Yamaha’s music devices bring tactile joy to the act of playing music from your phone

We live in a very digital-oriented world, where most of the content that we enjoy comes in a digital form or is distributed through non-physical channels. Despite the brief renaissance of turntables and records, the majority of people still listen to music on their smartphones. At the same time, however, people still crave the physicality of musical instruments or devices, even the likes of turntables that give the sound a unique quality and charm. Wouldn’t it be grand if you had the best of both worlds? Yamaha Design Lab thinks so, too, which is why it came up with a few quirky objects that bring back the joy and fun of physical and mechanical music devices, except they’re powered by a smartphone this time around.

Designer: Yamaha Design Laboratory

Few of today’s youngsters might even know what a phonograph is, let alone be familiar with the unique music they make, thanks to their physical media. The resurgence of interest in turntables in the past few years might have brought this retro machine to their attention, but not enough to make them give up their Spotify, Apple Music, or using their smartphone to listen to music, for that matter. They won’t have to with TurnT, a rather creative take on the turntable design that mixes smartphones with the old-school way of playing music.

TurnT is practically a wireless speaker that you can connect to your smartphone to play music. What makes it different is how you actually play the music, which involves placing the turntable’s stylus on top of the screen, just like you would on an actual record. Lifting the stylus stops the music immediately, and moving it “inward” towards the center of the disc displayed on the phone’s screen changes the track that’s being played.

TurnT is just one of Yamaha Design Lab’s “Stepping out of the Slate” series of fun little gadgets, each one putting a whimsical twist on an old music device. Winder, for example, is a tall, hexagonal block of wood with a windup key on top. The idea is to recreate the experience of playing with a music box, except that the music is being played on a smartphone. MusicLight looks like a simple candle holder, but the light of the candle controls the music on the smartphone, wavering as the candle flickers and eventually fades as the fire dies.

RhythmBot is actually a collection of four small robots, each equipped with a tiny version of a percussion instrument. This time, however, you play your own music, which the smartphone listens to. The phone, in turn, controls the robots so that they play to your beat, creating your own small performance band.

These small gadgets don’t bring anything revolutionary to the field of music, but they add an element of fun to listening to it. YDL says that these devices offer a unique experience that you can never have just by swiping and tapping on a screen, celebrating the human sense of touch as well as sight. Quirky and adorable, we can only hope that these prototypes will eventually become products that collectors and music lovers will definitely want to get their hands on, figuratively and literally.

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Xiaomi 12S Ultra brings DSLR level photography to your palm

Last year’s flagship Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra impressed photography fanatics with its top-of-the-line hardware at a very competitive price. The Xiaomi 12 series is long-awaited in the tech community, and now the Chinese consumer electronics company has revealed the 12S series that includes the 12S, 12S Pro and 12S Ultra devices.

The 12S and 12S Pro have minimal hardware upgrades, while the 12S Ultra is the one with the most significant upgrade of them all. Case in point, the next level of mobile photography experience for users. The Ultra model with a sizeable rear camera housing comes with a 1-inch Sony sensor and imaging system developed in collaboration with Leica. The rear triple camera setup is the show stopper here with a 48MP ultra-wide lens having the Sony IMX586 image sensor, and an 8P Leica Summicron 13-120mm F2.2 aspherical lens. The latter keeps a check on the flaring, chromatic aberrations and ghosting.

Designer: Xiaomi

Then there is the 50.3MP wide-angle lens honed by Sony’s new 1-inch IMX989 sensor boasting a quad-Bayer pixel array. It also gets the 23-mm F1.9 optics having multi-layer ultra-low-reflectance coating. For smooth, blur-free images and video, the lens has optical image stabilization and octa-PD phase AF. The third in the camera module setup is a 48MP telephoto that gets the same sensor as the one paired with the ultra-wide lens. The difference is the 120mm F4.1 periscope lens. It also has optical and electronic image stabilization. To make the photographs stand out, there are a bunch of Leica filters to get that authentic Leica flavor in the final shots.

The still images on the Xiaomi 12S Ultra can be recorded in 10-bit RAW format which is great for people wanting pro-level photography options in their smartphone. Apparently, this is the first Android-powered device to have Dolby Vision HDR video recording and playback support. The videos can be recorded at 24 FPS with a resolution of 7,680×4,320; 4K with 40 FPS or Full HD at 480 FPS for slow-motion shots.

The selfie camera is a 32MP shooter punched into the 6.73-inch Samsung E5 AMOLED display having a refresh rate of 120 Hz and 1500 nits peak brightness. The sensor used for the selfie camera lens is still unknown, but it should have crisp results given the amount of R&D that’s gone into the photography capabilities of the device.

Other than the camera setup, the IP68-rated flagship device gets the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 processor, up to 12GB of LPDDR5 RAM and 512GB UFS 3.1 storage. Xiaomi has rigged the hardware with an advanced liquid cooling system which should keep it ice cool even while gaming at extreme settings. The phone running MIUI 13 OS based on Android 12 will launch in mainland China initially in two color variants with a starting price tag of RMB 5,999 (∼US$900).

The post Xiaomi 12S Ultra brings DSLR level photography to your palm first appeared on Yanko Design.

Google Pixel phones join the cause to make phones repairable and sustainable

Smartphones are one of the most ubiquitous consumer electronics we have today. That translates to millions of components produced each year, which, in turn, could translate to thousands or even millions of e-waste piling up in landfills. The way this market works, most smartphone owners upgrade to a new phone even when they don’t really have to yet, mostly because of how the industry rewards such mindsets. At the same time, that same industry almost penalizes people who do actually want to keep their phones for as long as they can by making it harder or more expensive for them to repair old phones. Times are changing, it seems, and the biggest players in the market are fixing their attitudes on self-repair methods, and Google is the latest to swing its doors wide open to both consumers and small businesses.

Designer: Google x iFixit

Google actually announced its new program to make it easier for those outside its hallowed halls to repair Pixel phones. It followed the lead of Apple and Samsung in finally acknowledging the self-repair movement, or at least as much as their businesses and legal teams would allow. Of course, promises can sometimes ring hollow, so it wasn’t until Google finally removed the remaining impediments that we could consider its more sustainable repair program to be good as gold.

It wouldn’t be much of a more open repair program, however, if Google became the bottleneck of the entire process. The problem with trying to repair your own Pixel phone, or starting a small business around third-party repairs, wasn’t really the just the know-how. The real deal-breaker was getting your hands on replacement parts, officially and legally, which was nearly impossible until today. Now almost anyone can buy Pixel screens, batteries, and even adhesives from iFixit, one of the biggest proponents of the right to self-repair your stuff, at least if you live in the few regions where the parts are made available.

Not only does this make it possible for anyone with the technical knowledge to repair their broken Google phone, but it also helps smaller shops make a living off providing that service to others. To some extent, it helps democratize the smartphone repair industry, even if iFixit still has to source those components from official suppliers only. Google is even providing some validation software tools for free, allaying fears of potential legal repercussions for using these replacement parts on your own.

Being able to repair phones easily, whether by yourself or through service providers, already goes a long way in increasing the sustainability of these devices and reducing their negative impact on the environment. It’s just the first step, of course; we still have to figure out a way to make use of more sustainable and more responsible materials in a way that won’t disrupt the economy too much. Given how the smartphone industry seems to almost be set up to make sustainability efforts fail, the ability to repair your own phone is still a massive win in the grand scheme of things.

The post Google Pixel phones join the cause to make phones repairable and sustainable first appeared on Yanko Design.

Nothing Phone(1) looks a little busier in black

There is probably nothing more frustrating than being emotionally invested in an upcoming product, only for its very creators to take the wind out of its sails. That is undoubtedly what some of the believers of Nothing’s inaugural smartphone felt when the company officially revealed what the phone would actually look like. On the one hand, the startup tried to beat leaks to the punch so that no one could claim they didn’t protect their secrets well enough. On the other hand, they are tempting fate by either confirming fears or calming them, and, as expected, camps are split on whether the white Phone(1) does live up to the hype that Nothing itself built. Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there completely, and the black finish of the same phone could still win some people over. Or it could cement their decision to stay away completely.

Designer: Nothing (via Roland Quandt)

It almost seems like Nothing’s early years will be marked by a lot of controversies, partly thanks to how it has been building up expectations about the company’s mission. Just like OnePlus, which Carl Pei also helped found, Nothing presents itself as a revolutionary that is trying to go against the excesses of the smartphone industry. Well aware of the current trends in the design industry, Nothing espoused values like transparency and minimalism, which would translate to both product design and company management.

Its first product, the Nothing Ear(1) TWS buds, already divided people between those who lauded its unique, partly transparent design and those that felt short-changed from the brief hype that preceded it. History is repeating itself with the Phone(1), which Nothing has been teasing as nothing short of revolutionary, pardon the pun. That, however, might only be in relation to what is available in the market, so it’s not exactly lying in that regard.

After official revealing the transparent yet occluded back of a white Nothing Phone(1), unofficial images of a black variant have now become available for everyone to see. Compared to the white phone, the black plate underneath makes the “glyph” lights even more visible. In a way, this makes the back look even busier compared to the white model, which sort of takes away from the minimalism appeal of the phone. Then again, if the Nothing Phone(1)’s back were completely transparent, it would definitely be a lot more chaotic inside.

There is also some disappointment or at least growing concern about the choice of hardware that will go inside the Phone(1). Nothing has already confirmed that it will use a custom Snapdragon 778G+ processor, which was made specifically for it, adding wireless charging and reverse wireless charging capabilities that are absent in the plain version of the silicon. It is, however, what would be considered a mid-range chip, which sounds a little disheartening for a new flagship phone. Pei explains to Input magazine, however, that the choice goes in line with the company’s message that tech specs aren’t always relevant. In terms of balancing performance, thermal management, efficiency, and overall sustainability, the Phone(1) will do just fine.

Whether that will be enough to translate interest into sales, we’ll see in two weeks when the Nothing Phone(1) is officially launched. The company is taking a more cautious approach, however, mimicking the chaotic invite-only system from the early years of OnePlus. Of course, that also creates an artificial scarcity that makes the product look like a very limited edition, pumping up the hype even more.

The post Nothing Phone(1) looks a little busier in black first appeared on Yanko Design.

ASUS ROG Phone 6 design may have a cleaner futuristic vibe

While almost any high-end phone is really capable of gaming, there are a few that stand out as having been designed specifically for that purpose. These sometimes have “active cooling technology,” which pretty much just means it has a tiny fan spinning inside, almost like a miniature gaming laptop. These gaming smartphones take after PC counterparts in other ways as well, particularly with the generous use of RGB lights, dark finishes, and sometimes asymmetrical forms. Some gaming computers, however, started incorporating newer design languages that give off a different personality. It seems that the next version of ASUS’ gaming smartphone is following in those footsteps, and the ROG Phone 6 could probably be one of the most handsome gaming smartphones in the market.

Designer: ASUS (via Evan Blass)

If you are an avid gamer, the aesthetics of gaming devices and accessories might already be normal for you. The motifs employed by the likes of Razer, Dell’s Alienware, and ASUS’ Republic of Gamers all share similar elements such as those mentioned earlier. While the design language conveys images of speed, vibrancy, and activity, it may also speak of chaos, imbalance, and aggressiveness. Based on images shared by tipster Evan Blass, the ASUS Republic of Gamers Phones 6 might be anything but.

The phone might come in a predominantly white case, which in itself is already unorthodox as far as gaming products are concerned. It probably won’t be the only colorway available, but it will most likely be the most popular, given its novelty. Lines still don’t go straight up and down or sideways, but their appearance is more balanced here, forming a trapezoidal shape right in the middle of the phone. With the cleaner lines and lighter hues, the ROG Phone 6 takes on a more utopian appearance compared to the cyberpunk aesthetic of its predecessors.

There are still plenty of blacks and colors to go around, though they seem to be relegated to accessories. The AeroActive Cooler 6 add-on, for example, brings a dash of that RGB lighting to the phone, while a black DevilCase Guardian Lite Plus case offers a perfect contrast to the phone’s white shell. There is also a pair of white detachable controllers similar to the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-cons to complement and complete the look.

There does seem to be a small trend in the gaming market that is moving away from the stereotypical blacks and RGBs of gaming-related products. Dell’s latest Alienware desktops, for example, employ a similar white and light blue color scheme. The “trophy” PlayStation 5, of course, also aimed for a more futuristic visual with a splash of white and smooth curves. Whether it’s a passing fad or a new movement, we’ll have to see if these products catch on with gamers who can be very particular about the way their gaming gear looks.

As for the specs, the ASUS ROG Phone 6 will undoubtedly be a powerhouse, boasting at most 18GB of RAM, which sounds almost overkill for a phone. It will be interesting how it will perform in the camera department, though, since it is an area that’s often overlooked by gaming phones. The phone is expected to debut on the 5th of July, so it won’t be long before we behold the real thing.

The post ASUS ROG Phone 6 design may have a cleaner futuristic vibe first appeared on Yanko Design.

The Engadget guide to the best midrange smartphones

A great smartphone doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Years of commoditization have brought features once exclusive to high-end devices – including big batteries, multi-camera arrays and high refresh rate displays – down to their more affordable siblings. As one of Engadget’s resident mobile geeks, I’ve reviewed dozens of midrange devices. So I’m here to help you figure out what features to prioritize when trying to find a phone for less than $600.

What is a midrange phone, anyway?

While the term shows up frequently in articles and videos, there isn’t an agreed-upon definition for “midrange” beyond a phone that isn’t a flagship or an entry-level option. For this guide, our recommendations cost between $400 and $600. Any less and you should expect significant compromises. If your budget is higher, though, you should consider flagships like the iPhone 13 and Galaxy S22.

What factors should you consider when buying a midrange smartphone?

Buying a new device can be intimidating, but a few questions can help guide you through the process. First: what platform do you want to use? If the answer is iOS, that narrows your options down to exactly one phone. (Thankfully, it’s great.) And if you’re an Android fan, there’s no shortage of compelling options. Both platforms have their strengths, so you shouldn’t rule either out.

Obviously, also consider how much you’re comfortable spending. Even spending $100 more can get you a dramatically better product. And manufacturers tend to support their more expensive devices for longer. It’s definitely worth buying something toward the top limit of what you can afford.

Having an idea of your priorities will help inform your budget. Do you want a long-lasting battery? Do you value speedy performance above all else? Or would you like the best possible cameras? While they continue to improve every year, midrange phones still involve some compromises, and knowing what’s important to you will make choosing one easier.

Lastly, pay attention to wireless bands and network compatibility. If you don’t want to worry about that, your best bet is to buy directly from your carrier. To make things easier, all the phones we recommend are compatible with every major US wireless provider and can be purchased unlocked. 

What won’t you get from a midrange smartphone?

Every year, the line between midrange and flagship phones gets blurrier as more upmarket features trickle down. When we first published this guide in 2020, it was difficult to find $500 devices with waterproofing or 5G. Now, the biggest thing you might miss out on is wireless charging. Just remember to budget for a power adapter too – many companies have stopped including them. Performance has improved in recent years, but can still be hit or miss as most midrange phones use slower processors that can struggle with multitasking. Thankfully, their cameras have improved dramatically, and you can typically expect at least a dual-lens system on most handsets below $600.

Engadget picks

The best midrange Android phone: Pixel 5a with 5G

Google Pixel 5a
Terrence O'Brien / Engadget

It may look dull, but there’s a lot to like about Google’s $450 Pixel 5a. For one, it features the best cameras at this price. It may not have as many lenses as some of the other options on this list, but thanks to Google’s expertise in computational photography, the 5a delivers pictures that are on par with phones that cost hundreds more.

The Pixel 5a has a few other things going for it. Thanks to its large 4,680mAh battery and efficient chipset, you won’t have to worry about running out of juice. In fact, Engadget managing editor Terrence O’Brien found he could easily get a full day of use. The 5a also supports 5G and is certified IP67 for water and dust-proofing. Plus, as a Pixel phone, the 5a will receive the latest updates and security fixes from Google weeks and months before other Android phones.

Of course, no $450 phone is perfect. The Pixel 5a has an aging Snapdragon 765G chipset, and you can find plenty of midrange phones with more responsive displays.

One thing to note: The Pixel 6a is right around the corner and will go on sale on July 28th for $449. I suggest waiting until Engadget gets a review unit so you have details on things like battery life and performance before you make a decision.

Buy Pixel 5a 5G at Amazon - $450

The best (and only) iPhone under $600: iPhone SE

The iPhone SE (2022) held in a hand.
Cherlynn Low / Engadget

If you can get past its dated design and small 5.4-inch display, the iPhone SE is the fastest phone you can buy for less than $600. No other device on this list has a processor that comes close to the SE’s A15 Bionic. What’s more, you can expect Apple to support the 2022 model for years to come. The company is only just ending support for the first-generation SE after six years. The company hasn’t said how long it intends to furnish the latest SE with new software, but it’s likely to support the device for a similar length of time.

For all its strengths, the iPhone SE is held back by a dated display. Not only is the SE’s screen small and slow, but it also uses an IPS panel instead of an OLED, meaning it can’t deliver deep blacks. Additionally, that screen is surrounded by some of the largest bezels you’ll find on a modern phone. That’s not surprising. The SE uses the design of the iPhone 6, which will be a decade old in two years. And if the SE looks dated now, it will only feel more tired in a few years.

Shop iPhone SE at Apple

The midrange phone with the best screen: Samsung Galaxy A53 5G

A photo of the front of the Samsung Galaxy A53, showing the phone's 6.5-inch Super AMOLED display with 120Hz refresh rate.
Igor Bonifacic / Engadget

For the best possible display at this price, look no further than Samsung’s $450 Galaxy A53 5G. It features a 6.5-inch Super AMOLED display that is ideal for watching TV shows and movies. Plus the 120Hz panel is the fastest on this list. Other standout features include a 5,000mAh battery and versatile camera system. The A53’s three cameras may not deliver photos with the same detail and natural colors as the Pixel 5a, but it can capture bigger scenes with its two wide-angle lenses.

Like the other Android phones on this list, the A53 isn’t the fastest performer. At best, Samsung’s Exynos 1280 is a lateral move from the Snapdragon 750G found in the Galaxy A52 5G. And though the A53 is $50 cheaper than its predecessor, it no longer comes with a power adapter and headphone jack, so the difference may not end up being much.

Buy Galaxy A53 5G at Samsung - $450

An ultra-budget 5G option: OnePlus Nord N200 5G

OnePlus Nord N200 5G
Brian Oh / Engadget

If you only have around $200 to spend on your next phone, you could do a lot worse than the OnePlus Nord N200 To start, it features a big 5,000mAh battery that will easily last you a full day. The N200 also has a 90Hz display and 5G connectivity, which are tricky to find at this price. Best of all, it doesn’t look like a budget product.

But the N200 is also a good illustration of why you should spend more if you can. I the slowest device on this list, due to its Snapdragon 480 chipset and paltry 4GB of RAM. Its triple main camera system is serviceable during the day but struggles in low light and doesn’t offer much versatility beyond a disappointing macro lens. OnePlus also doesn’t plan to update the phone beyond the soon-to-be-outdated Android 12. In short, the N200 is unlikely to last you as long as any of the other recommendations on this list.

Buy OnePlus Nord N200 at Amazon - $240

Chris Velazco contributed to this report.

The Engadget guide to the best midrange smartphones

A great smartphone doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Years of commoditization have brought features once exclusive to high-end devices – including big batteries, multi-camera arrays and high refresh rate displays – down to their more affordable siblings. As one of Engadget’s resident mobile geeks, I’ve reviewed dozens of midrange devices. So I’m here to help you figure out what features to prioritize when trying to find a phone for less than $600.

What is a midrange phone, anyway?

While the term shows up frequently in articles and videos, there isn’t an agreed-upon definition for “midrange” beyond a phone that isn’t a flagship or an entry-level option. For this guide, our recommendations cost between $400 and $600. Any less and you should expect significant compromises. If your budget is higher, though, you should consider flagships like the iPhone 13 and Galaxy S22.

What factors should you consider when buying a midrange smartphone?

Buying a new device can be intimidating, but a few questions can help guide you through the process. First: what platform do you want to use? If the answer is iOS, that narrows your options down to exactly one phone. (Thankfully, it’s great.) And if you’re an Android fan, there’s no shortage of compelling options. Both platforms have their strengths, so you shouldn’t rule either out.

Obviously, also consider how much you’re comfortable spending. Even spending $100 more can get you a dramatically better product. And manufacturers tend to support their more expensive devices for longer. It’s definitely worth buying something toward the top limit of what you can afford.

Having an idea of your priorities will help inform your budget. Do you want a long-lasting battery? Do you value speedy performance above all else? Or would you like the best possible cameras? While they continue to improve every year, midrange phones still involve some compromises, and knowing what’s important to you will make choosing one easier.

Lastly, pay attention to wireless bands and network compatibility. If you don’t want to worry about that, your best bet is to buy directly from your carrier. To make things easier, all the phones we recommend are compatible with every major US wireless provider and can be purchased unlocked. 

What won’t you get from a midrange smartphone?

Every year, the line between midrange and flagship phones gets blurrier as more upmarket features trickle down. When we first published this guide in 2020, it was difficult to find $500 devices with waterproofing or 5G. Now, the biggest thing you might miss out on is wireless charging. Just remember to budget for a power adapter too – many companies have stopped including them. Performance has improved in recent years, but can still be hit or miss as most midrange phones use slower processors that can struggle with multitasking. Thankfully, their cameras have improved dramatically, and you can typically expect at least a dual-lens system on most handsets below $600.

Engadget picks

The best midrange Android phone: Pixel 5a with 5G

Google Pixel 5a
Terrence O'Brien / Engadget

It may look dull, but there’s a lot to like about Google’s $450 Pixel 5a. For one, it features the best cameras at this price. It may not have as many lenses as some of the other options on this list, but thanks to Google’s expertise in computational photography, the 5a delivers pictures that are on par with phones that cost hundreds more.

The Pixel 5a has a few other things going for it. Thanks to its large 4,680mAh battery and efficient chipset, you won’t have to worry about running out of juice. In fact, Engadget managing editor Terrence O’Brien found he could easily get a full day of use. The 5a also supports 5G and is certified IP67 for water and dust-proofing. Plus, as a Pixel phone, the 5a will receive the latest updates and security fixes from Google weeks and months before other Android phones.

Of course, no $450 phone is perfect. The Pixel 5a has an aging Snapdragon 765G chipset, and you can find plenty of midrange phones with more responsive displays.

One thing to note: The Pixel 6a is right around the corner and will go on sale on July 28th for $449. I suggest waiting until Engadget gets a review unit so you have details on things like battery life and performance before you make a decision.

Buy Pixel 5a 5G at Amazon - $450

The best (and only) iPhone under $600: iPhone SE

The iPhone SE (2022) held in a hand.
Cherlynn Low / Engadget

If you can get past its dated design and small 5.4-inch display, the iPhone SE is the fastest phone you can buy for less than $600. No other device on this list has a processor that comes close to the SE’s A15 Bionic. What’s more, you can expect Apple to support the 2022 model for years to come. The company is only just ending support for the first-generation SE after six years. The company hasn’t said how long it intends to furnish the latest SE with new software, but it’s likely to support the device for a similar length of time.

For all its strengths, the iPhone SE is held back by a dated display. Not only is the SE’s screen small and slow, but it also uses an IPS panel instead of an OLED, meaning it can’t deliver deep blacks. Additionally, that screen is surrounded by some of the largest bezels you’ll find on a modern phone. That’s not surprising. The SE uses the design of the iPhone 6, which will be a decade old in two years. And if the SE looks dated now, it will only feel more tired in a few years.

Shop iPhone SE at Apple

The midrange phone with the best screen: Samsung Galaxy A53 5G

A photo of the front of the Samsung Galaxy A53, showing the phone's 6.5-inch Super AMOLED display with 120Hz refresh rate.
Igor Bonifacic / Engadget

For the best possible display at this price, look no further than Samsung’s $450 Galaxy A53 5G. It features a 6.5-inch Super AMOLED display that is ideal for watching TV shows and movies. Plus the 120Hz panel is the fastest on this list. Other standout features include a 5,000mAh battery and versatile camera system. The A53’s three cameras may not deliver photos with the same detail and natural colors as the Pixel 5a, but it can capture bigger scenes with its two wide-angle lenses.

Like the other Android phones on this list, the A53 isn’t the fastest performer. At best, Samsung’s Exynos 1280 is a lateral move from the Snapdragon 750G found in the Galaxy A52 5G. And though the A53 is $50 cheaper than its predecessor, it no longer comes with a power adapter and headphone jack, so the difference may not end up being much.

Buy Galaxy A53 5G at Samsung - $450

An ultra-budget 5G option: OnePlus Nord N200 5G

OnePlus Nord N200 5G
Brian Oh / Engadget

If you only have around $200 to spend on your next phone, you could do a lot worse than the OnePlus Nord N200 To start, it features a big 5,000mAh battery that will easily last you a full day. The N200 also has a 90Hz display and 5G connectivity, which are tricky to find at this price. Best of all, it doesn’t look like a budget product.

But the N200 is also a good illustration of why you should spend more if you can. I the slowest device on this list, due to its Snapdragon 480 chipset and paltry 4GB of RAM. Its triple main camera system is serviceable during the day but struggles in low light and doesn’t offer much versatility beyond a disappointing macro lens. OnePlus also doesn’t plan to update the phone beyond the soon-to-be-outdated Android 12. In short, the N200 is unlikely to last you as long as any of the other recommendations on this list.

Buy OnePlus Nord N200 at Amazon - $240

Chris Velazco contributed to this report.

Fairphone has a subscription program that rewards you for keeping your phone longer

Subscription models are back in business, from the video streaming services that keep us entertained to even the software we use for our work. Phone manufacturers have started to wise up and start biting into that pie, creating subscription programs designed to make you think you’re saving more in the long run. Some of these subscriptions include the promise of upgrading to a new phone when a new model is announced, which is designed to keep you hooked on a specific phone brand. That system, however, is also designed to keep you switching phones and ditching them regularly, which also means regularly increasing the industry’s e-waste. Fairphone, so far the only manufacturer still selling completely repairable phones, is trying to propose a different way of thinking about subscription programs, one that’s designed to actually make you hold on to a phone longer and make sure you actually take care of your Fairphone as well.

Designer: Fairphone

The Fairphone itself is already an outlier among smartphones because of the way it’s designed and manufactured. In addition to using responsibly-sourced materials, the phone is designed to make repairs easier and can be done by anyone with enough knowledge and courage. And, of course, it also sells those replacement parts, so you won’t have to go out of your way to find spares.

The company behind the world’s most repairable phone now wants to take its sustainability commitment to the next level with its Fairphone Easy subscription program. Interested subscribers can sign up for a €21 a month subscription for 60 months (5 years) or a €34 per month for three months. That subscription fee includes a rather bold lifetime warranty and free repair or replacement of parts, though that only applies to anything except the display and the battery. These two are only free once a year, and any repair or replacement needed beyond that will cost extra.

That sounds almost normal or at least generous for a phone subscription service, but that’s not what sets Fairphone Easy apart. Instead of having to send in your broken phone and wait for a repair or a replacement, Fairphone will immediately send you a replacement within 48 hours while you send the problematic phone back to them. The new phone will be the one you will use from that day forward, and your old phone will either be repaired, refurbished, or recycled, depending on its state. The repaired phone will then be used to replace other broken phones from other subscribers, creating a circular economy between Fairphone Easy subscribers.

At the same time, however, Fairphone is providing incentives for subscribers to actually take care of their phones. For every year that your phone remains undamaged, Fairphone will cut off €2 from the monthly fee. After three years of no repairs or replacement, the monthly subscription fee will be reduced by €8. While these all sound like the perfect way to create a sustainable smartphone economy, there is one big catch to Fairphone’s proposal.

After that five-year period, you would have practically amassed a €1,260 amount, not including the discounts from an undamaged phone. That’s almost twice the price of the €649 Fairphone 4 that comes with the subscription, even if you consider the warranty and repairs. In fact, you could even say that you are paying for those repairs, so they aren’t exactly free. And if you decide to finally cancel the subscription after your contract, you will have to return your Fairphone 4. The company says this allows them to reuse the phone and its parts for as long as possible rather than have owners just throw it away later on.

In effect, Fairphone Easy is basically a rental program rather than a subscription, where you don’t exactly have ownership of the phone you’re using. On the one hand, it does come with good feelings of doing your part in protecting the environment in the long run. On the other hand, it’s a rather expensive way of doing so, even for customers in the Netherlands, where the program is available. Perhaps calling it a rental program would have been an easier way to help people understand Fairphone’s business model and make them more amenable to the overall costs of supporting Fairphone’s vision for a greener smartphone economy.

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Razer Kishi V2 tries to make gaming on Android more enjoyable

There is no shortage of mobile games that push our phones’ hardware to the limits, and all of them are designed primarily to be controlled through the touch screen. After all, there is nothing more off-putting than having to scramble to pull out a game controller from your bag and attach it to your phone in order to spend a few minutes of free time on your favorite title. At the same time, however, There has also been a rise in the sophistication of mobile games as they try to compete with consoles and PCs for attention and profits. Fortunately, controllers have also become more sophisticated as well, and the latest version of Razer’s Kishi tries to upgrade the gaming experience for more Android phones.

Designer: Razer

The Razer Kishi, both V1 and V2, fall under the class of telescopic game controllers that can expand horizontally to accommodate phones of varying heights. Unlike most of its kind, however, the Kishi connects to a phone not via unreliable Bluetooth but through the phone’s USB-C port. That makes the connection more stable and faster and has the added bonus of saving Razer from having to put a bulky and heavy battery inside the controllers. The Kishi is powered by your own phone, while the phone can be charged via a passthrough connection.

The problem with the initial Razer Kishi is that it was designed to fit smartphones of a specific design and size. The Kishi V2 corrects this by using a flatter bridge so that it can tightly embrace more phones in a tight snug. It might even fit foldable phones like the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 if one is so inclined to pair the two together. That’s not the only thing that has changed, however, and the Razer Kishi V2 has more features that try to improve the mobile gamer’s quality of life.

For one, the latest Kishi controller may look like it has the exact same buttons as its predecessor, but underneath, it switched away from using membranes to new microswitches. What this means in practice is that buttons will have a more tactile feel when you press on them, making them feel more clicky and giving a more believable console-like experience. If avid typers are very particular about the switches that their keyboards use, gamers can be equally picky about button switches inside their controllers.

Razer also throws in two customizable multi-function buttons beside the trigger buttons. The functions of these buttons can be set using Razer’s app, where most of the controller’s extra features can also be accessed. Speaking of software, the controller has a dedicated button to launch the Nexus app, Razer’s hub that collects games installed on your phone as well as those available through game streaming services like Xbox Game Pass and NVIDIA GeForce NOW.

Unlike the previous Kishi, the Razer Kishi V2 is currently available only for Android phones, though the list of supported phones has grown quite a lot thanks to that new design. One designed for iPhones is promised to come later this year, though no estimated launch window has been revealed. Despite recent big news about the company’s two eco-friendly mice, the Razer Kishi V2 is a bit silent on the sustainability front, showing that Razer still has a long way to go in making environmental awareness the rule, not the special exception.

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Xiaomi 12 Ultra will put Leica on a divisive camera design

Phone designs have become increasingly common these days, so it’s not surprising to see some try to set themselves apart, one way or another. Some are met with much success, like the OPPO Find X5 Pro’s futuristic minimalism and the Realme GT2 Pro’s fashionable Paper Tech design. Others seem to still be trying to come to terms with their design language, while still others are apparently stumbling in their efforts to stand out from the crowd. Xiaomi’s next flagship will attempt to flaunt Leica’s massive brand to appeal to mobile shutterbugs, but it might be doing the camera maker a slight disservice considering how controversial the Xiaomi 12 Ultra’s camera design is so far turning out to be.

Designer: HoiINDI

Smartphone designs have mostly gravitated towards emphasizing the most important part of a smartphone next to its display. Trends come and go, but the importance of cameras in our smartphone-centric culture has never wavered. But as those camera sensors become more powerful and bigger, the space they occupy has also become larger, forcing designers to think of ways to balance looks and function. In the Xiaomi 12 Ultra’s case, it seems that only one side won, at least based on renders made from leaked information.

This isn’t the first phone that uses a circular enclosure to house the camera in a group, with the Huawei Mate 30 coming out with that design back in 2019. It might, however, be the biggest by a wide margin, occupying nearly a third of the phone’s height and leaving little room on its sides. If Xiaomi intended to call attention to the Xiaomi 12 Ultra’s cameras, this definitely does it, but not in a flattering way. Despite marketing materials, Leica’s iconic circle logo might not even be immediately visible, which is probably the best for the brand.

The Xiaomi 12 Ultra is in the running for the most divisive camera design this year, going head-to-head with the Honor Magic4 Ultimate from March. Xiaomi’s camera bump doesn’t feel like it’s about to jump out at you, sitting on the phone’s back in a static manner. In contrast, Honor’s design has the entire phone’s rear elevated from four directions to meet the height of the larger circular camera bump, potentially creating some unevenness that would affect the phone’s stability on a flat surface or even in your hand.

Designer: Parvez Khan (Technizo Concept) for LetsGoDigital

That said, Honor arranged its camera lenses in such a way that they look a bit more symmetrical and balanced. Most likely due to technical considerations, Xiaomi’s lenses are all over the place, creating an almost disorganized appearance. It could even trigger certain psychological conditions in people because of the clearly visible and uneven holes. It’s definitely going to be a head-turner, but not everything that calls attention does so in a good way.

Admittedly, smartphone design is a delicate balancing act between opposing forces and directions. At the same time, it’s a problem created by manufacturers themselves. As they cram more and larger hardware inside phones, they will be forced to figure out a smart design for them. More doesn’t always mean better, especially from a design perspective, and the Xiaomi 12 Ultra proves it.

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