Smartphone Battles of 2014- Hype, Disappointments and an Unexpected(?) Winner!

The mobile tech annual release cycle is in full swing, and with CES and MWC out of the way, we have now seen most OEMs announce and launch their flagships for 2014 (with the notable exceptions being Apple and LG). The embargoes have lifted, the blast of buzz has come and gone, and the length and breadth of the internet is stocked full of articles, editorials and blog posts. Comment threads have burst into activity with haters and defenders, and now lay dormant for the most part. It’s around this time that the tech press says that “The dust has settled”, but I beg to differ. As from how I see it, none of the top OEMs- be it Samsung, Sony or HTC have kicked up any dust in the first place. 

It’s the time of year when the tech enthusiasts of the world begin forming their opinions about their choice of “Best Flagship of 2014”. A glut of video reviews, unboxings, hands-ons, benchmarks… everything is following the pattern we’ve all come to know of and whether you love it or loathe it- all this talk does affect us in some way. 

This year though, I grew weary of this mobile tech release cycle right from the start. All the leaks, the speculation, and the discussions pointed to yearly refreshes in hardware with some gimmicks slapped on as an afterthought, and in that respect, each and every major OEM so far has followed the trend, so to speak. There were many who hoped for something unexpected, but those hopes were crushed soon enough, and I don’t expect LG or Apple to break the mold, either. 

While I’ve been disappointed by new releases in the mobile tech space for quite some time now, there are times when I really feel like I want a certain device. This phenomenon was very prevalent when I first began following the tech space closely back in 2010. Back then the space was quite different in many ways, android was laggy, processors were beginning to go dual core, and feature phones made up a major chunk of the user base. It was then when I was truly enamored by the Asus Transformer. The design, the specs and the laptop-tablet hybrid form factor really wowed me. Then came the Galaxy S2 in 2011. Since that time though, due to increased coverage, more detailed leaks and the simple face that a lot more people now carried smartphones, annual releases just seemed all too evolutionary. Beefier specs, bigger screens, more ostentatious gimmicks and crazy amounts of marketing- “true innovation” seemed to be lost somewhere in the midst of all this. 

MWC happened this year, and an insane amount of coverage followed it. But amidst all the devices that were announced and launched there, there was one that really caught my attention- the Yotaphone. And after a long time, I felt truly enamored by a device once more. That’s right, my top pick for smartphone of the year, the one to trounce them all, the one I really, really want- the Yotaphone 2014. 

To me, this device brings the best hardware together with the most useful “marquee feature”. The device packs beefy specifications and a good design- but the real story is about what’s at the back- a a multi-touch, color, e-ink display. 

I’ve been using a smartphone for more than two years now, and I know the things people have to deal with when using a smartphone day in and day out. One of the most important considerations though, are battery life, and outdoor visibility. 

Phones these days come with battery packs much beefier than the lowly 1500 MAH battery my device uses, but the battery life situation is more or less the same- upto a day’s worth of moderate to heavy use on a single charge. No matter which phone you have, you’re going to need to plug it into a charging socket daily if you use your phone extensively and want to keep using it. Check the battery usage stats on your device, and you’ll see that the display (screen on time) amounts for a major chunk of the power consumption, and it doesn’t matter whether its an LCD or an AMOLED panel, the more you keep the display powered on, the more battery it’s going to consume.  

Another thing smartphone users have to deal with is poor outdoor visibility. If its too bright outside, you’re going to have a hard time trying to look at your phone’s display, and you’ll find yourself shielding it with your hands making it an overall cumbersome experience. 

The Yotaphone’s secondary e-ink display does away with both those problems very elegantly. For the uninitiated, E-ink displays use a fusion of chemistry, physics and electronics to provide an easily readable display that consumes very less power. One of the most important differences between generic displays and an E-ink display is that while normal displays use backlight to project images, E-ink displays use the ambient light of the surroundings, reflecting it back into your eyes. 

Secondly, E-ink displays don’t need a continuous power supply to work. The display uses special pigments that turn white or black based on an applied positive or negative electric field. Moreover, the new Yotaphone has a color E-ink display rather than a standard black and white one found on eBook readers, allowing for much more functionality. 

The addition of this secondary display also helps outdoor visibility as it has a “matte finish” and no backlight, thus mimicking the look of ink on paper. 

E-ink technology consumes less power, is easier to read and has a longer shelf life than traditional LCD/AMOLED displays. However it’s the secondary screen for a reason- E-ink displays in their current incarnation lack the vibrancy and sheer color gamut that other backlit displays provide. Low light visibility is also another factor. All these factors notwithstanding, an E-ink display can really come in handy when the phone is low on battery and you want to continue working, for example if you’re using maps to navigate. Also, it allows you to get a screen shot of the primary display, and view it even when the phone is switched off- a truly welcome, functional feature with many practical uses. 

A secondary E-ink display at the back of a phone is a good thing. But a secondary E-ink display that supports multi touch and has more colors than just black and white? That just knocks it out of the ball park for me.

The Yotaphone may not have the latest in fingerprint recognition, or heart rate monitors, it may not have the dust and immersion resistance ratings or a glut of gimmicks backed by a marketing machine or the latest in image sensing, but what it brings to the table is a practical and highly useful, truly innovative blend of hardware and software, with the end user kept in mind. 

 

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3 thoughts on “Smartphone Battles of 2014- Hype, Disappointments and an Unexpected(?) Winner!

  1. I miss the good old days when but a new phone usually meant a totally new look & new form factor.. be it going from a slider, to a candybar, to a completely new device like Nokia ngage..

    these days all new devices have is a big screen & a body covering it.. innovation is dead.. :/

    Like

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