Poll: Which 2018 smartphone are you most looking forward to?

There were so many great smartphones released last year that it’s almost hard to imagine how 2018 could top it. Nevertheless, time marches on and before you know it the top manufacturers will begin debuting this year’s top smartphones. In this week’s poll, we want to find out which you’re the most excited to see.

We already have a pretty good idea of which smartphones are going to be released this year. Things are expected to kick off in the coming weeks with the Galaxy A series’ 2018 A3, A5, A7 and A8 models and the Samsung Galaxy S9 around February. We should also see the LG G7 coming around February or March, the Huawei P20 in March and the HTC 12 in April. By June and July, we’ll start seeing the arrivals of the Xiaomi Mi 7, the OnePlus 6 and the Honor 10. And, in September, we’re expecting the arrival of the next Google Pixel.

There are plenty of upcoming devices for which we don’t have an idea of when they will be released, like the RED Hydrogen One, the Motorola Moto Z3 or a new Sony flagship. Plus, there are some rumored devices which may not even be released in 2018, like the foldable Samsung Galaxy X.

We want to know which smartphone you’re most eagerly anticipating. In the poll below, indicate which device has caught your heart and imagination, and then tell us why in the comments. If the phone you’re looking for isn’t listed, just mark “Other”, and let us know in the comments! We look forward to seeing the results and discussing them with you all.

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Poll results: What was the best smartphone of 2017?

The new year hasn’t had a chance to give us any big surprises in the smartphone world yet, so let’s take this moment to reflect on the hits of 2017. We posted an opinion poll last week asking which smartphone of the past year was the best. Now that the votes have come in, we have the final results to share with you.

Which 2017 smartphone made it to the top of the list? The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 took 24 percent of the vote, making it the number one, by far. In the comments, one user referred to the Note 8 as the “swiss army knife of phones” while another noted that it has “[a]ll the premium features you could ever need. The absolute best display, great camera & of course the S-pen”. In spite of all the praise, it was a bit too expensive for some people’s taste.

Everyone’s favorite underdog, the OnePlus 5(T), came in second place with 15 percent of the vote, which is no surprise as we already had it as our pick for the best alternative phone of the year. Third and fourth place also go to Samsung, with 11 percent for the S8+ and 10 percent for the S8.

It wasn’t just the Note 8 that took the crown for best smartphone. Samsung took the crown for top manufacturer, with an impressive three phones in the top four places, totaling 45 percent! These devices represent the best trends 2017 had to offer, with elegant design, gorgeous displays, small bezels and unfortunately large price tags.

In fifth place, the larger of Google’s 2017 phones, the Pixel 2 XL, took 9 percent of the vote. This was followed by the LG V30 with 7 percent and the Huawei Mate 10 Pro with 5 percent. All of the other devices in the poll received less than 5 percent, including the LG G6 and the controversial iPhone X.

Which phones are you looking forward to in 2018? What features do you hope manufacturers will keep or ditch in the coming year? Let us know in the comments!

Android News + App Reviews + Hardware Reviews – AndroidPIT

Winter is coming: How to protect your smartphone from cold

With its freezing weather, ice and snow, winter is not necessarily the best time of year for smartphones; there are many dangers for these expensive gadgets. However, these handy tips and tricks will definitely help you get your smartphone through the winter unscathed.

Winter is coming. It’s not just Game of Thrones fans that feel a shiver down their spine when they hear this; a lot of people don’t like winter – and nor do tech gadgets. But as explorer Ben Saunders has shown with his Galaxy A5 while traveling to the South Pole, your smartphone doesn’t need to take damage in the winter when used properly.

Always keep it close to your body

The important thing in crisp, cold, sub-zero weather is to do your best to keep your smartphone from cooling down. As such, you should not put your smartphone in your handbag or backpack, but as close as possible to your body, such as the inside pocket or in your pant pocket. However, winter sportsmen should be aware that a smartphone can become an additional safety hazard and cause injuries if you crash, so make sure that everything is well-padded when going on daring adventures.

LCD-based displays in particular are vulnerable to the cold. The liquid crystals are quite capable of freezing and, at the very least, temporarily limit the display and permanently damage it in case of ongoing coldness. OLED panels do not have this problem, but are not designed for extreme cold either. Thus, if you want to protect your display, only use your phone in extreme cold in emergencies and as briefly as possible.

Batteries do not like sub-zero temperatures

Apart from the display, the battery in particular is a smartphone component that is especially harmed by the cold, and capacity is noticeably reduced in a cold environment. Furthermore, connecting the battery to the charger while ice cold is harmful for it. As such, you should only charge the smartphone when it has reached its normal temperature again. If you use your smartphone as a GPS when driving your car, think about taking it with you if you are leaving your car parked for a while. Cars cool very quickly when the engine isn’t running, turning them into a smartphone refrigerator in the winter.

press06 model x rear three quarter with accessory carrier Better not leave your smartphone in a cold car. / © Tesla

In addition to the cold, the second biggest problem is moisture. It rains and snows during the winter and slush, puddles, drops, and ice are all things that are not good for your smartphone, but you can adequately protect it with a waterproof case and a bit more precaution than normal. But there is a hidden danger: moisture from condensation. It quickly forms when you suddenly heat up a cold object—people who wear glasses can tell you all about it. Thus, you should generally give your smartphone time to defrost and by no means leave it on the heater or even defrost it with a hair dryer – the display glass can also crack as well. We recommend waiting at least a half hour until using your smartphone again after venturing into the ice and snow and simply let it sit still or put it in your pocket for that amount of time.

Surprise, surprise: cases provide protection

A protective case should practically be mandatory in winter, since it dramatically reduces the hazard when falling. If you slip on snow and ice, you generally drop your smartphone, too. Furthermore, thick gloves do not ensure a tight grip. With the right case, the smartphone is better protected from falls, but, in many cases, it is also better protected from moisture. A common misperception: Unlike gloves and socks on people, smartphone cases do not continuously keep the device warm, because to do so, the smartphone itself needs to emit heat that the material can reflect. At some point, your smartphone with a case is just as cold as without one.

galaxy s8 2 piece case enlarged Protective case should provide a little bit more protection than the new Samsung bumpers. / © Samsung

Speaking of gloves: Many smartphones now offer a glove mode for operation, which can mainly be turned on and off in the settings, and which is simply nice to have in wintry weather. However, this generally affects the accuracy of touch inputs, and you furthermore can’t use the fingerprint sensor for unlocking either. If you have a Smartphone with face unlock like the OnePlus 5T, consider yourself lucky.

samsung galaxy s8 teardown Moisture can corrode the insides of a smartphone.  / © iFixIt.com

Take anything you can out

If your smartphone gets wet or shows signs of moisture on the inside of the display glass, you’d better act quickly. We recommend quickly removing the SIM and memory card and leaving the slot open so that the moisture can escape. If the smartphone has a removable battery, you need to quickly take that out, too, but since many smartphones now have sealed batteries, you can only remedy the situation at first by turning it off. The smartphone should be given at least one day to dry off. Even if it works again, damage via corrosion can form, which won’t be noticeable until later.

Has your smartphone already become a victim of this rough winter? Do you have any more tips on surviving the freezing weather?

Android News + App Reviews + Hardware Reviews – AndroidPIT

How to unlock a smartphone when you forgot its pattern

We’re only human, not elephants, and sometimes we forget things. Whether it be leaving your front door open, where you’ve left your car keys, or just simply what your pattern lock or PIN was on your Android device, it happens. Unfortunately, for the latter, it might mean that you’re locked out of your tablet or smartphone without being able to get access to anything through no fault of your own. Fortunately, there are several methods to bypass the lock screen and get back in. 

Here’s what to do when you’ve forgotten the lock screen pattern or PIN on your Android device. Just click a link to see more details about each method. Some will only work on newer versions of Android.

Our best suggestion: Android Device Manager (for Android 2.3 and up)

This is the simplest and best way to regain access to your device after you forget your PIN code. As long as you’re logged into your Google Account on your phone, it will work for you.

Just get on your computer, login to Android Device Manager, and select the device in question from the list of devices associated with your account. Counter-intuitively, you then tap “Lock”. Once you lock your phone with a new code, it overrides the original code that you had forgotten. Then, hey presto, you have access to your phone again!

smartphone security locker hero Bypassing the lock screen on Android isn’t impossible, it’s easy! / © AndroidPIT

Other alternatives for bypassing the lock screen

Smart lock (Android 5.0 and Up)

Newer versions of Android have tighter security than older ones, which could be unlocked with a Google account login. But they do have the Smart Lock feature, which lets you have the phone automatically unlock under certain conditions, such as when it connects to your home Wi-Fi network, for example. In this case, when you forget your pattern or PIN, just go back home to unlock your phone without it.

This can be set up for a variety of conditions. Find out more on how to set up a smart lock.

androidpit samsung galaxy s5 05 Don’t get stuck at the lock screen with these tips. / © AndroidPIT

Use your Google account (Android 4.4 and below)

So, you’re locked out of your device and cannot remember your pattern unlock. What do you do? Thankfully, you don’t need to panic as there is a pretty straight forward way to get into your device.

  • Attempt the pattern unlock five times (maybe you’ll get lucky and guess/remember it!).
  • After the fifth attempt, you’ll be locked out but an option at the bottom of the screen that says “Forgot Pattern” will appear, click on it.
  • Sign into your Google Account.
  • Once authenticated with your Google Account, you’ll be able to choose a new PIN, pattern, lock, etc., and unlock your device.

Third party security options

Some smartphone manufacturers often bundle their own security software into a device, such as Find My Mobile by Samsung. Such features can be particularly useful for getting past the lock screen, but you will have to have set this up already.

If you did, just visit the corresponding website from another device or PC and unlock your phone from there.

The last resort: factory reset

The last resort is to conduct a factory reset. But watch out because this will erase all the data on your Android device, so only do this if you really have tried all of the above options.

The easiest method for doing this with a locked phone is by logging into the Android Device Manager online. From here you have the option to conduct a complete factory reset.

Android Device Manager Install on Google Play

If you can’t access Android Device Manager for some reason, or you’re not signed into your Google Account on the locked device, then you must do a hardware reset, which means entering your device’s recovery mode manually.

The method for conducting a hardware factory reset differs on each device, but it generally involves holding down the power and volume buttons when your device is switched off. In case your experience differs from the steps in our previous link, you can search through our website to find the factory reset guide for your specific device by clicking the link. 

androidpit nexus 5 bootloader 1 Enter recovery mode to do a hardware factory reset. / © AndroidPIT

Do you have any other tips for bypassing the lock screen on Android? Have your attempts to reset your PIN code been successful? Let us know in the comments. 

Android News + App Reviews + Hardware Reviews – AndroidPIT

The best smartphone accessories under $50

The right accessories can compound the excitement of getting that new smartphone for Christmas, or make you fall back in love with last year’s model. No matter which Android device you have, there are a ton of great possibilities. Here are some of the best smartphone accessories we think you shouldn’t live without.

Wireless charger

Wireless charging has been around for a while, but it still feels like magic. The convenience of not having to fiddle around with wires is worth the investment. Samsung offers a wireless charging pad that’s capable of fast charge and compatible with all Qi enabled smartphones. Normally $ 49, it’s now on Amazon for just $ 24. If that’s not stylish enough for you, for about the same price on Amazon, you can get a wood or leather wireless charger from other brands.

wireless fast charging Wireless charging is fast and hassle-free. / © AndroidPIT

Wireless speaker

Once you go wireless, you’ll never want to go back. There are tons of affordable options to choose from, whether your deciding factor is design, sound quality, waterproofing, price tag or convenience. For a Bluetooth speaker that you can have in your house or on the go, the Anker Soundcore is an all-round winner. In addition to having good sound quality for its price, it has a 66-foot Bluetooth range, its battery lasts 24 hours and it has a built-in mic. Speaking of price, it’s only $ 29 on Amazon.

AndroidPIT Anker Soundcore Boost Soundcore 2 1 The Anker Soundcore is everything but waterproof. / © AndroidPIT

Bluetooth headphones

Bluetooth headphones have come a long way. Now they’re less costly to your phone’s battery and your wallet. A standard pair of neckbuds goes for around $ 20-30. The Anker SoundBuds, for example, cost $ 25 on Amazon. Of course, there’s the significantly more expensive, totally wireless options, like the assistant-enabled Samsung Gear Icon X (2018) that sells for $ 200. But, if you’re not concerned with having a name brand, there are much cheaper totally wireless alternatives available for around $ 29.

samsung gear iconx 2018 tap There are cheaper substitutes for the totally wireless Samsung Gear IconX (2018). / © AndroidPIT

Mini MicroSD card reader

No matter how much internal storage space you have on your phone, it’s almost never enough. Even if you’re one of the lucky ones with a MicroSD card slot, that single card can quickly get choked up with all that mindless music and media that you never bother to remove. If your Android smartphone supports USB On The Go, you can take advantage of mini MicroSD card readers. These attach to your phone, tablet, and/or PC to allow you to transfer and store data between devices. You can take this $ 13 mini MicroSD card reader on the go and connect via USB Type-C, micro USB, Lightning and USB. There are tons of cheap readers on Amazon in different styles, like the keychain one pictured below.

Mini MicroSD adaptador Mini MicroSD card readers can often plug into your PC, too. / © AndroidPIT

Protective case

Every smartphone loves a good case. Whether it’s a stylish case built just for your phone, an indestructible waterproof monster from Otterbox or a slick full rubber jacket from just about anywhere, a smartphone case not only protects your Android and makes you look cool, it’s an accessory you can change as often as your socks, livening up that solid slab of glass and plastic that never leaves your side. And if you’re clumsy, it may just save you an additional trip to the store a week after you unbox your new toy. So, get wise and get over to Amazon and browse the wide selection of cases.

AndroidPIT HaGe 8195 Get a case, or a few, to protect your investment. / © AndroidPIT

External battery pack

An external charger is an absolute must if you use your phone heavily. Even if you only use it heavily on rare occasions when you’re travelling long distances, battery packs can be a life saver. Best of all, they’re lightweight and affordable. The Anker Powercore 20,100 mAh portable charger costs just $ 39 and can charge up to two devices at the same time, with fast 4.8 A output. How many times you can charge your phone with the pack depends on your phone’s particular battery capacity of course, but for reference, it will charge the iPhone 7 6.5 times or the Galaxy S6 5 times.

Akkupacks 03.02.2017 1 Anker is a trusted brand for powerbanks. / © AndroidPIT

Do you have any of these accessories already? Which ones are you considering?

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How to take photos of fireworks with your smartphone

Most smartphones nowadays offer extensive manual configuration options and allow you to adjust focus, exposure time, and ISO sensitivity. Combined with improved image quality, your smartphone is thus well-equipped for firework photos.

However, I highly recommend that you get one accessory, namely a simple tripod, because the required multi-second shutter speed no longer makes it possible to take clear photos, even with the calmest of hands. Although you can lean your smartphone against something or use a makeshift clamp if you’re in a pinch, you won’t have full flexibility when it comes to image detail.

fireworks gorillapod For long exposures, a tripod is a great help. / © AndroidPIT

Speaking of image detail: Make sure that you give the fireworks more space on the image rather than less, since you can always crop the photo afterwards. Thanks to the wide-angle lenses on smartphone cameras, that shouldn’t be a problem. Furthermore, I recommend that you always show some scenery as well, which contextualizes the fireworks. If you manage to position a water surface (or other reflective object) between you and the fireworks, you will be rewarded with spectacular reflections.

The right picture-taking settings

Some smartphones and third-party camera apps already offer modes for fireworks that essentially activate the settings we recommend in this article. However, cameras generally only provide JPEG images, which offer only limited editing options, and if the results are not what you wanted, then you can’t correct them. Thus, I would recommend that you take pictures in manual or Pro mode, which offers many configuration options.

Even if it is normally the case in Pro mode, you should make sure that HDR mode is disabled and that RAW mode is enabled instead. HDR mode produces ghost images for moving subjects sometimes and RAW shots offer significantly greater color depth and better dynamics. To take advantage of the full potential, however, you must edit the RAW files with a special app or software, a RAW converter.

We have already dealt with the topic of RAW photos and smartphones in detail in a previous article.

Which camera settings do I use for fireworks?

In your smartphone’s pro mode, you will be faced with a multitude of parameters, and shutter speed here is very crucial. It determines how many effects can ultimately be seen on the photo. With a very short shutter speed, you will only see single dots from the fireworks on the image. Only exposure times ranging from one second to several seconds produce beautiful traces of light. But there is also a practical upper limit here as well: Conversely, excessively long shutter speeds produce a photo that is overloaded with light traces. Shutter speeds between one and eight seconds usually produce beautiful results.

fireworks The sweet spot: Here you can see how the same fireworks sequence looks with different shutter speeds. To accomplish this, we simply took pictures of a video. / © AndroidPIT

At this point, it’s also important for you to set the ISO sensitivity to the lowest setting that the smartphone has, usually ISO 50 or ISO 100, but feel free to set it lower. The lighting effects in particular are very bright and are otherwise depicted with excessive shine. Dimming like in cameras with a true iris diaphragm is not possible on smartphones – the only option here is to limit the amount of light entering the lens using a special ND filter for smartphones.

The next aspect relates to the focus, which you can also define in Pro modes. Set this setting to “infinity”, which is often marked with a mountain. This ensures that the camera app is focused on faraway subjects on every picture. Just don’t forget to undo this setting after taking pictures of the fireworks, because otherwise all the portraits, for instance, will become blurry. I would also recommend the manual setting for the white balance, particularly the one for daylight such as 5000K to 5500K if your camera app lets you set the color temperature.

fireworks manual mode Most current smartphones offer a manual mode with which the shutter speed can be adjusted manually. / © AndroidPIT

Timing is everything!

Lastly, the right timing is very important for successfully taking firework photos. Normally, you always see spherical bombs and the sort in large fireworks rising to the sky as a bright trail. Then it takes another half-second until the effect explodes. That would be just the right moment to take the picture. However, pressing the trigger with your finger has a certain risk of shaking the camera and, due to the critical timing, the two-second self-timer is not overly practical here.

Therefore, I’d recommend that you simply use a wired headset. You can usually trigger the smartphone’s camera app using the buttons installed here. If that doesn’t work, you may need to enable the setting in your camera app that allows you to use the volume buttons to take pictures.

fireworks headset trigger Practical: A headset that also serves as a shutter button. / © AndroidPIT

There’s no manual mode. What do I do now?

If the camera app does not have manual mode or if the manual mode only allows for very slow shutter speeds, modes such as light traces, time exposure or the sort are helpful. Simply go through your smartphone’s camera app and see what options are available to you. Alternatively, you can always download a third-party app such as Camera FV-5, which definitely offers manual mode.

By the way, the aforementioned tips are not only suitable for taking pictures of fireworks, but also for light paintings or turning passing cars into long trails of light in a city photo. And I’m sure that you will find even more use cases!

Furthermore, these tips can not only be used for smartphones but also for cameras in general, and you can also use them with your compact or DSLR camera. On advanced cameras, you have the huge advantage of being able to regulate the amount of light entering the lens using an iris diaphragm.

And if you have any other tips for fireworks photos or any feedback, I look forward to reading them in the comments – happy holidays!

Android News + App Reviews + Hardware Reviews – AndroidPIT

Poll: What is the best smartphone of 2017?

Today, you can help us pick the best smartphone of 2017. We’ve preselected from all the newcomers of the year, and now it’s your turn to vote: Which makes it to the top of the list this time?

2017 was a big year in the smartphone market. Displays grew as bezels shrank, and the $ 1000 price ceiling was definitively shattered. From dual cameras to digital assistants, there have been technical trends and iterative innovations on many fronts. It’s tough to pick the best smartphone since many of them received similarly positive reviews on our site, though there are flaws with each of course.

If you haven’t kept up with all the reviews on our site this year, you might be interested in reading up on our top picks of the year. We’ve narrowed down the best of the best (at least among Android devices) for several categories that are based on what users might be looking for when they shop, like price, battery life, photography, size, etc.. In any case, we want to know your opinion on the absolute best smartphone of 2017 in any category.

Tell us more about why you chose your favorite in the comments. We look forward to seeing the overall result, and to hearing how you made your choice!

Android News + App Reviews + Hardware Reviews – AndroidPIT

5 things to change in settings of your brand new smartphone

Using a new smartphone for the first time is a mixture of excitement and impatience. Everything is a surprise, especially if you changed to a manufacturer that has a completely different interface than the one you’re used to. However, these little surprises can turn into frustration and annoyance real quick if we’re not a fan of the new features. That’s why I’m going to show you how to deactivate five stock options that drive us mad.

1. Deactivate touch response sounds and vibrations

When I’m using a smartphone for the first time there are few things that I like less than touch feedback. The vibrations and sounds that imitate the reaction of a real button just make me nervous, so it’s always the first thing I turn off. Besides badly imitating reality the only thing it actually does is waste battery.

To stop the sounds and vibrations of the touch response:

  • Go to Settings > Sounds > Other sounds.
  • Once there you can deactivate: keyboard sounds, screen lock sounds, charging sounds, touch sounds, touch vibration, etc.

Note: If the smartphone is going to be used by an older adult who doesn’t have a keen sense of touch, it is recommended to leave the vibration activated so it’s easier to tell when the screen is touched.

AndroidPIT lenovo moto g5 7116 In the beginning, everything vibrates. / © AndroidPIT

2. Deactivate keyboard vibration when you type

Ok, you’ve deactivated all the touch feedback on the system, so why does it vibrate when I type? Well, the keyboard has a mind of its own. To deactivate keyboard vibrations, you’ll have to head to the settings on the keyboard itself, whether you still use the stock one or one that you’ve installed.

  • Go to Settings > Language and input > Virtual keyboard.
  • Choose your keyboard.
  • In preferences, deactivate ‘Keyboard sound’ and ‘Keyboard vibration’.

AndroidPIT keyboard fleksy hero 2 Did you turn off all the vibrations but your keyboard keeps vibrating? / © AndroidPIT

3. Rein in auto-correct

Often times auto-correct is more a hinder than a help. It would be perfect if it would just recommend words instead of directly changing what we’ve written after we hit the space bar and putting whatever it feels like in there.

The auto-correct that comes stock is quite aggressive so you’ll probably have to deactivate it before you continue installing apps.

To deactivate auto-correct follow these steps:

  • Go to Settings > Language and input > Virtual keyboard
  • Choose the keyboard you’re using.
  • In the keyboard settings, press ‘Text Correction’.
  • Now, deactivate the option that says ‘Auto replace.’

4. Disable all the preinstalled apps that you don’t use

A majority of manufacturers load their devices with apps from their own services. However, you might never use those services so you’ve got apps on your phone that are wasting resources for nothing.

Every single manufacturer app is going to want to update and some may even be running in the background without you knowing it. You can’t completely uninstall them (unless your phone’s rooted), but you can put them on hibernate.

We have a whole article on how to disable preinstalled apps, but I’ll give you a brief overview of the main steps here:

  • Go to Settings > Apps
  • Choose the app you want to disable (avoid structural apps like Google services or other apps that aren’t in the app drawer).
  • In the app information, you’ll find a disable button.
  • You can also choose to deactivate notifications if you’d like.

AndroidPIT Samsung Galaxy S8 vs iPhone 7 2370 Say goodbye to all the apps you never use. / © AndroidPIT

5. Turn off the boot animation

Every smartphone has a little animation when the device is powered up and some come with the companies jingle or some cliché type music. If you’re at home, then it’s no big deal, but if you’re restarting your phone in public, it can be a bit embarrassing.

Deactive the boot sound, so you don’t have to listen to “Hello Moto” or the company’s jingle anymore by following these steps:

  • Head to Settings > Sounds
  • Depending on the manufacturer, there’ll be different options that you should deactivate. For Motorola it’s called “Power up sound” and for Huawei/Honor ‘Start up sound.
  • It’s not quite that easy for Samsung users but we’ve got a couple of options. For non-root users, put your device in silent mode before you restart it or turn it off, or you can deactivate all sounds in Settings > Accessibility > Hearing. For root users, you can delete the audio files in \System\Etc\ PowerOn.wav for power up and \System\Media\Audio\ui\ shutdown.ogg for shutdown.

Bonus: Changing ringtones

This is something that when the first phones with polyphonic ringtones came out it took us a whole afternoon to decide which one we wanted. Now, we don’t even pay attention to it, but you can personalize it a ton if you’d like to. You could even make your favorite song your ringtone.

If you don’t change your ringtone than your phone will sound just like every other phone straight from the factory. That’s why I strongly urge you to find something new, especially if you have an iPhone. Look for something with a bit of style.

Is there anything else you automatically disable when you get a new phone?

Android News + App Reviews + Hardware Reviews – AndroidPIT

The definitive smartphone features of 2017

For good or ill, these are the most significant smartphone innovations of 2017.

Bokeh comes to the fore

The bokeh effect, or the blurring of the out-of-focus areas of an image, has been an element of photography for years, but it’s only been this year that it’s been easily reproducible by all of us with our smartphone cameras. Often used to blur the background in order to make the subject of the photo in the foreground really pop. Naturally, this lends itself fantastically to art of the selfie.

oneplus 5 fixed bokeh The bokeh-blurred background gives us more appreciation of the beauty of the subject / © AndroidPIT

The widespread use of the bokeh effect is largely attributable to the popularity of a dual-camera setup in new smartphones. Although dual cameras have been around for longer, we’re finding out how to get the most out of them, and the effective use of bokeh is one of the most eye-catching ways to show it.

AI: leaning about us as we learn about it

 At the beginning of the year we were confident that 2017 was going to be the year that artificial intelligence really comes into public consciousness. And we were right, although AI was more prominent this year in the form of smart home assistant loudspeakers and software than being housed in the phone itself. We interacted with AIs like Siri and Alexa through the handset, but the ‘brain’ was in another device. But that all changed with the announcement of the Huawei Mate 10.

AndroidPIT Kirin chip 8669 Mate 10’s Kirin 970 chip brings AI into the actual phone / © AndroidPIT

The Mate 10 packs the Kirin 970 processor, with a dedicated NPU (Neural Processing Unit). At the moment, this doesn’t just mean better computing and graphical performance off the bat, but that the chip will analyse your app use and phone habits, intelligently allocating resources to save power and improve efficiency. AI also assists photography and provides translation services.

It won’t be long before the NPU becomes standard issue in flagships that hope to compete with the Mate 10. Even Google, which has an ‘AI-first’ strategy that doesn’t really center around the smartphone, has quietly included a smart chip in the Pixel 2 intended for photography, waiting for the right moment to activate it.

AI has arrived in our hands and there’s no rolling back. While AI will enable our devices to learn about us, it’s still a relatively new phenomenon in the consumer world and most of us could stand to learn a little more about AI, too. I’d recommend to check out our primer to get to know the basics.

Bezel-less displays take us one step closer to the edge

It’s this year’s must-have look. Bezels, those borders around the actual screen of the phone, are out and unlikely to return. Bezel-less displays have a longer history than one might think, but it’s only recently become the defining look for new phones. Of course, this can largely be attributed to Apple and the iPhone X, although opinion is divided as to the aesthetic qualities of the camera notch.

AndroidPIT samsung galaxy S8 vs xiaomi mi mix comparison 5602 Xiaomi Mi Mix and the Galaxy S8 / © AndroidPIT

Now it seems like every company is trying to do away with bezels entirely, mostly by making the borders as small as possible, rather than making a notch like Apple. The near completely bezel-less Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 may just be the best example of this so far.

Aw, the cute little phone thinks it’s a PC!

Flagship smartphones are always becoming more and more powerful in their computing power to the point where they can easily boast as much memory and processing capability of what were once the high-end PCs of yesterday. And the latest Android phones are more than capable of stepping up and actually being PCs, if you’ll give them a chance.

Samsung got in first, with the Galaxy S8, the S8+ and the Note 8 all being capable of being connected via DeX to a PC display and peripherals, allowing you to use the same machine for your mobile and desktop computing needs. Samsung has even provided a complete Linux OS as an app to encourage developers to use it as their main desktop device.

Huawei’s Mate 10 Pro is even more confident about stepping up to the desktop throne, as it doesn’t require any special dock. Any dongle can connect this powerful smartphone to your desktop and allow you to use the same machine both as your home computer and on-the-go solution.

As more high end smartphones become capable of easily running full desktop OS systems like Windows 10, we might see more users, particularly those without a need for especially high-end PCs, save money by relying on just one device as both phone and PC.

Hit the road, headphone jack

One of the more controversial signs of the times is that high-end handsets are basically ditching the traditional audio jack, increasingly trusting that the user will adopt a wireless (or thunderbolt/USB-C) solution for speakers and headphones. At the moment, lower-to-mid tier phones are still found carrying the jack, while upper-tier flagships do without it. But inevitably, what is the norm in the upper-range will become typical across the board.

AndroidPIT Smartphone Audio jack 5561 We’ll be denied the satisfaction of plugging into the jack / © ANDROIDPIT

This is not exactly convenient for a lot of people who want to keep their new phones compatible with older audio solutions, but as has always been the case, consumer technology can only be held back by this for so long. 

There’s still a lot of teething problems as we move to new audio solutions though. The very best headphones still work most effectively through the jack, and wireless models can be unreliable, and require an extra battery to worry about.

Here’s our pick of the smartphone feature innovations that defined 2017. Which are your favorites? Are there any you think are a step in the wrong direction?

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Beautiful blur for smartphone portraits: How bokeh effect works

iphone x pixel 2 bokeh2 A blurry background directs the viewer’s attention to the depicted subject. This blurriness is called bokeh, after the Japanese word for blurriness. Bokeh mode is often called portrait mode as well, since it is especially suited for portrait photos.  / © AndroidPIT

About focus and blurriness in cameras

I would first like to start by explaining the concept of focus and blurriness and, to that end, consider a lens as one individual lens for simplicity’s sake. The greater the diameter of this lens, the quicker the rays drift apart in the beam path of the following graphic. As a result, objects outside of focus are no longer depicted in a punctiform manner but rather as an increasingly bigger circle as the lens diameter increases. As soon as one of these circles becomes greater on the sensor than a single pixel, the picture section in question is no longer in focus.

bokeh schematic For the sake of simplicity, we have assumed that the focal distance is unlimited and as such, the incoming rays of light are parallel. The bigger the lens, the lower the tolerance until the size of the pixel (3) is exceeded. With a small lens (2), the rays of light travel more parallel from a certain point than with a large lens (1). / © AndroidPIT

Apart from the lens’ diameter, the lens’ focal length also plays a role. The greater the focal length, the more selective the focus. What you may know as e.g. 24 or 26 millimeters from the datasheet is not the true focal length of the lenses; the 35-mm equivalent focal length is what’s specified here. It describes the focal length that the lens on a camera with a 36 x 24-millimeter sensor would need to have in order to achieve the same image angle as the smartphone’s lens-sensor combination. The real focal lengths of a smartphone’s wide-angle lenses actually range from 4.0 to 4.5 millimeters. 

One thing is clear due to the mini-lens and the tiny focal lengths: The depth of field is always huge on smartphones, and it also doesn’t help that smartphones have a smaller circle of confusion than single-lens reflex cameras due to their tiny pixels. I have deliberately left out one influencing factor on the depth of field: the distance from the subject – the closer the distance, the more selective the depth of field. Most of you will have observed the effect on macro photos with a smartphone.

iphone x pixel 2 bokeh The iPhone X and the Pixel 2 each use different approaches to create bokeh effects. / © AndroidPIT

A lot of CPU horsepower instead of a large lens

However, one thing that smartphones have to offer is a lot of computing power and/or other physical means of reproducing the effects via image processing. Generally speaking, it always works by having the camera distinguish between the foreground and background and then specifically blur the background. While doing so, the clearer the subject and background are separated from each other, the more impressive the effect.

Some flaws inherent in this process include protruding hairs that are blurred together with the background. Even glass presents a constant problem for bokeh functions: In most cases, the eyeglass lenses of the portrayed person are included in the foreground, but the background visible through the glasses is not blurred, which would have occurred in a visual bokeh effect.

oneplus 5 botched bokeh Eyeglass lenses or minute details often give bokeh modes an impossible task. / © AndroidPIT

These smartphone experiments with depth of field are not entirely new. The HTC One (M8) and even various Nokia Windows Phone devices (R.I.P.) brought the bokeh effect to pictures. However, neither the picture quality nor the processing speed was good enough and as a result, it ultimately did not manage to catch on until the past two years. 

As is the case today as well, different approaches were used in the aforementioned HTC One (M8) and Nokia devices, both of which we can still find in a very similar form in today’s smartphones. We would like to touch upon the differences and their pros and cons in the paragraphs below. Apart from Sony, LG and HTC—excluding the One (M8)—all large manufacturers now offer devices with bokeh functionality. 

AndroidPIT LG V30 iPhone 8 plus Galaxy Note 8 One Plus 5T HTC U11 Google Pixel 2 Huawei Mate 10Pro 5630 Five of the seven smartphones shown here offer the bokeh effect. / © AndroidPIT

Dual camera for bokeh effects

Like the HTC One (M8), which pioneered the dual camera, many smartphones today also use a dual camera to calculate a depth map of the scene being photographed. Similar to our brain and two eyes, the smartphone uses the offset of both lenses. The software uses soft focus on the parts of the image that are identified as the background.

Identical focal lengths

The dual cameras of Huawei, Honor, Nokia and Motorola use identical focal lengths for each of the two sensors, making bokeh functionality available for wide-angle photos. On the cheaper dual-camera models, such as the Honor 7X, the second camera has a mere resolution of 2 megapixels, so its only purpose is to create a depth map.

On the other hand, flagships have an additional purpose for the camera: For instance, on the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, the second sensor takes high-resolution black-and-white photos to supplement the rear camera’s RGB shots with additional brightness information. Its purpose is to improve image quality, particularly when using digital zoom. On the other hand, the second camera on the OnePlus 5T is intended to provide assistance when taking nighttime shots.

AndroidPIT huawei mate 10 pro vs oneplus 5t 5876 The OnePlus 5T and Huawei Mate 10 Pro each have two cameras with the same focal length, albeit with different sensors. / © AndroidPIT

Different focal lengths

Other models, among them the Asus Zenfone 4, the iPhones or the OnePlus 5, use different focal lengths in both lenses. As a result, the bokeh function is not available in wide-angle mode, since the tele-module does not allow for a second view for creating the depth map for the entire image. However, it works the other way around: An image extract from the wide-angle camera helps create a depth map for a telephoto. 

This limitation may not be dire in practice. In any case, the tele-module’s longer focal lengths particularly deliver nicer results for portrait photos. One special case is the Galaxy Note 8: Its wide-angle sensor namely offers dual-pixel autofocus, which makes the bokeh effect possible without a second camera—at least in theory, but we’ll elaborate more on that in a bit.

AndroidPIT iPhone 8 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 8 3396 The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and the iPhone 8 Plus each have a dual camera with different focal lengths. / © AndroidPIT

Exceptional cases

There are also sporadic experiments with more elaborate camera systems where a depth map is not calculated from the offset of both lenses. For instance, the iPhone X’s front camera projects an infrared dot pattern onto the surroundings, allowing it to not only detect the user’s face but also cleanly crop it out from the surroundings. Huawei is working on a very similar system. 

The Asus Zenfone AR and the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, each of which have a time-of-flight camera integrated below the rear camera, take it a step further. In the process, they scan the room with an infrared laser, which once again provides increased range. This technology, promoted by Google under Project Tango, has not managed to gain a foothold so far. Elsewhere, we already made an extensive report on Time-of-flight cameras and Project Tango.

AndroidPIT lenovo phab 2 pro tof camera 4479 The time-of-flight camera in Phab2 Pro creates spectacular AR effects. However, this now works with conventional smartphone cameras as well when paired with additional sensors. / © AndroidPIT

Bokeh effects with just one lens

You are certainly familiar with the effect: Close one eye and your depth perception only works to a limited degree. So, how do smartphones with only one lens manage to distinguish between the foreground and background? 

There used to be an app called Refocus for the aforementioned Windows Phones. Here, the smartphones simply took photos with different focus points and, with the tap of a finger, the user could choose which areas to focus on. Although it worked very well, it was very slow and thus, only practical to a limited extent. However, hardware and software are more advanced nowadays, which is why it works, even without any focus bracketing.

AndroidPIT Google Pixel 2 4574 Thank goodness for dual-pixel autofocus: The Google Pixel 2 only needs one image sensor for bokeh effects. / © AndroidPIT

The Google Pixel 2 offers the bokeh effect with one single lens. One feature of the IMX362 image sensor is helpful here, namely the dual-pixel autofocus. It divides every single pixel on the sensor into two halves and, like on dual cameras, this process makes it possible to generate two slightly shifted images. However, the technological implementation is more complex than with the two individual sensors, since the offset is not in the centimeter range, but rather equal to half of the lens diameter. The actual pixel generation process here combines a complete set of photos from the depth map and furthermore uses AI-supported image analysis.

For instance, on its Galaxy S8 and S8+, Samsung also uses an image sensor with dual-pixel autofocus (the Sony IMX333), but has so far foregone true bokeh functionality. Selective focus only works for macro shots and without any input from the user. However, the upcoming Oreo update is slated to give the Samsung Duo a true bokeh mode. Other smartphones equipped with dual-pixel autofocus, such as the HTC U11 or the Moto G5 Plus, currently do not have any bokeh functionality, although a software update can also provide them with it.

What do you guys think?

In conclusion, there are many different ways to take atmospheric background blurs, even with small image sensors and the mini-lenses found in smartphone cameras. Which approach would you like for your next smartphone? Let’s discuss the pros and cons in the comments below!

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