Smartphone makers bait their hooks with luxe design and better cameras

But it is getting increasingly difficult for vendors to come up with meaningful improvements

The LG G3 has a 5.5-inch Quad HD display with 538 ppi.

The LG G3 has a 5.5-inch Quad HD display with 538 ppi.

As they battle for dominance in the cut-throat smartphone category, vendors are betting that luxury-evoking designs and features such as better front cameras will get consumers to open their wallets.

Here are three ways the makers of high-end smartphones are trying to stand out -- no small challenge in a market that's so mature, most improvements seem like minor design iterations:

Improved front cameras

Along with bigger screens and higher resolutions, better cameras have been a mainstay of new models for the last couple of generations. This year that trend has continued, but the focus has changed from the main camera on the back to the camera on the front.

To attract selfie addicts, the HTC One M8 and the One Mini 2 have a 5-megapixel front camera, while the Huawei Ascend P7 sports an 8-megapixel camera on the front. LG Electronics chose to increase the size of the pixels instead of upping the pixel count to improve the image quality on the G3's front camera.

More metal and glass

We're seeing more new high-end smartphones, like the One M8 and Ascend P7, encased in premium designs that use metal and glass to make them look like they're worth the extra investment.

Not everyone has gone down this route: the G3 and Samsung's Galaxy S5 still have plastic backs. LG made an effort to improve the looks of its new flagship phone with the development of a new material it calls "metallic skin" for the back cover, which looks good in the "Metallic Black" and "Shine Gold" colors. The company defended its decision to stick with plastic, saying it improves radio performance and keeps the device's weight down.

Officially Samsung hasn't said much that would point to a move away from plastic. But rumors persist that Samsung is working on a metal phone, with the latest reporting the imminent arrival of a premium version of the Galaxy S5. Recently the company appointed a new head of its design team, a change that hints the company has finally taken years of negative feedback to heart.

Keep it simple, stupid

Another change in direction we're seeing is how the vendors approach software additions to Android, which in the past they've used to try and help them differentiate their products. But in many cases these add-ons just made the smartphones more confusing and difficult to use, which the vendors now seem to have realized. When Samsung launched the Galaxy S5 it said it would focus more on hardware than software, while LG announced the G3 with the slogan "simple is the new smart." Both phones still have a number of features on top of Android, but this time Samsung and LG added far fewer than they have in the past.

With the high end of the smartphone market growing saturated, it's no surprise that vendors are spending more energy on developing good low-end products. Cheaper chipsets from the likes of Qualcomm and MediaTek have opened the door for low-cost LTE smartphones such as the Moto G LTE from Motorola (US$219), Microsoft's Lumia 635 ($189) and the Kestrel ($140), which was developed by Huawei for British operator EE. In all three cases those relatively low prices buy you a smartphone with a 4.5-inch screen, a 5-megapixel camera and powered by a quad-core Snapdragon 400 running at 1.2GHz.

You can expect to see even more quality features migrating downwards, which is going to require a tricky balance on the part of vendors. After all, if the low-end models get too good, consumers will likely pick the cheaper phones. Then high-end phones will have to offer even more flash for the status-conscious to part with a load of cash.

Send news tips and comments to

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags mobileMicrosoftsmartphonesAndroidhtcqualcommconsumer electronicsSamsung ElectronicsMobile OSesLG ElectronicsMediaTekHuawei TechnologiesWindows PhoneAndroid OS

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Mikael Ricknäs

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers


This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang


It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries


As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr


The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?