In a week, my Galaxy S II will be a year old. A year also happens to be the maximum legal duration of any contract here in Norway, so I’m looking at an unlocked phone and a lower monthly rate. Naturally I’ve been considering getting a new subsidized phone, upgrading my Galaxy S II to something newer, but there’s only one problem: The smartphone market bores me to death right now.
The Galaxy S II is closing in on being a two year old model, but that’s frankly hard to see. The only obviously outdated part of the thing is the screen resolution, which at 800 x 480 is what you now see in entry level phones, not flagship devices. On the other hand though, I’ll take an 800 x 480 AMOLED screen over a 720p LCD screen any day. The 1.2Ghz dual core Exynos chip still packs enough of a punch that you never consider it a slow device from normal use, even when running Gingerbread. It’s fully capable of playing back 1080p video through HDMI, handles both 32 and 64GB microSD cards (the latter not officially, but it still works), the 8 megapixel camera is still great, and its replaceable battery and availability of the official 2000mAh extended battery kit ironically makes the thing outperform most newer smartphones on battery life.
What’s more ironic is that compared to the Nexus 4, the Galaxy S II actually outclasses it in several other ways as well. I already mentioned battery life, and on top of that you can throw both USB OTG support and storage capacity. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s upgrades that aren’t really upgrades, but just alternative device configurations that leave it to subjective needs to decide what is more important. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve done anything on the S II in the last month that would benefit greatly from a higher screen resolution, while I use USB OTG so often that I keep an adapter with me in my bag, as well as a couple at home. I can’t take a device seriously when features are removed from older generations. The iPad 3/4 is another example, where the extra thickness, weight, charging time, and shorter battery life makes the benefits of the high resolution screen a bitter sweet experience.
Even the S III is to me less than interesting. There’s still no readily available black version, which I actually find to be an issue since I have some Tasker creations that rely on a black device with an AMOLED screen. Again it really comes down to screen resolution (/size) and performance, and those two aspects are really not that important to me, as I mostly use my phone as a sort of PDA. You don’t need a 720p screen to view a todo list and reply to an email. If the upgrade to the S III was completely free, I would take it, but the problem is that it isn’t. Even with subsidies and any money I get from selling the S II, upgrading to any flagship model is going to end up costing me about 2000 NOK, roughly $350. I simply don’t see that value anywhere in the market right now, and it seems like each new model is at best a $100 upgrade over the last as far as value goes.
It might sound like I’m complaining here, but I’m not really. I’m glad that there are fewer changes between generations now, and we’re seeing the same sort of behavior on other OSes as well. The difference between an iPhone 4S and an iPhone 5 aren’t that great, and if the camera and some other minor features aren’t important to you, even an iPhone 4 will give you most of the experience. It seems that pretty much across the board, the last couple of generations of devices are fairly interchangeable. It’s a nice change of pace, and I hope this trend continues for a while.