The tech gadget reviewer’s lament

It’s a feeling of skepticism, of anxiety – of yes, boredom – because I know it’s probably not going to be easy to come up with a unique angle or explain in a review why this new phone stands out from the pack. Maybe the new phone has a weak camera or bad battery life. Perhaps its display is discolored or pixelated. Does it support memory cards or have a removable battery pack?

If there’s no noticeable flaw, it’s going to be difficult to differentiate. That’s the sad truth of today’s high-end smartphone market: Most top-of-the-line handhelds released today provide comparable overall experiences, at least from a hardware perspective.

Newer is not necessarily better.

The pace of innovation in the handset world has slowed to a point at which the focus on extraneous pixel counts for smartphone cameras, fingerprint scanners that may or may not actually be secure, cool-but-mostly-useless UI (user interface) gestures and absurdly gigantic displays are among the most notable selling points for new phones.

Displays that are made of “Gorilla Glass” (toughened glass) but are still strangely fragile or have very little protection on their edges – and are often more expensive to fix than new phones or unnecessarily difficult to repair. Software updates that make your device lag. Incompatibility with new gadgets.

Not only has hardware innovation slowed; your next phone might not last as long as your previous one.

I won’t say that planned obsolescence is a part of the major smartphone makers’ strategies or business plans. There’s certainly no way for me to prove or demonstrate it. Many intelligent people have argued that the concept in the tech world is a “myth” perpetuated by conspiracy theorists in tinfoil hats. But it seems like more than a coincidence that, as more carriers make it easier and more affordable to buy phones more frequently, the need to upgrade more often seems to increase accordingly.

– Exerpted and adapted from Evolution of the Smartphone Refresh Cycle, Planned Obsolescence and You by Al Sacco.

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