This year's smartphones are much more resilient to obsolescence

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| December 14, 2012

In 2010 and 2011, I had to constantly trade and sell phones to stay current. Over what seemed like weeks, smartphones would become outdated, old news. Hype and anticipation would surge, the phone would launch and, almost immediately, attention would move to something newer, better, something that didn't have all the problems that were discovered on earlier phones.

So I managed to go through several dozen phones in two seemingly short years. I never spent more than a couple weeks with the same phone before my attention started to stray and I started looking for a buyer and someone selling a newer device.

In 2012, I vowed to buy fewer phones. And, playing to my advantage, I lost interest in always having the latest and greatest. There's no feeling quite like opening the box to a new phone and setting it up for the first time. But having to do it upwards of 100 times – including review units, modding, flashing new ROMs, etc. – per year, it can become tiresome. So I managed to buy only six phones this year: a Samsung Galaxy Note, Galaxy Nexus, Nokia Lumia 900, HTC One X, BlackBerry Bold 9930 and an iPhone 5.

With the exception of the iPhone 5, all of the phones I kept for any length of time – the HTC One X, Galaxy Note and Galaxy Nexus – maintained their luster over the course of several months. I'm on the fence about keeping the iPhone 5 around, but I plan to keep the Galaxy Note II for many months.

The fact that I believe I can keep the Galaxy Note II for many more months without growing bored or envious of newer devices based on three factors. For starters, I'm the most content now with the Galaxy Note II as I have ever been with any smartphone. I kept the HTC One X, of which I had several complaints, for six months. So keeping a phone I'm even happier with for longer should be a breeze. Also, smartphones are retaining their relevancy much better than they have in the past, which gets me to my last point. We may be on the brink of a specification plateau.

What initially sparked the idea was Engadget's hands-on with the YotaPhone. As a refresher, the YotaPhone is an Android smartphone with two 4.3-inch displays – one 720p LCD JDI panel on the front and a 200dpi EPD E Ink display on the back. Engadget's Sharif Sakr sat down with a prototype of the YotaPhone and Vlad Martynov and Lau Geckler of Yota Devices. Around the 7:00 mark of the video, after a bit of hands-on and demonstrations, Sakr makes a very important, probing point.

The YotaPhone comes equipped with a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 chipset, 32GB or 64GB, 2GB RAM, 12-megapixel camera and a 2,100mAh battery. By today's standards, the Snapdragon S4 chip is fine. There are certainly more efficient and powerful chips out there, like the Snapdragon S4 Pro, which shares the same clock speed but has two additional CPU cores. But the original S4 is no weakling. It's built on the 28nm process and it is extremely zippy, even outperforming many quad-core chips built on older processes.

However, YotaPhone is not expected to launch in Russia until Q3 2013. An international launch will shortly follow.

The point Sakr made was: by that time, the specifications will almost certainly be mid-range, and it would be difficult for Yota Devices to market the YotaPhone as anything other than a mid-range device. On one hand, I tend to agree. On the other, Sakr couldn't be more wrong.

If you gauge merely by specifications, which many do, the YotaPhone will be outdated and mid-range by the time it comes to market. Most high-end phones today have quad-core chips, so anything with a dual-core chip in a year's time would certainly seem dated. And it's important to consider other specifications other than the SoC. Samsung's new eMMC NAND chips should be available by then, meaning built-in storage could leap to a 128GB standard. Most smartphones have 8-megapixel cameras, and YotaPhone's 12-megapixel camera seems future-proofed, but the optics are unknown, as is the quality of the camera. It comes with LTE, NFC, Bluetooth and an adapter for magnetic charging.

The most important feature that could vastly change over the next year, however, is battery life. The YotaPhone comes with a 2,100mAh battery, which is around the new average battery capacity for smartphones. But some manufacturers, such as Motorola and Samsung, have shown interest in notably larger cells, exceeding 3,000mAh. This is a feature I hope to see more and more manufacturers adopt in 2013, and if they do, this could be one more tick that plunges the YotaPhone into the depths of obsolescence.

But, as I've expressed a million times now, specifications aren't everything. And in 2012, we have crossed a threshold. Mobile device performance is better than ever. Neither the One X or Galaxy Note II have shown any notable signs of lag or terrible, incessant performance hiccups that were common in older devices. New processor technology is at an all time high, and differences in performance – at least in everyday use – are negligible.

It's impossible to predict what smartphone specifications will look like nine months from now, but it's also difficult to believe they will be markedly better than they are today. Even if they're better on paper, performance and speed improvements will be invisible to the naked eye. The only major improvements needed now, at least in terms of hardware, are battery life, storage space and image sensing.

Lest we forget, this phone comes equipped with a secondary display that won't notably affect battery life. But this doesn't apply only to the YotaPhone, this should apply to any high-end smartphone purchased in the last eight months. Your phone may not be the newest, but it's still probably comparable to new devices on many levels. And I can't imagine the Galaxy Note II, LG Optimus G, HTC One X+, DROID DNA or any other new devices becoming irrelevant anytime soon.

Tell me, folks. Do you feel your smartphone is retaining its relevance better than your last? Or do you still feel like your smartphone is outdated mere months after its launch?