At the end of each year we reflect back on the various devices, new software and tech that were introduced during the year. This year we saw a few companies play it safe but some really tried to make that leap forward while the others were stagnant. Not all were successful but we don’t make an omelette without cracking a few eggs along the way.
What follows are my thoughts on 2018 as seen through the eyes of an Ausdroid writer.
Best Flagship Phone
This is often a personal choice but for me it comes down to the camera, the software experience and the overall hardware. This year there were a few companies playing it safe with their flagships and none of them were impressive enough to catch my eye. Those who didn’t play it safe included Huawei. You could easily argue that their two flagships released this year, the P20 Pro and the Mate 20 Pro were the two best flagships of the year.
For me, the best flagship available in Australia is the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. It once again had the triple rear camera introduced into the P20 Pro and the results are amazing. Huawei have jumped the shark with the cameras on these two phones. Their camera quality is at least a generation ahead of their nearest competitor. My criticism of Huawei in the past is their overly security conscious and heavy skin, EMUI. Once again they have pared it back with EMUI 9 in the Mate 20 Pro and although there are still times when using Accessibility services can be reversed/stopped by the security of EMUI it is at a stage where it is half decent. Time will tell whether they can keep their promise of timely updates to their phones.
Add in an in-display fingerprint scanner to the class-leading camera and decent software and you have a winner — my winner for the year.
While choosing the Huawei Mate 20 Pro I need to add in a mention of the OnePlus 6T. If this was available in Australia it may well have been my phone of the year. It has the in-display fingerprint sensor as well as a “good enough” camera — DxOMark score of 98 (same as Pixel 2) and is extremely affordable. The biggest thing in the OnePlus 6T’s favour is the software. OxygenOS is the best Android skin available- better than even the Pixel in my opinion — well done OnePlus on keeping their skin light, useful and blazingly fast. If only you could buy it directly here in Australia.
Other decent choices: Samsung Galaxy Note 9, OnePlus 6.
This was a very hotly contested division this year with OPPO, Huawei and Nokia all offering some decent devices this year. OPPO had the best hardware of the lot but unfortunately were extremely let down by their software. They have improved it since I went at them in the early weeks of this year but in Jason’s R17 Pro upcoming review expect to see some more home truths (and we aren’t alone with these thoughts) that we hope they act upon it.
Nokia had some decent phones this year. My favourite was the Nokia 7 Plus. An 18:9 design which although looks tired without a notch was a great device. Running Android One was a big advantage for it as well, although for me Android One is just a little bit too much barebones — Android One does mean that this is probably the only mid-range device mentioned here that will receive regular updates as well as Android version updates. If you want a cheap Android phone that runs well and is affordable have a look at one of the many Nokia’s on the market.
Once again Huawei have come out on top here and I cannot see this changing in the near future. Their Nova 3i was well received by Dan with a great display, half-decent camera and much-improved software. Huawei managed to pack a lot of high end specs into the Nova 3i for a measly $599. Expect them to pick up in 2019 where they left off this year with the upcoming Nova 4 housing their punched hole display and some even more improved specs.
Best Google Assistant device
So. Very. Many. How do you pick just one? This year we saw so many devices arrive with Google Assistant integrate — more speakers, more headphones, more switches, more lights, more appliances, more of everything. It is great to be able to say that we are spoilt for choice when it comes to Google Assistant integration.
For me the winner, and bare in mind that I live in a rental house with very little smart-home integration, is the smart switch. Although I use a Belkin in most of my house there are so many other options out there now. K-Mart and Bunnings also sell them for around $20 a pop and although cheaper, work extremely well. Turn any appliance into a smart appliance, turn any lamp into a smart lamp, all with the addition of a basic smart switch.
Other notables: JBL Link 10 waterproof speaker, Google Home Mini (although not released this year, let’s face it, it’s still a great little device for around $50).
For me the “True Wireless” category improved out of sight this year and the quality of those released was very impressive given the size of these devices. The Jabra Elite Active 65T are my pick of the bunch. With a very comfortable fit, extra buttons to control the music in a small package they are my go to set of earphones. I highly recommend them and have done so to many people already.
For those who want a higher fidelity sound then the new Sony WH-1000XM3 that Dan reviewed recently tick every box. Their sound is something that apparently has to be heard to be believed. Add in a comfortable fit with premium build products, a touch sensitive earcup for gesture control and Google Assistant out of the box and you have a winner. Of course premium quality does come with a premium price. At $500 they are not cheap but boy they are good.
Most innovative company
I feel like this is a category I wanted to include because the mobile industry was in danger of becoming stagnant but this year we saw some companies make some impressive innovations. Firstly the Huawei triple camera took smartphone photography to a new level setting a new benchmark that still, nine months later is yet to be bettered by any other manufacturer. Rumours are now suggesting that the P30 Pro will arrive with a quad camera — could we see smartphone photography leap forward even more?
A big mention here to HTC — even though many are sounding the death knell of the company the introduction of their touch sensitive buttons and Active Edge 2 in the U12+ was a great idea but unfortunately it’s implementation was lacking at release. Several months later they had fixed the bugs but by then it may have been too late to make the U12+ a relevant flagship, able to compete with others at that price range.
The winner in this category for me is OPPO. The Find X is not just a stunningly beautiful phone with top of the line hardware but it’s camera system, solving the notch “problem” was amazing. To view a full screen display without the hindrance of a notch was a joy to use. Their implementation with the software was also well done. Once again though their hardware was let down by their software — BUT — even with my dislike for the OPPO ColorOS skin, if the Find X had NFC onboard it would be my daily phone. OPPO deserve this award for the most innovative company and although it may not be implemented by any other companies it is a great solution to the notch until we can get under-display cameras and sensors.
Fails of 2018
I am not going to name a single device or company but give you two groups where we, the consumers, were let down by the manufacturers and Google. Tablets and smartwatches.
The Android Tablet situation has gone from bad to worse. Google gave up on these a long time ago and it shows. Their new idea of producing ChromeOS tablets that can run Android apps is half-baked at best. The idea is solid but ChromeOS is just not ready for the hand-held touch experience. Maybe 2019 will be the year where Google make ChromeOS more amenable to touch and the tablet experience.
Android Wear smartwatches saw some decent software updates this year but unfortunately the only smartwatches available at the moment to us are those running the Qualcomm Snapdragon 2100 — that’s right, a two year old processor. The chipset is not good enough to run Android Wear and the experience suffers because of it. It is very hard to recommend an Android Wear smartwatch to anyone a the moment — come 2019 and the new Snapdragon Wear chipsets this should all change, hopefully. Without a decent processor Android Wear is dead in the water.
The only other non-Apple smartwatch of true smartness is Galaxy Wear. Tizen is an acquired taste, one that does leave some bitterness in the mouth. Unfortunately Samsung went with Tizen and not Android Wear and the user experience with Tizen is simply not what it should and could be.
So what now for 2019?
I touched on what we expect in 2019 in the above paragraphs but to sum it up, we expect quad cameras to take smartphone photography to a new level. Add in the burgeoning role of computational photography to the mix and you have some amazing cameras in your pockets.
Smartwatches will most definitely improve with the new Qualcomm wear chipset to be arriving in most if not all 2019 smartwatches.
We expect, and hope, for notches to get smaller but not vanish for another year or two.
In a more general sense we hope that all our readers have a safe and prosperous New Year. Bring on 2019.