6 Smartphone Features You Don’t Need

Good features can make or break a smartphone, but not all features are worth your time and they definitely should not influence your buying decision. Here are the most egregious offenders.

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When buying a smartphone, there are dozens of different factors to consider, especially if you’re trying to decide between a few popular phones that seem like essentially the same thing, just with different packaging. Looked at a list of specs lately? Quad-core, 2GB RAM, 13 megapixels, 4.7/4.8/5.0/5.5 inches, LTE, NFC, and other three letter words.

What sets one phone apart from another? If recent launches are any indication, smartphones are due to have longer and longer lists of features to differentiate themselves from the competition.

Good features can make or break a smartphone, but not all features are worth your time and they definitely should not influence your buying decision. Here are the most egregious offenders.

1. More megapixels

Two years ago the fanciest smartphones boasted 5 megapixel cameras. Last year’s number? 8MP. Now the 13MP phones are coming and aren’t you impressed? You shouldn’t be. We went through this same scenario over in the camera world and the problem is the same here.

More megapixels does not equal a better camera or better pictures. The iPhone 4 [iPhone 4S] had a 5MP camera that put many 8MP Android phones to shame. The Galaxy S III and the HTC One X both had 8MP cameras, but HTC took superior pictures. Specs alone aren’t going to tell the whole story. What makes a good smartphone camera is a combination of a quality sensor and a good camera app that tweaks things behind the scenes to give you the best shot possible.

2. Camera features that don’t improve picture (or video) quality

A wealth of settings in the camera app is a definite plus, but some smartphone makers are going overboard with image and video features that aren’t necessary and don’t make images look any better. Recent examples include HTC’s Zoe (introduced with the new HTC One) which takes multiple pictures plus a few second video every time you press the shutter button andthe dual camera recording feature found on the LG Optimus G Pro and the Galaxy S4. Even the highly touted 1080p video recording isn’t impressive if you’re not going to watch it on a 1080p screen or, if you do, the quality is so bad you wish you’d left it on your phone.

Don’t shop by these features. Look for camera enhancements that will improve how images look in the end. High-end smartphones that have fast lenses (f/2.0 or lower) will deliver better shots, but also look for camera apps with settings that allow you to change the exposure and white balance, include HDR (High Dynamic Range), and have scene modes.

3. Audio enhancements that are more trendy than transcendental

With a wealth of apps available that allow you to stream and download your favorite music, more people are using phones as their MP3 players. With that comes a desire for better audio quality. Thus, some manufacturers tout their audio prowess, like HTC including Beats Audio in their flagship phones. The secret is that Beats Audio is little more than a set of equalizer settings, and therefore all you need is a good third-party EQ app like Equalizer EQ (free in Google Play or  iTunes) to improve the output on music, video, and even games.

4. Extra buttons you don’t need

Ever since Android 3.x Honeycomb Google has tried to convince phone and tablet manufacturers to give up on buttons. Android devices no longer need physical Home, Back, or Menu buttons, since these functions are now on the screen. Does that stop the likes of Samsung, HTC or LG from including them in their designs? Nope. This isn’t a bad thing in itself–some would argue it’s a good thing–but when phone makers start adding even more buttons, they move into the territory of unnecessary.

Camera shutter buttons aren’t too bad, but buttons like LG’s QButton on the Optimus G Pro just get in the way. The QButton launches QMemo by default, even though you don’t really need such quick access to that app. Users can change which app it does launch, but that doesn’t eliminate the real problem: there’s no need for an extra, in the way button that launches apps.

5. Features that only work if you and everyone you know has the same phone

Gone are the days when almost everyone with a smartphone had the same smartphone. Be it the halcyon years of BlackBerry dominance or the early days of the iPhone. Even popular Android phones can only achieve a certain amount of market saturation on their own. So picking a device based on the cool things it can do, if those cool things only apply to one other device, means you’ll hardly ever get to do that cool thing.

Samsung touted the Galaxy S4’s Group Play feature as a way for a group of friends to enjoy music together and improve the sound quality. Problem is, that feature only works on the S4. It may work with the next-generation Galaxy Note and a few other premium phones from the company, but not the Galaxy S 3 or the Galaxy Note 2, even though both are quite popular.

6. Futuristic gestures and motions that aren’t intuitive and that you’ll never use

For years futurists have predicted a world where technology requires little more than a hand-wave or voice input to get amazing results. The road to that amazing future is apparently a long one, and along the way we’re due to be bombarded with stuff that looks like it came from “Minority Report” when actually it’s more like “Amazon Women on the Moon.”

Waving your hand above the screen to swipe left and right is cool, but it’s not better than just swiping left or right with your finger. Talking to your phone to make calls, schedule appointments, and search the web feels like science fiction until the text-to-voice engine doesn’t understand you, can’t translate without a connection or can’t interact with the app you need. And, finally, the jury is still out on the recently-introduced eye tracking feature. It didn’t work well for us in bright light situations, but when it did work, it was really useful.

Overall, when shopping for smartphones, be on the lookout for hype. Flashy features rarely add up to anything, so keep in mind what’s important in a phone: comfortable design, good display, long battery life and software features that match what you want to do with your phone.

This article was written by K.T. Bradford and was originally published on Techlicious.

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23 comments
Davidjan
Davidjan

Good point. Why do many android phones without sd slot? Thanks god. Now here is a accessory to add extra storage: http://goo.gl/lfEXI 

JacobKral
JacobKral

Almost all the gesture features, eye tracking, etc.. are completely useless.. Simply touching is better, and you don't keep doing as many annoying things on accident.

AbleLawrence
AbleLawrence

They forgot to mention Siri among useless features (actually annoying)

abecerra93
abecerra93

@TIME @Techland This article is in most part for the galaxy S4, btw let me tell u something... STILL A BETTER PHONE THAN IPHONE 5!!!

PaulTaylor
PaulTaylor

SNAP is a new tether, storage and deployment accessory for personal audio earbud use with smartphones, music and other portable audio and video game devices. SNAP has the exclusive ability to securely anchor earbud-wired devices to the device user. Half of all smartphones sold are lost, stolen or damaged. (Kelton Research, June 2012)

The SNAP converts your earbud wires into: 1) a leash to prevent device loss and theft, and 2) a catch wire to prevent dropped device impact damage.

Go to "Earbud SNAP" You Tube >> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZaqNqyASRMM

os2baba
os2baba

I'm totally with you on the mega pixel specs.  It was nonsense in the camera world and it's nonsense in the smartphone world.  A better sensor and lens will do a lot more for the images than MP and even software - which just create artifacts with things like over sharpening.  Leave that for post processing software.  

I also agree that things like facetime and group play are typically useless unless all your friends share the same phone.  I find most of the Samsung software to be completely gimmicky.  However Smart Stay (screen stays on while you are looking at it) is very useful when it works - and it works pretty well in well lit situations.  Hover gestures are great since they can help in providing "tooltips" on icons etc. This should be part of Android so it can be implemented consistently across apps and phones.  It's also useful when you are wearing gloves unless you  have the gloves that work on smartphones.  I find the swiping across the phone to take a screenshot a hit-or-miss on my S3 since it occasionally triggers a touch instead.  Converting it to a hover gesture would be great.  But the Cynagonmod power button menu works best.


ErikPendleton
ErikPendleton

Zoe is actually great and very useful on the HTC One.  The fact is that when you push the shutter on a zoe you capture 1 sec before and 2 after, so if you were a bit slow, on hitting the shutter, you still get the moment you wanted.  You don't have to use zoe with every picture, but you can chose when to use it.  Also, the HTC One camera takes up to 8 pictures a second which is unprecedented in a phone and very useful.

And what other phone has a f2 lens?  Where can we get this f2 or lower lens?  I don't believe there is a faster lens than HTC One's f2.  Correct me if I am wrong.

Here is what you don't need - sd card support/removeable battery.  Just get a phone with 32 or 64gb storage and say goodbye to slow sd cards.  The battery on good phones lasts all day now with heavy use so no need for swappable batteries which present their own issues with keeping charged and carrying with you.

os2baba
os2baba

@ErikPendleton I can't disagree more on the lack of removable storage and battery.  That's the single biggest thing holding me back from the HTC One.  That's why I bought the S3 instead of the One X last year.  I had to delete apps from my S3 with 16GB internal storage class 10 32GB SD card last week.  And that's with most of my music on Google Music.

As for battery life, we are nowhere near the kind of battery life required for a non-removable battery.  I bought 3 batteries and an external charger for $10 on ebay for my S3.  An external power supply is bulkier and it still takes time to charge using it.  Instead, just swap out the battery and you are back for a few hours more on a full charge immediately.  I just don't think about battery for my phone anymore since I always have a bunch of fully charged batteries in my office, at home and in my trouser.  With the HTC One, I'll have to manage my battery.  Simply not worth it.  Just make it replaceable.

ErikPendleton
ErikPendleton

If you need more than the available. 64gb available in the one, you should either get some cloud storage or rethink your pack rat ways. Most apps don't work off external cards now either. I find the rare times I need to worry about battery life that a external battery pack is superior. Maybe using your cheap eBay batteries and your eBay charges are offset of your problem. External charges are better became they aren't tied to a single device. Who wants to carry multiple batteries and juggle the charging to make due that you have one ready.

os2baba
os2baba

@ErikPendleton Why should I buy the 64GB phone at inflated prices?  I got a bunch of 32GB class 10 Micro SD cards for $15.  All apps work perfectly fine with external cards.  I use DirectoryBind (http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1410262) to make it completely seamless.  It's not a question of using cloud storage.  I have 60 GB of Dropbox storage.  Apps are getting bigger and bigger.  3 or 4 large games take about 10GB of space.  Titanium Backups and a couple of clockworkmod backups take up a 6-10 GB of space.  Android itself now takes about 5GB of space.  A few music files and a movie or so and pretty soon, you are out of space.  We are not yet in an always-connected world.  Better in the US than when traveling for certain, but still not there.

So carrying 3 extremely small batteries (which are always charged for me) is more of an issue than carrying a much bigger external charger!  LOL!  BTW, I have an external charger as well.  Which I use to charge my tablets.  But i don't need to carry that with me unless I'm on a long flight.  And there is still the issue of charging time as opposed to simply swapping the battery.

I'm not suggesting that everyone follows my model.  But I'm sure you would accept that there are a fairly significant number of people for whom this is a problem.  Almost all my friends who bought an S3 first looked at the One X and then gave it a pass for exactly the same reasons.  The S3 is an excellent phone.  But I can tell you, at least a few of us would have bought the One X last year. 

I would probably have gone with the S3 anyway because of another poor decision they made last year with 1GB of RAM and the heavy Sense footprint leading to gimped multi-tasking in the kernel.  I don't know if Cyanogenmod ROMs for the One X fixed this or not.

I'm still going to take a look at the One.  But for my wife, for whom the battery is still going to be an issue, but perhaps the storage may not.  So even though she's due for an upgrade, I'm going to wait for at least 3 months or so and see what the battery reports are.  If the One had a removable battery, HTC would have probably had a sale in my household already.

ErikPendleton
ErikPendleton

If you need more than the available. 64gb available in the one, you should either get some cloud storage or rethink your pack rat ways. Most apps don't work off external cards now either.

I find the rare times I need to worry about battery life that a external battery pack is superior. Maybe using your cheap eBay batteries and your eBay charges are offset of your problem. External charges are better became they aren't tied to

DemondEdwards
DemondEdwards like.author.displayName 1 Like

So basically this article is telling us not to buy the Samsung Galaxy S4.

boxgarchitorena
boxgarchitorena

Excuse me? The iPhone 4S had 5 megapixels? It's actually 8.

Mssy
Mssy

So true, these features don't add any value.