Editorial

Five technologies to look for in your next smartphone

Recently I read an article over on Australian newspaper The Age's website that listed the "five technologies to look for in your next smartphone". The list included things such as a "quad-core processor", "4.5-inch and larger displays" and "NFC", which they claim can "potentially change the way you use your smartphone".

I think they're wrong. Here are the five technologies that I think you should look for in your next smartphone.

1. Any next-gen chipset that's not Tegra 3

The Age contended that your next processor should be a quad-core one, and I couldn't disagree more. To be honest, the amount of cores is completely irrelevant in general smartphone performance, as many people can see in Windows Phone running smoothly on single-core Qualcomm processors. Few apps utilize all four cores of the only quad-core SoC available right now (Tegra 3), and in other respects the NVIDIA-made chipset falls behind the competitors.

So if cores don't help, what does? The answer is a combination of several factors: performance per MHz, battery life efficiency, graphics processor and media enhancements. The quad-core Tegra 3 chipset uses current-gen ARM Cortex-A9 processing cores, which in battery efficiency and performance per MHz is no different to a dual-core Exynos 4xxx or TI OMAP 4 series processor.

Tegra 3's quad-core processor might seem appealing, but there are better options out there

Next-gen chipsets like the TI OMAP 5 series, Exynos 5xxx and Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 all improve over their predecessors' processing cores, with the former two adopting Cortex-A15 processors. They are faster per MHz, have improvements that reduce battery and all should have GPUs that are considerably faster than the Tegra 3 chip, making NVIDIA's option weak against next-gen offerings.

It's not "quad-core processors" that you should be looking for, it's a chipset that utilizes Cortex-A15 (or equivalent) cores and a beefy GPU to deliver the best performance, with extra cores a mere bonus to the package. Next-gen chipsets will be providing this, and Tegra 3 does not, which is why I recommend anything new that's not NVIDIA's chip.

2. A camera with a decent lens/sensor

Camera enthusiasts have been saying for years that the megapixels don't matter, and I couldn't agree more. Just like core-counts on smartphone processors, megapixel counts on smartphone cameras are less relevant than the other parts of the system. You should be looking for a phone that packs a decent lens and sensor, with a large megapixel count simply being a bonus.

Smartphone cameras can be good. I took this shot on an Xperia S

I know it's possible to get a smartphone with a good camera, because I saw it in person with the Sony Xperia S and its Exmor R sensor. If other companies decide to bundle amazing cameras into their phones, they have the potential to replace standalone point-and-shoot cameras and put real pressure on the point-and-shoot market.

Be on the lookout for devices that pack a decent camera, and the best way to check this is via product reviews because specifications can't tell you everything.

3. A big battery

You won't be enjoying your all-powerful smartphone if it dies in just a few hours, so a phone that has a big battery is going to more appealing. Something in the range of 2,000+ mAh is respectable, but obviously if you can go bigger without disrupting the looks of the phone you are going to get a better experience.

Battery technology really hasn't improved all that much since the beginning of smartphone use, but big breakthroughs are likely to be on the horizon; probably not in the upcoming smartphone generations but in later years. Be on the lookout for phones that claim to have good battery lives, but make sure to check their claims via reviews.

4. LTE and fast Wi-Fi

The Age's article says that "4G" is something to look out for, but I'd go one step further and narrow that down to LTE so you can discount HSPA+ and WiMax. LTE is already rolling out to the majority of the United States, some of Canada and Australia, with Europe to follow at some point, so soon you should be able to take full advantage of the new way to connect.

LTE does suck power at a greater rate than HSPA or CDMA (EV-DO), but with a bigger battery as I mentioned in point 3, this should be negated. With your next smartphone you should be looking to connect faster and LTE is currently the best way to provide this outside your household.

For inside your house you should be looking for a phone that has fast Wi-Fi, preferably dual-band 802.11n. With a dual-band device you can connect to less-congested 5 GHz networks provided you have a compatible dual-band router, which can allow for faster connection speeds inside your house.

One thing to remember is that most current mobile Wi-Fi chips are capped at ~60 Mbps even if they support 802.11n, meaning streaming video from your local network can be limited and choppy. In the future, look for a phone with a chipset that raises this limit so you can enjoy streamed video more; although it's unclear if faster Wi-Fi chips are on the way and if they are, most consumers will probably overlook the feature.

5. Dense displays

720p is all the rage these days with smartphone displays, and it's definitely something to look for as The Age states. Higher density displays look crisper and sharper, so anything over 300 pixels-per-inch is adequate for pixels to be indistinguishable to the naked eye (at a reasonable distance).

Dense displays do improve sharpness and readability

However 720p is not a definite "must buy", as phones with smaller displays, which some people prefer, don't require this resolution to achieve a good pixel density. 1280 x 720 delivers over 300 ppi right up to 4.9", but 960 x 540 (qHD) is fine for displays smaller than 3.65" and 800 x 480 (WVGA) is good under 3.1". As long as the smartphone you choose reaches the magic 300 ppi, you should get a very crisp experience.

Also, be on the lookout for the better S-LCD 2 and Super AMOLED Plus display technologies; no PenTile displays in either of them and both look amazing. Gorilla Glass 2 is also a good match to protect your display from breaking.

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54 Comments

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I miss the jog-dial from the Sony Ericsson P910i smartphone.

Scrolls up and down, pushes forwards and backwards and also pushes in, you could drive most of the common functions with your thumb without even touching the touch-screen.

It also had lots of programmable buttons, with short and long-press functions.

With all the black slabs for sale these days, there seems to be no ingenuity in the hardware interface of the modern smart phones.

Other than NFC, none of these are REALLY *NEW* technology. They are just advancements of current technologies. *yawn*

Shadrack said,
Other than NFC, none of these are REALLY *NEW* technology. They are just advancements of current technologies. *yawn*

I agree. I want to play my music from my phone. At the same time I want it to project a 3D artist in front of me as if the artist is singing it to me.

So... while there aren't any 'perfect' phones that fit this list, anyone know some models that fit at least half of them? I don't mind the camera bit so much, being I just bought and am still having fun with my Rebel T3 xD

smartin0115 said,
So... while there aren't any 'perfect' phones that fit this list, anyone know some models that fit at least half of them? I don't mind the camera bit so much, being I just bought and am still having fun with my Rebel T3 xD

Galaxy Nexus, HTC One X Series (including the US variants coming out soon).

Galaxy SIII hopefully (Whenever details are out on that).

The Galaxy Nexus is my pick because it has a removable battery that this article failed to mention. I'm sure you'd rather carry an extra battery than a charger if you are a heavy user.

Excellent article mate. Nobody listen to this stuff when you research it for your own, now a valid article to throw in someone's face
Thanks for the articles

This article fails to mention anything about removable vs non-removable battery. Obviously, most people would rather carry around an extra battery than a charger.

UndergroundWire said,
This article fails to mention anything about removable vs non-removable battery. Obviously, most people would rather carry around an extra battery than a charger.

Especially with 720p+ screens and LTE.
Personally, I'd take non-removable battery if the unit was waterproof.

deadonthefloor said,

Especially with 720p+ screens and LTE.
Personally, I'd take non-removable battery if the unit was waterproof.

Stop using your phone while you're on the toilet then

"One thing to remember is that most current mobile Wi-Fi chips are capped at ~60 Mbps even if they support 802.11n, meaning streaming video from your local network can be limited and choppy". This makes no sense - BD discs are encoded at 25-35 Mbps. http://www.quora.com/What-is-t...D-movie-off-a-remote-server. HD programming can be effectively streamed in under 8 Mbps. If you can't stream to a PHONE with less than 60 Mbps, it's not because you have insufficient bandwidth.

ewilts said,
"One thing to remember is that most current mobile Wi-Fi chips are capped at ~60 Mbps even if they support 802.11n, meaning streaming video from your local network can be limited and choppy". This makes no sense - BD discs are encoded at 25-35 Mbps. http://www.quora.com/What-is-t...D-movie-off-a-remote-server. HD programming can be effectively streamed in under 8 Mbps. If you can't stream to a PHONE with less than 60 Mbps, it's not because you have insufficient bandwidth.

It's capped at 65 Mbps link speed, which equals 32 Mbps maximum transfer speed, which is then lowered by overhead. Streaming a Blu-ray disc (which actually can reach 54 Mbps max) is really pushing it

However 720p is not a definite "must buy", as phones with smaller displays, which some people prefer, don't require this resolution to achieve a good pixel density. 1280 x 720 delivers over 300 ppi right up to 4.9", but 960 x 540 (qHD) is fine for displays smaller than 3.65" and 800 x 480 (WVGA) is good under 3.1". As long as the smartphone you choose reaches the magic 300 ppi, you should get a very crisp experience.

So the Lumia is bad then?

UndergroundWire said,

So the Lumia is bad then?

300 dpi is not visible to the eye at a sensible distance... consider that screens require less dpi than printed materials to look crisp, and to be honest you can probably get away with a 150dpi print to most people. 300dpi is considered standard in the printing industry for things at a book/phone distance so I don't see any need for greater or even at 300dpi - it's just one of those magic numbers that has caught on.

lt8480 said,

300 dpi is not visible to the eye at a sensible distance... consider that screens require less dpi than printed materials to look crisp, and to be honest you can probably get away with a 150dpi print to most people. 300dpi is considered standard in the printing industry for things at a book/phone distance so I don't see any need for greater or even at 300dpi - it's just one of those magic numbers that has caught on.

It's a decent explanation. However, you're focusing only on screen density. Why did you skip over screen resolution?

The Lumia is a 4.3" Phone with a resolution of 800x480 (WVGA). He states that resolution is good for under 3.1". Let's try this again. So the Lumia is bad then?

Also while we are at it. The Lumia has a 1830mAh (non-removable) battery and 4G LTE. Shy of the "magic" number of 2000mAh. Just an observation.

UndergroundWire said,
Also while we are at it. The Lumia has a 1830mAh (non-removable) battery and 4G LTE. Shy of the "magic" number of 2000mAh. Just an observation.

I think Tim doesn't like Windows phone, as the article implies if you are buying for the hardware don't look at windows phone.

Lumia is a good choice for a last gen phone.
Note that the smaller resolution and lack of multi-core means Lumia 1830mAh is roughly equal to units pushing more pixels and dual core.

deadonthefloor said,

I think Tim doesn't like Windows phone, as the article implies if you are buying for the hardware don't look at windows phone.

Lumia is a good choice for a last gen phone.
Note that the smaller resolution and lack of multi-core means Lumia 1830mAh is roughly equal to units pushing more pixels and dual core.


And LTE?

UndergroundWire said,

And LTE?

Most phones will default back to HSPA+ or GSM as LTE doesn't have the widest coverage in north america and won't for the next contract cycle.

deadonthefloor said,

Most phones will default back to HSPA+ or GSM as LTE doesn't have the widest coverage in north america and won't for the next contract cycle.

I'm mostly in NYC / Long Island area. I'm always on 4G. Verizon's 4G LTE now covers 2/3 of the U.S.

deadonthefloor said,

I think Tim doesn't like Windows phone, as the article implies if you are buying for the hardware don't look at windows phone.

Lumia is a good choice for a last gen phone.
Note that the smaller resolution and lack of multi-core means Lumia 1830mAh is roughly equal to units pushing more pixels and dual core.

I do like Windows Phone very much, and most of these features will be available with Apollo. The Lumia (900) is good for a current gen phone, but for your next(-gen) smartphone you should look for something a bit different

Totally agree with the camera coming with a better sensor and lens.
Problem is phone manufacturers have realised that the majority of the population think of Megapixels as being the be all and all of what makes a camera good. Walk in to your local Jessops and they'll start of by telling you the Megapixel count. Gimmie a phone that can take brilliant pictures in low light with a decent zoom and i'm yours

I saw the article and actually hoped a Neowin news writer would see it. I also thought their list was crap.

It's a bit of a dream list, and there AFAIK there aren't any phones that provide all those features. It's sort of a "Here's 5 great smartphone features, pick any 3" at the minute.

Good article though, even if it did crap all over my new phone's Tegra 3

1. Disagree. It's like saying more than 75% of programs don't take advantage of quad cores, so why bother? It's called progression of technology and it needs to happen. With this though, software needs to be optimized to handle the hardware. The OS and kernel need to evolve more. The apps. need to be designed to take advantage of the multi-core and powerful mobile GPU's.

3. Bigger battery is better, if you have bigger screens on a device, packed with power hungry internals. However, again we need software to more efficient. There is a phone that can pack in a big battery in a small form factor - Droid Razr MAXX. Hopefully, we'll see phones with bigger batteries as well as better battery technology in the future.

4. What is your argument? 4G/LTE sucks more battery power, so don't use it? I would rather have it than not. It's so much faster, and once you go 4G/LTE, it's a pain to use 3G. I'm also paying for an 'unlimited' data plan, so I will utilize that as much as I can. Also, Verizon's LTE network can bypass home internet. I've pulled in 20-25 Mbps down, and 8-12 Mbps up. Plus, 4G/LTE is great for tethering.

5. "1280 x 720 delivers over 300 ppi right up to 4.9", but 960 x 540 (qHD) is fine for displays smaller than 3.65" and 800 x 480 (WVGA) is good under 3.1"."

Well yeah, but show me phones that are smaller than 3.65" and have a resolution of 960x540 or phones that are smaller than 3.1" and have 800x480. It's just a non-existent market (or handful of phones).

Your points are weak - you are basically calling for backwards progression in technology. Hardware (CPU, battery technology, display technology, etc.) needs to evolve, as does software (OS, kernel, memory management, apps, etc.).

tsupersonic said,
1. Disagree. It's like saying more than 75% of programs don't take advantage of quad cores, so why bother? It's called progression of technology and it needs to happen. With this though, software needs to be optimized to handle the hardware. The OS and kernel need to evolve more. The apps. need to be designed to take advantage of the multi-core and powerful mobile GPU's.


4. What is your argument? 4G/LTE sucks more battery power, so don't use it? I would rather have it than not. It's so much faster, and once you go 4G/LTE, it's a pain to use 3G. I'm also paying for an 'unlimited' data plan, so I will utilize that as much as I can. Also, Verizon's LTE network can bypass home internet. I've pulled in 20-25 Mbps down, and 8-12 Mbps up. Plus, 4G/LTE is great for tethering.

5. "1280 x 720 delivers over 300 ppi right up to 4.9", but 960 x 540 (qHD) is fine for displays smaller than 3.65" and 800 x 480 (WVGA) is good under 3.1"."

Well yeah, but show me phones that are smaller than 3.65" and have a resolution of 960x540 or phones that are smaller than 3.1" and have 800x480. It's just a non-existent market (or handful of phones).

1. Get a quad-core A15 phone then; Exynos 5xxx will suit you fine, just don't choose Tegra 3 at this stage. Point is a next-gen dual-core with better performance per MHz is more important than simply getting a device with more cores

4. What? I said you should get an LTE phone, and with better battery tech it will be a better experience

5. iPhone 4+ is 3.5" at 960 x 640 (higher pixel density) and the Xperia Ray is 3.2" at 480 x 854 which is close to 300ppi. They do exist.

tsupersonic said,
1. Disagree. It's like saying more than 75% of programs don't take advantage of quad cores, so why bother? It's called progression of technology and it needs to happen. With this though, software needs to be optimized to handle the hardware. The OS and kernel need to evolve more. The apps. need to be designed to take advantage of the multi-core and powerful mobile GPU's.

3. Bigger battery is better, if you have bigger screens on a device, packed with power hungry internals. However, again we need software to more efficient. There is a phone that can pack in a big battery in a small form factor - Droid Razr MAXX. Hopefully, we'll see phones with bigger batteries as well as better battery technology in the future.

4. What is your argument? 4G/LTE sucks more battery power, so don't use it? I would rather have it than not. It's so much faster, and once you go 4G/LTE, it's a pain to use 3G. I'm also paying for an 'unlimited' data plan, so I will utilize that as much as I can. Also, Verizon's LTE network can bypass home internet. I've pulled in 20-25 Mbps down, and 8-12 Mbps up. Plus, 4G/LTE is great for tethering.

5. "1280 x 720 delivers over 300 ppi right up to 4.9", but 960 x 540 (qHD) is fine for displays smaller than 3.65" and 800 x 480 (WVGA) is good under 3.1"."

Well yeah, but show me phones that are smaller than 3.65" and have a resolution of 960x540 or phones that are smaller than 3.1" and have 800x480. It's just a non-existent market (or handful of phones).

Your points are weak - you are basically calling for backwards progression in technology. Hardware (CPU, battery technology, display technology, etc.) needs to evolve, as does software (OS, kernel, memory management, apps, etc.).


Saying software needs to utilize a quad core processor is like saying a car needs to have a 400 gallon gas tank to deal with poor mileage. Core count is nothing to brag about, especially when a core OS can't run without it. Software should be made more efficient not less. 99% of apps don't utilize dual core, so wtf do we need quad core for? Unless you're streaming hd video constantly on a phone, there's no good reason. And if you are downloading HD video constantly over your phone, especially over LTE, your battery will be dead before you finish watching the video. There is no need, reason, or good use for quad core, it's simply marketing buzz and battery sucking technology that serves next to no purpose.

onedrummer2401 said,

Saying software needs to utilize a quad core processor is like saying a car needs to have a 400 gallon gas tank to deal with poor mileage. Core count is nothing to brag about, especially when a core OS can't run without it. Software should be made more efficient not less. 99% of apps don't utilize dual core, so wtf do we need quad core for? Unless you're streaming hd video constantly on a phone, there's no good reason. And if you are downloading HD video constantly over your phone, especially over LTE, your battery will be dead before you finish watching the video. There is no need, reason, or good use for quad core, it's simply marketing buzz and battery sucking technology that serves next to no purpose.
Eh, bad analogy. I guess you haven't noticed the current trend in processors. Rather than use single core anywhere, CPU's are going to multi-core because you can get more performance out of a chip, while being efficient. Yes, the software needs to be designed to take advantage of it, but multi-core CPU's is the general direction we are headed towards for now. What did you expect? They would keep producing single core chips for cellphones? You definitely need to read an article about the advantages of multi-core CPU's in general. Here's an article from phonearena - http://www.phonearena.com/news...chipsets-and-beyond_id16004

I watch HD video a lot on my Galaxy Nexus - and I freaking love it. The HD screen complements unlimited data plan very nicely. Does it drain battery quickly? Sure, but who cares. I have entertainment anywhere I go in the country. Also, playback of HD video don't drain battery quickly - do you even own a smartphone? Or have you heard of something called Youtube where most videos are short?

And a phone that has all of these is.......


none.

You have to decide which of these you want to sacrifice and which is the most important. For me, I could give a **** about all of these because to me, point 6 is the technology to look in my next smartphone:

Physical QWERTY keyboard

UndergroundWire said,
For the camera, one thing to look out for is the integration of the Litro camera technology. That looks really promising.

That would be nice, except right now the Lytro only takes mediocre <1 MP shots. Maybe with future improvements

Scorpus said,

That would be nice, except right now the Lytro only takes mediocre <1 MP shots. Maybe with future improvements

It's actually 2MP. It's decent enough for social networking sharing. Personally, I'm waiting for a 5MP camera to be released because realistically that is all you really need.

Great article Tim!

Word about the Fast WiFi bit, thats to do with SDIO they use but they will be moving over to something better soon. Anandtech wrote about it a while back but don't have the time to look it up right now.

x-byte said,
So much non essential "upgrades". As long as this goes on, a better battery will not happen.

Your statement makes no sense. We should stop advancing technology just to have better battery life. Rather, battery technology needs to advance to keep up with out technology. That should have been your statement.

What you are suggesting is to go back to a feature phone. That will give you a lot of hours of talk time and plenty of days of standby time. But at least you won't have to worry about paying for data.

UndergroundWire said,

What you are suggesting is to go back to a feature phone. That will give you a lot of hours of talk time and plenty of days of standby time. But at least you won't have to worry about paying for data.

No, I suggest we don't buy phones on specs alone, and let the battery tech catch up. As long as we show that we don't care, that will not happen in a long time.

x-byte said,

No, I suggest we don't buy phones on specs alone, and let the battery tech catch up. As long as we show that we don't care, that will not happen in a long time.

Something has to be done, that is for sure. These devices are becoming more and more like a personal computer. The battery technology has to catch up.

UndergroundWire said,
Something has to be done, that is for sure. These devices are becoming more and more like a personal computer. The battery technology has to catch up.

Something is being done.
I read a research paper earlier this year.

How long that takes to transition into consumer products is the issue.

deadonthefloor said,

Something is being done.
I read a research paper earlier this year.

How long that takes to transition into consumer products is the issue.

Sad, isn't it? I want my phone to be able to project a virtual 3D Siri by 2015.

LaserWraith said,


Kinect? lol.

Kinect consist in 1 regular lens, 1 infrared lens and a infrared light, those stuff can fit in a cellphone.

I agree with battery life.

coming from a crappy nokia phone which i would charge once every 2-3 days, its very frustrating to see galaxy s2 and iphone on 30-40% battery after a moderate day of use.

Hitman2000 said,
I agree with battery life.

coming from a crappy nokia phone which i would charge once every 2-3 days, its very frustrating to see galaxy s2 and iphone on 30-40% battery after a moderate day of use.

Better technology means less battery life. Battery life needs to evolve. Otherwise you are better off getting a phone with a removable battery.

Hitman2000 said,
I agree with battery life.

coming from a crappy nokia phone which i would charge once every 2-3 days, its very frustrating to see galaxy s2 and iphone on 30-40% battery after a moderate day of use.

I agree with everything in this article. It oozes uncommon common sense!!
Thumbs up for Tim!

Tegra is just over hyped!

or look for a smart phone that actually does what you want
well for the aussie article: those are 2 things I don't care about and one I do not want (NFC I really don't care about yet, quad processors of course I don't dismiss but it isn't a must for my next device and 4,5+ screen I actually find unconfortable)

my next device is the lumia 900

Morden said,
or look for a smart phone that actually does what you want

+1

Me and my wife are still using our HTC Desire(s) bought 1 month after launch. Serves our needs perfectly. We don't really play games on our phones, so we didn't feel the need for faster phones. Although the display resolutions of newer phones are really appealing!

nik louch said,
I would suggest:
Bluetooth 4
NFC

Both these technologies have hardly any uses at the moment, especially Bluetooth 4.0

Scorpus said,

Both these technologies have hardly any uses at the moment, especially Bluetooth 4.0

NFC i would agree with, but there are a lot of bluetooth users out there especially with an increase in headphones, the biggest drivers for Bluetooth 4 is that it completely switches off when not used which helps a lot with battery power.

nik louch said,
I would suggest:
Bluetooth 4
NFC
Agree with NFC. In South Korea we can use our phones to pay for nearly anything by just swiping them. It's so convenient when using the the subway or bus or want a quick snack from convenience store. I wish the rest of the world would join us with this technology.

modena said,
Agree with NFC. In South Korea we can use our phones to pay for nearly anything by just swiping them. It's so convenient when using the the subway or bus or want a quick snack from convenience store. I wish the rest of the world would join us with this technology.

those are all over america as well, they chip has been built into creditcards for quite some time now, its just hardly any phones support it.