sSmartphones are often called “boring” these days. iPhone is a classic example of this feeling. Its design often remains the same for at least three years on an extended basis, and it is difficult to detect noticeable changes in performance when a new design hits the market. iPhone is not alone, the leading Android phones also face this challenge a lot. Be it Samsung’s Galaxy S series phones, including its new foldable phones, OnePlus devices, or the likes of Oppo, Vivo, and Xiaomi. There are tangible reasons for this change.
Since the late 2000s, smartphones have made huge advances in display technology. Whether it is the transition from resistive to capacitive screens, from LCD to OLED or jumps in resolution. Edges have been eliminated by most manufacturers. Phones also started adding high refresh rate displays by 2019. However, since the turn of the decade, display technology has reached a level of saturation where the returns are dwindling.
The technology curve and the law of diminishing returns
The biggest leap was Samsung’s foldable screens. In the coming years, we will see devices that will double down on this concept besides rolling screens. But as we’ve seen with foldable smartphones, manufacturers haven’t figured out how to use the extra real estate that foldable screens provide.
Likewise, performance cannot be measured by the benchmarking software that reviewers and enthusiasts often use to judge a device—how fast it is, etc. In the early 2010s, performance leaps, whether in Android phones or even iPhones, were formidable. Today, the improvements are incremental. Even Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor, announced in Hawaii earlier this week, only promises up to a 25 percent improvement in GPU performance. It will be suitable for games optimized for T.
This year, Apple didn’t bother adding the A16 Bionic to the iPhone 14 Plus and just carried the iPhone 13 Pro’s A15 Bionic. Google’s new Tensor G2 chip isn’t very different from the first Tensor chip it introduced with the Pixel 6 models.
Indeed, software developers hardly catch the semiconductor innovations of 3-4 years ago. So, huge leaps and bounds don’t make sense for the end consumer either. More software-based features that people can see are more important.
Also read: Air quality is better but not enough to prevent air purifiers. Below are options for your room and car
Battery life parameter
Hardware leaps on smartphones are also more difficult due to thermal limitations dictated by the smartphone form factor. When you get a powerful processor, it also needs to be balanced with battery life. This is why, since 2019, Apple has doubled the iPhone battery life. The iPhone 11 was considered boring at launch, but users swear by its battery life. With the addition of 5G, Apple reduced the battery life of the iPhone 12 models. But the iPhone 13 Pro Max, even today, is considered one of the best phones if battery life is a priority for the consumer.
The iPhone 14 Pro Max isn’t far behind, but the iPhone 14 Plus beats even the iPhone 14 Pro Max, largely due to Apple once again being stuck on its high-end high refresh rate display and not using the latest A16 Bionic processor on it. It’s also the reason Apple stopped making compact iPhone mini models, which were criticized for poor battery life and didn’t sell well.
Battery life has become critical and it can make or break a phone. Google’s Pixel line is known for innovation but has had poor battery life since its launch in 2016. That’s why it hasn’t sold well.
This year, with the Pixel 7 Pro and Pixel 7 models, Google’s new chip, Tensor G2, focuses on AI innovation and doesn’t chase pure performance, which would have sacrificed battery life. The results were impressive. in Twitter In my survey two weeks ago, 27 out of 85 people said the new Pixel 7 Pro, which has a 5,000mAh battery, has the best battery life for a 2022 Android flagship phone.
In the poll, Samsung’s Galaxy S22 Ultra came in second with 26 votes in its favour. My tests also correlated the survey results, and on balance, the Pixel 7 Pro and S22 Ultra had the best battery life for a recent Android flagship. Admittedly, however, these phones still have less battery life than the iPhone 14 Plus and iPhone 13 Pro Max.
However, the gap that widened last year with the launch of the iPhone 13 Pro Max has been significantly closed this year. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor will double the battery life as its CPU promises up to 40 percent more efficiency, promising better battery life when playing games.
And remember, battery life will be even more important with 5G because that will take a lot of charge.
Also read: How Noida-based SPPL are the brains and power behind Thomson, Kodak and Blaupunkt smart TVs
Phones are cameras
Manufacturers’ focus has shifted from just performance as phones are now also mobile cameras. Smartphone manufacturers do not need to prove that they are not laptops. The A16 bionic chip or the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor is faster than most mid-range laptop processors from Intel or AMD.
The main difference is how these phones are cameras and how these chips enable computational imaging. Apple talks about the Image Signal Processor (ISP), the component in A-series processors, that enables the phone to take multiple shots in the blink of an eye and combine them to create the perfect shot. It uses the Neural Engine and AI hardware to drive artificial intelligence (AI) deception. It allows for DSLR-like photos when using portrait mode or taking bright photos at night.
The Tensor core in the Tensor G2 chip on the new Google Pixel 7 models can do similar tricks but goes a step further. In the Google Photos app, your old photos, not clicked by the same phone or camera, or blurred can be enhanced thanks to the wonders of artificial intelligence. It can remove subjects from a frame using artificial intelligence.
The Vivo V2 chip is present on the X80 Pro and iQOO 9T. It takes your hands off processing cameras, enabling the arcane magic of artificial intelligence. Qualcomm’s latest chip, Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, ISP, can support 200MP camera sensors that can shoot 8K video at 60fps. The ISP determines how many pixels/camera resolution the phone can support. So far, this has been limited to 150MP.
Camera optics for smartphones have been developed in the last decade. Phones now have ultra-wide lenses that can also do macro photography; The overall size of the primary wide-angle camera has become larger along with the resolution and aperture. There are also telephoto lenses that use prism-like mechanisms to provide far-reaching magnification. But this optics is also limited by physics. The artificial intelligence capabilities of smartphone chips enable them to bypass the laws of physics.
This is why battery life and camera performance have become some of the most important aspects of a modern smartphone.
It is not about peak performance, how many gigahertz the processor is running or how much RAM or memory the phone has. Memory will be compensated for by 5G and cloud storage for many.
Display technology has also reached a saturation point and the gains are diminishing, until foldable screen phones become mainstream. Customers should be aware of these nuances, not pure specifications.
This is why the best phones today in India are the iPhone 14 and iPhone 13 models along with the new Pixel 7 models. The Samsung Galaxy S22 line and Vivo X80 series also belong to this category, thanks to their focus on battery life and AI for photography.
Sohail Mohan Gupta is a Delhi-based technology journalist. He tweets @DigitallyBones. Opinions are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)