Each smartphone company and their flagships are different, with different makers prioritising different features.
However there are certain features that customers have come to expect from premium handsets – and we’re no longer going to make excuses for companies which exclude them.
I’m not talking about long-established features like a camera above 10MP or a home button.
I’m talking about features whose necessity only became consensus in the last year or so.
Ditching these features in flagship phones will essentially be a step back for any phonemaker – and a low-ball to consumers.
So what features do I think are now essential for flagship premium phones?
Apple was a bit slow to the party and Samsung took a step back in 2015 with the S6, but finally almost every premium phonemaker (and even some mid-range ones) seem to have accept that water resistance is now an essential element for smartphones.
We’ve come too far from the days of trying to unsuccessfully cover our phones in the rain or trying to dry dunked phones in bags of rice before they are destroyed. It’s now water resistance or nothing. We will no longer be ruled by fear when we play games on our phones in the bathtub!
In fact, our standards have become so high that we just want our phones to be waterproof without needing our intervention. This means without flaps which need to be put in place before exposure.
Xiaomi however has resisted the trend by making the Mi 6 splash resistant instead of water resistant. You could argue though that their phones, while premium in feel and hardware, are not technically premium in price.
JerryRigEverything however has showed that the Mi 6 is almost waterproof, so we’ll give Xiaomi a pass on this one.
Full HD displays
Thanks to LG, Samsung and Xiaomi, I’m upping my expectations about what resolution smartphone displays should have as a minimum.
The only reason I’m not setting Ultra/Quad HD as the new standard is because Apple and Huawei haven’t quite caught up in this regard.
In fact, the iPhone 7 didn’t technically even reach Full HD, with a resolution of 740×1334 and a ppi of only 326. It was the iPhone 7 Plus, rather, that carried the Full HD display (while also exceeding the iPhone 7 standard model is almost every possible way).
Huawei’s recent P10 didn’t up the ante either, with the phonemaker choosing to focus on upgrading its camera and battery rather than the display resolution in the latest flagship. The company chose to stay with a 1080p display, the same resolution as the P9’s display. To their credit though, they did upgrade to 2K resolution on their P10 Plus model.
Batteries that last at least a day
I remember the days that my Galaxy S6’s short battery life didn’t bother me. It got me through the work day after all.
But those days have past and now I look at my once-revered device and it’s seemingly constant low battery warning while I’m playing Two Dots.
To be fair, my phone is from two generations ago – but if emphasises how far we’ve come in two years. Sure, the S6 had an average battery life for it’s time, but the S8 has shown just how much even Samsung has upped their game in terms of battery longevity.
I was going to set a standard for battery size, like 3200mAh, but depending on the software and hardware the mAh value isn’t the only measure of how long a battery lasts.
LG and Samsung have introduced more advanced battery saving modes to make the best of their battery power. The S8’s battery power saving modes are actually customisable and can give you hours of extra battery life. This is despite having a 3000mAh battery only.
Huawei can be partly attributed for making other manufacturers improve their batteries’ competitiveness – after all, the Mate 8 (also an older generation phone) had a two-day battery life.
The Mate 9 comes with an impressive 4 000 mAh battery and is one of the bigger batteries in the market. But what others lack in hardware, they’re trying to make up with software enhancements and efficiency.
Either way, S6-type battery longevity is no longer going to cut it for premium handsets.
Apple should take note – while the iPhone 7 had the longest battery power of any of Apple’s previous smartphones, it’s 1920mAh just doesn’t cut it compared to premium Android competitors. According to Which.co.uk, the phone placed last in battery benchmarking tests when compared to its 2016 peers.
But at least it still makes it through the day.
Most phonemakers use various forms of fast/quick charging standards for their premium flagships nowadays – and users are now used to the luxury.
In fact, it’s now a separate race in the phonemaking sphere, with many phonemakers trying to outdo the others.
Customers and companies have realised it doesn’t matter if you have a massive battery if it takes hours and hours to charge it. On-to-go consumers want to be able to plug their phone in for 15 minutes and have it last for a few hours as a result.
Qualcomm is now onto Quick Charge 4+, which apparently offers “five for five”. This means that five minutes of charging equals five hours of battery life.
However not many (if any) phonemakers have implemented this standard yet. Most recent releases are using Quick Charge 3.0
I have to give the iPhone 7 some side-eye again – as it is one of the only flagships from 2016 not to include fast charging. Users have instead resorted to using their iPad chargers.
The exclusion of fast charging is probably due to Apple’s reliance on proprietary hardware. Other companies are relying on technology developed by Qualcomm, even if they add their own spins or names to the hardware afterwards (e.g. Adaptive Fast Charging/Turbo Charging). Some companies also use technology called PumpExpress by MediaTek, an alternative to Qualcomm’s charging tech.
How cute was it when 32GB was considered ample storage space? Nowadays, 32GB is the minimum onboard storage benchmark for many – and expandable storage is a must.
After all, what’s the point of making our photos extra pretty and our videos extra frame-y if we don’t have enough space to store them all.
Most premium phonemakers are allowing for expandable storage in their phones. LG has even future-proofed many of their phones by allowing for up to 2TB expandable storage, even though microSD cards of that capacity are not commercially available.
Other phonemakers are a bit more conservative, usually allowing around 256GB of expandable storage.
The point is that the option is there for users to add extra storage to their device – and it should remain a priority for premium phonemakers.
Sure, there is cloud storage, but many of us like to keep the original copies too.
Honorable Mention: Earphone Jack
This isn’t an official addition to the list, more like an honorable mention.
I hate the removal of the headphone jack – I really do. Not because I don’t like change and like to chase kids from my lawn, but because I don’t see the value for customers.
Luckily only two companies have done it so far – Apple and Xiaomi. Apple has yet to prove to me that the removal of the headphone jack was anything more than a ploy to sell more adaptors. The compatibility issues with the Macbook Pro (the iPhone 7 needs an adaptor to plug in) have just deepened my distrust.
I’m not sure why Xiaomi ditched the headphone jack in its Mi 6 either. The phone isn’t bezel-less, so I don’t see the headphone jack needing to be removed to make room. It could just be a case of follow-the-leader.
However, until I see tangible benefits to this decision, this will be an honorable mention on my list of features premium phonemakers have no excuse to exclude.
And that’s it – my list of features that premium smartphone companies shouldn’t get away with excluding. Do you have any other additions to the list? Let me know in the comments below.