This post is courtesy of our honorary dad, Deepu Babu.
2015 was a great year for some smartphone makers and 2016 so far is proving to be a jam packed and exciting year. The annual Mobile World Congress just concluded in Barcelona, Spain a few weeks ago with announcements from the usual and not so usual suspects. The theme for this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) was Everything is Mobile. In today’s world, this is becoming more and more true. Our identities are going digital and mobile, our shopping is done online, banking is done online and on mobile devices. Gone are the days when a phone is just for making phone calls and receiving text messages. We live in a time where a growing number of smartphone users use their phones as tools to get things done. There is a growing emergence of amateur filmmakers using their phones as cameras who are now dominating the short film market and journalists are now only equipped with their mobile phones ready to record voice notes or video on demand. These are but two of many examples out there. With cheap, high speed internet being ubiquitous ly available across the globe, and answers to just about every question available online it is no wonder the mobile phone market is exploding. Initiatives like Project Cardboard and the advent of virtual reality and drones have changed the way children are taught in classrooms. This surreal image of a smiling Mark Zuckerberg walking down the aisle to present at MWC 2016 while hundreds of attendees watch the presentation using Samsung’s Virtual Reality headset (using the latest Samsung S7). While it may look like a crazy dystopian sci-fi advert, it is real and here. How we use it is up to us. We now have global tools to help us do what our heart desires.
Smartphones have evolved into our digital extensions, where our eyes have been upgraded to the state of the art cameras and memory has been extended to the “cloud”. WIth every passing year, phones keep getting bigger, smarter,.lighter, thinner, on the wrist, on the eyes, in your shoes. One can almost sense the digital singularity approaching with the merging of digital and self into one superior homogenous being. It’s easy to get carried away when the future looks exciting, but I believe that cellphone makers and operators should take the time to invest in not dropping calls, edge speed internet speeds and antiquated 2 year long extortionist contracts!!
In the meantime, we can have a look at what devices are available if you’re on the market for an upgrade or just fed up with your current phone.
Here are some of the phones that stood out that I believe will make an impact later this year.
The first commercial modular phone that implements Google’s Project Ara platform. The 5.3” G5 is a break away from LG’s previous flagship models but rather builds on the successful Nexus 5X design (which LG designed for Google with a very impressive, iPhone equalling fingerprint scanner on the back, a USB-C charging port and an all aluminium premium body). While the G5 packs a decent 2800mAh battery, it also sports a dual rear camera system (a normal 16MP lens and an additional 135 degree 8MP wide angle lens).
One of the confirmed add-on modules to be released is a Cam Plus module (pictured right), that adds physical camera and video buttons while adding an additional 1200 mAh battery capacity. This is quite a gamble from LG and may not be a bestseller, but it’s definitely a brave step in the right direction. Kudos to LG for trying to innovate without compromising.
Samsung’s follow-up to the successful S6 and S6 Edge is a more matured and refined S7. The 5.5” S7 Edge is slightly bigger than the S6 and the build quality is thoughtfully polished and brings back the hugely criticized missing SD card (that was absent in the S6 editions) while being impressively water and dust resistant (not waterproof!). Samsung has also decided to join the virtual reality party with the release of their own Gear VR headset (in partnership with Oculus) which uses the phone as the display. The rage of most smartphone makers (points finger at famous fruit based company) is to make their phones thinner and lighter every year, which is all good and nice, but is usually at the detriment of decent battery life. Huge credit to Samsung for increasing the thickness of the phone by 1mm just to accommodate a bigger battery. Thank you Samsung! The S6 had what was 2015’s best screen and they have followed that up with the S7’s amazing screen, which is by far one of the most vivid and best screens around on any smartphone currently. They also improved on the outstanding camera quality by reducing the megapixel count (yes, reducing) and increasing the aperture and individual pixel size just to improve the phone’s low light camera capability (sounds almost Apple-like?). Samsung may not have made too many drastic changes to their previous model but they have listened to their loyal users to produce what is arguably their best phone yet and the most well balanced phone worthy of already taking top honours for 2016.
Sony has stuck to their classic candy bar successful design, but this time revealing an edge to edge display screen. Sony plans to release two new varieties this year, a more premium Xperia X (with a hexa-core processor, 3GB RAM and 5” full HD screen), while the lesser XA (with no fingerprint scanner) sports a 5” slightly curved, edge to edge 720p screen.
The Mobile World Congress may as well be renamed the Android World Congress, in part thanks to the overwhelming exhibition of Android phones (with a dash of Windows Mobile maybe) and Apple’s intentional lack of participation. Apple has generally released their new mobile devices towards the end of the year (think different) with rumours and leaks abundant until the global reveal. This year’s rumours and leaks are no different with most speculating that Apple’s next flagship will be a thinner, faster iPhone 7 (surprise surprise!). While Apple may have become slightly more predictable over the last few years, this year’s rumours make it an exciting year. Apple recently acquired an imaging company called LinX Imaging which specializes in multi-aperture cameras. If not in this years iPhone, it is definitely a feature coming to an iPhone in the very near future, which will most likely sport a dual camera system (distributing the lenses into 2 modules will make the phone thinner) and deliver near SLR-like photos! Another rumour that seems to have taken the internet by storm is the possibility that Apple may drop the 3.5mm audio jack in favour of the (digital) lightning port. While many are divided around this, it’s clearly evident that the ancient 3.5mm module not only takes up space within the phone but also keeps the phone from getting thinner. If true, this will be an unsurprising bold move by Apple, which will provide better audio (if replaced with a digital audio delivering lightning cable) or be more convenient (if they go the wireless bluetooth route). Besides these two major rumours, the other speculations have involved wireless charging capability, a possible smaller iPhone 5S-like screen size model which could either be called the iPhone 5SE or the iPhone 7C, a whole new re-designed body (Apple has historically revamped the general design every second iteration), improved 3D Touch and Touch ID along with a slew of other improvements in iOS 10 to be released with the iPhone 7. If you’re already an Apple customer, it may be worth waiting for September to hear what Apple has in store.
Update: So Apple had an earlier than scheduled event on 21 March (to boast about its upcoming 40th birthday on 1st April – it’s no joke) as well as release some minor updates. As earlier predicted, a 4” iPhone SE was released with the same innards as the current iPhone 6S but the exact same exterior as the successful 5S (without 3D touch). While recent reports have suggested that Apple is losing sales with an impressive 13 year run of quarterly revenue growth coming to an end, it may just be the jolt required for Apple to re-surge sales with an innovative iPhone 7 releasing later this year.
Other notable mentions for expected releases this year are Microsoft, who may ditch the Lumia line completely and follow the successful Surface line-up with a premium Surface phone. While Microsoft’s strength in the mobile phone space has been their tough hardware and brilliant cameras, it has severely lacked in the software side, falling extremely short of leaders iOS and Android. Microsoft’s strategy to focus on productivity and a much improved Windows 10 Mobile are steps in the right direction, it will take some time (with possible Android integration) for Microsoft to make their mark. Perhaps the Surface phone might just strike that right balance.
HTC was always one of my favourite phones but has been struggling of late to make a meaningful dent in the market. However, HTC’s latest under-the-radar release, the HTC 10 has come out to be a surprisingly brilliant phone. With 4GB of RAM, microSD card expansion, fingerprint scanner, an impressive 12 MP back camera, the latest Snapdragon 820 processor, USB-C connector and a much snappier HTC Sense UI. The 10 sports a premium looking chamfered aluminum unibody which is the most polished and well balanced phone from HTC and may be the best competitor to the impressive Samsung S7.