WHAT WITH Samsung’s latest phone self-combusting in your pocket and airlines refusing to let you on board if you’re carrying one, it’s not surprising that some of us have begin looking elsewhere.
Samsung, along with LG, Sony and, of course, Apple, are still the world’s leading suppliers of smartphones, but the landscape is starting to shift - and within a year, the market could look very different indeed.
Two new players in particular are attacking the Android (in other words, non-Apple) segment of the market from both directions, targeting both bargain hunters and high-end buyers who might otherwise plump for an iPhone. You will have heard of one of them; the other, perhaps not.
Google is the big name behind the Pixel phone, which has launched in the UK at Apple-like prices of around £600 for the cheapest option and more than £800 for the dearest. Google has pioneered and developed the Android platform from scratch, but the Pixel is the first handset it has made itself.
OnePlus, on the other hand, is a Chinese start-up company in business for just two-and-a-half years, in which time it has acquired a reputation for quality as well as value. Its latest offering, the OnePlus 3, offers a specification comparable to an iPhone for just £330. In fact, with 6GB of memory and a 16-megapixel camera, it’s probably more powerful than your desktop computer and your digital camera combined.
That being the case, what’s the attraction of the Google Pixel? If money is your primary concern, it’s not worth a second glance - but for those who want tomorrow’s technology now, this is where you’ll find it. Any Android phone will let you search by voice, but the Pixel is the first to include Google’s take on Apple’s Siri, a voice-controlled “digital assistant” that tries to second-guess what you want to do and offer help. It’s a gimmick, clearly, but Americans have embraced Siri with almost the same blind enthusiasm as they did Donald Trump.
The Pixel also includes support for Daydream, Google’s latest attempt at a virtual reality headset, and they’ve thrown in unlimited storage on Google Photos. You will have that already, but not at the same picture quality.
The camera on the Pixel easily outperforms most standalone units, save for the absence of a proper, optical zoom lens. It will, for instance, take a sequence of shots in quick succession and select the best ones automatically; it works in extremely low light, and its lens-blur feature produces stunning, film-like deep focus effects.
Google developed many of the Pixel’s features and for now, it’s keeping them to itself. However, the firm’s business model is predicated on getting its services into as many hands as possible, on every platform - so you don’t need a crystal ball to see a time in the very near future when they will be universal.
In the meantime, the OnePlus 3 is now the clear leader in the middle of the market. You can buy it direct from the manufacturer, or get it on contract from the usual operators, for around £35 a month, with no upfront cost. That’s a lot less than an iPhone 7 for not a lot less phone - and not even Siri can argue with you on that.