In August 2017, Andy Rubin, the creator of Android, and his disciples at Essential Products descended onto this mortal plane to grace us with the PH-1 — a device that seeks to right the wrongs of modern smartphone design. Almost monolithic in appearance, the PH-1, or the Essential Phone as it's more commonly known, is forged from a combination of titanium and ceramic meant to withstand the rigors of daily living without needing to be shrouded in ugly plastic cases. OK, let's get real, there's a lot of hype behind the phone, but is all that hot air really warranted? Ummm, no.
Forgive me for passing up the chance to beat the exploding battery joke into the ground. Let's get straight to the point: Samsung's once dominant flagship phablet is back after a two year hiatus. Sporting a stunning extra-widescreen 18.5:9 display, the new Galaxy Note8 is bigger and more engaging than ever before, and it packs a larger power pack than any Note besides the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7 too. But a lot has changed since 2015 — especially when you consider that starting at $1499, the new Note8 is now more expensive than ever.
That means there are two questions it needs to answer: Does the Galaxy Note8 still make sense in 2017, and can it possibly be worth $1499?
A year after the disastrous Galaxy Note7, Samsung is back with another Note, its flagship big-screen smartphone that is the best it'll build in 2017. Welcome to the Note8 — it's a masterpiece, an agenda-setting phone that's the first of a new breed of devices that could well replace your entire PC.
The Galaxy Note8 faces stronger competition than ever, but that's a great thing for you, the customer. It catches up to Apple and its competitors with an excellent dual camera, and it streaks ahead with the best screen of any phone ever. If this is the benchmark for top-end phones, I'm really excited to see what this forces everyone else to come up with.
Motorola's mod-friendly smartphone, the Moto Z, is back. It's back in Z2 Play form, refining the original idea a little and bringing one of 2016's most interesting — if not exactly compelling — phones into late 2017. The base hardware is better, and Motorola is to be applauded for that, but the Moto Mods themselves have changed little.
Every time a new platform comes out, the gadget world runs headfirst into a vicious Catch-22: How do you get people to adopt new technology when there isn't any content, and if there isn't anyone using the tech, how do you convince developers to make content for that platform? Recently, we've seen this situation unfold for VR headsets like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. Despite both systems' ability to evoke profound jaw-dropping reactions from those who've tried it, VR is still too expensive and thin on content for people to really care.
In the world of smartphones, the Essential Phone has been anxiously anticipated with the reverence we should probably save for Kendrick Lamar albums. Why? Andy Rubin, the creator of Android, is behind the whole thing. After ditching Google in 2014, Rubin ran off to open a bakery (YUM!), but he's returned to the world of gadgets to "inject passion back into smartphones," whatever that means. It's not even out yet and people are calling his new device the anti-iPhone.
Last year, we fell in love with the Huawei P9's excellent dual cameras and straightforward approach to Android. But it's half-way through a new year, and that means Huawei's P10 has a tough act to follow and some strong alternatives. How does the follow-up to its seriously impressive P9 perform when it's up against newly renewed competition like the very best of Samsung, LG and HTC?
The Samsung Dex is a tiny new smartphone dock that wades carefully toward a world in which smartphones serve as our primary computers. It's about the size of a hockey puck, and when the Galaxy S8, a monitor, and a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse are connected, the Dex turns the phone into a surprisingly functional desktop. The idea is that instead of lugging a laptop around everywhere, you might just take your phone and drop it into a dock at home, the office, and so on.
Pardon me dear readers. Normally this space is reserved for missives to you, but I am positive you do not care about the BlackBerry KeyOne, a new phone from BlackBerry Mobile. Besides Kim Kardashian, very few people have cared about BlackBerry phones in recent years. That's why today I'm going to take a moment to reach out to Kim. The girl's been a wreck since her ancient Bold 9900 died last year, and I really think she needs to know there's a new, actually kind of excellent, BlackBerry device.
With the exploding Note7 battery fiasco, Samsung inadvertently did something that's increasingly difficult these days: It made smartphones interesting for a flickering moment. Super interesting, in fact. Besides the intrigue of the mournful saga of Note7, whose embarrassing recall cost the company billions, Samsung also set up a dramatic release narrative for the Galaxy S8. This wasn't just another smartphone — this was a make-or-break device charged with saving a company in the throes of an existential crisis. A smartphone that screams at the void — yikes!
It's hard to stand out in the smartphone world, especially if your phone doesn't do anything unique. LG knows this and has never shied away from trying new ideas. It was one of the first companies to make use of curved screens, and last year, it released an insane smartphone with a "magic slot" that let you plug in accessories, including a camera and a speaker. The phone was a disaster. It was poorly reviewed, and few people bought it. This year, LG is hitting the reset button with the G6, a modern flagship with all the essentials and not much else.
When did mid-range phones get good? When did they get waterproof, with good cameras, great battery life, and design that looks just about as high-end as anything else you can buy?
In so many different ways, the Galaxy A5 and A7 are a cheaper and more restrained version of Samsung's own chart-topping Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge from last year.
Step back, LG G5. There's a funky new modular smartphone on sale in Australia, and it's also — in its standard, straight-out-of-the-box guise — the world's thinnest. Motorola's Moto Z measures just 5.2mm from front to back, but still has the latest in high-tech hardware under the hood. Where LG's top Android phone ejects its modular components like a pistol's magazine, though, the Moto Z snaps them onto its rear case to add extra battery power, a high-res camera or a more powerful speaker.