As 2023 kicks off, it’s time to look back at the smartphones of the past year to not only spot some trends, but also decide on my personal ‘Smartphone of the Year’.
This is not a direct analysis of the specifications of each device; there are no criteria or points out of ten until we find a phone with more points than any other. Smartphones are not just tools to use, but personal objects that reflect us. Finding a connection to a phone is essential. I’m going to talk about specs, but I’m also thinking about excitement. Which stands out uniquely in a year when the smartphone trends keyword feels like… ‘iterative’.
With that, let’s go over some of the top smartphones before we reveal who takes home the gold medal.
OnePlus took a step back this year in terms of flagship strategy, with a one-time launch in the summer and a follow-up ‘T’ launch in the winter. The latter focused on raw performance and perhaps sacrificed too much to achieve it, but the former, the OnePlus 10 Pro, found a better balance.
The display is the standout feature; a 6.7″ display running at 2K, with a fast refresh rate to boot. It’s a big phone, but OnePlus has leaned towards that. It also fixed one of the issues related to Qualcomm’s SnapDragon 8 Gen 1 chipset The chip found in many of the larger 2022 phones tends to get hot, so OnePlus’ increased efforts to keep it as cool as possible, especially during gaming, is welcome.
However, the camera is still the weak point of OnePlus. It’s more than enough in regular use, and for many, that’s enough. With flagships running similar specs and chipsets, it’s the little things that make all the difference in comparisons. Slower autofocus than the competition, a bit more color wash, and low-light performance that falls a bit below the competition.
It’s clear that Apple has decided that the iPhone 14 Pro is the “main” iOS device, and the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus feel compromised, so the 14 Pro can stand alone (and the 14 Pro Max just does). everything bigger).
For all the marketing and buzzwords, Apple’s big consumer differentiator in the iPhone 14 family, the dynamic island, is a nice front-facing camera solution, but Android devices have been putting different camera holes, disguises, and Modified notifications since dawn. of the platform, all under the control of the user.
It should come as no surprise that Apple still insists on using proprietary charging connectors, and the price still puts the iPhone at the higher end of expensive. The switch to eSIM ties the phone closer to your Apple account and networks, which may not be to everyone’s taste.
What does surprise is the camera. Naturally, the iPhone 14 Pro is a better camera, produces better photos and videos than the iPhone 13 Pro, and if that’s the only comparison you care about, then you’ve found a winner. The competition has not only caught up with Apple, but in some key areas it has outperformed the 14 Pro.
When there’s no competition, when your only references are other phones in Apple’s walled garden of content and software, then there’s no question that the iPhone 14 Pro is the better deal. Take a look at the broader world of smartphones, and you’ll find that while it’s strong, the 14 Pro isn’t a champion, just a strong contender in a very crowded and diverse field.
Okay, this is a little forgiving of me, but I’m allowed a wild card and this is… the most open phone I’ve used this year. It’s the Pixel 6a… but not a Pixel 6a straight out of the box. You are running Graphene OS.
GrapheneOS is an implementation of the Android Open Source Project with a focus on both privacy and security, issues that have grown in importance throughout 2022. The operating system removes any sign of Google services or apps from other megacorps that power their analytics and advertising engines as you use them, use them.
You can still use these services, with each app strictly isolated and incredibly granular permissions set on a per-app basis. I also took on the almost quixotic quest to use only open source software to figure out how far you can go down this path. And he is definitely competent. There are hoops to jump through; It doesn’t have the same slick Google Play Store integration, but if you’re messing around with this level of phone, then using something other than a polished, easy-to-use app store won’t be a problem.
That the best solution for GrapheneOS is to install it on a Pixel device, due to the enhanced security on Google hardware, is the ultimate irony…
The Galaxy Z Flip 4 (and, while in a slightly different form factor, the Galaxy Z Fold 4) illustrates one of the biggest themes for smartphones in 2022. Many of the big changes and reasons to upgrade to a new device are in iterative updates… the software is tweaked, the hardware is a bit faster, and the unique options are a bit more accurate and durable. The mainstream has not chosen radical new options in the last twelve months.
This shouldn’t surprise you. Given the timescales required to design smartphones, what 2022 has brought us are the phones that were sketched out in the first quarters of 2020… when the world went into lockdown and working from home became the main mode of work. . It’s not upsetting that balance was the number one consideration.
Looking at the Z Flip 4, the compact design is a bit tighter, the screen is a bit beefier, and performance matches that of more traditional smartphones. But the camera isn’t quite up to par with the Galaxy S22 family, the battery is small, and there’s not enough economy of scale to use a lower price to tempt people with the foldable space.
The Z Flip 4 has inched up, but there’s still nothing really competitive to compare it to.
With the release of the Magic4 Pro to international markets, 2022 feels like the year that Honor has become one of the world’s leading smartphone manufacturers. Initially a lifestyle brand under Huawei, it was later spun off as a separate company and then began to move to redefine itself from ‘the phone for teens and young adults’ to ‘we’re setting the tone for the international conversation’.
To do that, any business needs a flagship smartphone that does everything expected at the higher end and adds something unique to stand out.
The Magic4 Pro is that calling card, but it’s not quite a trump card. The expected Moore’s Law of specs has been met, and at this broad level, the phone is clearly a flagship. What’s needed now is a look at the fine details, the awkwardness in the UI that gets you caught up, a few more features for the camera (not shipping with OIS is an Achilles heel in the package, and there’s too much hype about the shape for my taster—as always, I’d like a millimeter or more in thickness to increase battery life, but that’s not a trade-off everyone on the market will want.
The Honor Magic4 Pro is an important phone for Honor and the market as a whole (more competition raises all manufacturers), but it’s more important for the story it tells.
And with that, to my actual phone of the year… Google’s Pixel 7 Pro.
Last year’s Pixel 6 family felt like Google making its first move into the consumer market with a reworked design philosophy. The Pixel 7 Pro refines that approach and blows it away.
It is the software that makes this package. Google’s flavor of Android lags many manufacturers’ versions of Android, but the Pixel family of phones has always been the closest to Google’s vision for obvious reasons. This is the undiluted Google experience. It is accessible to everyone, but everyone can install new Android versions, alternative launchers and customize the phone to their liking.
Google’s decision to design its own chipset resulted in the Tensor G2: you won’t get any raw performance, but it’s been software-tuned. That integration enables more artificial intelligence and machine learning to deliver results to consumers. The obvious win is in the camera software, with the Magic Eraser and Unblur options delivering almost magical results.
Other features are Pixel’s exclusive help in selling the phone; From call detection and automatic transcription, through translation, to universal search and app suggestions, the Pixel software suite is fully integrated into the phone.
The Pixel 7 Pro also stands out in terms of design: countless phones have camera islands, raised lenses, and domineering bezels on the rear. Only the Pixel has a horizontal bar. It’s easy to buy a Pixel; just get the one with a bar that looks different than everything else.
I don’t think any smartphone has managed to hit a home run during 2022. Only the Pixel 7 Pro made it most of the way to third base (perhaps with the iPhone 14 Pro joining if there’s a successful appeal). As the world of smartphones emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, Google has delivered the leading phone of the year, but the competition is close.
Is that a sufficient advantage for 2023? I dont know. But it’s enough for now.
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