Spot the Difference: Smartphone similarities aren't smartphone sameness

by Uluroo — 1 February 2018

Picture this: You're at Best Buy or the Apple Store or some other technology retailer, looking for your next smartphone. There's a lot to consider, right? Camera, performance, stability, screen size and quality, selection of kitten wallpapers, whatever. Now imagine that one of the employees comes up as you're comparing two of the phones and says, "Who cares what phone you get? They're all basically the same!"

[insert eyebrow-raise emoji]

Writing for Android Police, Rita El Khoury proclaims, "After 5 years with Samsung and LG, I moved to a Pixel 2 XL and... nothing has changed."

Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nothing.

... I remember when apps weren't a thing, when 3G was the hottest novelty, when we thanked our lucky stars because companies stopped using massive proprietary charging and earphone ports, and when a smartphone with a 2.8" display (Nokia N95 8GB) counted as monstrous.

Okay, that's fine. But how does this apply to this decade?

Nowadays, we feel cheated when the second back lens in a phone doesn't bring a lot of improvement...

Because you're buying a dual-lens phone for camera improvements. Uluroo would feel "cheated" if he bought something and the reason he bought the thing turned out not to be real.

... or when the display's color shifts at an angle as if everyone is side-glancing at their phones all the time...

This is a straw man fallacy. You're exaggerating what people who complain about color-shifting are actually saying. You don't actually think people are saying they side-glance their phones, right? No, what people are saying is that when you do happen to catch your phone at an angle, it would be an improvement for everything not to turn blue. See the difference? It's not a problem to want better-quality products.

... when a device has a MicroUSB port and not USB-C...

Micro-USB is doubtless the work of some demonic force, but let's just move on to the last thing Rita's annoyed that smartphone owners feel "cheated" by.

... or when it takes a fraction of a millisecond longer for a swipe to register.

Rita could have shown an example of a smartphone user who noticed and was bothered by a millisecond's difference in touch input lag, but this is the Internet and no one needs to back up what they're saying.

Look, there was a time when you had to manually switch between WiFi and 2G every single time. We're too spoiled now.

People feel "cheated" — annoyed would be a better word — when they don't get the most advanced technology in their smartphones because there is advanced technology available. This is very basic stuff. As technology moves forward, customers want to take advantage of it. That does not mean we're "spoiled," it means we have better products. There's a difference.

So you may excuse me if I read some of the arguments I often see nowadays in comment sections and scoff or roll my eyes at the pointlessness of it all.

Kids these days! Discussing their more advanced technology!

It's a phone, it makes calls, sends messages, takes pictures, and browses the web. Shocker: All phones do that.

It's a car! It has four wheels, a steering wheel, and gas and brake pedals. What's the difference between two of 'em?

It's a house! It has a bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchen! And a roof! What more could you want?

When you put Rita's main point into context, you can see how ridiculous it is. Just because two devices have the same raw capabilities does not mean it's not worth comparing two of them.

On a side note, if you think it does mean that, why do you write for a technology publication that is based almost entirely on comparing smartphones? Nobody who compares these devices is claiming they have different basic capabilities. All smartphones more or less try to do the same thing; this has been the case ever since the days before we were "too spoiled." What's important — and what Rita puts so little value on — is comparing how smartphones do what they do. This is called the user experience. Does that not have any importance to Rita?

he teeny bit of difference in a certain feature between device A and device B isn't going to make a dent of change in most people's lives.

And if you look around, people are saying these tiny differences will make huge impacts!

Shocker: They're not.

... a deeper black on the display, a different charging port, a 5% faster processor, those don't change anything of substance.

Nobody says they will. Rita is using this fact as a way to dismiss smartphone discussions, but even if a phone doesn't change what you do with your device, it still changes how you do it. This is where software skins (which Rita ignores) come into play — the way a device communicates with the user, the way a device does what it does, is very important. That's why iPhones have such higher customer satisfaction rates than Android — they do the things Android phones do, but they do them better. If you look at raw abilities, you'll obviously see all phones as the same. If you're willing to see the whole picture, you can see that the differences are greater than you think.

But we love arguing, we get passionate about those minuscule differences, we want to shout our opinion to anyone who wants to hear/read it, and it's part of our culture now to take someone else's differing opinion about Bluetooth vs 3.5mm headphones as a personal offense to our very own being.

Do you seriously, honestly see technology discussions as a funnel for people's need to argue? No, that's not what this is about. People do get passionate about their opinions (see Twitter), but that doesn't mean there's never a discussion worth having.

Yet if I'm being honest, those discussions are a huge part of the reason I have a job here...

Your coworkers will certainly appreciate your generalization of their legitimate discussions as some primal need to argue with one another.

(What makes you want to write about smartphones if you see them all as the same?)

... and I'm here to instigate another one with what is now the most controversial of all devices in our small bubble of the Android-loving internet, the Pixel 2 XL, and what may be a very controversial opinion on it: it's just fine.

Just like every other smartphone.

"Rita, we know you think all phones are the same. Can you review one for us?"

After using LG and Samsung devices for many years, I moved to a Pixel 2 XL a few months ago. And... nothing has changed. I don't love it, I don't hate it. It hasn't made me swear off every other smartphone and camera nor has it blown me away with its smoothness and speed. I also don't have any issues with the display and I haven't encountered any of the gazillion reported bugs on my unit.

Do you think all technology-based opinions involve swearing off other smartphones? (They don't.)

What does Rita mean that nothing has changed, though?

... it has changed nothing in the way I use my phone or what I can do with it.

Nobody said it would. You are making ridiculous assumptions. Please go back and try again.

Uluroo realizes that this article is getting pretty long, so he'll breeze over Rita's main points about the Pixel 2 XL: She encountered no bugs, but she didn't mind the ridiculous color calibration because she was able to change it. She likes the camera (and ignores that it's not the same as every other camera) but doesn't use it enough to get the most out of it (making her a very qualified tester of how smartphone cameras are all the same). She likes the "Now Playing" automatic Shazam feature.

Rita thinks all phones are the same because they have the same raw capabilities. This has been the case since the dawn of smartphones. Nobody is claiming that it's not the case. Rita essentially wrote one big straw man fallacy — she pretended people are saying smartphones have different basic functions and then said (this is paraphrasing) "HA! They do the same things! So why compare them?" Then she said the Pixel 2 XL is "just fine" because she didn't pay enough attention to its unique features.

The way a device does what it does is the reason for tech discussions. Rita ignored that. She's making an argument nobody has ever tried to go against. So if you really think basic abilities are what make smartphones the same, why don't you just buy the cheapest phone available? Because, without realizing it, Rita is acknowledging that she cares about how phones do what they do. The very fact that she bought the more expensive Pixel and not a cheap Samsung phone refutes everything she's saying.

In short, nobody thinks one phone is better than another just because of what it does. If you don't pay attention to how well devices do what they do, and you conclude that there's no real difference, why do you write about technology?