Why is call quality still a feature and not a standard in 2013?
Imagine your anticipation to watch the Man of Steel when it premiered. All dressed-up in your hidden Superman t-shirt, the crazy lines that you had to make to get in, and all the time it took you to get popcorn, drinks and a good seat in the theater. Imagine your anticipation for the screen to start playing all the extras, and then your eagerness to see them end for the movie to begin. Now let me flip the coin on you, and imagine the movie starting to play in 240p, or in a screen resolution that’s so choppy you can’t even read the text of the introduction in the movie. The fact that you paid the same amount of money to watch this movie, as it would’ve cost you to watch any other, and the fact that you went through hell just to get in there would make even the most calm person, really upset. Why? well it’s simple: This is 2013, and high definition movies are already a standard, right?
This exact thing happens to me when I make a crazy line to buy a phone, I fight through the crowd just to get my hands on it, I unbox it, make my first phone call with it, and it sucks. I always ask myself the same question: “What F·$%&ng year is this?”
In 2013, a lot of things are already considered a given. Even the cheapest of cars will include a dying CD Player, power windows and at least one airbag. Even the cheapest of Television sets now supports at least 720p resolution. Today, a lot of the things we discovered in the last decade are now a standard, whether we were expecting them to be or not.
Cellphones have been around for more than 30 years. I remember the first time I made a phone call with them in 1998, specially because of the fact that the first thing I noticed, is that the phone call over that mobile phone sounded just as well as the call on a land line. That really shocked me. I was expecting some sort of compromise, and still, the analogue cellphone technology of those times was already good enough.
Sadly, as people begun adopting the cellphone in masses, it was clear that analogue systems wouldn’t be capable of providing enough network availability to satisfy the needs of the growing markets. As a result, digital technology was implemented, and that was actually both a step forward and a step back. If you ever had a chance to test CDMA, TDMA (yes, this did exist), or GSM calls in the first years of the new century, you’ll remember that calls sounded different on all infrastructures, and none of these were better than the analogue technology they were planning to replace. Still, our need to communicate forced us all to compromise and accept the loss, just to ensure we would remain communicated.
2G and 3G standards have all come and gone, and over the years, one of the things that frustrates me the most is that we have to test the call quality of every smartphone that we review. I find it irrational that even though digital technology has become ubiquitous in the last decade, a lot of the basic things it came to improve, haven’t really improved everywhere. We’ve figured out how to fit touch screens and Wi-Fi on smartphones, but I can still tell the difference between a call with a Samsung phone and a Motorola phone. I find it even funnier that certain OEMs even boast about their technology, and here’s why:
Call quality shouldn’t be a feature
When Motorola created the cellphone, they patented their technology and everybody adopted it. When Microsoft created the smartphone, they patented the technology and everybody adopted it. So did Apple with their innovations with the first iPhone. Still, I find it odd that OEMs like Motorola have their “Crystal Talk Noise Reduction” technology, and nobody is buying or using the patent.
The fact that certain companies give product names to their most basic technology really shows how bad things are in this department. Surely they are all entitled to, but it just tells you that not every company has figured it out right.
Which ones succeed and fail?
So let me tell you which are the phones that I consider have the best call quality, and which have the worse. Just keep in mind that I can only speak for the devices that I’ve tested over the last two years:
Motorola is, and always has been, my favorite OEM for making phone calls. I seriously feel like if I’m using a landline, and I praise them for their hard work in nailing the basics. My second place in this list, believe it or not, is BlackBerry. Even their new Z10 has awesome call quality in my opinion. Third on my list would be Apple, but mainly after the launch of the iPhone 4S, which really improved things for me. Sony nails it with their earpiece sound, but I hate using headphones with their 2013 line-up for reasons I don’t understand.
All these companies have figured some way to make phone calls pleasant, and don’t require you to force the phone into your ear to hear the caller well on the other end. Sadly, it’s either that these companies don’t want to share their patents, or that the ones who fail don’t care to adopt them.
Which companies are the worse in my opinion? HTC phones are not always bad, but they’re not always good either. It’s hit or miss for me, since I loved calls on the One X, but I hate phone calls on the 8X. Sadly, the worse OEM in every one of their phones that I’ve tested is Samsung. Galaxy phones are good in everything that’s not making phone calls. I’m even irked at a button that gets featured on every phone call to allow you to boost the call quality. I find it dumb to be given an option that I obviously will always want, and that I can’t activate automatically for every call I make next.
Again, I haven’t tested any modern Nokia smartphone, but I did love calls on my old E71. Nor have I with LG devices, so please give us your feedback in the comments.
The bottom line
Phones were all made to make phone calls. I know we’ve evolved to give them new uses lately, but that doesn’t mean that I’d prefer to listen to music on my car than to drive it. The fact that all major US carriers are being slow about deploying HD voice on their network is a clear indicator that they don’t feel any pressure, and sadly, I feel that as customers we’ve become complacent.
I’ve made it a personal goal of mine to no longer buy or keep a phone that isn’t able to nail the basics. If the touch screen is inaccurate, it’s going back. If the phone lags or is unreliable, it’s going back. If the software sucks and is just bloated, it’s going back. And yes, if I’m not satisfied with its phone calls, up to the point of having to push it close to my ear, it’s going back.
I think we all should, but then again, this could just be me and my picky mindset. Let me know in the comments if you feel that we’re being too complacent, or if you think that I’m being too demanding. Do you feel call quality has improved, or not? Share your thoughts, and if you could tell us about your specific phone, and why you love it or hate it, it would be awesome.