The 5 things you need for the perfect smartphone

If you could have anything in a smartphone, anything at all, what would it be? Here's our list.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

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:

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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