Forget Smartphones Without Headphone Jacks. How About Port-Free Smartphones?

The tech world has been buzzing recently about the speculation that Apple will eliminate the 3.5mm headphone jack from its next iPhone. And while that might seem like a crazy idea to you, it's not all that far-fetched for Apple—or any phone maker—with its eyes on the future. In fact, within a few years, smartphones might lose all of their jacks and ports, and for good reason.

Those openings on these high-tech devices create problems. Not only do they interrupt the sleek lines of a tapered design, but—more important—they also provide means of entry for water and dirt that attack and destroy the circuitry.

For years, phone makers such as Samsung, Sony, Huawei, and Motorola have been striving to make their products more impermeable, using protective flaps, inner gaskets, and even liquid-repelling nanocoatings from companies such as P2i. If you ask me, why put holes in the phones in the first place?

Take a look around. The technology for port-free smartphones era already exists:

Bluetooth headphones. These models don't need a cable to link to your phone, and there's a growing selection of affordable, high-quality options. For instance, the JBL Harman J46BT, among the best-sounding portable Bluetooth models in our Ratings, cost lest than $60. The earpieces have angled sound nozzles designed to help assure a more comfortable fit, and the earphones come with small and large stabilizing sports cushions. True, having another Bluetooth accessory to charge could be a hassle. But at least you won’t have to worry about your favorite song being interrupted by a snagged headphone cable.

Wireless charging. A growing number of smartphones, including the Microsoft Lumia 950 and the Nexus 5X, embrace the USB Type-C connector, which offers a multitude of advantages over the old-school microUSB. For instance, besides having an ultra-fast data transfer rate of up to 10 gigabits per second, the Type-C has a plug that can be inserted into the phone no matter which way you hold it; there is no "wrong-side up."

That’s nice, but fidgeting with cables, even USB Type-C, is nowhere near as easy as plopping your phone down on a wireless pad when it needs a recharge. More phones, including the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the Motorola Droid Turbo2, support both Qi (pronounced "chee") and Powermat wireless charging pads out of the box—a convenience many mixed-smartphone families will appreciate.

Wireless streaming and backup. Face it. Plugging your smartphone into your computer for backup and carrying your entire movie and music library around went out with the iPod click wheel—or even the iPod itself. Today you’ve got tons of free music-streaming options from Pandora, Spotify; iTunes Music, Google Music, and Amazon, offer free and subscription-based options for about $8 to $10 a month. You can still access your collection from these services’ cloud-based servers, though it could cost you $25 a year if your collection is fairly large. Remember to use Wi-Fi as often as possible to conserve data usage.

Speakerless phones. What about ports and jacks for the speakers? No need. The Sharp Aquos Crystal and several phones from Kyocera transmit sounds directly to your eardrum via vibrating displays. This intriguing technology, which Sharp calls Direct Wave Receiver and Kyocera calls Smart Sonic Receiver, uses your anatomy (skin, muscle, bone) as a conductor to transport the vibrations to your eardrum, where they are interpreted as sound. Of course, the screens’ vibrations also travel as conventional sound waves inside your ear canal. This tech is still relatively uncommon, but our tests confirmed it works quite well.

See what I mean? When you add all that up, you can pretty much plug every port and jack and protect your phone from surprise attack by wind, rain, or that jumbo-sized soft drink your clumsy friend just drenched you with.

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