I last gave some smartphone choices in February 2020, but a lot has changed in the last seven months! I've pitched this as my top picks for smartphones to replace a Lumia 950/930 or perhaps an IDOL 4 Pro or Elite x3, going forwards into 2021 as Windows 10 Mobile is now long unsupported and as services gradually start to wind down. I've tested just about everything on the market and here's my updated verdict in terms of functionality, future viability, and value for money. Four of the five are new from the last selection!
The POCO X3 (NFC) - to use its full title - is the mid-range smartphone of the moment, offering flagship features in most cases, at under £200 (for the 64GB version), brand new and inclusive of VAT, in the UK. It's a stunning phone and I featured it last week in a head to head with the Lumia 950 XL, by way of something AAWP-relevant to compare it to. But imaging was an unknown at that point. So, how good is a £200 2020 Android phone's camera system compared to the champion/classic from 2015?
It's brand new and it sets new boundaries for high specifications and low price in the smartphone world. £199 (inc VAT) for the 'POCO X3 (NFC)' in the UK is all it costs to get something which all but competes with other smartphones costing three times its price. But where are the compromises, if any, and how does this Android newcomer compare with the classic Lumia 950 XL, still the benchmark for many here on AAWP?
So, here's a puzzler for you... What has two screens, folds to (almost) any angle, has multiple 'poses', allows for multi-pane displays within individual applications, and is integrated tightly with Microsoft applications and services? Answer? The Surface Duo The new Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2, which arrives a mere week after the first review Duos hit USA-based reviewers. There are a huge number of similarities - plus a huge number of differences, and I thought it worthwhile breaking them all down. Both are, of course, stupidly expensive - but here's my take, regardless.
Windows 10's maps have always been pretty good, part sourced from HERE and partly from other places and their own research. You've been using them in the Maps UWP application in your Lumia or similar for years. Which is why I was fascinated by the video embedded below, with Microsoft's new (and much-acclaimed) Flight Simulator 2020 using Bing Maps and aerial imagery directly, applying elevation data and detailed 3D models to present a super-realistic world to fly in.
I've been a long time proponent of Qi wireless charging, starting with the Lumia 920 back in 2012 and then spreading through other Lumias out to the Android world (notably Samsung and LG) and then even to iPhones in the last three years. And it's still ultra-cool and more or less a must-have on any smartphone over about £500 these days - pop your phone on a wireless pad and bingo - it's (trickle) charging away. But many people are now arguing that we have to be careful - if three billion people end up using Qi as their primary charging system then the undoubted power inefficiencies inherent in the technology may become a big problem at that worldwide scale.
Having slammed the Surface Duo utterly for its initial specs, price and availability, I did want to address the balance and point out (some of) the things it will be able to do well. And who's going to buy it. There absolutely is justification for the initially crazy price tag - it's just not a justification that brings it remotely within recommendation range for most people reading this. Plus I have some serious Duo-centric questions about the core of 'productivity' - entering text.
One of the most important phone features for a Lumia owner that needs replicating in the wider world of Android and iOS is the camera, of course. And I've established that if you pay a lot of money (e.g. £1000 for the iPhone 11 Pro) then you can match and exceed even the Lumia 1020 and 950 XL. But what if you're a bit strapped in this crazy world of lockdowns and redundancies? The new Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 Pro is in for review, with a (nominal) quad camera setup including a 64MP main sensor and it's only £249. It's great value for money, but can the camera set-up get close what a Lumia owner might expect? i.e. can you really save money and still take great photos?
Camera 'angles' are an odd thing. Back in the day (2005-2015), all a phone camera needed to do was shoot a single, standard (90° or so) photo of a scene, as well as possible. Job done. Various smartphones experimented with zoom (notably the famous 808 and 1020 pair), and from 2015 smartphones with extra telephoto lenses started to appear. But LG went in a different direction with its G5, building in a 130°+ wide angle camera as the phone's 'secondary'. And the idea caught on, with as many dual camera phones coming out in 2020 with 'main and wide angle' as 'main and telephoto'. Could it be that I, for one, underestimated the appeal of a true wide angle camera?
Almost six months ago I came up with four suggested replacements for a Windows phone, at various price points and with suitable caveats and observations. All of which are still decent shouts in late July 2020, but I wanted to go further and deliver an overview of the entire smartphone world this time round, at least as seen from a Western (UK) perspective. What do I think of the ever increasing brands and models? There has never been so much choice, one might argue, but I'd also point out that there's a huge amount of commonality as well, and that anyone buying in mid-2020 needs a decent degree of discernment.