Post-MWC: Smartphones Looking Better, Faster than iPhone

NEW-PRODUCT ANALYSIS: The last big evolution (iPhone) made phones less safe, more fragile, less practical and into more of a distraction, potentially costing us far more and helping us make far less. Yes, they are prettier, but exchanging something useful for something more attractive suggests our brains are wired wrong.

Energizer.Max.phone

I’m really not a fan of where Apple took the smartphone market when it created the second generation of the smartphone. If you think back, smartphones prior to the iPhone were focused on communication, making money and keeping the information secure.  BlackBerry, Palm, Nokia and Microsoft were all competing on which could do these things best, and most of our smartphones had actual keyboards that you could blind type on.

In addition, thick was in, and we measured battery life in terms of days. Sturdy trumped attractive, so it was rare when you broke a screen or bent a phone. 

Then the iPhone came out, we had a race to “thin,” we lost the keyboard and suddenly folks were having enough accidents so that laws needed to be changed to make phone use while driving illegal. We then got a ton of funny people walking into things watching YouTube videos, and we no longer needed iPods. We started to consume things on the phones (in-app purchases became a thing), and instead of the typical price declines in tech, we are now talking about phones costing well over $1,000. 

In short, the last big evolution made phones less safe, more fragile, less practical and into more of a distraction, potentially costing us far more and helping us make far less. Yes, they are prettier, but exchanging something useful for something more attractive suggests our brains are wired wrong. 

Oh, and if you are wondering, I still carry a Blackberry, because I don’t want to be a statistic (and like making money).  Well, Apple’s influence has been sliding massively, and we seem to be slowly pivoting back to some interesting and potentially more useful devices. 

Let’s talk about some of them.

Energizer PowerMac P18K Pop (pictured)

There is a name only a mother could love, but let me point out the key feature of this phone: the PowerMac has 50 days of battery life. Not part of a day, not most of a day, not a day, not a little more than a day--50 freakin’ days of battery life.  You go out on the road and get lost, your car breaks down and you need to call for help, this puppy could save your life. Why? Because you know you were likely streaming music off your phone for much of the drive and suddenly find, when you most need it, your phone is out of range and out of power. I’m tempted to buy a couple of these and put them in my cars just so that never happens to me and use them only for emergencies.

Offsetting this is that this phone is huge because of the battery it has (I’m kind of surprised it doesn’t have a car jump-starting feature). But if you like to hike, take drives to the middle of nowhere, or want a phone for the zombie or robot apocalypse, this is likely the best phone for you.   

Huawei Mate X

Huawei was one of several phone makers that showcased a phone that traded being thin for added features.  In this case, a foldable screen that actually looks pretty damn good (arguably better than the similar Samsung phone). Now I’m a big reader and I typically carry a phone, a Kindle Fire Tablet and a PC. This foldable phone could have me leaving the tablet at home and largely living on the phone screen. Granted this one isn’t a cheap date, costing something like $2,600, but if you believe the government, it may have the built-in feature of being able to chat directly with Chinese intelligence!  (There has been no proof of this, and these unproven attacks on Chinese vendors are causing a lot of reciprocal damage to U.S. companies in China and should be stopped, unless proven).

Xiaomi Mix 3 5G

In contrast, for those of us who aren’t Jeff Bezos, Xiaomi introduced the Mix 3, which is presented as the first commercially available 5G phone. It is expected to cost a far more reasonable, approximate $680 price. This isn’t a basic phone; it has the new full-featured Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 solution, giving it 5G capability, a host of sensors, Extended Reality support, fast charging, and it should have Wi-Fi 6 all in its attractive ceramic body. It has one huge downside though, a really depressing one: It isn’t slated to be sold in the US. Xiaomi is a tease. 

Sony Xperia 5G Tease

Talking about teases the company that should be most capable of taking Apple on is Sony.  The reason I say this is that when Steve Jobs redesigned Apple he used Sony as the design goal and Sony also heavily favors entertainment in their designs.  The Xperia 5G has a big panoramic beautiful screen, amazing sound, and 5G support and it should, yay, sell in the US.  But there is no release date for the phone yet and speculation is that, like Apple, they won’t have 5G support until next year.  If there was another company that has missed so many opportunities to have similar success to Apple and flubbed them but Sony, I’m not aware of them.  

OnePlus 5G Tease

Ok if you are going to do a tease right OnePlus set the bar. They didn’t even show the phone just a cool picture of the screen on custom lighted display promising little more than magic in terms of specifics.  What makes this phone interesting is that it is designed to use a 5G base station which implies it could release with 4G LTE but, like Motorola’s modular design showcased last year, add 5G using a far higher performing base station (these base stations should have even higher data rates).  Think of this phone as going well beyond typical entertainment to hosted gaming or something like an Xbox you could pocket.   Cost will likely be in the $1,000 category but if you want high performance gaming as an option on your phone this could be the leading contender. 

Motorola Razr V3

The Motorola Razr V3 is arguably my favorite of the group. I loved the original Motorola Razer; it was a great phone. You could hold it on your shoulder and talk, it folded down to a pocketable size, and when it was folded, the screen was protected. This new version has a foldable screen, so you get a small phone folded and a full-sized smartphone unfolded. Price, like most of the foldables, isn’t cheap at an estimated $1,500, but this is arguably the most practical of the group. While this doesn’t have the mods the Moto Z has, it returns to a past where smartphones were less like iPods with phone capability and more like, well, freaking phones. (What a novel idea: Let’s make a phone like a phone!) 

Wrapping Up

As Apple loses its hold on smartphone design and 5G provides an opportunity to step back from the insane changes the iPhone made to the market and our life expectancy, more and more phone vendors are stepping out from under Apple’s shadow and looking for something different. Most of these phones also use the advanced Qualcomm 855 chipset, which has a massive sensor suite, is set up for the coming wave of Extended Reality glasses, and provides a level of performance that Apple (thanks to its silly fight with Qualcomm) can’t hope to touch. (Their tech partner, Intel, is accused of stealing Qualcomm’s tech, and if that accusation sticks, Intel will likely be forced out of the market.) 

Now if we could just bring back the keyboards. Until then, I’ll likely still stick with my BlackBerry Key 2, which has one, but damn if that new Razr doesn’t have my eye. 

Rob Enderle is a principal at Enderle Group. He is an award-winning analyst and a longtime contributor to QuinStreet publications and Pund-IT.