Over my 20 years of writing about mobile technology, phones have changed dramatically in capability, form factor, and more. Except for new foldable phones, the form factor, basic design, and capability are similar across the board. The focus lately has been on smartphone cameras and AI algorithms associated with the camera hardware.
It's awesome to see smartphone camera technology continuing to improve, but when I look through years of my own photos — and thousands of photos shared by family, friends, and others online — it's clear to me that most people don't care as much about the slight differences in resolution, white balance, and other features discussed in smartphone reviews. The latest Apple, Samsung, and Google commercials I see all promote the camera capabilities, and I'm frankly tired of it.
Also: Best camera phone 2021: Take the best pics and vids
The new Apple iPhone 13 Pro increased optical zoom from 2x to 3x, added five photographic style filters, provided Cinematic Mode for better movie capture, improved low-light performance, and more. The phone works just about the same as the iPhone 12 Pro, so is it worth more than $1,000 to turn out photos and videos that few will be able to discern a difference?
Google's strength is found in its algorithms and software, not in the same two-year old hardware it continues to include in its Pixel phones. The Pixel 6 devices may have some new hardware, but you probably won't be able to tell the difference between photos captured with a $450 Pixel 5A or a Pixel 6 Pro — likely priced close to $1,000.
Smartphone makers want you to spend a lot of money replacing your current phone with the latest, helping you take slightly better photos. When you then share these photos on social media and the quality is compressed, I'm sure you'll be very excited that you spent over $1,000 to capture a photo no one really cares about.
Also: iPhone 13 Pro review: A trifecta of meaningful upgrades
As Apple iPhone sales indicate, most people simply want a smartphone camera where they can point, shoot, and share. If you want to get a bit creative, then there are many affordable and capable Android phones with accessible modes to enhance your creativity. Don't get sucked into the marketing hype and think you will challenge professional reviewers or photographers with your expensive smartphone. Good photos and videos are a result of skills — not just the hardware.
Smartphones are the primary mobile computing device for most of us, and that means they are tools designed to help us get work done. It has become crystal clear to me over the past couple of years that the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold series, especially this year's Z Fold 3, is my dream phone for productivity. It has a quickly-accessible, large mini tablet display, S Pen support, water resistance, advanced multi-screen support, Flex Modes, Samsung DeX capability for it to serve as the hub for mobile computing, and more. It's a workhorse that proves more capable daily as I continue to explore its full potential.
Also: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 review: Much improved, but still not perfect
The upcoming Microsoft Surface Duo 2 is a major improvement over its first attempt. For people who need to work on two screens at once, there's no other mobile phone that can challenge the Surface Duo 2 for productivity. Microsoft also recognized people like their cameras, so it has very capable triple rear cameras, but the device is built and optimized for working on the go.
If you want a smartphone to get work done, don't be swayed by the commercials, advertising, and hype around a new device that sells you on a need to have the most amazing camera. A friend just visited who took stunning photos on hikes around three national parks in Washington State, and all of those photos were taken by a five-year-old LG V20. Take an honest look at what you need in your hand to fit your work processes, and then go pick up a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 or Microsoft Surface Duo 2.
I would like to hear about your smartphone camera experiences, too. Do you find you need to take stunning photos and your camera is inadequate? Or do you find you don't take as many as you might think and your phone is perfectly capable?