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Stale smartphones: 4 moribund mobile trends that need to go

"Soft," "stale," and "uninspired" are all possible adjectives one could use for the current state of affairs. (Image source: various / edited - author)
"Soft," "stale," and "uninspired" are all possible adjectives one could use for the current state of affairs. (Image source: various / edited - author)
Before the epoch of the smartphone, things like innovation were used to describe more than just a spec bump. While some complaints about the current market may be nitpicky, others are genuinely concerning and need attention.
Article compiled by Julian van der Merwe
The choices and comments made on this list belong solely to the author.

1. Boring aesthetics

Back in the days of feature phones, the sky was the limit. If you wanted a phone with a vertical physical keyboard and a touchscreen, BlackBerry had you covered. Nokia had a phone that let you split the phone in two to have two halves of a QWERTY keyboard either side of a landscape display. Phones had charm and manufacturers could experiment with wacky designs. With the exception of the folding phones made by brands like Motorola and Samsung, there is very little design innovation in the smartphone market.

The Nokia 6810 and 6800 may not have been an ergonomic slam-dunk, but at least they were trying to be something unique. (Image source: Prduser on Wikimedia Commons)
The Nokia 6810 and 6800 may not have been an ergonomic slam-dunk, but at least they were trying to be something unique. (Image source: Prduser on Wikimedia Commons)

2. The war on repair

Not only are manufacturers making devices more fragile, they are also making them more difficult to repair. Companies like Apple and Google go as far as to lobby against right-to-repair bills that are currently being discussed by US lawmakers. Tech giants even serialise components like cameras and displays, making parts almost impossible to replace by third-party repair outfits.

These practices are both harmful to the environment and hurt consumer sentiment towards the brand. What's perhaps even more egregious is that these restrictions are often put in place under the guise of safety. If replacing the battery or motherboard on your phone were a safety hazard, there would be a lot more mall-kiosk fires. 

iFixit encountered this ominous error message when swapping camera modules between two identical iPhone 12 units. (Image source: iFixit)
iFixit encountered this ominous error message when swapping camera modules between two identical iPhone 12 units. (Image source: iFixit)

3. "Glass is glass and glass breaks" - JerryRigEverything

There are 118 elements on the periodic table, yet we have apparently decided that the only viable materials for a premium smartphone are some variation of a glass and metal sandwich. All kidding aside, glass is a particularly flawed material for the construction of something that will inevitably get dropped. Yes glass feels premium, but it is also very fragile. There are plenty of plastics or metals in the world that could easily look and feel just as premium, with just a little effort from a design team. 

Protect your fragile, glass-backed Pixel 6 with this clear OTTERBOX case available on Amazon

9to5Google did a long term review and found that the bioplastic back on the Google Pixel 5 held up very well to caseless abuse. (Image source: 9to5Google on YouTube)
9to5Google did a long term review and found that the bioplastic back on the Google Pixel 5 held up very well to caseless abuse. (Image source: 9to5Google on YouTube)

4. The numbers race

Between megapixels, display specs, and network technologies, smartphone manufacturers are on an ever-escalating race to release the next best thing. The fact of the matter is that a lot of these specs really don't make that big of a difference. A 108 MP sensor will more often than not have similar performance to a 12 MP sensor of the same size. A perfect example is the very similar performance between the iPhone 12 and the Samsung Galaxy S21. This is where Apple stands out, having made the right choice by sticking with large, lower-megapixel sensors. 

The Samsung ISOCELL HP1 takes this numbers game to the next level with its 200 MP resolution and 4k 240 FPS video capabilities. (Image source: Samsung Semiconductor)
The Samsung ISOCELL HP1 takes this numbers game to the next level with its 200 MP resolution and 4k 240 FPS video capabilities. (Image source: Samsung Semiconductor)

Similar is true for network connectivity. Most flagship phones are now equipped with some form of 5G, which is all well and good but almost nobody has access to 5G. Apart from the lack of availability, the connection is generally spotty and prone to dropping when there's as much as a stiff breeze about. By limiting camera resolution to 12 MP, Apple stands out for pursuing results rather than big numbers and marketing clout. 

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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2022 03 > Stale smartphones: 4 moribund mobile trends that need to go
Julian van der Merwe, 2022-03-26 (Update: 2022-03-26)