We don’t expect to see many new smartphones from the big phone makers at CES 2016. But we do expect to find more evidence of the best developments in smartphone design to come along since 4G networks.
The show floor and back rooms should be overflowing with accessories from charging mats to new cables that support a new kind smartphone mobility. We'll have the details on product launches once we're at the show. But smartphone owners are already starting to see the kind of mobility that gives them more options regarding where they can bring their phones, how they can charge them, how to connect them, and more. Here’s what I mean.
Since the early days of cell service, carriers have trapped consumers into their plans through draconian two-year contracts, proprietary networks, and phone locks that couldn’t be removed without a hassle and quite a bit of groveling. Well, the restrictive contracts are rapidly giving way to more flexible, less binding plans, and a growing number of smartphones are taking advantage of this new service freedom.
First, many of the latest models, such as the Motorola Moto X Pure Edition and iPhone 6s, are being sold unlocked to any provider's service. They also come with the radios and other hardware necessary for handling the voice and high-speed LTE data services of various cell providers, including the major ones: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Changing services is often as easy as swapping one nano-SIM card for another. And when you’re traveling abroad, you can avoid expensive network roaming charges by popping in a prepaid SIM card from a local carrier.
OK, what if you really need two phones, such as for travel or business use, but you only have the budget—or pockets—for one?
We’re seeing more phones with dual SIM-card slots that allow you to add a second phone account—even from a different provider. So, is this really like having two phones in one? Actually, it's like having 1-1/2 phones in one. That’s because the second phone line on the models we’ve seen does not support cellular data connections for e-mail, Web browsing, and other Internet-dependent functions.
Some dual-SIM phones force you to make additional sacrifices. For instance, on the Huawei P8 Lite, to install the secondary SIM card you have to remove the phone's microSD memory card. That's a big loss for a phone that comes with only 16GB of on-board storage.
Most of the phones now are GSM-based, which means you can use them with AT&T and T-Mobile, but not Sprint or Verizon, which use CDMA cellular tech. But since GSM is the most popular network technology around the world, it’s not a big deal.
We’re starting to see a growing number of smartphones, including the Microsoft Lumia 950 and the Nexus 5X, come with a new type of connector: USB Type-C, which has a multitude of advantages over the microUSB connectors you’ll find on most smartphones that aren’t iPhones.
First, just like the Lighting connector on an iPhone, USB-C connectors can be inserted into the phone no matter which way you hold it; there is no "wrong-side up." That eliminates the fumbling and squinting that has become a ritual on phones that use micro USB cables.
But here’s how Type-C is better than the iPhone’s Lightning connector. Type-C has a potentially much larger transfer rate—up to 10 gigabits per second (Gbps)—versus Lightning’s speed limit of about 4 Gbps. That should mean nearly instant transfers for the mega-size photos and HD videos produced by today's high-resolution smartphone cameras.
What’s more, USB Type-C supports bi-directional power. That means your phone will receive a charge while it’s transmitting files to a compatible TV, printer, or other accessory over the same cable. The bad news: Once your new phone has this connector, you'll need to buy a whole bunch of Type-C adapters to connect them to your old PCs and accessories.
Sadly, we’re seeing fewer smartphones these days with user-replaceable batteries, which allowed you keep fully charged spares on-hand for when the original battery ran down, or outright died. But a growing number of phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the Motorola Droid Turbo 2 have a rapid-charging capability that can bring a near-dead handset to about 50-percent capacity within about 15 minutes—though only if you use the special, high-output charger they come with. Better yet, these and other models support both Qi and PMA wireless charging standards. And with wireless charging spots popping up all over the place these days, it's nice to know that the phone in your pocket will pretty much work with any of them.
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