The year in smartphones was dominated by two huge controversies from the two biggest players. First, of course, was the Samsung Note 7. Released to glowing reviews – it really was a thing of beauty – the phone quickly made headlines after reports of handsets blowing up. Samsung ordered replacements, but when those also proved defective the company had no choice but to kill the Note 7 altogether.
To their credit, Australian telcos and Samsung Australia were quick to respond to the issue. Recently Samsung announced Australian networks will be switching off connectivity for the Note 7, so if you still haven’t returned yours, you have no excuse now.
While Modular Moto didn’t really set the world on fire, it’s great to have the brand back. The shatterproof Moto Force really did take a beating without showing a scratch, and the Moto G-play took back the crown of best budget smartphone. With the end of the Nexus line, the Moto G is now the choice for a clean, fast, budget Android handset.
Sony had a confused year, yet again. The Xperia X lineup was supposed to simplify the range, but left me more confused than ever. The Xperia XA was the cheap one that looked the best, the X Performance looked boxier than a Volvo but had the best specs, and the plain old X was … I’m not sure. The company redeemed itselftoward the end of the year with the XZ, a combination of looks and power, a fast, light phone with an exceptional camera.
The most interesting smartphone camera was found in the Huawei P9. Beating Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus dual lens system by a few months, the P9 had a similar idea with a different implementation. It takes an ultra-sharp black-and-white photo, then combines it with the colour information from the second lens. The result, just like the iPhone 7 Plus, is DSLR-style depth-of-field in portrait shots.
But the P9 is considerably cheaper at $799, and I preferred the effect it produced. Its portrait shots are faster to take, generally more usable, and adjustable after the fact, so you can “pull focus” during editing for the effect you want.
It’s hard to choose the best still camera in a smartphone this year. There was almost nothing separating the top tier models. The iPhone, Sony’s XZ, Samsung’s Galaxy S7, and Google’s Pixel are all strong contenders.
But the iPhone still holds the crown as the best all-round camera phone, thanks to its superior video performance. The combination of optical image stabilisation with a 4K sensor means the iPhone actually beats some high-end cameras in the field. And as good as Android cameras are, the iPhone App Store brings with it the best-in-class editing and post production apps.
That’s just one reason my personal choice is still an iPhone. The iPhone 7 might not have changed the world, but the combination of Google services on Apple hardware cannot be beaten. Just one example: Live Photos on the iPhone are fun, but they’re even better after Google Photos smooths out the animation automatically when uploaded.
The year 2016 will be remembered for controversies, real and imagined. Apple, Google and Samsung will all have something to prove in 2017, so the year ahead will be great fun to be a gadget nerd.