It’s raining “new” Apples and Androids: Time for one iPhone and Galaxy every other year?
Have you seen the new Galaxy S22 Ultra? The cameras stick out – it’s crazy! And the iPhone 14 Pro? No camera bump, and again – in a triangle. What about the Pixel 6? It’s so unique! It has a visor camera bump – what?! And Huawei’s P50 Pro has a camera bump that looks like a stovetop! Smartphones are fun!Or are they?
See, I can’t sit here and act like I wasn’t excited for the Google Pixel 6 Pro. I bought one. I gave into the hype. The hype that, ironically, I helped create, as I wrote a ton of stories about Google’s flagship prior to its release.
However, if we snap back to reality, it quickly becomes evident that new slab phones don’t have many new things to offer. The Pixel 6 Pro is great, but it hasn’t changed my life.
So, let’s explore the future of the slab phone as we know it!
Phone manufacturers pay too much attention to the cameras?
I love phones, and I love phone cameras. Both my Huawei P30 Pro and Pixel 6 Pro have helped me capture the best photos and videos I’ve ever captured because… they’ve always been the only camera I had at my disposal. I love the grip and the whole look of a real camera, but it’s not nearly as practical as a phone. Then again, I also can’t help but notice that phone-makers probably pay a bit too much attention to cameras.
Flagship phone cameras are already good enough for most people, which explains the incremental upgrades we see nowadays. For example, last year, the iPhone 13 Pro Max received a zoom lens bump from 2.5x to 3x, as well as slightly bigger sensors across the board. Has that taken Apple’s camera game to a whole new level compared to the iPhone 12 Pro Max? No, it hasn’t. Not even close.
Then, this year, Samsung’s Galaxy S22 Ultra uses more or less the same camera sensors as the Galaxy S21 Ultra. This isn’t necessarily bad, as optimizing already existing hardware is actually a great idea, but it just comes to show that the newest thing about the S22 Ultra’s camera is the camera bump (although there are some image processing improvements here and there).
While I don’t love when phone-makers spend 80% of the presentation time during launch events to discuss minuscule camera upgrades, I think I know why they do it. Supply is almost always dictated by demand.
Has the traditional slab phone reached its peak form?
The iPhone 13 Pro is arguably the most well-balanced flagship you can buy right now.
But here comes another question. If phone-makers pay so much attention to cameras, is it because everything else about our phones is already perfect, and perhaps we are about to move on to bigger and better things?
Let’s take a look at the pillars of a great slab phone and see if they can get any better. Spoiler: It depends.
Arguably the most important part of the phone, as it’s your window to everything you do with it – you use it all the time. The first (dumb) phones had pixelated, monochrome displays, which served a functional purpose. Nowadays, smartphone displays are incredible because they are used for entertainment (if I had to choose one word).
Now, here’s where it gets more interesting. While software optimization has helped some phones like the iPhone 13 Pro Max and my old Huawei P30 Pro manage to last two days on a charge (with moderate use), we’re still far from significant innovations in terms of battery tech.
As of now, scientists and engineers are still working on new solid-state lithium batteries, which promise to be longer-lasting than the current ones, as well as safer – the Galaxy Note 7 likely wouldn’t have exploded if it used a solid-state battery.
That’s alongside the GaN battery tech we’ve been hearing about for years, which still seems a bit too pricey to appeal to phone-makers. The main idea behind GaN is efficiency. Anker sells chargers with that tech, which are significantly smaller than traditional fast chargers but still able to support very high speeds. For better or worse, that’s about as close as we’ll get to taking advantage of GaN… for now.
In a nutshell, phones like the iPhone 13 and Galaxy S22 are not just powerful enough for what we need them to do… They are more than capable. For example, Apple’s A15 Bionic chip can go toe-to-toe with some high-end PC processors from Intel and AMD.
And of course, I’ve left the camera system for the end.
Although after Huawei’s incredible 2-3 year aggressive innovation spell that started with the P20 Pro, phone camera upgrades seem rather incremental, I certainly believe they could still evolve into something different. Go backwards, if you will.
See, I believe phones must go back to using a single camera lens. Of course, this one camera must be good enough for everything from zoom to low-light to portrait photography. The good news is that I certainly think this is achievable.
However, that’s also nothing more than a hot take. Will it happen? I believe it might. Check out my “About the sensational return of single-camera phones: How, when, and why” story to find out more.
Why I’m looking forward to Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Google’s Pixel Fold
And all of the boring greatness of current slab phones brings me to one single conclusion. I think I need a new form factor. I think we need a new form factor.
Currently, my primary phone is a Pixel 6 Pro, and before that, I used the Huawei P30 Pro. Neither of them is particularly compact, but they have another thing in common – they run on Android, and as someone who needs to keep up with iOS, I can’t stay completely out of Apple’s walled garden.
So, I also have an iPhone 8. This one happens to be super compact, which is why I love taking it out with me when I travel, go to the gym, go for a walk, or do an outdoor jog. Of course, when I’m consuming media, especially at home, I reach out for my Pixel 6 Pro.
It finally hit me. I don’t need to choose…
Sadly, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is… unpolished
Unfortunately, Samsung’s Z Fold 3 is full of compromises that I simply can’t get over. What’s shocking to me is that this is Samsung’s third version of a foldable phone-tablet, and the South Korean company still doesn’t seem to be able to get it quite right.
- Feels like a heavy remote control due to its weirdly tall outer screen.
- Has a visible crease that runs down the middle of the display, which you can feel when scrolling.
- Still leaves a noticeable gap when closed, which is a disaster waiting to happen.
- Uses a somewhat experimental under-display selfie camera solution, which isn’t nearly as good as Xiaomi’s current tech.
- Comes with a very good, but unimpressive set of cameras compared to my current camera favorite, the Google Pixel 6 Pro. Especially for that launch price!
Although the Galaxy Z Fold 3 currently goes for as low as €900 on eBay, which is literally half of its original launch price (€1,800) here in Europe, I’m still not convinced. Who knows… I might end up giving it a shot, but even if I did, it might be a mistake, which I know I’m making.
Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Google Pixel Fold: The one you’ve been waiting for?
But guess what? My foldable phone of choice might be on the way!If Samsung addresses the aforementioned issues and basically makes a foldable similar to the Honor Magic V, I’d be first in line for the Galaxy Z Fold 4. Unfortunately, recent leaks, coming from the one and only, Ross Young, tell us that Samsung might stick to more or less the same old design.
However, what makes me even more excited, is that the same reliable serial-leaker Ross Young just told us that Google’s back at work to make a foldable Pixel after a small production hiccup! Yes!
According to Young, the Google Pixel Notepad (as it’s currently believed to be called) is supposed to come with a smaller outer screen than the Fold 3 and Fold 4, which means there’s a chance it might resemble an Oppo Find N, which I think I might prefer even over Honor’s Magic V. A small screen on the go, and a big one for entertainment!
Of course, what would make the Pixel Fold even more appealing is the clean Android 13 experience and the photo and video processing that’s to be expected thanks to Tensor and Google’s traditions in photography. It seems like the Pixel Fold becomes my top foldable crush of 2022, right up there with the Fold 4.
It gets better! It’s rumored that Google’s foldable will be significantly cheaper than what Samsung has to offer. Apparently, Google is aiming at the $1,399 price range, which would be the cherry on top. Of course, on the downside, judging by the Pixel 6, it’s safe to assume that the Pixel Fold will be available in just a handful of markets (10-12).
Should Apple, Samsung, and Google start releasing new flagships every two years?
How about a new iPhone 14 Pro… but in 2024?
I don’t know about you, but the fact that slab phones are becoming so dull due to the upgrades being so incremental, while foldables are getting better and better, leads me to one question.
Of course, I’m writing this from a consumer’s perspective – not as a tech writer who always needs more new phones. So from a consumer’s POV, wouldn’t it be nice to catch a break from new flagship phones with “all-new” features?
Doesn’t one set of iPhones, Galaxies, or Pixels every two years sound even more exciting? The suspense would be higher. Imagine if Sony starts releasing a new PlayStation every year, with minor upgrades like 5% better graphics? The enormous hype around the iconic console would die down.
Furthermore, one flagship release every couple of years wouldn’t only streamline the upgrade process for most people, but it would give manufacturers twice as much time to test and optimize their hardware and software. Perhaps, then we wouldn’t end up with a buggy and unpolished Pixel 6?
Just some food for thought. Let me know if you’re with me.