This past year was a great year for smartphones. There were almost too many quality phones to choose from. Apple brought their A-game with the new iPhone X. Samsung did awesome things with the Galaxy line again. And we had newcomers like Essential and Huawei starting to make moves in the US as well. Old steady OEMs like Moto, HTC, and LG all had phones that would not disappoint. Even with all the solid offerings from 2017, there are 3 phones that I’m excited to see their next act in 2018.
One of my favorite phones to be released in 2017 was the BlackBerry Keyone. Yes, a BlackBerry. The smartphone market is kinda stale. There’s a sea of black slabs that are all a variation of one another. Bezels are the biggest design flare these days. But not at BlackBerry. They continue to support their heritage of QWERTY keyboard smartphones and the Keyone is the best implementation of this since the OEM has embraced Android.
Unfortunately, the phone kinda disappointed me in regards to performance. I understand the Qualcomm 625 is a mid-range SoC, but it still underperformed to similar devices like the Moto Z Play. It constantly ran out of RAM and just seemed sluggish in comparison. TCL and BlackBerry need to really focus on software optimization with the 2nd generation Keyone, or Two, or whatever they call. The hardware is more than compelling and competent but limited by some software quirks. They need to shore up the little things like memory management and the scrolling while using the keyboard as a trackpad.
I’d also like to see the other color variants come to the CDMA variant. BlackBerry also seemed to have recognized the need for extra RAM in these models as well with a bump to 4GB. Verizon was a long time partner for BlackBerry, and I have to believe that many of their former fans are probably still on the carrier. The CDMA variant was constantly out of stock with both Best Buy and BlackBerry direct. Give these former enthusiasts the Black Edition and the new Bronze Edition. They deserve it.
Oh, Essential. You were the other phone I was legitimately happy to see last year. You promised me unadulterated, “stock” Android with no frills and amazing hardware. Well, you got soooo close. The hardware design and finish are truly outstanding. The PH-1 is my favorite smartphone design of 2017 and it’s not even up to debate in my eyes. The titanium and ceramic frame of this phone are beautiful.
Sadly, software and an underperforming camera make for a mixed bag. Much like the Keyone, the Essential software is clean but simply lags behind the competition with the exact same internal specs. I saw way too many lags in UI and touch sensitivity for the initial $700 price tag. Another missed step is the camera. The hardware seems in place, but the post-processing by Essentials software is not great. After several updates, it’s at least not terrible, but it was the largest disappointment of the phone on a very consumer-facing feature.
And let’s go back to the pricing of the Essential PH-1. I think Andy Rubin and his team did the right thing by lower the price to $499 after a few months. As a newcomer to the market, the company needs to recognize that Google and Apple are not their closest competitors in the industry, but rather the likes of Moto and OnePlus. The 2nd generation should be valued similarly at the $500-550 range and true water resistance should also be there.
The Pixel phones are the king of the Android market to most opinions in the industry. And rightfully so. They have a top-in-class camera, great software, and long-term support directly from Google. But they are also a new kid on the block. Google is still getting the hang of making their own gadget hardware.
The biggest thing that they need to do next year is simply executing. From manufacturing to sales demand, they just have to hit their mark better in 2018. There can’t be “bad screen” problems two years in a row. And you can’t be constantly out of stock either. Google just needs to learn to be a consumer electronics company and all the details that include. They are close, but a company of their stature needs to be better.
A couple of other things would really make the Pixel 3 more appealing to me. One is the return of wireless charging. This was a stalwart in the Nexus devices but has been noticeably absent in both Pixels. With Apple and Samsung now touting this as a major feature, one has to think that Google is set to bring it back to the fold as well.
Lastly, I’d like to see Google experiment more on the overall design of the phones. I like the back glass pane as a quickly recognizable design feature and I think they should keep it for sure. But with phones like the Essential and iPhone X really making a leap in what the future of design should look like, Google needs to flex their muscle a bit more here. I don’t need it to fold, or twist, but I’d like to see it not look like it was an old design from 2015 either.
What about you?
I’ve laid out my hopeful phones of 2018. What do you guys want to see this year? Is it the new Galaxy? The OnePlus? Do you think LG’s latest is going to knock your socks off? Sound off in the comments to voice your exciting phone for this coming calendar!