As each comes to a close pretty much each YouTube channel and Tech Blogger has presented his or her “Best of 2016” list. The consensus seems to be that it was a great year for smartphones, especially the midrange and upper-midrange category.
With the smartphone sector booming over the last 10 years’ innovation has slowed down significantly. Most phone features are being passed along from vendor to vendor, screen sizes have found It’s 5.2″ to 5.5″ median, we go through the regular update cycles between CES, ITB and Apples annual event and designs are being copied so that a lot of phones become indistinguishable at a casual glance.
With all that being said, I do believe the 2017 will be an exceptionally exciting year for smartphones and vendors will push the boundaries a bit further in comparison to the previous 3 years. Here’s my vendor-by-vendor view on things.
It’s the 10-year anniversary of the iPhone. Enough said!
Apple has kept the basic design in place over 3 generation of iPhones (6, 6S, 7) breaking its usual tic-toc cycle and will be having a larger toc-cycle
The iPhone 8 (or will it even be called the iPhone 10 for the occasion) is already being rumoured to push the boundaries of what Apple would usually change in a TOC cycle. AMOLED, no physical home button, all display front with zero bezels
Jony Ive seems to have taken a step back from the hand’s on design of Apple products. This will open up a completely new design thinking and may result in a significant larger change in design direction than what even the typical 2-year cycle previously produced
The DTEK70 could be the last phone to ever carry the Blackberry logo. And it’s the last phone to test if there actually still is a physical QWERTY keyboard market. Nobody knows if there is but even Samsung continues to release keyboard covers for the S and Note ranges so maybe there is more demand than most of us think.
Blackberry has gotten so many things wrong with all phone releases since the Passport and the DTEK70 finally seems to be the phone to put things right.
It’s fair to say that LG G5 was pretty much a disaster. A modular concept that wasn’t well thought out, quality issues with rough seams and a plastic feeling coat of paint over what was a very bland design. The LG G5 has never been up to par with the other flagships of 2015
The V2, while well received, is far too niche a product to lift LG sales figures.
Ever since the G2 LG’s flagships have been lagging behind in consumer appeal. LG desperately needs a good flagship this season or else will risk being side-lined
The HTC 10 brought HTC back to where it was with the One M7 and it’s a worthy competitor to the S7, Pixel and iPhone 7. However the HTC 10 never managed to gain the same status of top flagship of 2016 as the other three devices.
The collaboration with Google has once again showed that HTC makes some of the best hardware that is 2nd to none in comparison to Apple
After finally having caught back up with Samsung and the like it is to be expected that HTC will deliver a flagship that also delivers in consumer’s top-of-mind presence of being the best of 2017
Huawei has been the most consistent performer amongst the major manufacturers by steadily and consistently improving the annual P-series and Mate flagships. With the P9 and Mate 9 Huawei has finally delivered 2 phones that managed to compete head on with the Galaxy S8 and iPhone
Emotion UI has been one of the main detractors for consumers to pick up a Huawei phone. Huawei has finally started to fix this by bringing back the app drawer in EMUI 5.0 which should result in a larger consumer demand
Huawei continues to push the “enthusiast” take on smartphone cameras with dual lens Leica setup. The Mate 9 improved on what many consider the most “interesting camera” of 2016 in the P9.
The P10/Mate 10 combo for 2017 should continue to make an evolutionary step in the right direction
Lenovo seems to have finally integrated Motorola in its product development. The Moto Z has been one of the most interesting devices of 2016. The first modular concept done right and striking designs with solid specs. Software stays pretty much stock Android and the Z Play has one of the best battery life of any smartphone.
The Lenovo P2 is my personal “Smartphone of 2016” with the best battery life of any phone, solid specs and performance and a mid-range price tag.
If these 2 examples is anything to go by what Lenovo is capable of, then 2017 will shape up to be an exciting year for Lenovo
The dark horse for the 3rd year in a row. Will we finally see the Surface Phone?
Microsoft has demonstrated that it can innovate on hardware and adapt on software to ever faster evolving consumer needs. If the Surface Studio and Surface Pro 4 is anything to go by, a Surface Phone could be epic.
While the rumoured specs of upcoming releases are somewhat underwhelming, any smartphone enthusiast must want to see the Nokia brand coming back and at least wish them good luck
Samsung had a pretty volatile year. They arguably launched the best phone of 2017 with the Note 7. What then followed all of us know. Still, many consider the S7/S7 Edge to be the best phones of 2016. Samsung has to put out all the stops in 2017 to gain back consumer confidence and to not lose ground against the iPhone 10.
The S8 is likely to be a larger evolution from the S7 than what the S7 was to the S6. While the S7 mainly fixed what the S6 had gotten wrong (memory expansion, water proofing, battery life), Samsung will have to deliver with the S8 to pave the way for 2017 and stand the test of time even 6 months later when Apple releases the iPhone 10.
The Note 8 later in the year has to close the gap between the then 6 months old Galaxy S8 and the iPhone… without blowing up. The strategy would have worked for Samsung in 2016 but they definitely have to make it work in 2017.
Sorry, but no! Sony will once again disappoint in 2017.
The ASUS Zenfone 3 is finally starting to be available in some countries in Asia. Last year’s Zenfone 2 was a great success bringing very good specs to the mid-range and upper mid-range. And while the phones were a hit they had a few shortcomings, namely the plastic built, inconvenient power button placement and poor audio output. The Zenfone 3 promises to fix those issue with a dramatically improved build quality and materials and upgraded specs.
One thing that didn’t change is the confusion that Asus creates by bringing in a myriad of models. While all called Zenfone 3 there are actually:
5 different models (the standard Z3, Max, Laser, Deluxe, Ultra)
The standard comes in 2 different screen sizes (5.2″ and 5.5″)
Each model comes in various RAM/ROM configurations. Depending on country there might be multiple or just one configuration available
To clear up the mess I have put together an easy comparison table of the key differences of the 5 (or rather 6) models. See how confusing this is getting already?
Zenfone 3 Max
Zenfone 3 Laser
Zenfone 3 Deluxe
Zenfone 3 Ultra
Body Size (LxWxT)
Scrren to Body Ratio
SD 820 / SD 821
16 with OIS
16 with OIS
23 with OIS
23 with OIS
Metal casing On-screen buttons (rather than capacitive buttons like the other Zenfones) Dual SIM
Metal casing Fingerprint sensor Dual SIM
Glass front and back with metal edges Fingerprint sensor Dual SIM
Glass front and back with metal edges Fingerprint sensor Dual SIM
Finally, the long awaited update of the Ultimate Screen-to-Body Ratio has been completed.
The top dog is still the Sharp Aquos Crystal. It is interesting to see that this mid-range device still hasn’t been surpassed by any other manufacturer yet.
There have been some notable entries into the top ranks though, namely:
Huawei Mate 8 clinches #2 almost eclipsing the Aquos Crystal. But bearing in mind that the Aquos Crystsal is a 5″ device this makes the ratio of the Sharp even more impressive
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and Sony Xperia XA Ultra share #11
Xiaomi Mi5 is the highest new entry 5″ device
Samsung clearly seems to focus on small bezels and optimising surface area of a phone based on recent performance. The S7 and S7 Edge improve on the S6 and if renders will hold true, the Note 6 should surpass the Note 5 in the screen-to-body ratio.
And HTC, while by no means a good performer when it comes to building compact phones, improved significantly with the HTC 10 compared to the One M9 (71.06% vs 68.38%).
LG in comparison lost it’s design touch. Not only did the LG G5 get unfavourable reviews with regards to build quality and the not so metal feeling paint-job, but also the screen real estate reduced over time from 76.41% on the G3, to 73.59% on the G4 to just releasing the G5 with a middle of the road 70.41%. Let’s hope LGs designs will improve, not just with regards to screen-to-body ratio.
As always your feedback and comments are very welcome.
…how many things can you do wrong at the same time?
Whoever is in charge of product marketing and development for Microsoft phone devices really should have been fired a while ago. While I thought that sacking Steven Elop was the start to a better future for Microsoft’s device business, it really has been going downwards further ever since. And who thought that this was possible starting on a low with Elop.
Now let’s summarise what happened with the Windows 10 devices, Lumia 950, 950XL, 550 and 650.
Lumia 950 and 950 XL:
these phones should go in to the history books as the most uninspiringly designed phones. How can one wait for 1.5 years for a flagship release (Lumia 930/Icon) and then take such a step back
charging top-shelf flagship device prices for plastic phones while all other manufacturers have stepped up their game (even Samsung managed to) really makes no sense
As per Satia Nadella’s own description the Lumia flagships are for the enthusiast crowd. What happened is that plastic phones were launched on an unfinished OS with unfinished features but the full price is being charged. What this amounts to is a rip-off of the loyal MS following rather than rewarding those that have stayed loyal to Windows Phone, are prepared to be public beta testers with appropriate competitive pricing
MS must have known that the devices are bland like anything, hence the simultaneous launch of “fancy” back covers by Mozo. So they really dared to ask for another $50 or more just to make the phone look nice
Basic testing of the phones should have made it obvious that the Lumia 950 has massive battery life issues, rendering the device semi-useless for heavy work day usage
Granted, Continuum is cool. But then throw in the dock for free in the package to make the one stand-out feature a default that the early adopters can brag about and spread the word
There are so many features in the applications missing and they are so far behind the Android and iOS equivalents that it almost seems like even Microsoft is putting more effort in developing for other platforms than their own
The lower mid-tier phone costing a third of the price of the 950 has a much better premium design with more premium materials. How can that happen
The phone is targeted at the business crowd but it doesn’t support Continuum, the one stand-out feature that could convince that exact target audience
Why… or why would anyone put such a low-end chipset into this phone, combined with 1GB RAM only. Even if the OS runs fairly smoothly it obviously resulted in the absence of Continuum. And the device will inevitably not cope if 3rd party developers launch some more demanding business apps.
For the business crowd a 2000mAh battery is just a joke
Don’t even get me started….
I don’t know if Microsoft can still turn the ship around or if the current lineup of phones was the final nail in the coffin of Microsoft phones and Windows 10 for phones altogether. Even if there are some moves from 3rd party manufacturers like HP and Acer, market shares have declined even further from what was already a very low base.
I do have a few suggestions though:
Launch the rumoured Surface-Phone that needs to have the same quality, design and attention to detail as a Surface Pro 4 or Surface Book
Cut the prices for the Lumia 950 and 950 XL to $300 and $350 respectively. Bundle in the dock and a Mozo cover for free.
Offer the Mozo cover and dock to any current 950 and 950 XL user retrospectively for free.
Launch a decent mid-range phone (Lumia 850) with a proper mid-tier chipset (Snapdragon 617 or 652) and a 1080p screen.
Get moving on those Office Apps and Outlook on Windows 10 before the business crowd completely gives up on you
It’s been a while since I last update this table. But finally, here you go.
Screen sizes have been increasing over the years and in 2015 we saw most releases being above 5″ in the 5.5″ category and many even hitting 5.7″ which naturally pushes the average ratio upward. Nevertheless, the Sharp Aquos Crystal remains at the top. There really hasn’t been anything as bezel-less as this phone. Even the edge versions of the Galaxy or the ZTE Nubia Z9 don’t come close.
Leave me a comment below and let me know your thoughts.
The Lenovo Vibe Shot was launched during MWC back in March 2015. It wasn’t until October 2015 that the phone actually became available. I recently purchased the device and wanted to give a brief comparison on it’s camera quality.
Since the Vibe Shot is being marketed as a camera-centric smartphone (rather than a camera-phone such as a Lumia 1020 or Galaxy K zoom) the camera quality is likely one of the main deciding factors for selecting the device over the competition. The Vibe Shot is actually an upper mid-range device with very common specs for 2015:
3GB Ram, 32GB Memory, SD card support
5″, 1080p display
3000 mAh battery
metal frame with Gorilla Glass 3 front and back covers
16 Mpx main camera in 16:9 format with OIS
8 Mpx front facing camera
However, since Lenovo is marketing the device primarily for it’s camera I decided to test it against one of the best in the in the industry, the Samsung Galaxy S6.
The below samples were taken within seconds from each other in full automatic mode.
Samsung Galaxy S6
Lenovo Vibe Shot
The colours of the S6 come out punchier but the Vibe Shot produces true-to-live colours. The white balance on the Vibe Shot is much more accurate whereas the S6 favours a blueish white balance. Overall there isn’t much difference when looking at the photos in full size.
Only when looking at a 100% crop of the image can you see that the S6 images retain more detail than the Lenovo Vibe Shot.
Samsung Galaxy S6
Lenovo Vibe Shot
Overall the images from the Lenovo Vibe Shot are very good and only upon closer inspection does the Galaxy S6 pull ahead. But in most viewing scenarios which will be either on the phone screen itself or shared on Social Media there is hardly any difference to be noticed.
Given that the Lenovo Vibe Shot is over 120 Euros cheaper than the Galaxy S6 this is quite a remarkable camera performance. Add to that the premium design and build quality, 3GB Ram and overall performance, you have yourself a pretty good buy.
Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Here are some more photos taken with the Lenovo Vibe Shot
The Android world seems to have all the niches covered. From high-end phones in glass, metal, wood, to low-budget phone in all shapes and sizes. But why is there no Android phone with a physical QWERTY keyboard? That’s an obvious niche that no one seems to have covered.
Granted, most people wouldn’t be faster on a physical QWERTY than on a virtual one and yes, the screen will inevitably be smaller and less comfortable to view. But there is a reason why people are still buying Blackberry’s and it’s not only because of loyalty to the company or the perceived security or enterprise mobility advantage. For me there is just something really enjoyable about typing on a real keyboard rather than swyping or tapping on a screen only.
So why hasn’t any manufacturer gotten this niche covered? I hope rumors are true and Blackberry is indeed building a phone with Android OS.
Let me know if you agree that the Android world is in need of a physical QWERTY phone by voting below.