There are some fantastic smartphones available today and new ones launch every couple of months. Prices for flagships from Apple and Samsung now exceed $1,000, while others are not far behind. There’s another option, though, for those who want to save some money and still have an extremely capable phone.
CNET: Over-the-air wireless charging will come to smartphones
Over the past couple of years, we have seen smartphones released with minor improvements, along with a slowdown in smartphone sales, thanks in large part to the high quality of smartphones and nearly complete saturation of the market.
The good news for consumers is that you do not need the latest and greatest smartphone. Models that are a year or two old are very capable, have had updates released to perfect their performance, and can be found for hundreds left that the latest flagships. The case and accessory market for older phones also means you can pick up excellent cases at huge savings. It’s also less stressful if you break a phone that is hundreds less than a flagship and need a replacement.
Let’s look at 10 phones to consider as you ignore the hype around the shiny new phones coming in the next month or so. They are not in any sort of ranked order, but know they all are solid phones that are definitely worth consideration.
The best not-so-new phones
Samsung Galaxy Note 8
Since the Galaxy Note 9 is a top pick for my 10 best, let’s start this list with the Samsung Galaxy Note from late 2017, the Galaxy Note 8.
Also: Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review (8.9/10) CNET
After the disastrous Note 7 launch, Samsung came back with a conservative device in the Note 8. The S Pen continues to be a major benefit of the Note 8, while the Infinity Display, dual rear cameras, microSD card slot, headphone jack, and all the other specifications make it as competitive today as it was in late 2017.
The Note 9 is priced from $850 (some special $150 discounts are available) to $1,250, while you can find the Note 8 new from Samsung starting at $670. The Note 8 is also available from other online retailers, like B&H, for as low as $570. You can also find it in a range of conditions on Swappa starting in the $300 to $600 range.
The major improvements in the Note 9 are the switch to a Bluetooth-enabled S Pen and moving the rear fingerprint scanner to the center of the phone instead of having it next to the dual cameras. There is still a ton of functionality with the S Pen in the Note 8, and it is a very capable device today.
Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus
The Galaxy S10 line is launching soon and there are deals on last year’s Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus. However, the S8 and S8 Plus are also still solid choices for those looking for a Samsung flagship in the $500 price range.
Also: Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus review (8.8/10) CNET
The Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus brought the first version of Samsung’s AMOLED Infinity Display that set the bar for displays in early 2017. The capable Qualcomm Snapdragon 825 powers the phone with 4GB of RAM, 64GB internal with microSD card, IP68 dust and water resistance, just about every sensor you could imagine, and a large 3,500mAh battery. The S8 and S8 Plus have 18.5:9 aspect ratio displays that give you a full screen experience with minimal bezels and a narrower phone than we see from Apple.
Samsung DeX is supported on the S8 and S8 Plus, while this phone was also the first to launch with a dedicated Bixby button on the left side. The oddly positioned fingerprint scanner, to the right of the camera, was another concern with this phone at launch.
You can still find the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus on the Samsung site, but it is no longer available from US wireless carriers. Samsung direct pricing is $600 and $680 for the two models. Prices from online retailers range from $425 to $490 for the S8 and S8 Plus.
Apple iPhone 8 and 8 Plus
Apple’s first iPhone had a center round button below the display, and over time, this button changed to a capacitive one, but still kept that traditional design look and feel for a decade. If you prefer the center home button, then the last phones with that feature are the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, released in late 2017.
Also Apple iPhone 8 Plus review (8.8/10) CNET
The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are still very capable devices, and unlike most of the older Android phones that no longer get updated, Apple continues to support the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, so you can get the latest version of iOS.
Wireless charging was one new feature added to the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. To implement this, Apple switched the metal design to one with a glass back. It’s a convenient method for charging and brought a feature to the iPhone that Android users have been experiencing for years.
You won’t find minimal bezels, a vibrant OLED display, dual cameras, notches, or other modern design features on the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, but these two phones have classic looks and elements.
You can purchase the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus directly from Apple starting at $599 and $699, respectively. Since these are the last iPhone models with the familiar home button, you can also still find them at US wireless carrier stores for about the same price as Apple.
Google Pixel 2 and 2 XL
Similar to Apple iPhones, Google’s own phones are also updated on a regular basis. If you want to ensure your phone has the latest Android software and security patches, then an older Google Pixel is the way to go.
Also: Pixel 2 review (98.6/10) CNET
The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL brought an amazing camera to Google’s own phone, raising the bar for smartphone cameras in 2017. These phones continue to get regular updates, including the addition of the Night Sight low-light camera software.
The Pixel 2 is made by HTC and the Pixel 2 XL by LG. Both have similar internal specifications, including a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64/128 GB internal storage options, and more. There is no 3.5mm headphone jack and now wireless charging since most of the back is still constructed of metal.
The Pixel 2 is available from Google starting at $549 and the Pixel 2 XL starts at $599. The previous year’s Pixel is one of the best ways to purchase a Google-branded phone since the launch prices are a couple hundred dollars more for minor improvements.
HTC U12 Plus
Unlike the other phones in this list, the HTC U12 Plus has not yet been replaced with a newer model. It was released in mid-2018 and clearly was an unfinished product at launch. A couple of months later, HTC released a firmware update that fixed the haptic button issue and made the phone one to consider.
Also: HTC U12 Plus review (7.8/10) CNET
HTC was a pioneer in mobile technology, and there are still a lot of HTC fans out there. For these folks, the HTC U12 Plus is the best current choice available. It is a very capable phone with a gorgeous fit and finish, high quality dual rear cameras, excellent audio performance, IP68 dust and water resistance, and Edge Sense 2.0.
The battery life isn’t terrific, the haptic side buttons are a bit strange, BlinkFeed is pretty useless, and software updates are few and far between. It has the potential to be so much better, but HTC seems to be a bit dead on the vine.
The HTC U12 Plus is still for sale from HTC at the original launch prices of $799 (64GB) and $849 (128GB), which is about $150 to $200 too high at this time. If you are an HTC fan and interested in this phone, I recommend looking to Swappa for deals in the $475 to $575 range.
LG’s V series of phones are designed for creators, with video capture functionality that remains the best in the business. Like Samsung’s Note line, the V series is the higher priced line of phones from LG when compared to the G series. If you want the ability to capture and edit videos on your phone, the LG V30 remains one of the best phones available.
Also: LG V30 review (8.6/10) CNET
The LG V30 brought excellent video recording, a stunning audio experience, long battery life, and a superb fit and finish to the V series. It has an IP68 rating with MIl-STD 810G drop certification, along with a 3.5mm headphone jack and microSD expansion card slot. Quick charging and wireless charging are also supported.
The LG V30 has been replaced by the LG V40 ThinQ and is not readily available from US carriers. Your best bet for this phone is to look to Swappa where prices range from $185 to $250 for phones in good condition.
LG’s phones are some of the most underrated in the smartphone world and the LG G6 is no exception to that. It was the first smartphone to launch in 2017 with minimal bezels and an 18:9 aspect ratio. Phones today have become quite large, which is one reason I prefer the iPhone X/XS, since that size and form factor is nearly perfect for me. The LG G6 has a similar look and feel to the iPhone X/XS and is one of the best phones I have held.
Also: LG G6 review (8.5/10) CNET
Flagship smartphones today all have some level of dust and water resistance, but they are also glass sandwiches so are prone to breakage when dropping. LG remains unique in its ability to secure MIL-STD 810G drop-test ratings for its V and G series of phones. Again, an underrated standard that could add serious value to the phone.
The LG G6 is powered by the older Snapdragon 821 processor with a 5.7 inch display, 4GB of RAM, 32GB internal storage with a microSD card, and 3,300mAh battery. It had dual rear cameras, one with a wide-angle lens. While it is one of the oldest phones on this list, the size and capability still make it worth considering.
You will not find the LG G6 on carrier shelves, so Swappa remains one of the best places to pick one up. Prices range from $100 to $160 with a new one available here and there for just over $200.
- Check out our LG G6 review. (As you can see, I awarded it a 9.5/10 rating in March 2017, which is one of my highest ratings ever for a smartphone.)
OnePlus has a history of releasing phones about every six months with a standard release in the spring, followed by a T series release in the fall. The older generation disappears from the OnePlus website when the new models are released as older stock is not kept around for long. Thus, you can no longer find the OnePlus 6 directly from OnePlus, but there are plenty of units available in mint condition on Swappa. Prices range from $400 to $500.
Also: OnePlus 6 review (8.5/10) CNET
The Silk White OnePlus 6 remains one of my favorite phones ever in terms of color and texture. The matte finish white with rose gold highlights looks fantastic and the glass felt like ceramic. So many phones today have glossy glass finishes that serve as major fingerprint magnets, so it was great to use the OnePlus 6 where no fingerprints or smudges ever appeared on the surface.
I’m a fan of the ringer switch on the iPhone and am very pleased with the three-way switch OnePlus has on its devices. OnePlus does a great job of updating its latest phones and the OnePlus 6 has the latest software, with Oxygen OS providing some advanced functionality with a nearly stock Android experience.
The OnePlus 6 also supports T-Mobile’s 600MHz spectrum with Band 71 integration. It has minimal bezels and a small notch with solid battery life. You can get the OnePlus 6T directly from T-Mobile, but the OnePlus 6 isn’t a bad option either.
Huawei Mate 10 Pro
At CES 2018, we expected to see Huawei launch the Mate 10 Pro from AT&T, but politics came to play at the last minute and the launch was canceled. The phone still ended up being sold in the US through online retailers and Best Buy as an unlocked device, but it’s tough to compete in the US without a carrier partner.
Also: Mate 10 Pro review (98.4/10) CNET
You can still find the Mate 10 Pro at Amazon in the $500 price range and Huawei just recently started rolling out Android 9 Pie updates for the phone.
The Mate 10 Pro is powered by the Kirin 970 processor with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage. It has an IP67 dust/water resistant rating and a large 4,000mAh battery that will easily get you through a day. The dual rear cameras help you capture great shots with the monochrome lens offering some unique results.
Honor View 10
The Honor View 20 was just announced for a global release in Paris a few weeks ago. Last year’s Honor View 10 was also released in the US through online retailers at a very competitive $499 price. You can find it now in the $375 price range.
Also: Honor View 10 review (7.8/10) CNET
Many of the specifications of the Honor View 10 are shared by the more expensive Mate 10 Pro so you are getting an extremely powerful device at a lower price. The Honor View 10 has the Kirin 970 processor, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of internal storage, dual rear cameras, large 5.99 inch 18:9 display, large 3,750mAh battery, and more.
Don’t feel pressured to spend
Since I write about smartphones here on ZDNet, I tend to purchase and use the latest and greatest. However, nearly all of my family, friends, and coworkers use phones that are one to three years old.
Don’t feel pressured to spend $1,000 or more on the latest flagship when your current phone can continue to meet your needs. If you want a new phone and want to save some money, then maybe consider one of these older flagships that are more affordable a year or two after their initial release.
Disclosure: ZDNet earns commissions from some of the products featured on this page.
Facebook launches a series tests to inform future changes to its News Feed algorithms – TechCrunch
Facebook may be reconfiguring its News Feed algorithms. After being grilled by lawmakers about the role that Facebook played in the attack on the U.S. Capitol, the company announced this morning it will be rolling out a series of News Feed ranking tests that will ask users to provide feedback about the posts they’re seeing, which will later be incorporated into Facebook’s News Feed ranking process. Specifically, Facebook will be looking to learn which content people find inspirational, what content they want to see less of (like politics), and what other topics they’re generally interested in, among other things.
This will be done through a series of global tests, one of which will involve a survey directly beneath the post itself which asks, “how much were you inspired by this post?,” with the goal of helping to show more people posts of an inspirational nature closer at the top of the News Feed.
Another test will work to the Facebook News Feed experience to reflect what people want to see. Today, Facebook prioritizes showing you content from friends, Groups and Pages you’ve chosen to follow, but it has algorithmically crafted an experience of whose posts to show you and when based on a variety of signals. This includes both implicit and explicit signals — like how much you engage with that person’s content (or Page or Group) on a regular basis, as well as whether you’ve added them as a “Close Friend” or “Favorite” indicating you want to see more of their content than others, for example.
However, just because you’re close to someone in real life, that doesn’t mean that you like what they post to Facebook. This has driven families and friends apart in recent years, as people discovered by way of social media how people they thought they knew really viewed the world. It’s been a painful reckoning for some. Facebook hasn’t managed to fix the problem, either. Today, users still scroll News Feeds that reinforce their views, no matter how problematic. And with the growing tide of misinformation, the News Feed has gone from just placing users into a filter bubble to presenting a full alternate reality for some, often populated by conspiracies theories.
Facebook’s third test doesn’t necessarily tackle this problem head-on, but instead looks to gain feedback about what users want to see, as a whole. Facebook says that it will begin asking people whether they want to see more or fewer posts on certain topics, like Cooking, Sports, or Politics, and more. Based on users’ collective feedback, Facebook will adjust its algorithms to show more content people say they’re interested in, and fewer posts about topics they don’t want to see.
The area of politics, specifically, has been an issue for Facebook. The social network for years has been charged with helping to fan the flames of political discourse, polarizing and radicalizing users through its algorithms, distributing misinformation at scale, and encouraging an ecosystem of divisive clickbait, as publishers sought engagement instead of fairness and balance when reporting the news. There are now entirely biased and subjective outlets posing as news sources who benefit from algorithms like Facebook’s, in fact.
Shortly after the Capitol attack, Facebook announced it would try clamping down on political content in the News Feed for a small percentage of people in the U.S., Canada, Brazil and Indonesia, for period of time during tests.
Now, the company says it will work to better understand what content is being linked negative News Feed experiences, including political content. In this case, Facebook may ask users on posts with a lot of negative reactions what sort of content they want to see less of.
It will also more prominently feature the option to hide posts you find “irrelevant, problematic or irritating.” Although this feature existed before, you’ll now be able to tap an X in the upper-right corner of a post to hide it from the News Feed, if in the test group, and see fewer like in the future, for a more personalized experience.
It’s not clear that allowing users to pick and choose their topics is the best way to solve the larger problems with negative posts, divisive content or misinformation, though this test is less about the latter and more about making the News Feed “feel” more positive.
As the data is collected from the tests, Facebook will incorporate the learnings into its News Feed ranking algorithms. But it’s not clear to what extent it will be adjusting the algorithm on a global basis versus simply customizing the experience for end users on a more individual basis over time.
The company says the tests will run over the next few months.
Instagram launches tools to filter out abusive DMs based on keywords and emojis, and to block people, even on new accounts – TechCrunch
Facebook and its family of apps have long grappled with the issue of how to better manage — and eradicate — bullying and other harassment on its platform, turning both to algorithms and humans in its efforts to tackle the problem better. In the latest development, today, Instagram is announcing some new tools of its own.
First, it’s introducing a new way for people to further shield themselves from harassment in their direct messages, specifically in message requests by way of a new set of words, phrases and emojis that might signal abusive content, which will also include common misspellings of those key terms, sometimes used to try to evade the filters. Second, it’s giving users the ability to proactively block people even if they try to contact the user in question over a new account.
The blocking account feature is going live globally in the next few weeks, Instagram said, and it confirmed to me that the feature to filter out abusive DMs will start rolling out in the UK, France, Germany, Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in a few weeks’ time before becoming available in more countries over the next few months.
Notably, these features are only being rolled out on Instagram — not Messenger, and not WhatsApp, Facebook’s other two hugely popular apps that enable direct messaging. The spokesperson confirmed that Facebook hopes to bring it to other apps in the stable later this year. (Instagram and others have regularly issued updates on single apps before considering how to roll them out more widely.)
Instagram said that the feature to scan DMs for abusive content — which will be based on a list of words and emojis that Facebook compiles with the help of anti-discrimination and anti-bullying organizations (it did not specify which), along with terms and emoji’s that you might add in yourself — has to be turned on proactively, rather than being made available by default.
Why? More user license, it seems, and to keep conversations private if uses want them to be. “We want to respect peoples’ privacy and give people control over their experiences in a way that works best for them,” a spokesperson said, pointing out that this is similar to how its comment filters also work. It will live in Settings>Privacy>Hidden Words for those who will want to turn on the control.
There are a number of third-party services out there in the wild now building content moderation tools that sniff out harassment and hate speech — they include the likes of Sentropy and Hive — but what has been interesting is that the larger technology companies up to now have opted to build these tools themselves. That is also the case here, the company confirmed.
The system is completely automated, although Facebook noted that it reviews any content that gets reported. While it doesn’t keep data from those interactions, it confirmed that it will be using reported words to continue building its bigger database of terms that will trigger content getting blocked, and subsequently deleting, blocking and reporting the people who are sending it.
On the subject of those people, it’s been a long time coming that Facebook has started to get smarter on how it handles the fact that the people with really ill intent have wasted no time in building multiple accounts to pick up the slack when their primary profiles get blocked. People have been aggravated by this loophole for as long as DMs have been around, even though Facebook’s harassment policies had already prohibited people from repeatedly contacting someone who doesn’t want to hear from them, and the company had already also prohibited recidivism, which as Facebook describes it, means “if someone’s account is disabled for breaking our rules, we would remove any new accounts they create whenever we become aware of it.”
The company’s approach to Direct Messages has been something of a template for how other social media companies have built these out.
In essence, they are open-ended by default, with one inbox reserved for actual contacts, but a second one for anyone at all to contact you. While some people just ignore that second box altogether, the nature of how Instagram works and is built is for more, not less, contact with others, and that means people will use those second inboxes for their DMs more than they might, for example, delve into their spam inboxes in email.
The bigger issue continues to be a game of whack-a-mole, however, and one that not just its users are asking for more help to solve. As Facebook continues to find itself under the scrutinizing eye of regulators, harassment — and better management of it — has emerged as a very key area that it will be required to solve before others do the solving for it.
Facebook is expanding Spotify partnership with new ‘Boombox’ project – TechCrunch
Facebook is deepening its relationship with music company Spotify and will allow users to listen to music hosted on Spotify while browsing through its apps as part of a new initiative called “Project Boombox,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Monday.
Facebook is building an in-line audio player that will allow users to listen to songs or playlists being shared on the platforms without being externally linked to Spotify’s app or website. Zuckerberg highlighted the feature as another product designed to improve the experience of creators on its platforms, specifically the ability of musicians to share their work, “basically making audio a first-class type of media,” he said.
We understand from sources familiar with the Spotify integration that this player will support both music and podcasts. It has already been tested in non-U.S. markets, including Mexico and Thailand, and it’s expected to arrive in about a week.
The news was revealed in a wide-ranging interview with reporter Casey Newton on the company’s future pursuits in the audio world as Facebook aims to keep pace with upstart efforts like Clubhouse and increased activity in the podcasting world.
“We think that audio is going to be a first-class medium and that there are all these different products to be built across this whole spectrum,” said Zuckerberg. “Of course, it includes some areas that, that have been, you know, popular recently like podcasting and kind of live audio rooms like this, but I also think that there’s some interesting things that are under-explored in the area overall.”
Spotify has already supported a fairly productive relationship with the Facebook and Instagram platforms. In recent years the music and podcasts platform has been integrated more deeply into Instagram Stories where users can share content from the service, a feature that’s also been available in Facebook Stories.
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