2017 might have started at a boring end in terms of smartphone designs as companies were approaching the limit of what they could do with a rectangular glass screen. But, by the end of the year, Apple, Samsung, and Google had pushed through the monotonous norms to deliver futuristic smartphones that created a new benchmark in the industry.
The companies introduced new features that have created a new era in the smartphone market — From edge to edge displays to face ID, the disappearance of the headphone jack and home button, and brilliant dual lens cameras that have taken mobile photography to a new level.
Before you ask, this isn’t another technical comparison between iPhone X, Note 8, and Pixel 2 where we put these amazing smartphones against each other. Instead, we will be discussing why these three have the potential to be future of smartphones and how much of an impact they will have not just in 2018, but for years to come.
Let’s start by discussing what is so futuristic about these smartphones and what did they do differently:
In November 2017, Apple made history by introducing two new generation iPhones at their yearly event. While skipping the ninth version isn’t new in the tech industry (Windows did it too), what surprised people was that Apple was essentially dividing the sales of their phones by launching two at the same time.
For Apple, iPhone X has set a new benchmark, both in terms of performance and design. It’s a new era for the company which has come a long way since the first iPhone. To put it simply, iPhone X may be Apple’s most impactful smartphone since the first iPhone. If the first iPhone was chapter #1, then iPhone X is chapter #2.
Note 8 is Samsung’s way of redemption in the Android market. The Note 7 era was a ‘combustible’ time for Samsung if we are being too literal about it. The company had positioned itself as a premium Android smartphone brand when reports started coming about Note 7s blasting around the world. With airlines across the world banning the smartphone, it created a huge uproar. Internet was flooded with memes mocking the Note 7 as a lethal weapon.
While Samsung may have gone out of its way to ensure the customers got their returns, the damage to their brand was already done. So, they needed a successor that not only sold more units to make up for the predecessor’s loss but also reinstated Samsung as that premium Android smartphone manufacturer. The new Note 8 checks off on all those boxes.
The first generation of Pixel might have been a trial-tester for Google as they were ditching their Nexus brand and coming up with something totally new. They wanted to test their ground and see if they could built a phone that was completely fresh in the smartphone market, which went well.
But the company meant business when it launched Pixel 2. Instead of doing something completely out of the box this time, Google went back to the first Pixel and identified the all shortcomings of that phone. They wanted to build a killer smartphone which had jaw-dropping features and they seem to have hit the perfect shot.
The look, design, and sleekness
Apple took a huge leap with its tenth generation iPhone by letting go of known elements and completely revamping the look of the smartphone. From the very first iPhone, there has been a home button at the bottom centre of the screen, despite the many design changes.
Though, iPhone 7 and 8 too don’t have an actual home ‘button’ that you can press. Their new taptic engine fooled everyone into thinking that the home button was still there. Maybe that was a sign that the home button was to vanish soon. With iPhone X, the home button is nowhere to be found and Apple is treading into new territories.
The iPhone X screen now stretches to the top. While there is the healthy distance between the screen and the edges, the symmetry of the design makes it seem that there isn’t. The phone may be bigger than the previous iPhones, but it’s still not too difficult to hold or work with.
The phone has a steel rim all around with a glass front and back. The keys on the phone are deeply embedded in the overall design with a sharpness to each key. The camera is incorporated as a protruding bump at the back with a sharp edge.
Note 8 is the biggest reimagining of not only the Galaxy Note series but the all the smartphones ever launched by Samsung. From the screen size to the shape and camera, everything has been revamped with the new Note 8.
There is a 6.5-inch screen, which is the biggest for any phone launched by Samsung, with dual curved edges and of course, there is the S-Pen. Note 8 has glass wrapped around an aluminum frame which it makes the phone look like it’s from the future, but it also makes the grip slippery.
The home button has been replaced with an on-screen button because of which the fingerprint scanner has moved all the way back, right next to the camera, which isn’t even close to being convenient.
In terms of design, Note 8 is a true reimagining of an average smartphone and what it can really do with its dual curved edges and a widescreen. In the coming years, we won’t be surprised to see more smartphones with screens like this.
As compared to the iPhone X and Note 8, Pixel 2 doesn’t exactly look like the future of smartphones except for the lack of the headphone jack. In fact, it’s design feels more ‘last year.’ But if you can get past that, you’ll realise that Google named this series of smartphones Pixel for a reason — They have a futuristic camera that will change the way cameras are incorporated in phones, forever.
While designing the Pixel, Google has focused more on its functionality than its looks. For starters, the company coated the aluminum body of the phone to hide any antenna lines and make the phone easy to hold. Basically, Google has made an otherwise impressive looking metal smartphone look like a plastic phone, all for ergonomics. Pixel 2 will attract customers that prefer functionality over fashion.
Google is creating its own future in the smartphone market — A future where looks aren’t everything, where customers don’t want to use expensive, delicate phones with glass backs that might break. They want reliable and sturdy phones that perform well, no matter how many times you drop’em.
Are edge-to-edge screens the future?
With the revolutionary iPhone X, Apple introduced OLED display, for the first time, sourced from Samsung. Apple would still continue using LCD screens in iPhones to keep the cost low, but OLED displays can be an option for those who don’t mind spending a few extra bucks for a kickass screen.
iPhone X wins with its automatic brightness calibration and True tone feature which automatically adjusts brightness according to your surrounding light. Note 8 and Pixel 2 have this feature too, but the calibration is nowhere nearly as quick or accurate as iPhone X.
The iPhone X is also the biggest fellow from Apple yet, in terms of screen size. While the biggest phone before this was iPhone 8 Plus with 5.5 inches, iPhone X stretches to 5.8 inches. If that wasn’t all, new Apple leaks indicate that the company will be launching three new iPhones in 2018 and one of them will be iPhone X Plus — With an even larger screen size! Overall, the visionary edge-to-edge screen design of iPhone X is stunning to look at and a marvelous experience to use.
With a 6.5 inch screen, the biggest ever for any Galaxy Note smartphone, Note 8 also has an edge-to edge-screen like iPhone X, but this one has rounded edges,that have become a distinguishing feature for today’s Samsung Galaxy flagship phones.
Though the big screen is a delight to use with the S Pen, it comes at a cost – The home button with the fingerprint scanner is nowhere to be found. There is now an on-screen button located on the glass screen, which works well, but there is no fingerprint scanner. A great feature of Note 8 is that users can take out the S-Pen and jot down white ink notes on the turned off black screen, without unlocking the phone. That is so freaking cool! It is certainly a bold attempt from Samsung to redefine the way reminders were used by people, but in a way, Samsung is taking us back to the times of sticky notes and making people write more in this high-tech era when even typing is making way to voice commands. So, I don’t know if it’d be a trend that gets picked up.
Note 8’s display overall is one of the brightest and most magnificently clear screens we have seen on a smartphone. Any phone that wants to beat Note 8 would have to come up with a bigger, brighter, and more clearer screen than this.
Pixel 2 has an unimaginative and ordinary display. Sure, it has a 1080p Full HD screen that is colourful and bright, but just like the smartphone’s design, the screen feels very ‘last year,’ especially when compared to edge-to-edge displays of iPhone X and Note 8.
There was a time when 5-inch screen size was considered big, but now every other phone has a 5-inch display, and it just feels outdated. Overall, the Pixel 2 display is good, but this is 2018, and we think it could have been a lot more better to keep in line with the other great features of the phone.
Dependable battery life, fast charging, and wireless charging pads
The battery on the new iPhone X is only a little bigger than the previous iPhone 8, which the phone definitely needed because of the bigger screen size. Though since OLED displays are known to suck less battery, you can expect to get around 18 hours of charge.
The cable and adapter are the same as iPhone 8, but since iPhone X has a bigger battery, it takes a longer time to charge. iPhone X does support fast charging, but only when you use a USB-C cable, which does not come with the box. With fast charging, the phone can charge up to 50% in 30 minutes.
The new iPhone also supports wireless charging too, but you would have to buy a wireless charging pad separately.
The wireless charging feature is not new, but it is the future of smartphones. The biggest challenge is that, the charging stops as soon as you pick the phone up from the pad. True wireless charging would mean being able to use the phone anywhere in the room, without the need of placing it anywhere. A company, Pi, is already working on the idea and their charging pads have a range of 12 inches, which means, the phone doesn’t have to be on the pad, it just has to be in that 12 inch radius around the pad.
Battery was a big issue for Samsung with Note 7. That is why, coming back from the Note 7 fiasco, the company decided to follow the ‘better safe than sorry’ strategy. The battery has been made smaller as compared to S8 Plus, as the company is now not trying to push any battery limits. Though that also means the battery backup isn’t as good as you would want it to be. The battery can last a whole day, but it takes much longer to charge, and it depletes much faster.
Note 8 also comes with a ‘Fast Charging’ adapter, which the company first introduced with Note 4 and its included in the box. Wireless charging is also available but that isn’t as fast as you would want it to be and you have to buy the wireless charging pad separately.
Pixel 2 has the smallest battery out of the three phones. But then again, it also has the smallest screen size, which means it doesn’t need that big of a battery. Its small battery will still give you all day charge. The smartphone is running on the new Android Oreo that adds a few battery saving options of its own that you can access them from the top notification centre. It doesn’t support wireless charging, but at least there is fast charging.
When the Pixel 2 is turned off and plugged into a charger, you cannot see a battery percentage until you turn on the phone again. This is a little annoying, considering all the other smartphones have this feature.
Overall, Pixel 2’s battery is more or less like any other phone in the market and nothing too revolutionary.
Dual Camera Phones — Future of Mobile Photography
There is only so much companies can do with smartphone cameras. After all, they have physical limits. So when companies started introducing dual cameras, it seemed like the most logical progression, just like adding a dual-core to smartphones.
Apple introduced dual cameras with iPhone 8 Plus, and the same trend was carried on with iPhone X. In fact, both of these variants have very similar cameras — dual 12 MP sensory array lens. The low light pictures from this camera are absolutely stunning, so whether you are in a dimly lit romantic restaurants or out clubbing with your friends, your pictures will be absolutely Instagram worthy.
The front camera is 7 MP with a True Depth feature — It basically means the camera can identify the depth of field, keep the object in focus, and blur the background. What does this mean for you? Crisp and sharp selfies.
iPhone X takes 4K quality videos that are just as sharp as the photographs, if not more. Though, the high quality of videos will also mean they will eat up more storage on your phone. But the great part is, Apple has revised the storage for iPhones and there are only 64 GB and 265 GB options.
Note 8 has a dual 12MP camera at the back, optical image resolution, and a crisp front camera.
Just like the iPhone X, Note 8 too can blur the background, thanks to its dual camera. There is a slider on the side of the camera app which allows users to set the intensity of the background blur. This slider stays on the screen even after you have clicked a picture for post-processing.
There is a ‘Full View’ mode which scales your photos for Instagram Stories and Snapchat. The videos shot are also in 4K with the same bright quality.
When compared to iPhone X, the Note 8 takes just as great pictures in natural light. Though when it comes to low light photography, iPhone X is slightly better than Note 8.
Pixel does not have dual lenses. It only has a single 12.2 MP camera on the rear. But does that mean the camera isn’t as great as iPhone X or Note 8? Absolutely not. Even with a single lens, Pixel 2 can capture stunning pictures that are actually better than iPhone X and Note 8.
They say, hardware means nothing without good software, and that is exactly the strategy undertaken by Pixel. The software behind the camera app is the reason for vibrant and in-focus pictures.
Both the rear and 8MP front camera have options to blur the background in the portrait mode, and there are even more customization options in the camera app. Videos can be shot in 4K, 1080p or 720p, and you can also take slow motion videos.
To put it simply, Pixel 2 has the best camera among mobile phones. This is the new standard for smartphones now, and there is no going back. Apple and Samsung better catch up or their phones will be like those ugly Nokia Lumias with 40 megapixel cameras that no one remembers today.
Will fingerprint scanners be completely replaced by facial recognition?
As the home button disappeared on the iPhone X, so did the fingerprint scanner. The decision by Apple definitely surprised many since the fingerprint scanner on previous versions of iPhones worked seamlessly. It clearly seems like Apple wants to move towards the future and for Apple, the future of smartphone unlocking is Face ID.
Now, facial recognition isn’t a new technology, it has been incorporated in many smartphones and laptops before the iPhone X, and there is a reason why it wasn’t present in any of the premium phones — The technology was more or less disappointing. In most cases, the scanner couldn’t identify faces properly.
But, iPhone X’s facial recognition technology, Face ID is way more advanced and accurate than any other device, ever. We wouldn’t call it perfect, but it’s getting close to it. The phone can pretty accurately ID faces, as long as your eyes, nose, and mouth is visible. Even in the low light environment, the phone works flawlessly.
Though, the Face ID doesn’t work as accurately or as quickly as the Touch ID. You would also have to use your Face ID every time you need to download an app or make a payment on the App Store. But Face ID solves the flaw that Touch ID faced which was that anyone could unlock your phone while you were asleep. Now, no one can unlock phones because Face ID needs the eyes to be open.
Unlike Apple, Samsung decided to keep the fingerprint scanner even after removing the home button for the Note 8. You can now find the scanner at the rear, next to the camera and heart rate monitor.
The big problem with that? The scanner is off-centre, towards the right, making it difficult to unlock the phone with a single hand. Sure, we get the reason for it — The company wanted to make sure the camera didn’t get smudged by fingerprints, but this is a major design flaw.
It’s a 6.5-inch screen smartphone, and a rear off centre fingerprint scanner will make it incredibly difficult for people with small hands to unlock the phone. A great option would have been to add the fingerprint scanner on the on-screen button present on the glass, but we don’t have the technology for it yet — Maybe in a few years. It’s good to be hopeful.
Pixel 2’s fingerprint sensor is also at the back like Note 8, but Google has placed the scanner right on the middle with a slight depression on the surface to make it easy for you to unlock your phone. There is also a rim around the sensor to make the design more functional.
While the years before this, fingerprint scanner on the home button had become a norm, 2017 pushed those limits. At one side, Apple proved that Face ID is the new future and at the other side Samsung and Google proved that touch ID is best moved all the way to the back. In the coming years, we expect companies to embrace facial recognition more openly, and fingerprint scanners may soon become obsolete.
The disappearance of the headphone jack
Apart from the home button disappearing from the flagship phones, there was one other element missing — the 3.5mm headphone jack.
It was Apple that first removed the headphone jack with iPhone 7 and to say the world was shocked would be an understatement. Many experts believed it was too much too soon. But just like always, Apple was trying to focus on the future by taking chances with big changes. To keep everyone happy, iPhone 7 Plus was launched with a headphone jack.
Along with iPhone 7, Apple also introduced AirPods — Bluetooth earphones which looked exactly like the company’s signature earphones minus the wires. Sure, the AirPods come with a case, but they are still incredibly easy to lose. While it would have been better for Apple to first launch and push Bluetooth earphones and then introduce an iPhone without a headphone jack, this push in design was much needed. We have been wired to our headphones for many years already.
Though in case you are not ready for the future just yet, there are wired headphones that come with every iPhone which have the same lightning connector as the charging cable and there is also a lightning adapter that allows you to plug into your same old 3.5mm jack headphones.
All the iPhones after 7 have had no headphone jack, including the new iPhone X. What started as a big trend with iPhone 7 has carried and there is no looking back for Apple now.
While many thought the disappearance of headphone jacks was only being done in iPhones, Google again surprised everyone by removing the jack from Pixel 2. The company did not provide wired headphones with a charger connecting socket like Apple. Instead, it only offers a lightning connector to plug in 3.5mm headphones
On the other hand, Note 8 may still be one of the most futuristic phones designed by Samsung, but it still has a headphone jack. There is no news as to when or if the company wants to remove it, but we are guessing it won’t be that far into the future.
Wireless headphones sales tripled after Apple removed the headphone jack and they have also become more affordable. Headphone jacks in smartphones are now like the CD drives in laptops — They don’t offer anything other than a feeling of nostalgia.
It’s time for the major headphone companies like JBL, Bose, and Sony to take advantage of this come up with affordable bluetooth headphones.
For Apple, iPhone X is the new design norm with no home button and an edge to edge display, for Samsung, Note 8 is the redemption that has the potential to again crown it as the premium smartphone company, and for Google, Pixel 2 has proven to be a revolution in practical design and mobile photography even without dual lens.
It’s clear that one of these phones will become a legacy like no other in the history of smartphones. Not for their number of sales or success, but for the influence they will have on smartphones launched in the coming years. Which ones? We don’t know and neither can we predict as of now.