The 5 things you need for the perfect smartphone

The 5 things you need for the perfect smartphone

Summary: If you could have anything in a smartphone, anything at all, what would it be? Here's our list.

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What makes a "perfect" smartphone? Some of my fellow journalist buddies and I wrestled with the question, and here's what we came up with:

smartphones
What goes into the "perfect" smartphone? (Image: ZDNet)

First, some part of "perfection" depends on the person. For example, I love QWERTY keyboards, so my personal favorite phone is a Motorola Droid 4. Most people could care less about QWERTY keyboards.

You can also spend a lot of time arguing over which is the best smartphone operating system — Android, as far as I'm concerned — but as Adrian Kingsley-Hughes recently pointed out in his piece on Android vs. Apple's iOS, for most people, most of the time, there's no significant usability difference between the two major mobile operating systems. I know, I know; we can argue about the virtues of one OS over another until the sun goes out and the oxygen freezes out of the air, but practically speaking, most users can't tell the difference.

The real key operating system-related question is: "Are the applications you need available on your platform?" If they are, you're good. If they're not, who cares how great the underlying operating system is?

On the big two, that's not really an issue. Even if a specific app isn't available on a platform — say Adobe Flash on iOS — there's usually a way to get to its functionality. But if you're looking at a less mainstream OS, such as Windows Phone 8 or Blackberry OS, or the still developing mobile operating systems, such as Tizen, Firefox OS, or Ubuntu Phone, that is a real concern.

We can also argue until the cows come home if the Samsung Galaxy S4, iPhone 5, or HTC One is the best phone.

But you know what? This time next year, we'd be having the same discussion about whatever that year's new, hot phones are. Hardware is always evolving. We can take it as a given that the best smartphone of 2014 will have a better display, a faster processor, and more memory than 2013's finest model. So we can skip including hardware specifications in our perfect phone.

There are also some things we can never have. Jason Perlow, for example, wishes for a phone that "his relatives can use without calling [him] at 7am in the morning to teach them how to use the Google Maps function to find the nearest Starbucks, because they've never used their expensive, complicated Droid to do anything but make calls and peer at Gmail". As I told him at the time, we're looking for the perfect phone, not a miraculous one!

Finally, a smartphone itself is only part of the package. The perfect smartphone must also have the perfect service behind it or it's just an expensive piece of plastic, glass, and silicon.

All that said, here's what we came up with for the "perfect" smartphone.

1. Universal access

We don't care if we're in the United States, the United Kingdom, or the Ukraine, we want one phone that will work with any country's cellular infrastructure. If we have to do that by having two SIM card slots in our phones, we can deal with that. But what we'd rather have are phones with integrated Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) and Global System for Mobiles (GSM) built in.

So long as we're at it, we'd also like our 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) phones to use the same frequency bands. And please, we don't even want to hear about 4G technologies other than LTE. WiMAX never really took off, and T-Mobile? We really don't want to hear anything more about Evolved High-Speed Packet Access, ie, HSPA+.

2. Unlocked phones

OK, we can tolerate being locked to a service if you've sold it to us at a great price with a contract. But if we pay full price, then we should be able to unlock it, or better still, have it unlocked in the box. Are you listening, AT&T?

3. All we can eat bandwidth

Stop playing games with our bandwidth. We want unlimited bandwidth. If you have to charge us an arm and a leg for it, we're willing to pay. Sure, give us options for 2GBs a month, 5GBs a month, whatever, but some of us really do need all the bandwidth we can use, and the carriers should at least give us the option.

And so long as we're talking bandwidth, do us a favor and stop charging us for wi-fi tethering. Listen, we're already paying for bandwidth, so why should carriers be tacking on an extra fee just because we choose to share it with our other devices?

4. Dump the shovelware

As freelance writer, Tom Geller commented: "My newish Android phone has literally dozens of apps that exist only to take up space and sell me crap. There's no obvious way to delete them." Amen, brother!

OK, we get it. You want to squeeze a little more profit out of your phones, so you put extra programs on it for a fee. Fine, but if you do that, could you at least make it easy for us to dump the stuff we don't want? Please?

5. Give us high-security phones

As we move our online lives from PCs to smartphones, we need security — real security. Our companies, especially those who have bought into Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), also need us to have high levels of security. As Perlow recently reported, the security technologies to make this happen are out there, we just need to get them deployed — the sooner, the better.

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Topics: Smartphones, 4G, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Mobile OS, Mobility, Samsung

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137 comments
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  • Nothing is perfect but we do have nearly perfect today

    WP8 didn't get 10 out of 10 but it did beat everyone else with a 9 out of 10. Nearly perfect.

    http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2416521,00.asp

    "WINNERS: MOBILE OPERATING SYSTEMS

    Microsoft
    All eyes may be on Apple and Google these days, but Microsoft has delivered a mobile platform--Windows Phone 8, that bests both of those companies in user satisfaction. It delivers to its users on nearly every aspect of the mobile phone experience."

    Kudos to Microsoft.

    "WINNERS: SMARTPHONES (BY CARRIER)

    CARRIER: AT&T

    Nokia (for Windows Phone 8 devices)
    Nokia gambled on the Windows Phone platform, and so far it's paying off for customers. It delivered, by far, the best satisfaction ratings in our survey."

    Kudos Nokia.
    toddbottom3
    • Winners: Other carriers

      CARRIER: Sprint
      Samsung - Android

      Kudos to Samsung.


      CARRIER: Verizon
      Apple - iPhone

      Kudos to Apple.
      Smalahove
      • Sprint and Verizon have much less competition

        Nokia's flagship phone isn't available on these carriers yet. So no, sorry, no kudos to apple.

        When the Nokia Lumia 920 goes up against the iphone, the Nokia Lumia 920 wins.

        Kudos Nokia. Kudos Microsoft.
        toddbottom3
        • And kudos to Samsung and Apple

          .
          Smalahove
          • Kudos to Samsung, yes

            Not for this item specifically but Samsung has been a great innovator in this market. I like giving kudos for innovators. That is why I give kudos to Samsung and Nokia and Microsoft.

            Me-too copiers don't get any kudos from me.
            toddbottom3
          • Drug Screen ?

            You don't get drugged screened at your office, do you ? (Unless I am missing the sarcasm, then carry on.)
            Tiredofdumbasses
          • Nice try

            The fact that Samsung is using Android makes them a me-too copier by default.
            Susan Antony
        • In whose hands, Toddy?

          Techies, or everyday users? This isn't to put Nokia/Microsoft WP8 down, but rather the simple fact that not everybody is as yet as enamoured of WP8 as you are.
          Vulpinemac
    • glad you feel better

      And no longer think the Samsung S4 is better than your Nokia Lumia 920. :)
      danbi
      • S4 better than the Lumia 920?

        I've expressed interest in the Note 2 and I've given kudos to Samsung for the S4 but I don't think I've ever stated that the S4 was better than my Lumia 920.

        I like the Note 2 because it has a digitizer pen. Don't see myself getting an S4.

        danbi, if you are going to follow me around bringing up things I've written in the past, please do me the courtesy of actually quoting and linking because you are constantly wrong with what you suggest I've written.
        toddbottom3
        • 920 can't even attach other file types and more than 1 office file...

          As above... Windows phones? It's not even considered as a smart phone! It's a not so smart phone...
          chmun77
          • WP8 Considered to be a Superphone.

            Just because you dont like something dosnt mean you can feel free to tell lies about the thing and have a single soul with a brain beleive you.

            I would say nice try, but it wasnt.
            Cayble
    • PC Magazine?

      Didn't they think OS/2 was pretty neat as well?
      ldo17
      • Perhaps

        Not seeing what that has to do with anything. Care to elaborate?

        PS I always thought OS/2 was a great OS. The only things that IBM did wrong were:
        1. I seem to remember that it was priced WAY too high, at least initially.
        2. They tried to sell it as a better Windows than Windows when it clearly wasn't. It was probably a better OS than Windows but it wasn't a better Windows than Windows. It constantly crashed when I tried to run Windows programs on it.

        So if PC Magazine thought that OS/2 was pretty neat, I would have to agree with them.
        toddbottom3
        • Re: The only things that IBM did wrong were:

          Just like the only things Microsoft did wrong were:

          Totally screw up Windows.
          ldo17
        • It was a nice OS

          But IBM didn't follow through fast enough with it. It had some of the same problems that Linux had in the earlier days: Hardware compatibility. You really needed to build your system around the OS instead of the other way around.

          And it really wasn't marketed very well. Had IBM invested more into it it could have taken Microsoft. But they didn't and the rest is history. But now I don't care. Since XP the OSes are getting better and better.

          Linux while it can be used by a novice, if you want to do special stuff you really have to dive into the rather eclectic command line and edit various different configuration files that not only differ in format but use weird an unintuitive naming for parameters. "auto lo" And hardware doesn't always have a linux driver.
          DevGuy_z
        • IBM sold PCs that were not compatible with OS2

          Lewis Gerstner was the most overpaid idiot in history. Their software people were trying to sell enterprise IT departments on OS2 while their PC salespeople were selling them PCs that couldn't run it.

          OS2 was great. But remember putting ten floppies in to get it to read a file on just one of them?
          rp518
      • POST CENSORED BY ZDNET

        Just wrote that I was surprised anyone reads PC Magazine anymore and the post got red flagged. Is the word "but" an obscenity? Maybe the word "the?" Their web programmers are "more ons."
        BillDem
        • Profanity filter set to STUPID

          Yup, same issues here. Never did figure out what triggered it.
          Cynical99
    • I really like my Windows Phone but I'm considering moving back to Android.

      I'm waiting for the GS4 to become available. Why? Because Windows Phone appears to be stagnant. By this I mean I've owned my Windows Phone since late November and all of the issues I had with it then are still issues today. And I'm not sure if Microsoft will be addressing them and if so when. So what are my issues:

      - No turn by turn navigation.
      - The inability of the built in maps application to find cross streets.
      - Inability to set a customer alter tone.
      - Inability to set separate volume levels for different sounds (ring, alert, etc).
      - Questionable application support. Pandora is still not available (yet I have it on my TV). And so are some other apps I use. While I'm not losing sleep over this it shows a lack of interest by developers.

      These are just off the top of my head...there are a few more that escape me at the moment. While any one of these isn't a big issue the lack of progress on the OS is disappointing. I'm not expecting daily updates but it's been months and the only update I received was the one which addressed the bluetooth issue...and that was necessary just to make the phone usable. Sadly I don't even know if Microsoft will ever address some of these and when application developers will start to include WP8 in their plans.
      ye