Smartphones in 2018

I carry two phones; one is mine, and one belongs to my employer. I could’ve transferred ownership of my phone number to my company when I started, but I don’t want to mix business with pleasure. As cool as our internal IT guys are, I don’t trust anyone but my husband with all my personal data. And I’m perfectly fine with carrying two phones.

When I started with this company, I had them get me an iPhone 5. I was using a jail-broken iPhone 3 for my personal use (T-Mobile didn’t support iPhones at the time), and I figured getting another iPhone would at least let me use the same cables between both phones. A couple of years later I decided I needed a new personal phone, and so went with the Samsung Galaxy S3. I really liked the S3, until about 10 months after I got it, and the sound completely stopped working. It wouldn’t play sound on speaker or through the ear-piece, the phone literally wouldn’t generate any sound what-so-ever. I was so disgusted with how little time the phone lasted, that I swore I’d never get another Samsung phone. So I replaced that phone with an HTC One M8. (T-mobile still didn’t support iPhones at that point, though they would begin to do so shortly thereafter.) Then later, when I was told I needed to get a new work phone, I asked for an HTC One M8, so that I could continue to use the same cables between my personal and corporate phones.

Oddly enough I have now had to order replacements for both my personal phone and my corporate phone within the last week. The HTC One M8 apparently has a known issue where the back camera can no longer focus. The back camera vibrates violently as it tries to focus several times per second. This means any photos you take will be out of focus because of the camera shaking, and there’s a buzzing noise every time you try to use the rear camera or the flashlight. The front facing camera is fine. Supposedly people who often ride motorcycles see this problem earlier, because the vibration is what tends to cause the problem. However I don’t ride a motorcycle, and the phone has been fine for something close to 5 years. This just started all of a sudden, I haven’t even dropped the phone recently. And, even though I have a really nice digital camera, I need the camera on my phone to work because I don’t always have my Canon with me.

I’ve also been instructed by my corporate IT department to order a new phone for work. The “Broadpwn” vulnerability has now been patched, but certain older devices can’t get that patch. You need to be running Android 7.1.2 or higher, or iOS 10.3.3 or higher. But both of my HTC One M8 are running Android 6.0, and when I check for updates, there are none. IT is going to cut off network access to all such phones, and so I have to get a new corporate phone as well.

But which phones to get? I read article after article describing the current generation of smartphones, from Apple, Samsung, Google, LG, and more. And I have a list of features that are important to me, and those that aren’t. So let’s review, shall we?

Deciding Factor #1: Size

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When I saw a Samsung Galaxy Note for the first time, I thought it looked more like a tablet than a phone. A friend of mine coined the term “phablet.” And this tradition has continued, with Apple, Google, and Samsung all releasing “Plus” or “XL” versions of their phones every year. But I don’t want a phablet, I want a phone. And it needs to fit into my purses’ pockets without a fuss, which a phablet just won’t do. So that eliminates the Note and Pixel XL right off the bat.

As a note, “one-handed use” is nice to have, but I have small hands and I’ve pretty much given up being able to reliably use a phone with only one hand. This was possible with the iPhone 5, but as far as I know, nobody makes a smartphone that small anymore. Some phones have features that supposedly rearrange the screen to make it easier to use one-handed, but I haven’t tried using such a feature yet.

Top Marks (3 points each): Apple iPhone X, Samsung Galaxy S8, Google Pixel 2
Runners Up (1 point each): LG V30, Huawei Mate 10 Pro, OnePlus 5T
Requirements Not Met (eliminated): Samsung Note 8, Google Pixel 2 XL 

Deciding Factor #2: Brand Recognition

I’m not especially loyal to either iOS or Android. They both have their advantages and disadvantages, and I have purchased apps from both marketplaces that I want to retain access to. (I currently keep an iPad for all my personal iOS needs.) And I’m not particularly loyal to any given brand when it comes to smartphones, either. But when I started researching my options, I quickly realized that there are far more manufacturers in this market than I’d imagined.

I asked myself, “Have I ever heard of this company? Have I heard good or bad things? Have I ever used one of their devices, smartphone or otherwise? What did I think of that experience?”

  • I have plenty of experience with iOS and Apple devices, all largely positive. I also know a lot of people who like their iPhones very much. Obviously they’re hugely popular, so Apple must be doing something right.
  • I’ve used a lot of Google’s software, but never their hardware. But their software is excellent, with better maps, voice recognition, and utility than any of their competitors.
  • My first Samsung phone stopped working 10 months after I got it, and the exploding Note debacle definitely had me nervous about their phones. On the other hand, I have a lot of friends and family who really like their Samsung phones, and the Galaxy S8 and Note 8 get outstanding reviews.
  • I’ve heard of LG, but never used any of their devices, nor do I know anyone who uses one. Most of the articles I read identified the V30 as a legitimate rival to Samsung’s empire.
  • I’ve never heard of OnePlus or Huawei at all, and their phones weren’t reviewed in some of the articles I read.

Top Marks: Apple, Google
Runners Up: LG, Samsung
Requirements Not Met: OnePlus, Huawei 

Deciding Factor #3: Ports & Peripherals

I know the 3.5mm audio jack is eventually going to disappear entirely, but I’m not ready to give it up yet. I have an excellent pair of BOSE headphones that deliver beautiful sound (unmatched by any bluetooth OR other wired headphone I’ve ever used), and oh yeah, doesn’t require charging. I already have to carry a spare battery pack on flights, just so I can make it across the country without my phone dying. (Some of the games I play are a pretty significant drain on the battery.) The added annoyance of having to make sure my headphones are charged up & retain a charge is something I am not looking forward to dealing with. Five years from now, how many devices am I going to be charging on my nightstand overnight? Samsung and LG each get a point here, but neither Apple nor Google’s phone have the audio jack.

Speaking of charging, what type of cable does the device use? The world is moving to USB C, which I think is a huge improvement of mini- and micro-USB. Of course, this still means I have to go buy a bunch of new cables, but at least I feel it’s an upgrade. And wireless charging? Very cool, and very convenient. Apple is the only loser here, since they’re still insisting on their proprietary lightning cable. But the iPhone X, Galaxy 8, and V30 do all support wireless charging, whereas Google doesn’t.

Removable storage is also important to me. This makes it easier to transfer stuff from my older phone to a new one. It also (obviously) lets me store a lot more stuff on the phone than I could otherwise. Many phones that don’t offer removable storage do have “cloud” accounts that tout “free, unlimited storage in the cloud” – but I very much DO NOT WANT to use such cloud storage services. I’ve heard horror stories of cloud backup duplicating files and monopolising wi-fi bandwidth. Not to mention the security breaches that have made public millions of private photos. Samsung and LG both get points here, but neither Apple nor Google allow you to add a micro SD card.

CGP Grey’s Twitter Rants about iCloud are legendary.

Top Marks: Samsung Galaxy S8 & LG V30
Runners Up: Apple iPhone X & Google Pixel 2

Deciding Factor #4: Camera & Screen

As I mentioned, I have a fairly nice Canon digital camera. But I also want my phone to have a relatively decent camera too. Most of the articles I read said all four phones have good to great cameras, with Google’s probably being the best. However the LG’s camera allegedly can take a long time to auto-focus, making it difficult to capture shots. The V30’s screen also doesn’t get as bright outdoors as the Galaxy’s, so it can be even harder to take photos outside. It doesn’t perform well in low-light either. To quote Sean Hollister from c|net:

I had a hard time watching Netflix and browsing websites in bed because LG’s screen tends to crush blacks when the screen’s brightness is set low. Dim scenes in movies didn’t just look dim, but positively deathly.

So now we get to the elephant in the room. How much of the front of the phone is devoted to the screen? I don’t want a big phone, but I want as much of the front of the phone as possible to be part of the screen. Everything that’s not screen is known as “bezel”, and phone makers today are trying to eliminate as much of the bezel as they can. This is leading to some absolutely beautiful phones, exemplified by the iPhone X, Galaxy S8, and V30.

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After looking at phones like these, the Google Pixel 2 looks positively garrish. In fact, there’s even more bezel on the Pixel 2 than there is on HTC’s One M8! I feel like my eyeballs are being visually assaulted.

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It’s so bad that I had to eliminate the Pixel 2 from the running. Despite having the best camera, and probably the best software, the Google’s offering here misses too many marks for me. If it were just the screen, I might be able to live with it. But the lack of wireless charging, lack of audio jack, and lack of removable storage on top of a bezel that looks like it came from 2010 was just too much.

Top Marks: Apple iPhone X, Samsung Galaxy S8
Runner Up: LG V30
Eliminated: Google Pixel 2

Final Scores:
Samsung Galaxy S8: 10
Apple iPhone X: 9
LG V30: 6
Google Pixel 2: ~7.5 if it hadn’t been eliminated

Now, there’s an interesting advantage that the iPhone has over the Galaxy, but only for my corporate phone. The iPhone just plays nicer with Outlook, so I can get email and calendar via the native iPhone apps. Android phones on our corporate network have to use a third-party sandbox program for mail and calendar, and I really don’t like it. It doesn’t tell you how many unread emails you have, it’s slow to respond, and it sometimes refuses to connect to the servers entirely. It’s also impossible to view shared calendars via the Android app, whereas using an iPhone would allow me to once again see the calendars of the executives I support.

So all things considered, I went with a Samsung Galaxy S8 for my personal use, and an iPhone X for corporate use. Next time I’ll discuss my experiences with these new phones.