2017 was an exciting year in the world of smartphone design, with the two big players departing significantly from their familiar industrial design.
Samsung finally did away with the hardware buttons on the front of its devices, moving its fingerprint sensor to the rear of the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note 8 ranges.
Apple elected to do away with its TouchID sensor entirely on the iPhone X to make way for an all-screen design, focussing purely on facial recognition for biometric authentication.
2017 also saw the release of new Nokia and BlackBerry branded devices under license to Chinese companies — Nokia to HMD Global and BlackBerry to TCL, which also produces the Alcatel brand.
At the low end of the market there is huge competition, and South Africa saw a surprising contender at the front of the pack from our very own local brand — Mint.
Best overall: Samsung Galaxy S8+
Elsewhere in the world the iPhone may be king, but in South Africa there is no doubt that Samsung is top gun.
Even though it doesn’t have a dual camera system, the Galaxy S8 still scored an excellent 88 on DxoMark’s mobile camera rankings, putting it in the same league as the Google Pixel.
It should be noted that DxoMark has since overhauled its scoring system and has not re-rated the S8.
Samsung also built a “desktop experience” into the Galaxy S8, available through a docking device called DeX, which lets you use your smartphone as the brains of a more traditional keyboard-and-mouse desk computing environment.
Through its partnership with Facebook, Samsung also maintained its lead in the mobile VR space, though less platform-restricted systems are quickly catching up.
|Specifications||Samsung Galaxy S8||Samsung Galaxy S8+|
|Dimensions||148.9 x 68.1 x 8.0mm||159.5 x 73.4 x 8.1mm|
|Operating system||Android 7||Android 7|
|Display||5.8″ quad HD+ (1440×2960) Super AMOLED||6.2″ quad HD+ (1440×2960) Super AMOLED|
|Rear camera||12MP f/1.7 dual pixel||12MP f/1.7 dual pixel|
|Front camera||8MP f/1.7||8MP f/1.7|
|Processor||Exynos 8895 octa-core (2.3GHz Quad + 1.7GHz Quad)||Exynos 8895 octa-core (2.3GHz Quad + 1.7GHz Quad)|
|Graphics||ARM Mali G71||ARM Mali G71|
Qi and PMA wireless charging
Qi and PMA wireless charging
|Cellular data||LTE Cat. 16 (5CA)||LTE Cat. 16 (5CA)|
|Biometrics||Iris, face, fingerprint||Iris, face, fingerprint|
Runner-up: iPhone X
Apple’s commemorative tenth-anniversary smartphone seems like more of a concept device made real than a standard flagship release.
Reminiscent of the all-ceramic Mi Mix, which was sold only in China, the iPhone X is powerful and gorgeous.
It trades function for form, though some might argue that a near bezel-less device that maximises screen size allows for additional functionality.
The iPhone X also introduces a gesture-based control scheme seen on devices such as those based on BlackBerry 10.
Combined with the fact that the iPhone’s price in South Africa competes with high-end Android devices, it is a worthy runner-up.
|Dimensions||143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7mm|
|Operating system||iOS 11|
|Display||5.8″ Super Retina HD (1125×2436) OLED HDR|
|Rear camera||Dual 12MP:
|Front camera||7MP f/2.2 TrueDepth|
|Storage, internal||64GB / 256GB|
|Battery||“Up to 12 hours Internet use”
Qi wireless charging
|Cellular data||LTE-A Cat. 16 (4CA)|
|Durability||IP67 under IEC standard 60529|
Third runner-up: Huawei P10 Plus
Huawei is competing aggressively in South Africa, engaging in a price war with LG and stating that its ultimate goal is to unseat Samsung as the top brand in the country.
It offers an excellent balance of quality and price, which has allowed the brand to build a solid reputation among locals.
While Huawei only introduced its desktop experience with the Mate 10, it did include a dual camera system with separate monochrome and colour sensors.
|Specifications||Huawei P10||Huawei P10 Plus|
|Dimensions||143.5 x 69.3 x 6.98 mm||153.5 x 74.2 x 6.98 mm|
|Operating system||Android 7.0 EMUI 5.1||Android 7.0 EMUI 5.1|
|Display||5.1″ FHD (1080×1920)||5.5″ (1440×2560)|
|Rear camera||20MP + 12MP||20MP + 12MP|
|Processor||Kirin 960 – 4x Cortex A73 2.4GHz + 4x Cortex A53 1.8GHz||Kirin 960 – 4x Cortex A73 2.4GHz + 4x Cortex A53 1.8GHz|
|Cellular data||LTE FDD, TD-LTE||LTE FDD, TD-LTE|
|SIM type||Nano SIM||Nano SIM|
|Durability||No rating||No rating|
Best value: Nokia 8
HMD Global relaunched the Nokia brand with a bang last year through the introduction of a re-imagined Nokia 3310 feature phone.
It offers solid design and hardware, trading certain flagship features such as IP68 water- and dust-proofing and top-of-the-range LTE modems for more affordable prices.
Nokia has said that it has built a software platform that provides regular updates for Android without needing to go through costly operator compliance testing every time.
|Dimensions||151.5 x 73.7 x 7.9 mm|
|Display||5.3-inch 2,560 x 1,440|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Octa-Core (4x 2.5GHz + 4x 1.8GHz)|
|Storage||64GB + microSD|
|Main Camera||13MP (Colour + OIS) + 13MP (Mono)|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB Type-C, headphone jack|
|Network||LTE Cat. 9 3CA|
Best hardware keyboard: BlackBerry KeyONE
Although it’s a bit of a one-horse race, if you’re after a hardware keyboard, BlackBerry is the best in the business.
BlackBerry no longer makes its own devices, but said it will help maintain quality through partnerships.
Currently the only manufacturer with a license to build BlackBerry-branded devices is TCL. All BlackBerry devices built under this partnership have been based on Android.
|Dimensions||149.3 x 72.5 x 9.4mm|
|Operating system||Android 7.1|
|Display||4.5-inch 1,080 x 1,620 IPS|
|Processor||2.0GHz octa-core Snapdragon 625|
|Cellular data||LTE Cat. 7|
Top low-budget device: Mint Fox
South African smartphone brand Mint announced earlier this year that its R300 Android smartphone sold through MTN was the best-selling device for more than half of 2017 — from February to August.
The device sold through retail groups such as Pep and Edcon, and came with 100MB of data for first three months after purchase.
|Front camera||0.3MP (VGA)|
Honourable mention: Pixel 2 XL
Google’s range of Pixel smartphones are excellent devices which would easily have made our podium.
However, they are not officially sold in South Africa and are therefore disqualified.
|Specifications||Pixel 2||Pixel 2 XL|
|Display||5.0-inch 1,920 x 1,080||6.0-inch 2,880 x 1,440|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 835||Qualcomm Snapdragon 835|
|Camera||12.2MP Rear / 8MP Front||12.2MP Rear / 8MP Front|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0|
|Ports||USB Type-C||USB Type-C|
|Dimensions||146 x 70 x 8 mm||158 x 77 x 8 mm|
|Price||64GB – $649 / 128GB – $749||64GB – $849 / 128GB – $949|