2017 in review: iPhone 10th anniversary, Samsung Note rebound, solid cheap smartphones

2017 was the year of small bezels and big screens, removal of home buttons, and the headphone jack. Apple celebrated 10 years of the iPhone while others released phones a fifth the price of the new iPhone X.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

Mainstream smartphones passed the $1,000 starting price while the quality of phones less than $300 improved significantly. Wearables still haven't gone mainstream, but the Apple Watch is the crowd favorite. I had a blast covering mobile tech in 2017 and look forward to kicking off 2018 with another visit to Vegas for CES in January.

This year-end post includes my ten most viewed posts from 2017, some "best of" titles for this year, answers to last year's questions, and questions I hope to have answered in 2018.

Most viewed articles of 2017

  1. 7 small-screen smartphones: Can the 4-inch iPhone SE trump rivals?
  2. The 10 best smartphones of 2017
  3. 11 reasons why Samsung's Galaxy S8 is better than Apple's iPhone 7 for business
  4. The iPhone X is basically Samsung's Note 8 plus Animojis
  5. Samsung removes the physical home button: The Galaxy S8 is better as a result
  6. MWC 2017: LG G6 announced with big screen, water resistance, and dual cameras
  7. LG G6 review: This affordable big screen business flagship doesn't compromise
  8. Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus case roundup: Speck, Tech21, and Caseology
  9. Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Tech21 case roundup: Drop and screen protection for the best smartphone
  10. Fitbit Ionic review: Tops the Apple Watch with fitness focus, long battery life, detailed sleep tracking

Best of 2017

I have a few titles I would like to award to the devices, accessories, and software I checked out in 2017.

  • Best overall smartphone: I recently posted my 10 best smartphones for the 2017 holiday season with the Apple iPhone X knocking the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 from the top spot after it spent most of the year there. I love using both devices, but the Apple iPhone X is still my primary device after almost two months, which is unheard of for me with an Apple iPhone. It's the 10th anniversary edition of the iPhone and it is my favorite phone of 2017.
  • Best smartphone surprise: Andy Rubin's Essential Phone launched at $699 and I didn't think much about it. After the $200 price drop and a few software updates, it's hard to not recommend this stock Android smartphone at $499. The ceramic and titanium build is unmatched and there is a lot to like in this phone. The camera continues to be improved with app updates, but it still can't match the flagships priced at twice the cost.
  • Best Android smartphone: The Google Pixel 2 XL should be crowned the best Android smartphone, but a number of hardware and software issues that are still not fully resolved had me recently return the one I bought. Samsung made a massive comeback with the Galaxy Note 8 and the only con I have with that device is the oddly positioned fingerprint scanner. The S Pen is fantastic, the display is one of the best available, and this is one of the rare flagships that still sports a standard 3.5mm headphone jack.
  • Best iOS smartphone: This one is easy as Apple only launches a couple new phones each year. The Apple iPhone X is clearly the best Apple smartphone of 2017. Some may argue that the iPhone 8 Plus is better, but the iPhone X gives us a glimpse of the future of the iPhone with no home button, minimal bezels, and flawless Face ID technology.
  • Best BlackBerry device: A couple of years ago, I thought I was done writing about BlackBerry devices, but with TCL making the hardware and BlackBerry Mobile continuing to provide the Hub and other unique features, the BlackBerry KEYone is one of the best Android phones available today. If you need long battery life and timely security updates, the KEYone is designed for you.
  • Best tablet: It's been a couple of years since I owned an Apple iPad, but when Apple released the new smaller iPad Pro 10.5 with iOS 11 I had to give it a try. It is a fantastic tablet and provides flawless performance for the masses. With the Apple Pencil, it is tough to argue that most people couldn't get by with just an iPad Pro for most of their computing needs.
  • Best smartwatch: I've tested a lot of smartwatches in 2017 and the only thing that was crystal clear to me is that all Android Wear devices suck and I would never recommend any of them. The Samsung Gear S3 and Gear Sport are solid choices, but honestly nothing beats the Apple Watch Series 3, whether you buy the one with LTE or not. It is reliable as a fitness tracker and GPS sport watch while also serving as the most powerful smartwatch.
  • Best daily activity tracker: This one is hard to come up with a single pick because some people like small bands while others like larger devices. We have seen excellent trackers from Samsung, Garmin, and Fitbit this year. The only clear statement is that Jawbone and Pebble are out so the market is focusing in on fewer companies. I like the Fitbit Ionic and Charge 2, the Garmin Vivoactive 3, and Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro 2.
  • Best GPS sport watch: Last year I bought the expensive Garmin Fenix 3 HR and still use it today. Garmin released three new Fenix 5 devices that beat out the Fenix 3 HR, but I haven't yet made the move to one of these devices. Polar, Suunto, TomTom, and others haven't impressed me with new products in 2017 so I recommend one of the Garmin devices.

Responses to questions from 2017

  • Will VR become more popular now that Google Daydream is available?: Many Android devices today have OLED screens and work with Google Daydream, including the newest Samsung smartphone. I used VR once in 2017 and never see anyone using it or talking about it. I'm not sure we have yet seen enough focus on business use for the masses to adopt VR.
  • Will Huawei/Honor grow mindshare in the US market?: This did not happen in 2017, but with the recent $200 Honor 7X, likely US release of the Honor View 10, and possibly even carrier partnership launch of the Huawei Mate 10 Pro in 2018, next year may be the year we finally see Huawei gaining some US market share. It is likely to knock Apple out of the number two spot in the world in 2018.
  • Will wearables continue to stumble along and will other wearable companies go under?: The wearable market is growing, but slowly. Apple is showing the fastest growth, but Fitbit is also showing promise in both the consumer and business sectors. There are some incentives from health insurance companies and as healthcare costs continue to rise we may see wearable adoption grow if there are incentives for customers.
  • What's going to be changed in the next iPhone and Pixel?: Apple took away the home button and added Face ID technology while Google offered some improvements in the camera. Both continued the trend of removing the headphone jack. Apple added wireless charging, while Google passed it up. It's clear what the future of the iPhone will look like, but I have no idea what Google will do with the Pixel 3.

Questions for 2018

  • Will customers continue to justify $1,000 phones by paying high monthly fees?
  • 2017 was the year of minimal bezels and big screens, what new design feature or tech will we see in phones in 2018?
  • What will LG and HTC do to succeed in the smartphone space?
  • Will Google give up on Android Wear or did it already?

Hex Star Wars cases: Soft leather protects your Apple iPhone X better than the Force

Looking ahead to 2018

I tested a lot of phones in 2017 and look forward to more in 2018. I'm expecting Samsung to fix the fingerprint scanner placement, Apple to launch phones without home buttons, and Huawei to focus aggressively on AI. I'm not sure what LG and HTC will bring in 2018 and if we will ever see another physical keyboard on a BlackBerry.

I expect Fitbit to release the next Ionic with improvements and more app support while Garmin continues to lead the market in GPS sports watches.

What was your favorite smartphone, tablet, or wearable of the year? How about your worst?

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