An ironic iPhone Christmas miracle

The young woman at the Genius Bar said there was nothing more she could do. My daughter, 3, was sleeping awkwardly on my shoulder while my son, 5, fidgeted and looked around the Apple Store. It was his phone, a hand-me-down from me.

For $270-something, I could get a refurbished iPhone 5S to replace it. I also considered something fancier, like a new iPad Mini ($400), but that decision could wait. Dejected, we wandered around the open-air mall in a far-flung corner of town. I bought some Yankee Candles, and the kids spent their Halloween money on plushies at Hallmark.

The phone had died when it ran out of battery during an update. I had docked it on a clock radio that, it turns out, wasn’t charging. I tried to restore it using my home computer but kept getting an error. The Apple Store didn’t have any special tricks.

So I spent the month of November kicking around ideas to replace my son’s phone. He used to spend his screen time watching toy videos on YouTube. More recently, he has developed an interest in games like Batman Doodle Jump. He also has an eye for photography, and you can see some examples on my Instagram.

Kitt took this photo of me and Thor napping yesterday. Naturally I applied the Slumber filter.

A photo posted by Tim Agne (@timagne) on

The answer came on Black Friday: An Amazon Fire 7 tablet for $33. The add-on microSD card cost $15 but came with a $20 Shutterfly credit, so really it saved me five bucks I would have spent printing Christmas cards. I had to pull the trigger — how could we expect to survive holiday travel if one kid is device-less?

All this arrived in a Champ’s stocking on St. Nicholas Day, sort of a mini-Christmas that my family has always celebrated on December 6. Growing up, St. Nicholas Day usually meant a bunch of candy, a new toothbrush and, later, a new videogame to get us through to Christmas.

Nowadays, St. Nicholas usually brings movies, small toys, candy and new Christmas ornaments. I always wear my Krampus shirt the day before. I don’t expect tablets to be a regular thing.

The Amazon Fire 7 is a fine little screen for watching movies, TV shows and videos. Its interface is chained to the Amazon retail environment, and the only things you can share in the kid-friendly view are apps and digital media that you’ve purchased from Amazon, along with a dubious paid suite of entertainments called Amazon FreeTime Unlimited (I skipped this).

If my son logs into my grown-up account, he can watch and download Amazon Prime videos. I’m talking every episode of Batman: The Animated Series, which is still the best adaptation of Batman on any screen. I also found an easy workaround to download Google Play apps on the Fire tablet, but those only work in the grown-up view.

We haven’t played many games on the Fire 7 yet, but I don’t expect it to perform as well as the 3-year-old iPhone 5S. I doubt we’ll use its camera much. And I can’t bring myself to spend $20+ on a case for it (never mind what we spent on my wife’s iPad Smart Cover).

No sooner than we get this tablet, before I have time to sell my magnificent beard hair in order to buy my wife a watch chain, Apple rolls out a software update for iPhones. Just for the heck of it, I try to restore the old brick of an iPhone 5S that the Geniuses had declared dead.

I get the Apple logo. The white progress bar starts. I expect it to sputter, to throw an error code on my computer screen, but slowly it fills up. I flash back to the eve of my son’s second birthday, when I spent the night camped in a different outdoor mall to get that phone the moment it launched. My old, reliable 5S is back and ready for more Doodle Jump.

It’s a Christmas miracle. Or maybe a Krampus miracle.

I don’t know if the Amazon Fire 7 will replace the iPhone 5S as my son’s go-to device. These days, he seems to prefer our biggest TV, the Xbox One and LEGO Dimensions (a game I should write a whole post about).

And as much as I feel I should learn some kind of lesson here, it’s hard to regret spending only $28-ish on a tablet. Now it’s time to wrap up the Christmas shopping. Hey Siri, remind me to remove the fancy beard comb from my Amazon Wish List.

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