My favorite distinctive smartphone features

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| May 7, 2014


For the most part, it seems like smartphones don’t really differ that much from one to the next. With the near extinction of the physical keyboard and the wide adoption of the "slab" design, most phones look similar to each other on the surface. Almost all Samsung phones look the same with varying sizes; the LG G2 looks like a bigger Moto X; the BlackBerry Z10 looks extremely similar to the HTC One, and to somebody who doesn’t know a whole lot about the ins and outs of the industry it could be hard to figure out what exactly makes one phone stand out from the others. Rest assured, most phones have a few redeeming qualities that make them worth considering - you just have to dig deeper than the surface to figure out what they are.


Well, sometimes.


I guess that’s a good start to talk about my first favorite feature in phones these days, which is actually clear to see on the surface of the phone: the two front-facing speakers in the HTC One devices. First debuted last year in the HTC One (M7), the BoomSound speakers that were introduced with the device seemed like one of the most simple features, but it was something that hadn’t been done yet. Most speakers on smartphones are on the bottom or the back of the phone, which makes little to no sense when you think about it. When you’re watching something on your phone, or listening to music, where does the screen face? Towards you. Where should the speakers be facing? Towards you. It’s a simple and effective feature (and, unlike most of the other distinctive smartphone features, easy to see) that really helped make the HTC One stand out to me.


The next feature that strikes me as being a bold and impressive move is still easy to see, but only when you flip the phone over. LG made a risky decision when they decided to place the volume and power buttons on the back of the device instead of on the sides, like most smartphones do. I have to admit, as phones get larger it does get increasingly more difficult to reach to the top of the phone to press the power button, or even attempt to reach the volume buttons while maintaining a firm grasp on the phone. One-handed use is hardly a realistic expectation for some people when it comes to flagship phones. Instead of making screens smaller again, however, LG decided to take an alternative route by changing up the button placement. It might take a little getting used to, but overall it seems that the button placement does help with one-handed use.


The third feature that I’m a big fan of is on the phone that I currently use as my daily driver. Moto X’s Touchless Controls is one of the features that I both feared and loved. In a world where it seems like privacy is being breached around every corner, the fact that my phone had “always on” sensors really freaked me out at first. And, I guess it’s still a little concerning, but I find that I’m also enjoying the feature as well. It’s not exactly one of the most mainstream or useful features, but I do find that it works rather well. Active Display is also a redeeming feature on the phone.


Most phones these days have a special feature that is in place in order to set itself apart from other phones - to make it seem better than the rest. These are the three that stand out the most to me, but I’m interested in hearing about which features stand out most to you. So now is your turn to shine; what unique features are your favorites these days? Share your opinions with us in the comments below!


Images via Trusted Reviews, Ars Technica