A timeline of phones that answered the call for innovation in the last decade
In 2004, Android and iOS didn’t exist, Nokia was at the pinnacle of its domination on the industry and the 3G network revolution had only just begun.
In the past ten years we’ve witnessed the birth of the truly modern smartphone, with features that seemed like flights of fancy at the time. Fast forward to today, every phone worth its salt can play videos; help you escape to a virtual world that’s curated by you; has an advanced array of communication technologies; advanced levels of artificial intelligence and, really, is more like a powerful little computer in the palm of your hand.
The next generation of smartphones will bring similarly advanced technologies and capabilities – higher network speeds, even greater resolution displays and flexible screens, besides new applications and software that we can only dream of.
As we enter a new decade, we take a quick look at some of the smartphones which defined the last decade. These aren’t necessarily the best mobiles, but ones that made an impact in one way or another.
Apple iPhone 3GS
The first iPhone to feature in the top ten is the iPhone 3GS – the faster version of the iPhone 3G. Visually they’re the same phone and all iPhone 3GS accessories also work with the iPhone 3G – the only real differences were to the internals of the phone. The 3GS has a faster processor and an improved camera. Should we mention the gorgeous high-resolution display and humongous catalogue of apps? The only possible drawback we could think of was the 3.5-inch screen (it’s actually not a real drawback but imagine all those beautiful games running on a 4” display).
Back when it was released, the Nokia N8 was the first smartphone in the world to provide 5-band 3G support so that you can connect to 3G data networks around the world. The N8 was also the first Symbian^3 powered device. While the user interface doesn’t look much different than what we saw in S60 and Maemo, it does have improvements that appealed to Nokia and Symbian fans around the world and even helped bring in some new fans.
Specifications include 5-band 3G data support, anodised aluminum casing in five colours, 3.5 inch 640×360 pixels resolution OLED display, 720p video recording capability, 12 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics, internal 16GB memory with support for microSD expansion cards, HDMI port, USB , FM transmitter, 680 MHz processor, and USB On-the-Go so you can plug in USB devices to use them without a PC.
In an era when touchscreens over 4 inches were quickly becoming the norm, the 3.2-inch Torch 9810 slider looked almost prehistoric. On one hand, it combines the best of both worlds — a touch display and the tried and true BlackBerry keyboard.
The BlackBerry Torch 2 morphs into a competitive product that featured a 1.2GHz Qualcomm processor, a 3.2-inch 640 x 480-pixel capacitive display, 8GB of built-in storage, 512MB of RAM, NFC and more.
Samsung Galaxy Note II
For the follow-up to the Galaxy Note, Samsung, for the most part, amended nearly every imperfection the original handset had. Jelly Bean right out the box, monstrous quad-core processing, and a bigger 5.5-inch screen that delivers amazing viewing angles, are just some of the Galaxy Note II’s notable features.
The other half came from some of the phone’s tablet-esque features such as the Popup Video option and its refined S-Pen technology, which conveyed near-accurate precision and allowed users to scroll through web pages by pointing the accessory millimeters away from the screen.
Apple iPhone 5
To some the iPhone 5 was nothing more than a series of nips and tucks to the iPhone 4S, but to us, it was a refinement that addressed nearly every major issue people had with Apple’s smartphone. The Retina Display was made taller, the body thinned, it received a new, faster processor and it was made lighter.
It may not be the craziest spec sheet out of all the smartphones, but when it comes to all-around user experience, the iPhone is still the best of the bunch. The 5 million people who bought one during the first weekend of its release can attest to that.
Samsung Galaxy S5
Alongside iterative upgrades like an improved processor, larger (5.1-inch, 1080p) display and a slightly tweaked appearance (aimed at making it look less plasticky and cheap), the company also included more bespoke features like a heart rate monitor and a wealth of camera options.
It was also one of 2014’s best water-resistant and dust-proof phones, going primarily up against Sony’s line-up.
HTC One (M8)
Easily one of the most beautiful Android smartphones of the year, the HTC One M9 is a minor improvement over HTC’s previous Android phones. It has the same attractive aluminum design, an improved camera, and a faster processor.
The M8’s front-facing Boomsound speakers offer the clearest speakerphone experience of any smartphone on the market, for one very simple reason: they actually aim the sound at your face, not away. There’s also 30 hours of standby on your last 10 percent of battery thanks to its Extreme Power Saving Mode.
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
Back when it was released, the Galaxy S7 was the smartphone Samsung would much rather have you talk about as opposed to the explosive Note 7 released in the same year.
With the S7, Samsung reintroduced waterproofing and expandable storage, which pleased many Android users. Most importantly, Samsung pulled in these features without having to compromise the great design and build quality that it introduced the year before that. Oh yeah—and then there’s that incredible OLED display, which you must see in person to truly appreciate.
Huawei Mate 10 Pro
The 6-inch screened Mate 10 Pro arrived with claims of strong AI capabilities and boasts from the Chinese company that its processing power was way more than the iPhone X.
It’s certainly a proficient, fast and powerful handset with a slick design and impressive camera – helped along by those AI smarts which automatically adjust settings when the snapper recognises what you’re photographing.
The Mate 10 Pro ticks all our productivity boxes: OLED screen that covers almost all the phone, water resistance, dual-lens camera, fast-charging battery (from nothing flat to 20% in 10 minutes) and so on.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9
The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is an under-appreciated powerhouse, with industry-top specs, a huge battery and, yes, a headphone jack. Our favourite feature on it is the X20 LTE modem, which provides download speeds up to 1.2 gigabits per second. Real-world users won’t hit those numbers yet, but the speed bump is still noticeable with the right carrier, which means faster productivity. Another function unique to Samsung phones is that you can plug it straight into an external monitor and use it like a scaled-down computer. It’s a functionality we are yet to see many companies adopt.
Huawei P30 Pro / Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max
With the P30 Pro, Huawei has built the best camera phone. Coincidentally, it’s a great smartphone too, with plenty of power both with regard to its processor and a battery that simply runs for days on end. Since last year’s P20 Pro, the company has tempered the overzealous AI photo tweaking, and ensured that shots in automatic mode typically don’t need the help in the first place. Regardless of mode choice, recorded video is often blurry, with a little too much image smoothing and not enough detail. With 5x optical zoom, and a 10x hybrid zoom that’s incredibly capable, it has, so far, the best smartphone camera of 2019.
Apart from a bigger screen and better battery life, the iPhone 11 Pro Max offers a trio of solid cameras and top-of-the-line performance (though you might not notice the difference much if you’re coming from a recent iPhone). iOS 13 packs plenty of handy new features too, though it doesn’t do anything new to take advantage of the Pro Max’s big, 6.5-inch screen. All told, the iPhone 11 Pro Max was well worth the upgrade if you needed a big phone.