There are two types of tech people; those that enjoy looking at new shiny things, and those that enjoy looking at, using, buying, and replacing those shiny things. I fell into the latter many years ago. During running this site and reviewing hundreds of devices and gadgets, I’ve changed my smartphone biannually. In 2020, whilst I’ve reviewed a few devices again, I haven’t changed my main device. In fact, that device hasn’t changed for 18-months. So, why haven’t I upgraded my smartphone?
There are some great smartphones on the market right now. The best part about shopping for a new phone in 2020 is that it follows on from 2019 in that it definitely is all about the mid-range. Smartphone manufacturers are racing to use the lowest cost components to deliver the best price-to-performance ratio possible, and it’s yielding excellent results for the consumer.
OnePlus perhaps kicked off that craze, inadvertently, in 2014 with the release of their OnePlus One device. It certainly wasn’t mid-range, but it was a much more palatable cost than offerings from Apple and Samsung at the time. Whilst they managed this by cutting margin and marketing budgets, this started manufacturers looking at how they can differentiate. That, coupled with an Android eco-system that has become more and more mature with each passing year, has meant that hardware has outstripped software in terms of performance. No longer do you need the top-tier SoC to deliver an adequate Android user experience with no ‘jank’.
Fast forward to March of 2019, and Huawei launched their P30 Pro device. I gave this device a favourable review. It was performant, well designed and built, with only a few niggles that have largely been improved with updates over the course of its life. To this day, I’m still using the Huawei P30 Pro as my main device. I’ve reviewed a number of devices in the intervening period, and they have mostly all been great, but I’ve never felt the need to change. With the launch of the Pixel 5, I was tempted though.
I remember when I got my first Android phone, the Google Nexus One. The Nexus devices felt special to me, they felt polished, succinct. From the Nexus One, I moved to the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. This was and is to this day, my favourite device. It just did everything I needed.
That is precisely why I’m in the boat I’m in right now. The Huawei P30 Pro delivers great camera optics, a great user interface with Google Play services integrated, which cannot be said of their latest releases. It has a premium build, dual SIM support, fast charging, Qi wireless charging, and NFC. There are just too many compromises with some of the other offerings.
The latest iPhone and Pixel devices usually have great camera output, but I’d argue that the uplift over what I’m rocking right now is incremental, not revolutionary. A lot of devices only offer Dual SIM in certain regions, or with eSIM, which isn’t supported by all networks. Still more devices sacrifice some of the above to cut costs. Many lower-end devices miss out, fast charging, NFC or Qi. Trying to find a device with good in use and standby battery life, dual SIM, AMOLED display, great build quality, NFC and Qi wireless charging, and more than adequate camera optics might not be too hard if you’re shopping at the very highest end, but when you already have a device that does all of that, why shell out again
I don’t need gimmicks on my phone – that’s precisely why I called out Huawei for including their “optical creep mode”, or 50x zoom on the P30 Pro. I largely just ignore it. Those same gimmicks are trotted out as compelling value additions (see Apple’s Animoji).
In short, I urge people to use technology for what they need it to deliver. Today, what we may call innovation, is attempting to solve a problem we might not have. Furthermore, where an actual problem exists, the answer may be the birth of poor design, as in the first generation of products, forcing users into a free beta-test. Finally, we’re caught in a cycle whereby companies have to meet their annual numbers and update the same phone with few new features of use, each year. Don’t be swept up in the same current that we tech-nerds are – you do not need the new shiny if your hardware still does everything you want, the software is still supported and often updated, and there is nothing else on the market that substantially improves on either of the aforementioned. Whilst the degree of improvements might be subjective, the answer the real answer to what that means for you, is in the answer to the first two questions.