10 of our favorite smartphone features of 2022

It’s a time when you look back on the months that have been and pick out the best of the year that will soon be past. Like every year, 2022 had its share of smartphone innovations. Some worked, some didn’t, and some were announced but took their time when the device arrived. All said and done, there was a lot to talk about in terms of smartphone features in 2022. If we had to pick ten standout smartphone features this year, we’d pick the following.

Dynamic Island on iPhone 14 Pro/ Pro Max: pure dynamite

When Apple released the iPhone X, it brought with it the infamous notch that polarized the tech world. There were those who absolutely loved it and then there were those who hated the very sight of it. After keeping it largely the same (Apple only slightly reduced its size) for the next three generations, Apple has finally changed the anatomy of the notch on its flagship offerings of the year, the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max. While the new Dynamic Island notch didn’t get as much hate as the OG notch, there were some people who didn’t like the look or the features it brought. We disagree because Dynamic Island on the iPhone 14 Pro Max is one of our favorite features introduced on the smartphone in 2022.

Unlike other brands that bring different types of notches on their smartphone just as a placeholder for the front camera. Apple has always done more with the iPhone notch, and with the Dynamic Island, the Cupertino tech giant has taken it to another level. What used to be a big black stationary rectangular block on top of our iPhone displays has now turned into a shape-shifting pill that has changed the way we interact with our new iPhones. It added visible functionality to the phone, rather than just being a design element or performing functions in the background (the previous Notch was very functional after all, driving Face ID).

Apps like Maps or Apple Music have revived the seemingly basic little black pill on the top of our iPhones, supplementing it with a variety of animations and information. This was not only pleasing visually, but also very useful in practical life. We didn’t have to unlock the phone to look for directions or see when the next turn was coming, because Dynamic Island hid that information right at the top of the lock screen.

Likewise, most of our music controls were present right on Dynamic Island and easily accessible. By making the notch on the iPhone interactive, Apple gave us a whole new way to interact with our iPhones. And judging by the number of Dynamic Island apps popping up around the world, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a regular part of Android as well.

Glyph UI on Nothing Phone (1): An enlightened new way of smartphone life

Like Dynamic Island and the original notch, many also hated the flashy little LEDs on the back (called Glyph UI) of the Nothing phone (1). They were seen as something just to get attention and were not really functional. We thought the same thing when we first used the phone, but using the phone (1) for a while made us realize that the Glyph UI on the phone is actually very useful, even if we also love the flashy element of its existence.

We’re all for a smartphone design that stands out and this one screams different in all languages. The LEDs on the back of the phone (1) are equipped with flash and also features. The charging indicator on the back of the phone (1) is actually very useful when you’re charging your phone in public. You can leave it face down and monitor the charge status without having to worry about a notification appearing on the display.

Another cool feature is that you can assign specific ringtones and glyph patterns to your contacts to let you know who’s calling without ever picking up the phone. The phone also goes into silent mode when it’s placed face down, and various flashing LEDs tell you who’s calling, all without you having to look. T

he music visualization feature on the phone (1) is also quite interesting. It was fiddly at first, but after a few updates, the LEDs flash along with the music, which is a great party trick. Hopefully, Nic won’t be adding new features to the Glyph UI through updates in the coming days. This is a completely new way of using a smartphone that is currently unique to this phone (1).

Transparent back on the phone Nothing (1): Making the guts the stars

For quite some time now, most of the smartphone world has been churning out rather predictable and run-of-the-mill smartphones. Brands that dared to take a different design path were a rarity and were often only seen in the premium price segment. However, Carl Pei brought a lot of design excitement back into the phone world when his new company Nothing released its first phone, the Phone (1).

Not only did the back of the phone feature eye-catching LEDs that brought a whole new interface to our phone’s life (read above), but it was also transparent, giving it a very sharp and distinct look. The back didn’t completely show you what’s inside the phone (some parts were tactfully covered up) and they kept things subtle by only giving us a glimpse of some very aesthetically pleasing innards of the phone.

The result may have polarized some opinions, but the fact remains that there was no other phone in the Indian market that looked remotely like this. The Glyph UI also lit up around these internal devices whenever a notification came in, highlighting their presence. We’re not too sure that too many will copy this phone back, as it will take some work, apart from elements like flat sides and color variants. All this makes it one of the biggest design highlights for us in 2022.

10X optical zoom on the Galaxy S22 Ultra: Super zoom on the phone!

Cameras have become one of the most important features of smartphones today, so it’s no wonder that camera specifications on phones are improving day by day, especially in the premium segment. One area where progress has been relatively limited has been optical zoom, so we were pleasantly surprised to see a massive 10X optical zoom on a smartphone in 2022.

We’ve seen smartphones with ridiculous amounts of digital zoom (especially from Huawei’s famous P series), but that’s basically all about cropping images, which ultimately means you lose a lot of detail. There are phones that offer some amount of optical zoom, with 3X being the most common and some phones even reaching 5X.

However, Samsung decided to take the optical zoom game to another level in 2022 by introducing a whopping 10x optical zoom via a 10-megapixel periscope telephoto lens to its 2022 flagship phone, the Galaxy S22 Ultra. This is a type of optical zoom rarely seen even in digital cameras, let alone a smartphone. As a result, zooming in on an object on a smartphone suddenly became much more than the equivalent of moving a step or two closer to the object.

In fact, we were able to photograph the birds from a safe distance without disturbing them and still get impressive details of their plumage. We’ve honestly never seen this kind of optical zoom performance from a smartphone before, so here’s hoping more brands join the zoom bandwagon in 2023.

Four speakers on the Xiaomi 12 Pro: Sultans of smartphone sound

While other brands focused mainly on displays and cameras, in 2022 Xiaomi decided to take the road less traveled and produced a flagship that not only excelled in the camera and display departments but also had its speakers as its USP. Yes, you read that right – speakers. The Xiaomi 12 Pro saw Xiaomi’s return to the premium phone segment in India in 2022, and while the smartphone came with flagship-level specifications in all aspects, what made it very different from other devices were the four speakers that the smartphone. Most flagship phones tend to come with two speakers, but Xiaomi has doubled that number with the Xiaomi 12 Pro. It was the first phone in the Indian market to be launched with four speakers – two woofers and two tweeters.

The whole system was tuned by Harman Kardon. As a result, the Xiaomi 12 Pro delivered perhaps the best audio experience we’ve ever had with a smartphone in terms of speaker performance. Whether it was playing games, watching content or just listening to music, the Xiaomi 12 Pro knocked it out of the audio park every time. They certainly weren’t the loudest smartphone speakers we’ve experienced, but the quality was sublime and the sound had great body and balance.

120W charging on Xiaomi 11i Hypercharge: Crazy fast charging on an affordable phone

Fast charging has been available on smartphones for quite some time now, with Dash, Warp and VOOC charging becoming part of the geek vocabulary. However, really fast charging was a prerogative of the premium segment and you had to shell out good money for it. Xiaomi changed that with the launch of the Xiaomi 11i HyperCharge in 2022. Yes, the phone had very mid-range processor, display and camera specs, but it came with a feature that wasn’t even seen in the premium segment at the time – 120W charging support and also with a charger in the box.

The result was a battery with a capacity of 4,500 mAh, which was charged in about twenty minutes. The segment had never seen anything like it, and by the end of the year, other brands were paying Xiaomi the most flattering tribute by including similarly fast charging at lower prices. But 11i HyperCharge deserves credit for taking super-fast charging out of the premium zone and into the more mainstream.

Transcription of audio messages on Google Pixel: You can now read voice messages

There’s a lot more to Google’s iconic Pixel line of phones than extremely good cameras. Beneath that striking exterior lies some serious software smarts. And one of our favorites was the voice memo transcription that came with the Pixel 7 series. While transcription (voice-to-text) has always been a strength of Pixels, voice message transcription is especially useful because it lets you know what’s in an audio message without you they had to hear – something that is often not possible (you may be in a crowded place, for example).

All voice messages delivered to the Google Pixel 7 and 7 Pro in the Google Messages app come with a text box that lets you see exactly what’s in the message without having to hear it. And the transcription is fine too. It’s fast, convenient and quite smart. It was one of our favorite features of 2022, and we hope it comes to more devices and messaging services in 2023.

Audio jack on Redmi K50i: This jack is not over the hill

While the 3.5mm audio jack is not yet history, in 2022 it started to disappear from the premium mid-range segment. Most phones with a price tag above Rs 25,000 have ditched the audio jack. Hence, it came as a big surprise when Xiaomi included a 3.5mm audio jack in its Redmi K50i, which was launched at Rs 25,999. And it wasn’t a classic audio jack, but a pretty powerful one too, capable of powering mid-level headphones, saving you from having to invest in a basic DAC.

It was a classic case of an old feature showing us that it is still useful, as we suddenly discovered that using headphones does not always mean going into Bluetooth pairing mode or checking the battery level of the headphones or TWS. We’re not too optimistic about the future of the 3.5mm audio jack, but it would be great if brands continued to offer it at higher prices.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip4 Secondary Display: A second display that really helps and is easy to use

We’ve been seeing phones with a secondary display for quite some time now. The RAZR 2 had an external display that allowed you to see some basic information, the Yota Phone literally had an electronic reader on the back, and in 2021 the Mi 11 Ultra came with a small secondary display in the camera unit so you could check the time and take selfies. However, Samsung added real value to the secondary display with the external display on the Galaxy Z Flip4, which launched in 2022. The 1.9-inch display wasn’t very large, but it was more than enough to perform a number of functions without having to open the phone.

Amongst a host of other activities (including taking selfies), you receive and reject phone calls, read and even reply to messages (using a pre-written reply), and control music and system settings. What made the Z Flip4’s secondary display stand out was just how smoothly it worked, striking a golden middle ground between being large enough to be easy to use and easy to view without being too distracting. It would be a great option in the premium segment, especially for those of us who like to put our phones face down or just don’t like unlocking our phones for every task.

Samsung’s Android Update: Entering the League of Pixels…or Galaxy!

Mention rapid software updates for Android devices and there’s a good chance most people will think you’re referring to Google’s Pixel line, which receives regular and timely Android updates. In 2022, Samsung got into Android update mode and delivered impressive results, despite a wide portfolio of devices in different price segments. At the end of the year, Samsung was one of the few brands that had a number of phones updated to Android 13, and it wasn’t just flagships, but mid-range devices as well. What’s more, most OS updates have been smooth and bug-free.

The brand also surprised many with its commitment to providing Android OS and security updates for many of its devices over the years, finally putting Android updates where they belonged – prominently in the spec. Other brands are expected to follow suit – some are already doing so – and that’s great news for anyone using an Android device.

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