What does a great smartphone need?

Smartphones see more innovation, and see it faster, than any other product in the world. Fast and accurate fingerprint sensors are one of many examples of the last few years. But which of these features do we need and which should we prioritise a little bit less?

Software

The first thing that a great smartphone needs is solid software on a common platform. iOS gets this right. All of Apple’s phones and tablets use one common platform that is always kept up to date. Android, on the other hand, is a platform that keeps it’s best software hidden under terrible skins from Samsung, LG, or HTC. Worse yet, updates are almost always slow to arrive, if at all. Only Google Nexus devices receive long term software support.

Display

No smartphone needs a 4K display. I’m looking at you Sony. But no smartphone needs a 1080p display either. Without actually comparing two screens side by side I would be hard pressed to tell you if a smartphone was displaying at 720 or 1080p. Screen resolution should cap at 720p and trade the extra pixels for improved performance and battery life.

Camera

Except for those ridiculous camera bumps, smartphone cameras are already pretty great. Even a camera that is often reviewed as ‘terrible’ or ‘lacking’ is actually still a good camera. The Moto G is the example I would use because it takes perfectly usable photos for use on social media, and ultimately that’s where they will end up. That said, smartphone camera’s should always be improving as great picture quality is something everyone can enjoy.

Storage

Apple really needs to learn a lesson here. 16GB is not enough. Storage should start at 64GB in the majority of cases. If not, microSD should be supported for additional storage. And supported properly. Additional storage should be used for apps and everything else, rather than just for music, photos and misc files.

Battery Life

Phones don’t need to be any thinner, and the additional space could easily be used to produce thicker batteries. Thank you Samsung for proving this point with the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. More importantly though, the industry desperately needs a breakthrough in battery technology. I want my phone to last a week on a single charge, or at the least, two guaranteed full days.

Nexus 5x fingerprint sensor

Fingerprint Sensor

As I mentioned at the beginning, fingerprint sensors are one of the great innovations of the last few years. In terms of accuracy and reliability I could hardly ask for a better one in my Nexus 5X. However support for fingerprint authentication needs to improve, and quickly. I find it a little silly that in New Zealand I can’t use my banking app with my fingerprint for authentication.

IP68 Dust and Water Resistance

Every single flagship device should be water and dust resistant. Smartphones are some of the most personal devices we own and we use them for everything. Again Samsung’s S7 gets this right, and Sony has done the same with it’s Experia Z series. IP68 would be a new feature for most all manufacturers, and a much more practical change than simply being thinner or higher resolution.


There are many other important areas involved in designing a great smartphone, but I think these areas are among the most interesting. I hope to have pointed out some of the odd design choices of the smartphone industry. As a society we put too much emphasis on the latest screen technology, and on making ever thinner devices to the point of diminishing returns. We should instead focus on features that actually improve the user’s experience and bring new ideas to the table.