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.
Snap had its best quarter in four years – TechCrunch
If you’ve started using Snapchat more regularly this year, you’re not alone. At yesterday’s Q2 earnings call, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel announced that the platform grew both revenue and daily active users at the highest rates it has achieved in the last four years. Snapchat now has 293 million daily active users, growing 23% since last year.
Snap went public in 2017 with a $24 billion valuation, but not long before then, the ephemeral photo sharing app experienced a massive hiccup: Instagram cloned their then-unique Stories feature. After Instagram Stories launched, Snapchat’s growth slowed by 82%. Then, when Snapchat redesigned its app’s interface, Kylie Jenner tweeted that she didn’t use the app anymore, causing the company’s valuation to drop by $1.2 billion.
But Snapchat held on and made a comeback. Its revenue reached an all-time high of $911 million in Q4 of 2020, then went down to $770 million the following quarter. Now, Snapchat’s revenue in Q2 of 2021 surpasses its previous high to reach $982 million.
The app’s Q2 growth could be attributed to the return of advertisers who scaled back their spending during the height of the pandemic, as well as the retention of users that flocked to the app while in lockdown. Like many social media platforms, Snapchat grew its revenue and user base during the pandemic, but this isn’t just a matter of re-engaging users with an app that they grew out of. As TikTok exploded on the scene and the creator economy boomed, Snapchat kept up by creating Spotlight, a TikTok clone, and investing in the applications of augmented reality.
“We made significant progress with our augmented reality platform this quarter,” Spiegel said. “More than 200 million Snapchatters engage with AR every day on average, and over 200,000 creators use Lens Studio to build AR Lenses for our community.”
Last month, Snapchat went viral for its Cartoon 3D Style Lens, which makes you look like a character in a Pixar movie. Spiegel specifically mentioned this lens as a feature that “highlighted the power of Lenses to go viral both inside and outside of Snapchat.” But beyond fun face filters, Snapchat has been using AR to woo e-commerce partners. The app has developed AR experiences for Walt Disney World, Smile Direct Club, Zenni Optical, e.l.f. Cosmetics, Ralph Lauren and more. This includes try-on capabilities for watches, jewelry, eyewear, handbags, makeup and even clothing. At its Partner Summit in May, Snapchat revealed an update that lets users scan friends’ outfits to find shopping recommendations for similar styles.
“We have a lot more work ahead to build out our technology and increase AR adoption, but we are thrilled with the results that our partners are seeing as we invest in our long-term camera opportunity,” said Jeremi Gorman, Snap’s chief business officer. “We are confident in our long-term opportunity, and are excited to double down on shopping and commerce via augmented reality.”
In March, Snap acquired Fit Analytics, a Berlin-based startup that helps shoppers find the right-sized apparel and footwear when shopping online. Combined with Snap’s investment in AR, could we eventually use AR to see which size of clothing to order? The application of that sort of technology would need to be handled sensitively, especially as the rates of eating disorders in teens are on the rise.
Beyond e-commerce, Snapchat has sought out strategic partnerships with entertainment companies like HBO Max and Universal Music Group and doubled down on its Spectacles, glasses that create AR experiences. Of course, Facebook is working on AR glasses too. But for both companies, Snap’s recent successes show the rising adoption and value of AR experiences.
Jack Dorsey says bitcoin will be a big part of Twitter’s future – TechCrunch
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey confirmed to investors that bitcoin will be a “big part” of the company’s future, as he sees opportunities to integrate the cryptocurrency into existing Twitter products and services, including commerce, subscriptions and other new additions like the Twitter Tip Jar and Super Follows.
Dorsey has been a staunch bitcoin advocate for years, but how it would be put into action on Twitter’s platform had not yet been spelled out in detail. However, Dorsey has often publicly touted the cryptocurrency, saying it reminds him of the “early days of the internet” and that there wasn’t “anything more important” in his lifetime for him to work on.
More recently, Dorsey launched a $23.6 million bitcoin fund with Jay Z and announced plans to lead his other company Square into the decentralized financial services market by way of bitcoin. Square also this year acquired a majority stake in Jay-Z’s TIDAL music service with an eye toward how blockchain technologies and cryptocurrencies could change the music business.
Today, Dorsey also dubbed bitcoin one of three key trends for Twitter’s future, along with AI and decentralization — the latter which Twitter is pursuing through its “Bluesky” initiative.
He touted bitcoin to investors on Twitter’s second quarter earnings call, saying it could help the company move faster in terms of its product expansions, while explaining that it was the “best candidate” to become the “native currency” of the internet. (Incidentally, Square’s $50 million in bitcoin purchased in 2020 was worth $253 million by February 2021, and it purchased $170 million more earlier this year.)
“If the internet has a native currency, a global currency, we are able to able to move so much faster with products such as Super Follows, Commerce, Subscriptions, Tip Jar, and we can reach every single person on the planet because of that instead of going down a market-by-market-by-market approach,” Dorsey explained. “I think this is a big part of our future. I think there is a lot of innovation above just currency to be had, especially as we think about decentralizing social media more and providing more economic incentive. So I think it’s hugely important to Twitter and to Twitter shareholders that we continue to look at the space and invest aggressively in it,” he added.
A Twitter rep confirmed this is the first time that Dorsey has spoken publicly about how Twitter could integrate bitcoin into its product lineup.
Dorsey also pointed out Twitter would not be alone in pursuing a crypto strategy, noting that Facebook was backing the digital currency Diem.
“There’s an obvious need for this, and appreciation for it. And I think that an open standard that’s native to the internet is the right way to go, which is why my focus and our focus eventually will be on bitcoin,” he noted.
Overall, Twitter delivered strong earnings in a pandemic rebound, which saw the company posting its fastest revenue growth since 2014, according to CNBC, which drove Twitter shares 9% higher in extended trading. The company pulled in Q2 revenue of $1.19 billion versus the $1.07 billion Wall Street expected, a majority ($1.05 billion) from its advertising business. It also saw earnings per share of 20 cents versus the 7 cents expected.
However, monetizable daily active users (mDAUs) — Twitter’s own invented metric meant to fluff up often flat monthly user growth — were only at 206 million, an 11% year-over-year increase, while analysts were counting on 206.2 million. The company blamed the decline on a slower news cycle and end of shelter-in-place in many U.S. communities, which may have impacted Twitter usage during the quarter.
Tumblr users lash out against its beta subscription feature – TechCrunch
The Tumblr community often refers to itself as the Wild West of the internet, and they’re not wrong. A text post with over 70,000 notes puts it best: “Tumblr is my favorite social media site because this place is literally uninhabitable for celebrities. No verification system, no algorithm that boosts their posts, it’s a completely lawless wasteland for them.”
But like any social media company, Tumblr needs to keep itself afloat in order for its users to continue sharing esoteric fan art, incomprehensible shitposts, and overly personal diary entries hidden beneath a “Read More” button. Yesterday, Tumblr announced the limited beta test of its Post+ subscription feature, which — if all goes as planned — will eventually let Tumblr users post paywalled content to subscribers that pay them $3.99, $5.99 or $9.99 per month.
Tumblr is far from the first social media platform to seek revenue this way — Twitter is rolling out Super Follows and a Tip Jar feature, and this week, YouTube announced a tipping feature too. Even Instagram is working on its own version of Twitter’s Super Follows that would let users create “exclusive stories.” But on a website with a community that prides itself as being a “completely lawless wasteland” for anyone with a platform (save for Wil Wheaton and Neil Gaiman, who are simply just vibing), the move toward paywalled content was not welcomed with open arms.
Monetization is a double-edged sword. It’s not considered uncool for a Tumblr artist to link to a third-party Patreon or Ko-fi site on their blog, where their most enthusiastic followers can access paywalled content or send them tips. So Post+ seems like an obvious way for Tumblr to generate revenue — instead of directing followers to other websites, they could build a way for fans to support creators on their own platform while taking a 5% cut. This isn’t unreasonable, considering that Twitter will take 3% revenue from its new monetization tools, while video-centric platforms like YouTube and Twitch take 30% and 50%, respectively. But Tumblr isn’t Twitter, or YouTube, or Twitch. Unlike other platforms, Tumblr doesn’t allow you to see other people’s follower counts, and no accounts are verified. It’s not as easy to tell whether the person behind a popular post has 100 followers or 100,000 followers, and the users prefer it that way. But Post+ changes that, giving bloggers an icon next to their username that resembles a Twitter blue check.
Tumblr rolled out Post+ this week to a select group of hand-picked creators, including Kaijuno, a writer and astrophysicist. The platform announced Post+ on a new blog specific to this product, rather than its established staff blog, which users know to check for big announcements. So, as the most public user who was granted access, the 24-year-old blogger was the target of violent backlash from angry Tumblrites who didn’t want to see their favorite social media site turn into a hypercapitalist hellscape. When Kaijuno received death threats for beta testing Post+, Tumblr’s staff intervened and condemned harassment against Post+ users.
“We want to hear about what you like, what you love, and what concerns you. Even if it’s not very nice. Tell us. We can take it,” Tumblr wrote on its staff blog. “What we won’t ever accept is the targeted harassment and threats these creators have endured since this afternoon. […] all they’re doing is testing out a feature.”
Before making their post, a representative from Tumblr’s staff reached out to Kaijuno directly to check in on them regarding the backlash, but there’s only so much that Tumblr can do after a user has already been threatened for using their product.
“I felt like the sacrificial lamb, because they didn’t announce Post+ beforehand and only gave it to a few people, which landed me in the crosshairs of a very pissed-off user base when I’m just trying to pay off medical bills by giving people the option to pay for content,” Kaijuno told TechCrunch. “I knew there’d be some backlash because users hate any sort of change to Tumblr, but I thought that the brunt of the backlash would be at the staff, and that the beta testers would be spared from most of it.”
Why do Tumblr users perceive monetization as such a threat? It’s not a question of whether or not it’s valuable to support creators, but rather, whether Tumblr is capable of hosting such a service. Multiple long-time, avid Tumblr users that spoke to TechCrunch referenced an incident in late 2020 when people’s blogs were being hacked by spam bots that posted incessant advertisements for a Ray-Ban Summer Sale.
“Tumblr is not the most well-coded website. It’s easy to break features,” Kaijuno added. “I think anything involving trusting Tumblr with your financial information would have gotten backlash.”
Tumblr users also worried about the implications Post+ could have on privacy — in the limited beta, Post+ users only have the ability to block people who are subscribed to their blog if they contact Tumblr support. In cases of harassment by a subscriber, this could leave a blogger vulnerable in a potentially dangerous situation.
“Ahead of our launch to all U.S.-based creators this fall, Post+ will allow creators to block subscribers directly,” a Tumblr spokesperson told TechCrunch.
Still, the Extremely Online Gen Z-ers who now make up 48% of Tumblr know that they can’t expect the platform to continue existing if it doesn’t pull in enough money to pay for its staff and server fees. In 2018, Tumblr lost almost one-third of its monthly page views after all NSFW content was banned — since then, the platform’s monthly traffic has remained relatively stagnant.
A former Tumblr employee told TechCrunch that the feature that became Post+ started out as a Tip Jar. But higher-ups at Tumblr — who do not work directly with the community — redirected the project to create a paywalled subscription product.
“I think a Tip Jar would be a massive improvement,” said the creator behind the Tumblr blog normal-horoscopes. Through the core audience they developed on Tumblr, they make a living via Patreon, but they don’t find Post+ compelling for their business. “External services [like Patreon] have more options, more benefits, better price points, and as a creator I get to choose how I present them to my audience.”
But a paywalled subscription service is different in the collective eyes of Tumblr. For a site that thrives on fandom, creators that make fan art and fanfiction worry that placing this derivative work behind a paywall — which Post+ encourages them to do — will land them in legal trouble. Even Archive of Our Own, a major fanfiction site, prohibits its users from linking to sites like Patreon or Ko-Fi.
“Built-in monetization attracts businesses, corporate accounts, people who are generally there to make money first and provide content second,” said normal-horoscopes. “It changes the culture of a platform.”
Across Tumblr, upset users are rallying for their followers to take Post+’s feedback survey to express their frustrations. The staff welcomes this.
“As with any new product launch, we expect our users to have a healthy discussion about how the feature will change the dynamics of how people use Tumblr,” a Tumblr spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Not all of this feedback will be positive, and that’s OK. Constructive criticism fuels how we create products and ultimately makes Tumblr a better place.”
Tumblr’s vocal community has been empowered over the years to question whether it’s possible for a platform to establish new revenue streams in a way that feels organic. The protectiveness that Tumblr’s user base feels for the site — despite their lack of faith in staff — sets it apart from social media juggernauts like Facebook, which can put e-commerce front and center without much scrutiny. But even three years after the catastrophic porn ban, it seems hard for Tumblr to grow without alienating the people that make the social network unique.
Platforms like Reddit and Discord have remained afloat by selling digital goods, like coins to reward top posters, or special emojis. Each company’s financial needs are different, but Tumblr’s choice to monetize with Post+ highlights the company’s lack of insight into its own community’s wishes.
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