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What is the Single Most Important Feature in a Smartphone?

By Taylor Martin May 7, 2013, 4:11 pm

Smartphones today are capable of much more than they were just two or three years ago. It’s no secret. Advancements in technology and software have made that possible.

It’s those very improvements and expanded capabilities that have forced us to reevaluate how we weigh our smartphone purchases. What was important to us in a phone two years ago may not be today. For example, excessive lag was a major problem in 2008 through 2011, particularly for Android smartphones. But Jelly Bean was the beginning of the end of intermittent lag and performance hiccups for Android flagships; although still present, it’s less and less prevalent. Battery life, on the other hand, might not have been an issue if you were a BlackBerry user back in the day. But now battery life could quite easily be among your biggest concerns when purchasing a new phone.


When asked what’s important to me in a smartphone purchase, it’s pretty simple to narrow it down to a few different things. For me, it’s all about camera performance, battery life, display, design and build quality. The ability to easily access all my Google services and accounts is also a major plus.

Features like BoomSound are what set devices like the One apart, but are seldom what sell the phone.
Features like BoomSound are what set devices like the One apart, but are seldom what sell the phone.

But when asked to narrow those features down to a single one, it gets much more complicated. A smartphone is not made by one great specification or one great feature. And as a reviewer, I’ve come to have extremely high standards (as evidenced by my heavy critiques of the market’s most notable smartphones).

Picking a single feature as a make-or-break is no easy task.

So I polled some of the regulars, employees and owner of my local coffee shop. “What is the single most important feature in a smartphone for you?”

A long-time friend and the owner of the coffee shop said plainly and without hesitation, “Speed.” He owns several businesses and has dozens – maybe even hundreds – of clients. Speed is vital, so anything that’s slow or laggy is an immediate turn-off. Another close friend of mine said the display is important. Like me, he values every last pixel and harps on a quality display.

The manager struggled with the question. It’s been years since she’s upgraded, but the final verdict was durability. And a random passerby said thinness is definitely the determining factor – I asked, and he said there is no such thing as “too thin.” Another suggested the ecosystem is all-important, that without all the games and apps, the phone wouldn’t be useful.

I also turned to the infamous Michael Fisher (AKA Tony Stark IRL), and he had an insightful take on the matter, not unlike that of the last passerby:

“The third-party app ecosystem. Without a mature and robust app store that allows you to expand the functionality of the device beyond its out-of-box state, it’s just a fancy dumbphone.”

The display on the HTC First is currently one of the best on the market.
The display on the HTC First is currently one of the best on the market.

So where do I stand? What is the most important smartphone feature for me?

Hands down, without question, it’s the display. The display is what I use to interact with my phone. It’s the primary form of input and output on the phone, and it’s what I’m going to be staring at day in and day out.

I agree that all the features mentioned are also very important. But for the way I use my phone, for taking pictures, watching videos and browsing the Web, having a great display is vital. Density (size vs resolution), viewing angles, contrast and color reproduction are the important aspects of the display.

Size is probably weighted the heaviest, however. A small display is hard to cope with, especially when it comes to typing. My monster paws make it difficult for me to comfortably use a phone smaller than 4.7-inches.

In short, there is nothing that will turn me on to a phone faster than a gorgeous display. Likewise, nothing will turn me off quite like a low-quality display. I have dealt with way too many of those in the last three years.

Fortunately, mobile displays are improving, across the board. And eventually, I can worry about other features, like battery life or storage space.

But I’m curious, readers. Since the random polling in the coffee shop yielded such a wide array of answers, where do you all stand? What is the most important feature in a smartphone for you? What single feature could turn you on or, likewise, turn you away from a device? Be sure to share your sentiments in the comments below!


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