google’s was disappointing if you were expecting a major Android upgrade that addresses deep-seated issues, at least based on the details shared so far. The company didn’t spend much time discussing Android 13 and most of the announced updates were known, minor or both. They were largely determined by media and privacy controls. The release as it is will not be a revelation unless you get a † While we may not have seen all of Android 13’s features yet, there are already some really useful improvements (like a the status quo will remain largely intact.
And that’s a shame. While Android is a very capable platform with some exceptional hardware to match, no device consistently captures every experience well. Buy a powerful phone and you’ll probably be saddled with quirky software; get your dream android variant and you may have to make do with mediocre cameras or chips. It’s time for Google and manufacturers to work together to produce devices that you can more easily recommend to others.
Software: too much or too little?
To be fair, Google is only partially responsible for the current state of affairs. The beauty of Android is the potential for vendors to put their own spin on it — a unified Google-made experience would negate the point.
However, the company still plays an important role and it is becoming increasingly clear that it can do more. Use a or another phone with ‘pure’ and you’ll realize that the stock OS, while visually cohesive and fluff-free, is still relatively barebones. You don’t get a sophisticated camera app, extensive media integration, special browser features, or other clever tricks you often get with custom Android experiences. The polish isn’t always there either – just † Apple has had its share of dodgy updates in recent years, but it seems to have fixed the problems that Google occasionally leaves behind.
You can install apps, launchers, and other utilities to work things out, but that’s not realistic for some users. I wouldn’t give a Pixel to a newbie or someone who wants strong out-of-the-box capabilities. Google could improve its functionality and quality to compete more directly with its partners beyond the usual handful of (mostly) limited-time Pixel exclusives. While the company has moved more towards mainstream features than massive OS revisions lately, Android 13 as we know it is still somewhat underwhelming in this area.
That is not to upset those partners. While phone makers don’t overdo the customization as often as they have in years past, some out-of-stock Android experiences still have their fair share of random tweaks. Samsung is the classic example. Although One UI is much cleaner and friendlier to third parties than , it still tends to duplicate Google features or push services you probably won’t use. Do you really need two browsers, or buy apps from the Galaxy Store? You’ll also see some over-the-top Android implementations from Chinese brands, although we’d note that Xiaomi is keeping MIUI in check.
And the situation seems to be getting worse in some cases. OnePlus originally drew enthusiasts precisely because its customizations were limited and mostly very useful, but there is evidence of the insidious influence of parent company Oppo’s top-heavy software design on devices like the † For example, the OnePlus Shelf pop-up menu got in the way during our review. Update policies have also sometimes taken a step back, as Motorola still doesn’t guarantee more than one major OS upgrade for some phones. It would be great to see OnePlus and other vendors strike a more delicate balance that adds thoughtful detail without overdoing it or limiting software updates.
Hardware: Flies in the ointment
Software issues wouldn’t be as problematic if the devices were more rounded. It’s all too common to find an Android phone that performs great in most respects, but has at least one weakness that compromises the experience or even turns out to be a deal breaker.
A brief overview of the main Android phones illustrates this all too well. the ordinary one series is one of the best all-rounders on the market today, but it has modest, non-expandable storage, a 1080p display (fine, but not the 1440p that some crave) and reduced features in the smallest version. Pixel6? An excellent value, but the notoriously finicky fingerprint reader and limited storage can kill interest quickly. The OnePlus 10 Pro is only a small improvement over its predecessor and still suffers from mediocre camera quality. You can overcome some of these limitations with flagships at no cost, such as the or Sony’s but then you’ll probably spend over $1,000 for the privilege.
It becomes even more challenging with more affordable models. Motorola is becoming more and more popular among budget users, but it is and missing features (such as NFC) pose serious problems for shoppers. Samsung’s mid-tier phones can be slow or otherwise unexciting, and the even feels like a step backwards. Handsets like the Poco F4 GT and upcoming offer high-quality processing power at a low price, but rest assured that you’re making compromises in areas like camera technology. And don’t get us started on companies that supply huge, low-resolution screens that can be an eyesore.
To be clear, every phone has its trade-offs. It would be unrealistic to expect a perfect product from any brand, including brands other than Android. Apple is often conservative with iPhone design and slow to embrace common Android features –120Hz and USB-C, everybody? More often than not, though, you’ll pick an Android device based on the major flaws you’re willing to tolerate, not because it’s clearly the best you can get for the money. Combine that with the aforementioned software dilemmas and a really well-rounded Android phone can be very hard to find.
A glimmer of hope
This is not to say that the Android phone industry is in a bad state. The grievances at the heart of this piece underscore how far the platform has come. Android 12 (and soon 13) is definitely more polished than previous iterations. Once obnoxious brands like Samsung have shown some reluctance, and it’s much easier to buy a budget phone that makes you genuinely happy, even if it has obvious shortcomings.
You can also point out some devices that point the way forward. Although Sony’s recent Xperia phones are increasingly expensive and aimed at a niche audience, they typically deliver strong performance, good cameras, top-notch displays and fairly customized software. And if the While some of its predecessor’s problems can be remedied, it might just be the Android phone to beat in the second half of the year.
Rather, the concern is that there is much more room to grow. Companies should take a more holistic approach to phone design, with little or no obvious sacrifices in the name of price, bragging rights, storage upsells or peddling services. Google could do more to lead by example, such as fine-tuning its vendors’ more advanced software features. It’s entirely possible to make a phone that excels simply by lacking glaring weaknesses – it’s just a matter of finding the resolve to make it happen.
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