Smartphones are made up of a whole bunch of pieces put together like the best Tetris game ever. Sometimes an OEM will cut a corner or two to drive down costs, or make a design element more feasible. Often, that results in a phone that is less-than-perfect in one or more area. But which area? That’s the great question.
Since we’re all – reader and editor alike – firmly embedded in mobile, we’re probably a good crowd to ask. The answer is quite subjective, but who better to poll than us? So I asked our editors and then I’ll as you, what are the features that every good smartphone needs?
“Camera. Performance. Battery.”
Smartphones have so much going into them it should be a lot harder than it actually is to decide what you need. For me, it starts at the camera. I’ll deal with almost anything – even an atrocious battery if the camera is good enough. After that, performance. Having a great camera isn’t worth much if it takes five seconds for the camera to load. Now, I’m not going to break it into pieces – it just needs to be reasonably fast with little lag.
Battery life is important, but only for those occasions that you’re going to be pounding the phone, like vacation for example. When you’re out on the town in a new city and navigating, photographing, tweeting, instagramming, etc, you don’t want to walk around with your phone on a tether or strategically go into airplane mode to conserve battery. I’ve done that – it sucks.
So those are my top three – camera, performance, battery. Plus NFC and fingerprint sensor. Oh! And wireless charging! And…never mind. Everything else can be taken down a notch, especially if there’s a good deal involved.
“Speech. Wireless Charging. Camera.”
Every good smartphone needs a decent speech interface. Smartphones are meant to be mobile computing and communications devices and that means they need to be usable while you’re doing mobile activities. I need my smartphone to, at the very least, announce caller ID names and read aloud incoming text messages into my ear while I’m on the motorcycle, bicycle, driving, cooking, and repairing/cleaning vehicles. Ideally, it would also read aloud and allow me to interact with all notifications without using my hands or eyes. Requiring hand & eye interaction with a screen is an ancient HCI (human computer interaction) method that shouldn’t be necessary for the basics anymore.
A good smartphone also needs wireless charging. Plugging wires into holes was alright in the 1900’s, but it’s 2016 now. My phone needs to charge its own battery when I set it down.
The camera is another important thing for me. In this age of social networks and digital sharing, you have to have a good camera with you at all times and since 2013’s release of the 41 megapixel Carl Zeiss optically-stabilized xenon-flash 40Mb RAW DNG Nokia Lumia 1020, I’ve been totally spoiled. I’ve tried to switch to newer camera phones, but still nothing tops that phone’s image quality, detail, and low-light capabilities.
Anton D. Nagy
“Performance. Camera. Communications.”
I’m not going to mention requirements like processor, RAM, or storage. I’ll just say that a nice, fast, and fluid user experience is a must, regardless of the aforementioned silicon & co.
A good camera is a must, Bluetooth, NFC, and all day battery life are also something I can’t live without, and, if the phone happens to have loud, clear, and high quality speakers (or speaker, doesn’t really matter how many), than that’s a phone I’m gladly carrying around as my daily driver. Front facer doesn’t really matter in my particular case, and I’m not a fan of a particular UI in the detriment of others.
“Everything is good enough.”
When it comes to must haves in a piece of technology that is so personal and personalizable as a smartphone, the answers tend to be very subjective. Different people have different priorities when it comes to their own devices, and in my case I prefer that my devices have longevity. A device that can laugh at the face of planned obsolescence, a device that I can tinker with and push to the proverbial limit.
I have seen the focus of smartphones go from functional pieces of equipment to highly personal artifacts of ornamentation, much like jewelry. I still prefer my devices to have such features as expandable storage and easily unlock able bootloaders, and an active developer community that creates custom firmware and ROMs. These are the things that make me confident in the ability of the device to live and be usable beyond the planned couple of years that the manufacturer will actively support it.
In a world where manufacturers keep pushing the latest and greatest all the time, we have reached a point where all smartphones have become “good enough” for daily use. Rather than trying to make something new by tacking on some “features”, rather than trying to achieve something “perfect”, why not take a leaf out of Japanese Wabi-Sabi philosophy and celebrate the beauty of things that are imperfect?
“Performance. Camera. Build Quality”
Smartphones have to be useful for me, and that encompasses a lot. I don’t really mind if the phone has or doesn’t have an app tray, is stock Android or not, is iOS or not, I honestly don’t care. What I care about is that it does what it says it can do. Say it brings a Snapdragon 820, but the camera takes for ever to load. Yeah, I hate that. I just want to take my damn photo and that’s it.
In other things, I do care a lot about photos. Battery would be next as my usage is rather heavy. Most important, storage. It gives me peace of mind that I don’t have to choose what I carry around. I love how people claim that they’re good with cloud storage, and then the cloud doesn’t work on the subway, or fumbles in dense cities. I just want my stuff to be there, no hassle.
Last but not least, the build. If I’m gonna be holding the phone for a good part of the day, it should be a delightful experience.
“Battery. Camera. Security.”
Back in the “golden days” of cell phones Nokia and Motorola went toe to toe. Battery life wasn’t much of an issue back then so it all came down to form factor and features. Fast-forward to today and battery life isn’t great, form factors are are all but homogeneous, and features are pretty much all that’s left for OEMs to differentiate their phones from those from their competitors.
Before diving too deep into features, the whole battery life issue needs to be fixed. Whether that’s with better operating systems (like improvements in Android Marshmallow and N), more efficient SoCs, or simply bigger batteries, I don’t care. Five hours of screen-on time isn’t enough. This has got to be fixed.
Turning to features, we’ve gotten to the point where flagship smartphones have cameras that are better than many cameras from just a few years ago. Many YouTubers have even switched from dedicated DSLRs to shooting on their iPhone 6S or Nexus 6P – with better results than their “old” cameras could provide. 4K video at 60p with OIS and automatic white-balance is a very nice plateau for the next few years.
Virtually every phone sports full-device encryption and fingerprint locking. Phones powered by Android and Apple can both be used to replace your credit card. Lightning port and USB-C both offer incredibly fast charge rates. So what’s left?
Apps and the core operating system. Apple’s iOS is long overdue for a facelift. Google’s Android UI seems to be keeping up with trends – though devices running the latest UI are few and far between.
So far, I think we’re on the feature plateau. High-end phones have everything that the average person and power user alike “need”, and the majority of what we “want”. “Shatterproof” screens”, “waterproof” phones, and longer battery life are where the next battles for the top will be fought.
Juan Carlos Bagnell
“Camera. Camera. Camera.”
I can compromise on a lot, but the camera is an absolute deal breaker. Thankfully these last several years, phone manufacturers seem to have embraced the disruption smartphones have caused the “casual” photography market. Shopping mid-range to high-end phones, consumers can largely count on respectable camera performance, and the extra investigation or higher price tags delivering specific features a consumer might enjoy. Our culture shares photos and videos like no other time in human history, and it’s honestly not a significant compromise for many people if the only camera they own is the one bolted to the back of their phone. I can handle poorer headphone playback. I can tolerate a dimmer or lower resolution screen. I will even find solutions for battery life, so long as I know when I point that phone’s lens at a subject, I can get the shot I want.
“You. Tell. Me!”
So that’s us. A pretty wide variety of choices, but common topics in there were camera, performance, batter, build, NFC. I could go on, but you just read it all. As I mentioned at the top of the article, this is a very subjective question, so give us your top three. What three things have to be great for you to be happy with the phone? Sound off below and let’s start a conversation.