It's not just Apple that can innovate.
Here are the most inspired and useful features of five of the 10 best smartphones in the world.
The G2 garnered rave reviews from Stuff HQ for its smart bits and how it measured up against a couple of the phones mentioned here. We loved how easily it chomps through tasks, its whole-day-and-then-some battery life and its bleedingly sharp screen, but what sneaked into our hearts was a simple feature you’d think smartphone developers would have thought of long ago - KnockOn.
This ingeniously simple feature allows users to tap twice on the G2’s screen to wake it up or knock it out. Since the G2’s design resulted in the power button being shifted to the back, KnockOn is more of a necessity than a creative move. We’re not fussy about details, as long as new useful ways of doing things are the end result of inconvenience.
What a feat(ure): KnockOn knocks it out of the park with its intuitiveness, but be sure to clear a space on the home screen to make it a smooth slide into la la land. Plus, you never have to fiddle with the power button again (except when you want to switch the phone off proper).
The One brought a ton of new features to the Android community including a beautiful body, a refreshed home page and Harry Potter-esque photos in the form of Zoe shots. It brought a much needed breath of style to the dowdy Android pack and also gave us the new UltraPixel camera, choosing to increase sensor size over megapixel count.
And with that unconventional move, HTC proved that less is, sometimes, more with better-lit low light shots and a restless gallery of photos to mix things up via Zoe shots. While the Zoe may be an interesting feature, it’s still more of a novelty than a go-to given the memory it snuffles up with each click. Impressive concepts but HTC still needs to tweak them to make them useful in the long run.
What a feat(ure): Amongst its innovative offerings, BlinkFeed is the most practical of them. For information-guzzlers, the fresh feed is a godsend, snatching up the latest goss’ from your chosen sources to piece together in an unending scroll of brainfood. Saves us the inconvenience of opening one app at a time to feed our eyes. With its Mini-me outed and a larger version spotted in the wild, you’ll find that One size fits all.
Nokia Lumia 925
As a Windows phone, it’s tough to go up against the iOS and Android big boys in terms of downloadable apps. But there’s one area in which Android phones have failed us time and again, and that is...the camera.
For some reason, Android phone cameras just ain’t bringing it with their inaccurate colour replication, loss of detail and demand of completely steady hands. They do try to compensate with loads of camera features, but they’re not fooling us much. The Lumia 925’s 8.7MP PureView eye sees all clearly and gives the iPhone 5 a run for its money with its image stabilisation system.
What a feat(ure): With Smart Cam, you can apply the camera effects (best shot, object removal, action shot or motion focus) post-capture instead of being made to commit beforehand. How are our fickle minds supposed to know which mode the shot will look best in? Users can even bump their skills up a notch manually with the Nokia Pro Cam app.
Sony Xperia Z1
Though we do have doubts about the camera performance of Android devices, Sony Mobile’s latest Xperia Z1 might reassure us. With its 20.7MP snapper, 1/2.3in Exmor RS sensor and an f/2.0, 27mm equivalent lens, it should make short work of its competitors.
Put the hardware aside, and you’ll find more reasons to be impressed with its camera software features. Some, like the Timeshift Burst and its ability to capture 60 consecutive frames, is not the newest kid on the block (think Samsung Galaxy S4) but it adds more functionality to the 20.7MP camera.
The Z1 has a few tricks up its sleeve. Film a video, and broadcast it onto your Facebook page immediately with Social Live. Every other app is centred around the Z1’s snapper, from Info Eye that uses Amazon to recognise books to Vivino which sneakily tells you what wine you are drinking and lets you pass off as a wine connoisseur. AR Effect adds a dinosaur to the mix, mostly to entertain your kids but the novelty will wear off after a few shots.
What a feat(ure): Sony Mobile is no lightweight when it comes to imaging functions for its Android smartphones. Its impressive hardware and just as innovative software that works in tandem with the 20.7MP shooter will get nods of approval from shutterbugs.
Samsung Galaxy Note 3
Two years ago, Samsung raised a few eyebrows with the first Galaxy Note. Tech pundits had doubts over its gargantuan (by that year’s standard) 5.3in display. While most people are more concerned with how ridiculous you’ll look (we have the solution for that), one feature was uncharacteristically left out of the limelight - the stylus.
The S Pen triggered a revival of the smartphone stylus, once a necessary tool to interact with the resistive touchscreens of antique devices. Yet, the Samsung stylus has done more than that, introducing Air View, which shows a preview of an image or e-mail when the S Pen hovers over them, on the Galaxy Note 2.
Last week, the Galaxy Note 3 revealed a new feature for the S Pen, dubbed Air Command, that reveals a ring with five commands - Action Memo, Scrap Booker, Screen Write, S Finder and Pen Window. Action Memo, in particular, is a nifty little tool that makes handwriting interact naturally with the phone’s features. Scribbling a phone number will trigger a call, while an address will let you look it up on the map when Action Memo is activated.
What a feat(ure): The pen is mightier than the sword. And Samsung's S Pen stylus is mightier than the pen. Particularly as it'll now let you play with the awesome Pen Window. You simply draw an oblong on-screen and are presented with options as to what you'd like to fill it with, including YouTube videos, calendar and the eternally useful calculator. The apps then ready and willing to do you bidding.