5 Trend-Defying Smartphones Aiming for True Revolution
In the smartphone industry, much of the hubbub about new phones comes with the launch of a new flagship device from one of the top carriers — a new iPhone from Apple, (NASDAQ:AAPL), a Galaxy S from Samsung (SSNLF.PK), a One from HTC, a Nexus from Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL), and so on. While the iPhone truly revolutionized the mobile phone sphere by introducing the first modern smartphone, many subsequent phones make the claim to be game changers or revolutionary, but many remain quite similar and feature simple upgrades upon previous models.
If you watch each iteration of Apple’s iPhone or Samsung’s Galaxy series, there will be minor visual changes between each version, if any at all; some style changes; a size change here and there; the typical boost in speed and capacity; and the addition of any number of features. This pattern of upgrades has certainly helped its brands become established at the forefront of the smartphone industry, but it puts the products in a position where it’s much harder to take big risks, as it could easily bring the brand crashing down. If the next iPhone was suddenly nothing like the last iPhone, it could fail to sell.
But not all brands are stuck to playing it safe. Brands with less recognition or with multiple series of smartphones have opportunities that the major smartphone makers don’t necessarily have. While it has to try rising up from the fringe and need to compete with the big players, its ability to offer unique, game-changing smartphones makes it special. Here are some of the phones that do just that.
Medias W by NEC
At first glance, NEC’s Medias W smartphone looks like a run-of-the-mill device. Its slim, large, mostly dominated by a touchscreen, and appears to be a phone. But, as can be seen in the picture above, there’s a little bit more to it than what you see at first glance. Even if the device is unfolded when you first see it, it could be mistaken for two smartphones sitting right next to each other. But the fact is, it’s a dual-screen smartphone. The Medias W pairs the two screens with a hinge on the side of the phone (or the middle when unfolded.)
When the device is open, the screens can run together to offer a large display, or it can display separate content and work independently. The Medias W’s dual-screen feature easily makes it stand out of the crowd as a phone that attempted to change the game, but there may be no luck for it. The device has already been around for a year and it hasn’t had major success. As Japanese smartphones have often gone, it’s unlikely the device would get shipped over to U.S. carriers, and it might not even get future models. Though it definitely tried to be a game changer, some revolutions just don’t take.
Though very different from the Medias W, the Russian-made YotaPhone is something of a spiritual sibling to it. The YotaPhone doesn’t flip open or anything, but it’s another one of those device where you really have to turn it around to see the whole picture. If you look from one side, you might see a very bright and colorful picture, whereas the reverse side will be a monochrome, paper-like picture — and that’s the special feature of the YotaPhone.
While the YotaPhone is otherwise an Android smartphone much like any other, it includes a modestly high-resolution LCD touchscreen on one side, while the reverse side features an electronic paper display, or EPD, akin to that found on Kindle or Nook E-readers. The EPD allows for a number of beneficial things. For one, whatever is displayed on the LCD can be flipped over the EPD for significantly reduced batter drain — so reading an article like this one would be much easier on your battery, especially if the sun were shining on the screen. The EPD can also display new notifications, so the LCD screen doesn’t even need to be turned on to check them.
Another feature that can help people avoid a pinch is the ability for the EPD screen to retain an image on it even after the phone battery has died. So, a map or boarding pass won’t be lost when you need it most. The YotaPhone boasts decent tech specs, with a 1.7GHz dual-core processor, 2GB of RAM, and a 13-Megapixel main camera, while at a slightly lower price than some high-end smartphones — it comes in at around $700 when converted from a price of 419 British Pounds, though the price of 19990 Russian Rubles brings it closed to $560.
Project Ara by Google & Eco-Mobius by ZTE
If the Medias W and YotaPhone where spiritual siblings, then so are the Eco-Mobius and Project Ara devices, though from a pretty different family. While the Medias W and YotaPhone had second screens as extra parts to make it special, the Project Ara device and Eco-Mobius have removable parts to make it unique, and when it’s old, make it young again.
Project Ara particularly stands out because it is backed by one of the biggest names in the smartphone game. Google already has its Nexus line of smartphones, plus its Android operating system is dominating the globe. However, last year a campaign called Phonebloks got many web users fired up over the idea of modular smartphones that could have pieces added in or taken out freely, and apparently, it got Google fired up as well. If Google moves ahead with the project, it could be one of the most successful game-changing smartphones of the bunch, since it would have the strong backing of Google, run on the most popular smartphone operating system, and not be too dissimilar from mainstream smartphones to scare away would-be buyers.
The Eco-Mobius is similar in that it also allowed for parts to be swapped in and out, letting users upgrade their phone’s RAM or camera, among other things, at will. However, ZTE’s device hasn’t appeared to be as far along as Project Ara, as there haven’t been any major showings of the device in action. Project Ara, on the other hand, has been able to show off how the module attachment system works. It also appears as the Google device will have a bit more customizability in terms of the front side of the device. While ZTE has mentioned having several different screen sizes, Google has plans for numerous combinations of screen and module arrangements, including the option for physical keyboards.
Both phones would potentially reshape the smartphone landscape and completely change the way sales run through constant refresh cycles. It would also prove more environmentally friendly. Google hopes to have the devices available early next year, with the barest iterations coming in as low as $50.
OnePlus One by XiaoMi
Google’s Project Ara may come in cheap at $50, but that would no doubt be a particularly weak smartphone asking for a lot of upgrades before it hit the high-end tier. Of course, there is something to be said for defying the status quo on smartphone pricing. But, as Project Ara is still only in early stages, it may never actually see commercial availability. However, another contender aiming to defy the norm in terms of pricing has already shown up and could be a bit closer to launch — XiaoMi’s OnePlus One.
Though the OnePlus One hasn’t launched and isn’t so different from any of the big flagship smartphones on the market, its price proves to be a massive difference. According to PCMag, the phone will cost only about $300 for a 16GB model and $350 for a 64GB model, and that’s with the device unlocked. For reference, an unlocked iPhone 5S at those capacities would be $649 or $849, a Samsung Galaxy S5 would cost $660 for 16GB, and an HTC One with 32GB would cost $699. Now, plenty of phones cost hundreds of dollars less than the hottest flagships, but those phones also tend to have specs far weaker — and that’s wear the OnePlus One stands out.
With a quad-core 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801 processor, 3GB of RAM, a 4K-capable 13-megapixel camera, and a 1080p LCD screen, it has the hardware to challenge other flagships. Plus, it runs on Android, so it won’t be scaring people away with a wholly unfamiliar interface. PCMag‘s review of the device also said that it would function on AT&T’s (NYSE:T) network, as well as T-Mobile’s (NYSE:TMUS), where it could particular damage to competitors with its low unlocked price combined with T-Mobile’s “Uncarrier” strategy.
XiaoMi already has several other devices for sale that post high specs at low prices, so it’s not likely anything will keep the OnePlus One from reaching the market. Though so far XiaoMi’s market has been limited, TechCrunch reports that it is expanding into Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, as well as Mexico and Brazil. (Bonus: XiaoMi has fuzzy stuffed bunnies for mascots.)
Galaxy S4 Zoom by Samsung
Though we often don’t see major mobile players actually putting out some of the wilder concepts, Samsung has gone ahead and done it, and may do it again. The Galaxy S4 Zoom is one of the rare few on this list where at first glance you can see exactly what is so bizarre about it, although you might not even notice that it’s a smartphone.
Since the back of the phone has a zoom lens jutting out and the sort of thicker handle section commonly found on a point-and-shoot camera, it first looks like a camera. However, the large touchscreen, Android, and the support for mobile connectivity make it apparent that it is a combination of phone and camera. Though it doesn’t boast the same high-end specifications of some of its other Galaxy siblings, it still had enough to qualify as a decent phone and camera.
According to PhoneArena, the Galaxy S4 Zoom might not be a once-off either. A leaked image appears to show what could be the successor to the S4 Zoom. Though it appears to be more smartphone-like in that it doesn’t have as much hardware jutting out, it does maintain the large flash and extending zoom lens. Since the S4 Zoom was made by tech-giant Samsung and was actually commercially released, it may be one of the most successful game-changing smartphones on this list to date — even if it didn’t successfully change the smartphone game.
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