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You should see the other guys: How smartphones advanced since the last iPhone update

Philip Michaels | Sept. 10, 2014
We've made an entire circuit around the globe since the last time Tim Cook unveiled a new smartphone. What have other phone makers been doing since then? And how will that inform what Apple announces at Tuesday's big event?

Unlike other tech companies that rush out new products without rhyme or reason--Quick! Samsung just put out another smartwatch while I was typing this sentence!--Apple takes its sweet time with releases, particularly when it comes to mobile devices. We've made an entire circuit around the sun since the last time Tim Cook waved new iPhones in the air, which has given other smartphone makers plenty of time to match and even surpass what the iPhone 5s brings to the table.

Not that Apple loses much sleep over that--at least not anyone who isn't on Apple's legal team. Since it first unveiled the iPhone more than seven years ago, the company seems more concerned with setting the bar in the smartphone market than in matching someone else's phone feature for feature.

Still, a lot's changed for smartphones since the last time Apple has overhauled its product line. And it's worth taking note of a few of the major trends at play in the market that the iPhone 6--or whatever Apple winds up calling it--will enter.

Cameras have added more tricks
What Apple did: The iPhone's never been big on upping the megapixel count--the iPhone 5s's rear-facing camera clocks in at a relatively modest 8 megapixels. Instead, last year's phone put the emphasis on software, adding a Slo-Mo mode that shoots 720p HD video at 120 frames per second and a burst mode for taking 10 full-quality photos in a second.

What's happened since: Other smartphones continue to push the megapixel count on their built-in cameras, particularly if they're hoping to use photo features to stand out from the crowd. The Nokia Lumia 930, for example, boasts a 20-megapixel camera, while Samsung's Galaxy S5 and LG's G3 offer cameras touting 16 and 13 megapixels, respectively. But even these smartphones seem to recognize there's more to life than just megapixels. The Nokia 930 ships with a bunch of photo-editing apps including one that lets you edit high-resolution photos right on the phone; meanwhile, LG simplified the camera interface on the G3, stripping out a lot of the control options to put the emphasis on snapping photos.

Like the iPhone 5s, HTC's One (M8) doesn't pack in the megapixels, but it does offer two rear-facing cameras, which it uses for post-processing tricks, such as creating depth-of-field effects on your images.

Other phone makers have realized there's advances to be made with the front-facing camera, particularly as our national obsession with self-portraits continues unabated. HTC's flagship phone offers a Selfie mode, complete with a three-second countdown, and the front-facing camera on the just-announced Galaxy Note 4 from Samsung features an f1.9 wide-angle lens designed for taking better self-portraits.

 

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