If we’re really being honest, smartphones had become pretty boring for a while. They all looked the same and were all replaced each year by newer models with slightly better specs and minor feature upgrades. But then something started to happen. Growth slowed for some of the industry’s top players and completely vanished for others, thanks in part to a lack of innovation and increased pressure from low-cost options out of China.
Outside of the Asia-Pacific region and emerging markets, the global smartphone business is dominated by just two just companies. Apple and Samsung. Galaxy phones and iPhones as far as the eye can see. At this point it seems like no company will ever be able to make a meaningful dent in this duopoly. That’s obviously not the case and what goes up must come down, but for the time being it’s Samsung and Apple’s market and the rest are left fighting over scraps.
Of course, there’s still plenty of money to be made from those scraps. And with top global contenders like HTC, Sony and LG struggling to differentiate themselves in any sort of meaningful way, a new breed of startups has emerged in an effort to fill some sizable gaps. Companies like Xiaomi and OnePlus have shown that it’s possible to make waves as a young player in the market, and now a new face will seek out similar success.
When I reviewed the iPhone 6 last year, I explained how different reviewing an iPhone is compared to reviewing other smartphones. Reviews typically have a great deal of influence over readers, giving them a good sense of a device’s strengths and weaknesses before it even launches. Smartphone shoppers then use this information to help guide their purchases. With the iPhone, however, reviews don’t carry anywhere near as much weight with readers. Instead, people make decisions more often than not based on Apple’s marketing and its general aura. At least, that’s typically the case.
This year, things are different. I have never received emails from so many people on the fence about whether or not they should buy a new iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus. Hundreds of emails from iPhone owners wondering if the 6s is a worthy upgrade from the 6, and from Android users debating whether or not to switch.
What is perhaps most surprising about the timing of this shift in sentiment, interestingly, is the fact that the answers to these questions are easier in 2015 than they have ever been in the past. More →
Twice a year each and every year, just like clockwork, smartphone reviewers like myself used to look forward to finding new ways to phrase the same exact complaint. The [INSERT NEW GALAXY S OR NOTE MODEL NAME HERE] is a great phone with a stunning display, but the plasticky case looks bland and feels cheap. Users had the same complaint as well, of course. Can you imagine paying $640 for a phone made out of plastic that’s this thin and cheap feeling?
But Samsung’s sales kept climbing higher and higher… until they didn’t.
Following several consecutive quarters of declining sales, Samsung finally decided to step up its game. The Galaxy S6 and S6 edge were the first Samsung phones ever to be constructed out of premium materials to match their premium price tags. But in the new flagship phones’ launch quarter, Samsung’s operating profit in its mobile division plummeted 38%.
The Galaxy S6 and S6 edge simply don’t have what it takes to compete with Apple’s iPhone 6. Now, it’s time to see if the exact same strategy will fare any better against the upcoming new iPhone 6s Plus.
Meet Samsung’s new flagship phablet, the Galaxy Note 5. More →
Call them Android fanboys, enthusiasts, geeks or whatever else you want, but the fact remains: avid Android fans tend to have great taste in smartphones. They don’t want to deal with cumbersome user interfaces from smartphone makers, and they always have a zero-tolerance policy for carrier bloatware. “Pure Android” that is free of clutter is always preferential, and that’s why Nexus phones are so popular among hardcore Android fans.
But in 2014, a new player emerged and blew Android fans away. The OnePlus One had style, power, a shockingly affordable price and CyanogenMod software, which is often heralded by fans as an even better option than pure Android. For many savvy Android users, it was the perfect phone.
I have been pretty hard on Samsung over the past few years, but let’s be honest: the company deserved it. Time and time again, we’ve seen Samsung launch fantastic flagship smartphones that are class leaders in almost every key area. Samsung’s mobile displays are the best in the world, many of its software additions have mass appeal, and its phones are always among the best available when it comes to performance.
But where design, build quality and materials are concerned, Samsung has always been at the bottom of the pile.
That changes in 2015, and the Galaxy S6 is our first look at the future of flagship Samsung phones. On the inside, the S6 is everything we have come to expect from the company’s premium smartphones. And on the outside, the Galaxy S6 is like nothing we have ever seen before from Samsung. More →
It’s easy to call the HTC One M9 the best smartphone HTC has ever built; HTC outdoes itself each and every year, as we have come to expect, and the M9 is better than its predecessor in nearly every way. It’s also easy to call the HTC One M9 the most important smartphone HTC has ever built; the company continues to struggle against rivals 10 times its size that are currently dominating the smartphone market.
The real task here is to determine whether or not HTC’s new One is real competition for rival flagship smartphones, and that question is more difficult to answer in 2015 than it has ever been before. More →
I’ve owned a Nintendo 3DS ever since the day it launched. It’s not the most inventive or the most attractive portable on the market, but it features an incredible selection of first-party and third-party content. But its physical limitations have always bothered me, to the point where I simply started taking my PS Vita on trips with me rather than my 3DS.
Samsung doesn’t need saving just yet, but most people seemed to laugh it off last year when I said that the South Korea-based giant was quickly headed toward a big mess. In developed markets, customers flocked to Samsung’s giant phones and their magnificent displays. In regions where mid-range and low-end phones are more prominent, Samsung flooded the market with dozens of affordable models. Even more important, perhaps, the company devoted double-digit billions each year to marketing and advertising its devices, and all that money helped Samsung keep its impossible promise.
But a huge problem was developing and not everyone saw it. Samsung apparently didn’t even see it, or it simply turned a blind eye. The problem with being a leader is that others will follow. Apple’s lawsuits may have branded Samsung a copycat, but the company was absolutely a leader in building a wide range of big-screen smartphones and an even bigger arsenal of capable, affordable mid-range and low-end phones.
Then, others followed. And they did it better. Now, no one seems to be laughing anymore. More →
Google’s tradition of releasing a brand new flagship Nexus phone every year isn’t stopping, and the company has come an incredibly long way since the original Nexus One. The latest iteration is the Nexus 6 with, yes, a gorgeous six-inch display. It’s manufactured by Motorola and was codenamed “Shamu” for a good reason — it’s monstrously huge and just feels like it’s going to slap you with its dorsal fin.
This is one of the most well-manufactured, technology-packed, volcano-luging, shark-diving phones I’ve ever used. But is it the best of the best or the best of the worst? More →
The past few years have been crazy for Motorola. After the iPhone rocked the cell phone industry in 2007, Motorola was among the first companies to respond effectively, and it found success in the U.S. market when it launched the Droid with Verizon Wireless in late 2009. No companies were ready for Samsung and the double-digit billions it was prepared to spend on marketing in order to take over the Android market, however, and Motorola’s mobile phone business didn’t stand a chance.
Things seemed like they might turn around when Motorola Mobility was acquired by Google in 2011, but the company still couldn’t manage to set its devices apart from the crowd in any meaningful way. The Motorola division continued to lose money for Google until it was finally sold off to Lenovo in 2014.
While it remains to be seen whether or not Lenovo will help turn Motorola into a profitable cell phone company once again, there is no question that the once-great company hit its stride in 2014. In fact, Motorola’s latest Android phones are the best Android phones on the planet.
Two years ago in 2012, Google saw an opening in the tablet market for a small, low-cost device that still offered good performance and a solid display. To this day, the Nexus 7 remains a fan favorite among Android enthusiasts and while Google no longer sells the tablet itself, the second-generation Nexus 7 can still be purchased from some retailers for under $200.
Now, of course, affordable mid-range Android tablets are a dime a dozen.
Ironically, the flood of low-cost Android devices that washed over the tablet industry has left a new gap in the market that Google is now looking to address with the Nexus 9. The company’s first bet in the tablet market landed it with a relative success that other companies rushed to compete with, and now it’s time to see if lightning can strike twice. More →
It’s easy to get excited about Apple products. They get faster, thinner, lighter, smaller, better, more beautiful and more functional. But every so often Apple introduces a pivotal product, one that might be from a brand new product category, or one from an existing product that is just so much better it can’t help but impress.