally accomplished by distributing heat to the case, not exhausting it.
A similar real advertisement regarding the chassis would be that it was waterproof down to some depth (say, 85 feet or 25 meters). See also the feature below regarding this.
A Soundproof chassis could result in the unwanted effect that the speakers and microphone may not work as no sound may enter or leave the phones chassis. A more likely feature would be waterproof (see above point).
Can feel pain
Possibly a reference to intelligent personal assistants like Siri, Cortana or Alexa gaining consciousness (see 1807: Listening for the latter). Such artificial intelligence references is a recurring subject on xkcd.
This could mean that either the phone feels pain for damages inflicted upon it or it feels the user's pain level (regarding either physical and/or emotional pain). The meaning would quickly become apparent for the user if the chassis melts on contact with exposed skin leaving the phone with "open wounds".
This could be seen as a similar feature of the first xkcd phone, 1363: xkcd Phone, where the title text notices (among many other things) that the phone will drown if submerged in water. A similar thing is also mentioned for 1549: XKCD Phone 3. That phone is waterproof but can drown. Since this phone is soundproof but not waterproof, per the two points above, the drowning issue may still be relevant. The second phone, 1465: xkcd Phone 2, cries when lost a similar display of emotions/feelings. That phone also mentions waterproofing, but here it is only the interior, and although it is washable, it is only a one-time feature (like the fold-ability of this one; see two points below). Finally it also 1707: xkcd Phone 4 mentions that it is waterproof, but not between 30-50 m down...
E-ZPass partnership
Phone can be dropped into coin basket to pay tolls
E-ZPass is an electronic toll collection system. The vehicle drives through the toll lane without stopping, and sensors detect the pass and deduct the appropriate amount from the user's account. The phone's integration with E-ZPass is absurd since the phone needs to be dropped into a coin basket to work. Not only would you have to stop in order to throw the phone into the coin basket, which defies the idea of E-ZPass, but you would also lose your phone.
In the title text, however, it says that the phone will be retrieved by the toll operators and returned by mail within 4–6 weeks. So this slightly mitigates the problem of losing the phone, but there would be about a month where the phone could not be used.
Foldable (once)
Almost anything long and slim can be "folded" by simply snapping it in half. But as it says, this can only be done once, because the phone cannot be unsnapped and will not work any more once it has been folded.
This is a reference to the rumors of the new Samsung Galaxy X that is really foldable like a piece of rubber. See this video.
It could also refer to the fact that a version of iPhone had a weak spot that lead it to easily folding and breaking. And it could be a reference to flip phones.
Screen transfers images to skin
Transferring images to the skin sounds like either real tattoos or the water tattoos used by children or other kinds of temporary tattoos. Likely it should be understood that it would be possible to transfer the image displayed on the screen to your skin, hopefully when activating the feature rather than by accident, and, preferably, also not permanently. This may also be a reference to the experimental Cicret Bracelet's ability to project images onto your arm: [1]
Retina storage
This is a play on the name of Apple's prized "Retina Display". The joke may be in reference to Apple's possession of a trademark for the word "retina" in regards to computer equipment, which is made to seem absurd by the unusual use. It is not made clear whose retinas are meant to be stored. It could also be a reference to retinally implanted computers. The retina storage is a slot at the bottom of the phone right of the charging port.
Background task automatically catches and eats Pokémon
A reference to Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game where the goal is to go to specific locations and play a mini-game in order to catch virtual creatures called Pokémon (see 1705: Pokémon Go). This phone apparently catches Pokémon automatically, similar to the external device Pokémon Go Plus. However, this feature also eats them, which is something that is not part of the game and wouldn't be desirable, as it is about collection and storing as many different Pokémon as possible. It could be a coincidence, but it seems funny that the label for this background feature is the only one that points at the back of the phone.
Supercuts partnership
Trims hair fed into charging port
Supercuts is an American hair salon chain that provides hair cuts and styling. The implication here is that the user can get a haircut by Supercuts by sticking hair into the charging slot. This is not only impractical and would only work for hair long enough to be fed into the port, but it would most likely result in a bad haircut. Also the slot would soon be filled with hair. The charging slot is otherwise placed in the normal spot and looks like a regular charging port.
This feature could actually be quite dangerous if the hair is not removed from the charging slot afterwards because the hair could melt or catch fire inside the phone.
Squelch knob
Squelch is a feature of radios (CB, ham, scanner, etc) which quiets background noise when no usable signal is present. It cuts off audio completely when only noise is present. As different environments can have differing levels of background noise, an adjusment such as a knob is required to set the level at which the squelch circuit deactivates and lets audio through ("opening" or "breaking" the squelch). For a smartphone, perhaps this knob could control the "signal-to-noise" ratio of your Facebook feed or other social media platforms. It takes the place of the headphone jack, replacing the normal hole with a small knob.
IBM buckling-spring Home button
IBM buckling-spring keyboards are favorites of geeks for the feeling of quality and auditory feedback (keys click loudly when pressed) they provide. Real smartphones' home buttons, typically located exactly as in this image, provide little to no such satisfaction when pressed.
Cot-caught merger switch
This is a reference to the cot–caught merger, a linguistic change happening among English speakers, particularly in some parts of North America and the British Isles, which causes caught (previously pronounced "kawt") to be pronounced the same as cot (pronounced "kot"). The switch is clearly visible on the side of the phone. A real feature physically similar to this is the slide switch on the iPhone and iPad, allowing the user to (un)lock the orientation of the screen or to (un)mute the device.
60x optical zoom camera
A powerful optical zoom lens is usually a desirable feature for cameras. However, as shown in the comic, it results in very bulky lens. If 60× zoom should be achieved the lens needs to be as big as shown on the backside of the phone, and the whole idea of being able to carry the smartphone easily in a pocket would be defied.
For that reason, such lenses are never used in smartphones, although rarely some devices, like the Samsung Galaxy Camera, use a smaller lens with a similar design. But this is no longer a smartphone.
This feature would seem to be a jab at the variety of add-on devices, including close-up lenses, handles, and external flashes, that are currently in use to enhance the phone's ability to function like a camera (and the selfie stick).
Some phones might instead mention their digital zoom level instead. But that is not a popular feature among photo enthusiasts, as digital zooming gains no additional optical resolution. Users would actually be better off using the maximum optical zoom, and then enlarging their images with photo-editing software, which might offer better, but slower, algorithms (e.g. linear resampling versus Lanczos resampling). Likewise, (mobile phone) cameras are often advertised with their high number of megapixels, while retaining their small image sensor size. As each individual sensor gets less light, it creates more image noise.
Randall has made several comics about cameras before; see for instance 1719: Superzoom and other comics linked via this.
Contrast the EasyMacro band - 4x zoom with little appreciable thickness.
Assuming 60x is referring to the base focal length of the iPhone and that the xkcd Phone 5 has the same dimensions as the iPhone 7 Plus then in 35mm format this lens would be 30-1800mm f/0.4-f/24. This is a completely infeasible (but not physically impossible) lens in 35mm format, but similar small format lenses (albeit with more reasonable aperture ranges) do exist in mass production, for example the Nikon P900.
LORAN navigation
LORAN (Long Range Navigation) was a precursor to modern GPS navigation, using land-based transmitters. Once developed for sea shipping, it is accurate to about 300 meters (1,000 feet). The joke, of course, is that all modern smartphones have integrated GPS navigation which is far more accurate. Due to the much lower frequencies involved, reception of LORAN signals though is much better in areas with obstructed view of the sky. However LORAN has been decommissioned more or less completely since before 2000.
Incidentally, some receivers of the Decca Navigator System (which operates on a similar principle as LORAN) featured moving map displays, something we associate with modern GPS devices.
28-factor authentication
An authentication factor is a way of proving one's identity. There are 3 generally recognized forms: something you know, something you have, and something you are. It can be a password, a fingerprint, a physical key, etc.... Secure applications may include two or more factors; a common example is the "PIN and chip" system used with credit cards, where you need both the card and secret code to authorize a transaction. Many online services now provide two-factor authentication to protect against password-based attacks. 28-factor authentication would likely be very secure in theory but also so impractical that it would be unusable. The user will need to prove their identity 28 different ways which would be so time consuming that would outweigh the convenience of a smart phone. A 2-factor smoke detector was soon after mentioned in one of the tips in 1820: Security Advice.


[An image of a smartphone with a common optical camera lens attached on its back is shown. Over the entire length the case is slightly rounded. There are several features visible as bottom like features at the top and bottom of the front as well a microphone like slit at the top. A sliding switch is visible on the side, and at the bottom there is a knob, a connector port and a small slit. Clockwise starting from the top left all the labels read:]
Hook shot
Bluetooth speaker
Stained-glass display
Gallium chassis remains solid up to 85°F
Can feel pain
E-ZPass partnership: Phone can be dropped into coin basket to pay tolls
Foldable (once)
Screen transfers images to skin
Retina storage
Background task automatically catches and eats Pokémon
Supercuts partnership: Trims hair fed into charging port
Squelch knob
IBM buckling-spring home button
Cot-caught merger switch
60x optical zoom camera
LORAN navigation
28-factor authentication
[Below the phone:]
The xkcd Phone 5
We're trying to catch up to Apple but refuse to skip numbers®TM

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Darn, I was almost fast enough to get the cot-caught merger explanation in there. That being said, now I really want a phone with a Zelda style hook shot. Andyd273 (talk) 14:02, 10 March 2017 (UTC) --I just came to say the same. I want the hookshot! 14:05, 10 March 2017 (UTC)

It's way more likely that this refers to the Zelda hook shot, as it looks like a little tube where some sort of grappling hook could potentially shoot out from. It doesn't look like it could shoot out basketballs, though. 15:28, 10 March 2017 (UTC)

It looks like "Hook Shot" is a clever suggestion for a feature name: the lens attaches to the camera with a 'hook' so you can take great 'shot's. Schnitz (talk) 18:01, 10 March 2017 (UTC)

And how is the Hook shot not a DotA/DotA 2 reference? My first reaction upon seeing the Hook shot was DotA. See http://dota2.gamepedia.com/Clockwerk and http://dota.wikia.com/wiki/Clockwerk -- 14:10, 13 March 2017 (UTC)

It's worth noting that most of the Loran-C system (which presumably is what would be used on a phone) has been decommissioned in the last decade or so, including all the stations operated by the US and Canadian governments. 15:52, 10 March 2017 (UTC)

Notice the new what if? Electrofishing for Whales released the day before this comic! Only 9 days between releases... --Kynde (talk) 16:33, 10 March 2017 (UTC)

OFF TOPIC: Can you imagine how much Randall must have been laughing while looking at all those funny electrofishing sources he is citing... ROFL--Dgbrt (talk) 19:44, 10 March 2017 (UTC)

LORAN -- I was under the impression that the US LORAN base stations were turned off in 2010. Perhaps a few years later in some other parts of the world. So a LORAN reciever is of less use than a chocolate teapot.-- 18:08, 10 March 2017 (UTC)

I understand "Can Feel Pain" as the next step up for Siri (or Google or Alexa or...) to become conscious. 18:18, 10 March 2017 (UTC)

The phone is slightly round. What could this mean? It's not like Galaxy Edge.--Dgbrt (talk) 19:44, 10 March 2017 (UTC)

I think part of the joke of "Squelch knob" is that a lot of people simply don't know what a squelch knob does. May as well put this mysterious knob on a phone, too. Does anyone else agree? 01:36, 11 March 2017 (UTC)

It was really funny for me personally that this comic came out this Friday as right before I came home and saw the new xkcd phone I had just picked up my new smartphone. It was "just" a Samsung so great I didn't see this first because then I would have been disappointed by the few features my new phone has. But at least it is now easier to make such a comment like this on the phone --Kynde (talk) 16:17, 11 March 2017 (UTC)

Pokemon spoiler inside (rot 13): Va rcvfbqr 16 bs gur Cbxrzba bevtvany frevrf, Nfu, Zvfgl, Oebpx, Wrffvr, naq Wnzrf, nybat jvgu gurve znal Cbxrzba, ner genccrq ba n obng. Orvat irel uhatel, gurl pbafvqre rngvat Wnzrf'f Zntvxnec, hagvy Zrbjgu ovgrf Zntvxnec...naq oernxf uvf grrgu. 21:05, 11 March 2017 (UTC)

Vf vg ernyyl n fcbvyre gb erirny n cybg cbvag 18+ lrnef nsgre gur bevtvany nve qngr?These Are Not The Comments You Are Looking For (talk) 03:14, 12 March 2017 (UTC)

Every time I see another one in this lame series I get a stronger impression that this is Randall's way of "phoning in" a comic when his creative well goes dry. tbc (talk) 04:32, 12 March 2017 (UTC)

"there is an xkcd Phone 2 available" - really? (Not really.) Real "haptic" (touch) technology on devices includes producing the sensation of touching a real version of a virtual object, as well as a device sensing not only being touched, but how it is touched. On the other hand, I don't think our relationships with devices will be improved if they can feel pain. Or fear, which logically comes next. That's wrong, even if they are already doing it to us. [email protected] 03:34, 13 March 2017 (UTC)

I think "retina storage" is like a retina scanner -- except it's not read-only. -- 05:05, 13 March 2017 (UTC)

Regarding the E-ZPass partnership ... I wasn't aware that you need to stop to in order to throw the coins into the coin basket. Sure, you need to remember to release the quarter a full 3 seconds before passing the basket if you are traveling more than 60 MPH, as mentioned in fortune. -- Hkmaly (talk) 01:11, 17 March 2017 (UTC)

Layout question[edit]

We have five xkcd phone explanations. Three of them are using a bullet list and two (including this) use a table. I prefer the bullets, not only because it's easier for editors. A table cell where the text needs a couple of lines is either bad text or bad layout. I think it's the layout. What do you think?--Dgbrt (talk) 19:57, 10 March 2017 (UTC)

I like the table but I do not wish to use the time to change any of these explanations. Also it is not important to me but I would prefer the five explanations used the same layout. So I would not object if all where made into bullets lists. --Kynde (talk) 08:14, 11 March 2017 (UTC)
It's me - I have copied the tabular layout from the other phone comic explanation. I like tables more than bullet lists even if the explanation is large, because tables keep explained items visually separate, so you can easily find the one you're looking for - and there's a sortable version. It is more troublesome for editors indeed. Maybe we should use wiki definition lists (which translate directly to HTML definition lists) to combine the best of both worlds. It may be possible to add some nice CSS for a better look but I don't know how do do it in a wiki. Or maybe create some new pretty macro? I don't know anything about creating wiki macros. Below I put an example definition list to show how to write it in wiki markup and how it looks like - definitely better than bullet list IMHO. -- Malgond (talk) 10:38, 13 March 2017 (UTC)

Definition list example:

something to explain
long and windy explanation of a really trivial topic that users of this site really love to write
just a point in four-letter namespace
Hi Malgond, there was only one phone with a table; three others using simple headers for the items. Looks much better and it's also easier to read. But nested bullet lists are even worse. And no professional writer would use a table like this here.--Dgbrt (talk) 21:10, 13 March 2017 (UTC)
Indeed; I have used a table only because it looks better for me. Opinions may vary. We need some decision here - and someone willing to put in effort to reformat explanations to an agreed standard. How about me trying to reformat this explanation into a definition list? It can be easily undone if the consensus is it doesn't look good... -- Malgond (talk) 09:18, 14 March 2017 (UTC)
Thanks Malgond, your first version was hard to understand because of the missing indent relating to the discussion. I've changed your proposal slightly because the text should begin in a new line. Otherwise many people won't understand the formatting. And I like this proposal also because there are no bullets or even worse nested bullets. I'm eager to see your edit.--Dgbrt (talk) 16:54, 14 March 2017 (UTC)

The page refers to "monroe". Is this standard? -- 12:40, 14 March 2017 (UTC)

Can't see Monroe here but if so it should be Randall.--Dgbrt (talk) 16:54, 14 March 2017 (UTC)

>>Trims hair fed into charging port

I think this is a marketing response to the iphone pulling facial hair. 00:36, 25 October 2017 (UTC)