What to look for in a flagship smartphone explained:
Android smartphones are all over. It seems like any and everyone is making an android smartphone but are they all the same?
As many tech pundits have noted, cheap android phones are getting better. This gap between great and cheap has slimmed. In fact if we had to name top smartphones for android, two hovers as the best and after that are a number of great choices.
Samsung (Galaxy S and Note phones) being best overall offering a full package of hardware and software gimmicks to go with it. And with them continuing to improve on their software they are getting closer to offering one of the smoothest smartphone experiences for android. Add in it one of the best cameras, the best screen, and a few software experiences not offered on stock android phones, and it is clear why this is one of the most sought after phones every year.
If you want the best software experience you can find on an android phone then look no further than Google. They designed the software so they would be best fitted to optimize the hardware with the software. Add in the best camera voted two years in a row by several publications and Google is continuing to show others how it is done. What holds them back from being the best overall is their hardware choices over the past few years have been met with some scrutiny. The first Pixel felt a little dated with all the bezels and lack of waterproofing. And the second Pixel XL caught flack for the blue tint and washed out display.
There are several other manufacturers that deserve a mention from Motorola with their Moto Mods, Huawei, One Plus, and LG. So what do I look for in a flagship. Well I will explain what it means when people talk about different hardware and software experiences and terms.
Software and Software Support
This to me is the deciding factor between phones. If two phones are about equal I will tend to go to the phone that is supported. Because of that it is no secret that I will lean toward Google (pixel) phones. The last Samsung phone I owned was the Note 5 and I was so frustrated by how far behind they were with software updates that I just gave the phone away and bought a Nexus 6P. I like having the latest in software updates from Google and being one of the first to get updated to the newest software. But the reality is that for most people this is not a top billing item. There are still people rocking phones with Android 4.4 and they are ok with that.
Though having the latest android build is not a must you should make sure the phone you are going to purchase get regular software support. This will help keep your phone running at its best as well as address issues that pop up along the way. If the flagship you are going to purchase have a reputation of not updating their devices then you may want to be weary of making the purchase. But for the most part companies like Samsung, Motorola, LG, and One Plus have gotten much better with this. Though many of them will not be near as quick to update their software as Google, they will get regular updates. Plus companies like Samsung have so many software features that they are at times way ahead of stock Google. Samsung had picture in picture years before Google and Google still do not offer a stock theme engine. Something that was even present in older HTC phones as early as the HTC Droid Eris (2009).
Hardware: GPUs, Processors, and cameras
This here is what makes the phone. Build quality, processing power, cameras, and more. So lets get started with processors.
Processors are very important with helping decide how well your phone performs overall. There is a lot that these modern smartphone processors handle. For one the overall speed and fluidity of your phone. This means that when you scroll down on a webpage real fast or type out a long email your phone handles that smoothly without any delay (what we call lag). Most modern smartphones contain multiple cores so that it can handle more processing. Companies like Qualcomm is able to produce efficient chipsets in a small footprint to enable for smoother experience, improved efficiency, and better battery life. This is why we are able to have phones with larger screens and smaller batteries last longer than phones in the past with smaller screens and larger batteries. Housed in the chip also is the GPU, LTE modem, and more. Your modern flagship phones will normally have in it the latest Qualcomm processor.
I made a big deal about Google needing to offer more RAM if they want to charge a premium for their phones. But some out there may be asking what is RAM and why is it important.
So RAM is random access memory. Basically this allows for storage and accessing information on your device. The more RAM you have the more information that can be accessed or handled on a phone without crashing. This means you will be able to watch a video, and do other things on your phone at the same time while having other things stored in the background. Older Samsung phones and tablets back a few years ago had a RAM manager so that you could clear some of your apps off if your phone starts getting slow and lagging. Now days most modern smartphones are easily able to handle the day to day usage without the need to clear your memory.
You will notice that Samsung phones tend to have more RAM then Pixel phones though Pixel phones run smoother and the question may be why is that.
Google Pixel phones are pure Google software and nothing more. That means no bells and whistles. Because of this you are going to find that the software runs great. In fact Google phones actually gets better with age as Google put out more updates and maintenance fixes to improve the optimized software. But the trade off is that the phone looks plain. For android enthusiasts this is how they want their phone. But for the average customer it is missing all the cool bells and whistles that they want in a flagship device.
Samsung phones choose the route of having the bells and whistles. This include the ability to change the theme (look) of your phone, ability to check your heart rate, and the other cool apps and tricks Samsung phones provide. But for all those apps and features to work requires programs and software to run in the background. The number software programs running on a Samsung phone compared to Pixel phones are almost twice as many. This is why people would notice that over time you will see Samsung phones slow down or have a slight hesitation that would require a reset. To try and account for the extra apps and programs Samsung added more Ram to their phones so Samsung users can experience a smooth experience without having to give up the bells and whistles.
3 years ago Samsung and Apple were the clear leaders in smartphone cameras. Now Google is not only in the mix but have eclipsed them in some areas. The difference in flagship smartphone cameras now is coming down to preference. Some cameras tend to add more saturation while others try to be more natural. The choice is truly coming down to personal preference. About a month ago Marques Brownlee did a blind smartphone test and I honestly found myself preferring pictures from different cameras depending on the shot. This is to say that these cameras are getting better. So much so that you are seeing people use their phone cameras in place of high end professional cameras.
The GPU is the graphic processing unit. This decides how smooth and rich your display shows content. The better the GPU the smoother your phone will show animation. This will allow you to play more intense games with better graphics without any choppiness and animation slow down. More people are playing games and enjoying rich content whether it be from streaming or watching videos stored on their phones, and modern smartphone GPUs are helping to make that experience more enjoyable than phones of the past.
Displays: Amoled LCD what is the difference and why should I care?
Active Matrix Organic Light -Emitting Diode. Basically this is what Samsung mainly uses on their display and Apple used on their iPhone X. This is what give phones that “pop” or deep saturation look that just make colors look better. Black colors are darker because it turns the light off so you are actually getting richer dark colors. AMOLED screens tend to have better viewing angles, meaning it looks good no matter whether you are looking at your phone straight on or at an angle, and better battery life since they are not having to have every little diode of light on. The knock on AMOLED screens are the viewing issues in direct sunlight.
Liquid Crystal Display. Apple and HTC have been using this display on majority of their smartphones. This display uses a backlight that is on even when the screen is showing black colors. Because of this it will not show deep black colors like AMOLED. But it does do a better job showing white colors whiter than AMOLED and the display can be viewed better in direct sunlight. LCD screens also uses more energy than AMOLED because of the backlighting always being on.
As far as best overall display Samsung has it down. They tend to put out phones that blow the competition out of the water. Though some criticize the display with being overly saturated, there is a reason why Samsung wins best display in a smartphone year after year. They also supply displays for other smartphone manufacturers including Apple. If you can get over the fact that their white colors tend to have a shade of pink in it, which most people are, then you will love the display.
This concludes part 1 of explaining what to look for in a smartphone. More to come soon.