The best smartphones of 2017: A report card
An assessment of the best smartphones launched this year, and why you should consider splurging on them
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This year saw so many launches, it felt like phones were flooding the shops on a daily basis. What this means is that if you sit down to shortlist your options for a new smartphone, the task is tougher than ever before. The big change is that there has been genuine evolution, in terms of specifications, bezel-less designs, taller displays and slicker usability.
In this, the second of our two-part series on the best devices you could buy in India in 2017, we shortlist the smartphones that offer top-notch performance with the very best hardware—though you may have to shell out a premium for them.
Apple iPhone X
This is an iPhone with many firsts—an OLED display, bezel-less design, wireless charging and Face ID biometrics. So it won’t come as a surprise that the iPhone X has overshadowed every other phone this year. In many ways, it has been a fresh start for the iPhone, with a larger 5.8-inch display in a form factor very similar to the iPhone 8 (that has a 4.7-inch screen). With the A11 Bionic chip purring away, the iPhone X can perform 600 billion operations per second for real-time processing for Artificial Intelligence (AI). We now know what future iPhones will look like.
Launched in September
The V30+ has a 6-inch pOLED display that supports Dolby Vision and HDR10 standards. It’s powerful, with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 and 4 GB RAM—though the latter specification doesn’t seem so impressive on paper, given that most of its rivals have 6 GB RAM. The 16-megapixel and 13-megapixel dual cameras capture vibrant photographs. Audio aficionados will probably find the most value in the high-resolution audio hardware, which makes this ideal for music playback.
Launched in December
Xiaomi Redmi 5A
The Redmi 5A is balancing the requirements of a compact form factor with a big enough display. Its 1,280x720 resolution is higher than the 800x480 resolution commonly found in phones in this price range. It runs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 425, enough for most popular apps and some multitasking. It also runs Xiaomi’s newest MIUI 9 software based on Android 7.1.2 (Nougat). Other strong points: dual SIM and memory card slots, good battery life and a very usable camera.
Launched in December
Nokia is back in the flagship smartphone space with a phone that rocks the black, glossy blue, matt blue, bright copper, and subdued steel colours. A Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor and 4 GB RAM power the Nokia 8, which takes full advantage of the hardly customized Android to offer slick performance. The dual 13-megapixel cameras capture detailed photographs, but the colours are a little more subdued than we would like. This is a flagship phone that doesn’t polarize with its looks and comes with a significant price advantage as well.
Launched in August
Samsung Galaxy Note 8
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 pretty much hits the perfect notes (no pun intended). What you get is a large 6.3-inch Infinity Display with minimal bezels which is comfortable to use—and this display is 4K HDR capable too, something that streaming service Netflix has already rolled out support for. The screen supports 4,000 pressure points, which improves the accuracy of the S-Pen stylus for sketches, notes and scribbles. The cameras are quite good, and the Note 8 runs the Exynos 8895 processor.
Launched in September
OnePlus didn’t restrict itself to incremental upgrades with the 5T. It has a 6-inch screen with the 18:9 aspect ratio and slimmer bezels. It runs the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, with options of 6 GB and 8 GB RAM. The Face Unlock feature is on the lines of the iPhone X’s Face ID—and it is impressive, though still work in progress. The 16-megapixel and 20-megapixel dual cameras do well when it comes to low-light photography. Price is the 5T’s biggest advantage. With the OnePlus 5T Star Wars Limited Edition now also available, the line-up just got more exciting.
Launched in November
Xiaomi Redmi Note 4
According to Q3 2017 numbers by research firm International Data Corp. (IDC), Xiaomi’s accomplishment of becoming India’s No.1 smartphone maker was largely due to the success of the Redmi Note 4—the top selling smartphone in 50 cities. And not without good reason. It runs the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor, which is rare in this price bracket, and has a metal body. You also get a 5.5-inch Full HD display. And Xiaomi has now rolled out the latest MIUI 9 update for the Redmi Note 4
Launched in January
Google Pixel 2 XL
This, the bigger of the two Pixel 2 phones, retains the dual-tone finish on the back though the bezels are now significantly slimmer. It has a 6-inch pOLED display, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor with 4 GB RAM and the newest Android 8 (Oreo) software, building up to top-notch usability. The 12.2-megapixel camera, with the f/1.8 aperture and optical as well as electronic image stabilization, is by far the best in the Android smartphone space.
Launched in October
Apple iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 plus
They may look a lot like their predecessors, but are very different. There is a glass layer on the back and they are wireless charging capable, while the A11 Bionic processor is the most powerful in the smartphone ecosystem. The displays (4.7-inch and 5.5-inch) are richer, brighter and even better to look at. The True Tone feature now automatically adjusts colours according to ambient lighting. The cameras get better colour filters and an improved image signal processor, wider colour capture, faster auto focus in low light and richer HDR photographs.
Launched in September
Xiaomi Mi MIX 2
There are beautiful phones, and then there is the Xiaomi Mi MIX 2. This sports a bezel-less design with a ceramic back, something that is rare in smartphones. It has a vibrant 5.99-inch display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 and 6 GB RAM. The Mi MIX 2 is an ideal showcase for Xiaomi’s prowess—some examples are the guided-design earpiece that is placed higher than it normally is on phones, with audio routed through a tube, an ultrasonic proximity sensor that sits behind the screen (it’s usually placed above the screen in phones), and the front-facing camera, which is placed below the display.
Launched in October
*Prices may vary
Trends that defined smartphones this year
Bezel-free designs became quite common, particularly in the flagship phones. Some examples—Apple iPhone X, Samsung Galaxy S8 and Xiaomi Mi MIX 2. This meant that phones could have a larger display without increasing the overall size—for instance, the Apple iPhone X has a larger display than the Apple iPhone 8, but the overall size difference between the two phones is negligible.
Bigger screens became the norm. While 5.5-inch phones were considered big-screen devices in 2016, this year, 5.7 inches and upwards became common.
Smartphone displays underwent a massive change, with a shift to the taller 18:9 aspect ratios. You get more real estate vertically, and when paired with the very thin bezels on either side, more compact phones.
Artificial Intelligence-powered virtual assistants were in focus, with Google (Assistant), Apple (Siri), Amazon (Alexa) and Microsoft (Cortana) putting in a lot of effort to improve the accuracy, context understanding and abilities of these systems.
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