What your next smartphone may not need
Phone makers describe them as ‘killer features’—but they’re convenient, not essential
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It’s said that when gadget manufacturers run short of technology, they resort to terminology. And that certainly seems to have been the case of late, with a number of manufacturers highlighting features that they consider to be very important (or “killer”, to use marketing-speak). While there is no doubt that these features could make a difference to the user, their importance might in some cases be somewhat overstated. At the end of the day, most people are looking for something that “just works”, to borrow a phrase from Apple.
Here’s a look at seven features that claim to be “killer features” but are actually more convenient than compulsory.
Does having thinner or no bezels (the frame outside a display) make a difference to the image you see on a display? A lot of the advertising would have you believe that this is indeed the case, with a number of brands stressing the fact that they have almost eliminated bezels from their phone displays.
The truth, however, is that at the end of the day, you are more likely to be looking at the display itself than the frame around it, and an image or a video on two displays with the same resolution and size is likely to look very much the same, irrespective of the presence (or absence) of bezels.
Yes, slim bezels do make the display “seem” slightly bigger, and do make for a more compact device, but in terms of sheer viewing experience, we are not sure they make that much of a difference. And for all the criticism, the fact is that bezels do protect the display if the phone falls or collides with a hard object.
They might be becoming the rage in cellphones today, but the jury is still out on whether dual cameras actually make as much of a difference as claimed. For notwithstanding all the talk of better “bokeh” (in which the background gets blurred) and optical zoom, the fact is that in terms of sheer picture quality, phones with single camera lenses are still more than holding their own. For instance, the Google Pixel, the Galaxy S8 and the iPhone 7 all feature top-notch cameras, though they have not taken the dual camera route.
They have been around for a while and while there is no doubting that they handle black colour levels brilliantly, and are wonderful at delivering bright colours, there is no conclusive evidence that AMOLED displays are vastly superior to conventional LCDs. In fact, most smartphone flagships still come with LCD displays rather than Super AMOLED ones; and some believe LCD displays are better for reading and deliver more “realistic” imagery than AMOLED ones, which have a tendency to “over- brighten” colours, making them pleasant but also slightly deceptive.
Yes, they look pretty and very shiny. But the glass backs that many manufacturers are highlighting as special features can be slightly poisoned chalices. Not only do they scratch and smudge more easily than their metal and plastic counterparts, a fall inevitably leaves them badly damaged. One can use a phone with a slightly dented back but not one with large cracks running along it.
Powerful selfie cameras
Yes, this might be the “age of the selfie” and people might be more self-obsessed than ever before, but the fact is that megapixels do not matter all that much in a selfie camera, just as they don’t in rear cameras. While more megapixels will enable you to take a higher-resolution image, anything beyond 8 megapixels is frankly over the top unless you plan to print large copies of selfies or display them on massive screens. A lot depends on sensor and lens quality too.
This seems to be the era of massive batteries. A couple of years ago, a 3,000 mAh battery would have been considered large. Today, that benchmark has moved close to 5,000 mAh, supplemented by claims that phones can last for days on a single charge. What these claims fail to point out is that battery life is not just a matter of a large battery, but also of how well the software utilizes that battery.
A large battery is of little use in a phone with poor battery management (for instance, a phone that lets apps run in the background or cannot manage tasks well will consume battery faster), while a relatively smaller battery, supplemented by good power management (better allocation of power between different features), can last a relatively long time.
Android, iOS and Windows Phone all have excellent AI assistants (Google Assistant, Siri and Cortana, respectively). In spite of this, however, manufacturers insist on coming up with their own assistants, arguing that they are every bit as good as the ones that come with the OS itself. No, it would be naive to suggest that any of the existing AI assistants are perfect, but that said, we are not convinced that most of the new ones that are being heavily promoted are much better, forget about being compellingly superior.